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Religion, Culture, and Humanity

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I recently gave an interview to the Georgia Family Council (where I worked as a younger fellow) about my book for their website. Here is an excerpt I think might interest readers:

What made you decide to write your book The End of Secularism?

I wrote this book for a few reasons. I detected that the moment might be right for someone to lay out a very rigorous critique of secularism. While it was once plausible to people that secularism might be a good, neutral solution to the “problem” of religious difference, it is more difficult to believe the same today. Secularists embrace a competing orthodoxy and they pursue the fulfillment of it. They like to think of themselves as referees, but they are actually just another team on the field.

In addition, I felt the need to help secularists and Christians to get a better handle on what secularism is and why it is an inferior solution to the separation of church and state rightly understood. We don’t need to evict religion from the public square. We do need to keep the church financially independent of the state — primarily for the good of the church, which I demonstrate through the example of Sweden — but we don’t need to politely excuse our religious beliefs and thoughts when it comes to public debate over values. Religion matters in politics. You can’t get away from it and bad things happen when you try. The Christian faith has been and continues to be hugely influential in encouraging many of the best things about our culture. Christianity is part of why we care about things like liberty, equality, mercy, and the sanctity of life.

Explain what you mean by “secularism” and how has it affected our culture?

The word secular once had a perfectly good meaning. It meant “in the world.” So, by that understanding, the Catholic Church even had secular clergy. But we have transformed the old meaning of “secular” to a new conception which requires that religion retire from the public square. In essence, the idea is that we will all be better off if religion is private, like a hobby. The problem, especially for Christians, is that we believe the resurrection of Christ is a real event in time and space and that if that is true, then it has the potential to affect the way we look at almost everything. And I would argue that influence has been dramatically for the good.

To the extent we embrace secularism, and almost all of us do to some degree, we focus more on material things because that represents reality to us. In America, our materialism mostly manifests as consumeristic and hedonistic pursuits.

Does secularism have an effect on how society views marriage and family?

Unquestionably. If you buy into a purely secular view, marriage is nothing special. It is merely a contract (and not a particularly strong one) that people undergo when they decide to pursue life together for a while. While it can be inconvenient and messy to dissolve that contract, nothing tragic has happened. There has been no violation of any larger law. God’s conception of marriage doesn’t enter in. In fact, maybe marriage is just a cultural artifact that an enlightened, secular government merely needs to tolerate until it can be transitioned away.

Of course, we have seen this kind of change in the way we view marriage. It’s not just the effort to expand the meaning of marriage. The larger problem is that the state no longer values marriage as it once did. There is no bias toward keeping the family together. We no longer have the same concern for how divorce will affect the well-being of children, this despite the wealth of social science evidence chronicling the negative impact.

On the other hand, if you believe marriage represents a special relationship, one ordained by God, then you have a real reason, both as an individual and as a citizen in a political community, to seek to preserve it. This view, long the dominant one in western civilization, reinforces our best instincts about the family. It also happens to be much more humane to children and promotes human flourishing.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in Religion & Politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.


  • Roger McKinney

    Interesting article! I think what is happening is the end of secularism as it has been defined over the past 50 years. The original secularism developed by the Dutch Republic in the 17th century held that no religious group would get special status from the state. That was the idea of secularism until the 1960’s. Then socialists redefined secularism to mean no influence on government at all by any religious idea. It sought to make religious people second class citizens.

    However, I still think that we should strive to give non-religious answers to social issues as much as possible. In the homosexual marriage debate, we can argue that giving homosexual marriage the status of religion will encourage more homosexuality. Is that what we want? But in order to to that we have to destroy the popular idea that homosexuality is caused by genetics. I adopt Dr. James Dobson’s view that homosexuals are recruited into the lifestyle by other homosexuals. I think it’s the best explanation of why some people are homosexual. It also fits with the experience of friends who were homosexuals. And I was frequently the target of homesexual recruitment when younger. Elevating homosexuality to the level of marriage tells young people to not resist homesexual recruiters and encourages homesexual recruiters.

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