Whetting . . . The End of Secularism

I’ve been working with Crossway on bringing The End of Secularism to publication.  In the process, I have compiled some of my favorite quotes from the manuscript.  Here they are:

Because advocates of secularism present it as a solution to the “problem” of public religion, we become the audience for a caricature of the ways the two concepts are opposed to each other.  Instead of “without reference to God” versus “with reference to God,” the antonyms expand to look more like “reason and tolerance” versus “prejudice and superstition.”  This misunderstanding has not been accidental, but is instead the thrust of the presentation pushed by advocates of a particular side.  Thus, rational thinking processes, empirical verification, and social harmony are said to accompany a secular outlook.  Religious associations, on the other hand, are tied to mysticism, violence, ignorance, and coercion.  The secular take on religion is more Torquemada, Jim Jones, and Osama bin Laden than Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Newton, and Pascal.

. . .

On [the secularist] view, religion is like white phosphorus.  It should be submerged lest it ignite.

. . .

Given a right understanding of secularism as the separation of religion from public life and the separation of church and state as nothing more than formal institutional independence of church and state, citizens should value church-state separation as the healthier and more justifiable state of affairs.

. . .

The advocates of real theocracy among Christians are very few.  The live debate between Christians in the present has more to do with the degree to which the Christian faith should inform politics and how explicitly Christians should appeal to their faith in political debate and policy formation.  It seems to be the consensus of Christians in this millennium that the church is a voice calling the state to righteousness and justice rather than to be a state or a supervisor of the state itself.

The value of a theory can sometimes be measured by the number of problems it solves.  If that is the case, then [Steven] Smith’s view of the religion clauses is valuable indeed.  A view of the religion clauses as jurisdictional explains the extremely rare invocation of their guarantees as a basis for legal challenge prior to the mid-twentieth century.  It also explains why we find the text so unilluminating for the proper litigation of the kinds of cases raised under their auspices.  Dissatisfaction with religious clause jurisprudence is the rule rather than the exception and the interpretation of them is felt to depend greatly upon the predilections of the justices, which in turn engenders a great deal of resentment from whichever side loses a case.  Clauses intended to accomplish the purpose to which we put the religion clauses could surely have been constructed more clearly.

. . .

Secularism does not have to dress itself up in the formal clothes of an ultimately enlightened religion of reason in order to become susceptible to criticism.  Secularism need not be caught officially tipping its hand in a moment of gratuitous public relations.  As a method of ordering public life it is inherently problematic.

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The reason persons bring their comprehensive views to bear upon the political process is because they have integrity.  They are undivided persons.  They agree to be bound by democratic outcomes, but not by a system which would bind their participation in the way Rawls proposes.

Much of what others propose to us is “inaccessible” in the sense that we simply cannot buy into it and would probably never do so.  Inaccessibility, posed as a unique feature of religious argumentation and assertion, is a public relations stunt, not a reality.

. . .

The simple fact is that coercion never feels good.  One need not be forced to live under Christian or Muslim values to feel severely put upon.  Equally negative emotions may arise when socialists, feminists, or ethnic groups find channels for imposing their will.  In fact, it is easy to envisage situations where thoroughly secular public policy will do more psychic harm by coercing individuals than religiously-inspired coercion might.  Imagine the pacifist libertarian who is horrified by almost everything the United States government does whether Democrats or Republicans rule, but is still compelled to fully participate financially.  Contrast a mainstream secular citizen whose children have the option to sit passively while other children are led through a non-sectarian prayer at school.

. . .

The essence of the problem is that law involves coercion and being coerced is unpleasant and possibly even torturous.  Whether that coercion is religious, philosophical, or even based on a radically different reading of the available facts, the harm is the harm is the harm.  Secularism and secular rationales do not solve the problem.  Coercion is the problem.

. . .

According to Casanova, the normative claim of modernity on religion is that it accepts rights of privacy and conscience.  But religion does not run afoul of those prescriptions when it goes public to protect its own freedom and other modern rights and freedoms against an authoritarian state, when it questions and contests the freedom of various social spheres to operate utterly free of moral regulation, and when it protects “the traditional life-world” from encroachment by the state.

. . .

A look at the history of Sweden’s state church suggests that the church long ago ceased to be a church, but rather became akin to something we might refer to as the state’s Department of God.  The vital, politically active, confrontational Reformation Church of Sweden has virtually nothing in common with the church of today.  The old church engaged in disputations, preached before large congregations, confronted kings about the proper roles for church and state even at the risk of lost status or perhaps lost life.  The modern Church of Sweden, on the other hand, has long been a keeper of statistics, an official morgue, a body whose doctrine and personnel are carefully regulated by the government under the guise of maintaining some useless identity as a “folk church” that is “open and democratic.”  This is not a church as most Christians would recognize it.  Nor is it a natural self-understanding for the church.  The spiritual/ceremonial welfare of the people has been little more than a governmental function funded by taxpayers, virtually all of whom belong to the church, but very few of whom actually care about the church or invest it with any authority.

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Christians should absolutely bring their faith to bear in the public square.  They should reject the influence of secularism urging them to keep their faith private and not to argue for a Christian perspective in areas like politics and education.  What they must not do is to repeat the mistake of mingling the church’s future with that of the state.  Temporal kingdoms have no eternal destiny.  The church does.

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The warfare [between science and religion] legend has been assisted by the normal workings of the mass media which tends to eschew complexity for manichean views.  Rather than attempt to understand the history, it is enough to know that there are scientists who say the earth is millions of years old and that there are certain preachers who will say with certainty that it is no older than 10,000 years. Pop history is a lot like gossip.  If you don’t like the person or people, you believe it.  If you do, you dig a little deeper before drawing conclusions.  Until content-providers decide to question conventional wisdom, the impression is frozen under glass to be thawed as an evergreen story whenever Time or Newsweek needs a cover for a slow news cycle.

. . .

The “battle” between Science and Religion, is and has been a large part of how advocates of scientific idealism gain interest from the larger public.  Far more people are interested in religion than physics or chemistry.  To join the two is to get attention. This publicity ploy is particularly important for scientific ideologists who resent the idea of science as something that merely serves the community by producing innovation.  It should instead, they believe, order society and somehow serve as its basis.

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The governor of the state of Alabama, guided by a professor at the state’s largest law school, worked to redistribute several billion dollars from one group of persons to another because of the moral imperative they saw in Jewish and Christian holy writings.  The guardians of secularism did not make enough noise to interrupt the song of cicadas in the warm Alabama nights.

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