March 25, 2010
Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity
By John D. Steinrucken
Rational thought may provide better answers to many of life's riddles than does faith alone. However, it is rational to conclude that religious faith has made possible the advancement of Western civilization. That is, the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition. To the extent that the West loses its religious faith in favor of non-judgmental secularism, then to the same extent, it loses that which holds all else together.
Succinctly put: Western civilization's survival, including the survival of open secular thought, depends on the continuance within our society of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Arguably the two most defining and influential Christian concepts are summarized in two verses of the New Testament. Those verses are Romans 14:10 and John 8:32.
Romans 14:10, says: Remember, each of us must stand alone before the judgment seat of God. That verse explicitly recognizes not only each man's uniqueness, but, of necessity, implies that man has free will -- that individual acts do result in consequences, and that those acts will be judged against objective standards. It is but a step from the habit of accepting individual accountability before God to thinking of individual accountability in secular things. It thus follows that personal and political freedom is premised upon the Christian concept of the unique individual exercising accountable free will.
John 8:32 says: And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Whatever the theological meanings that have been imputed to that verse, its implicit secular meaning is that the search for truth is in and of itself praiseworthy.
Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society?
An orderly society is dependent on a generally accepted morality. There can be no such morality without religion. Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?
Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist! The best answer we can ever hear from secularists to this question is a hodgepodge of strained relativist talk of situational ethics. They can cite no overriding authority other than that of fashion. For the great majority in the West, it is the Judeo-Christian tradition which offers a template assuring a life of inner peace toward the world at large -- a peace which translates to a workable liberal society.
A few years ago, I saw on television the interview of a reforming prostitute and drug addict. When asked why she had chosen to reform, her simple answer was, I don't want to go to Hell. I am sure that she had previously received hours of counseling from secular social workers, all without discernible effect. What did it for her was the simplicity of a belief in Heaven and Hell, and with knowing that one day, she would stand alone before her God to be judged.
For the majority of a culture's population, religious tradition is inextricably woven into their self-awareness. It gives them their identity. It is why those of religious faith are more socially stable and experience less difficulty in forming and maintaining binding attachments than do we secularists.
Most men do have a need for God. This, I think, is proven by the desperation with which so many of those who have forsaken the God of their fathers (it has been fashionable to do so) are now reaching for meaning in eastern exotica, new-age mumbo-jumbo, and other attempts to fill the spiritual hole.
Or they surrender themselves to secular ideologies or do-good causes, especially those in which they can mass with others in solidarity, shouting in unison mindless, ritualistic simplicities and waving placards of hackneyed and inane slogans.
Secularism has never offered the people a practical substitute for religion. From the time of the philosophes with their certainties in 1789, the rationally thought-through utopias of those who think themselves the elite of the world, when actually put to the test, have not merely come to naught. Attempts during those two centuries to put into practice utopian visions have caused huge sufferings. But they, the clever ones, never look back. In their conceit, they delude themselves that next time they are sure to get it right. They create justifications for their fantasies by rewriting the histories.
We secularists should recognize that we owe much to the religionists, that we are not threatened by them, that we should grant to them their world. Why should we be exercised over a Christmas Crèche in front of the county court house? It is appropriately symbolic of Christianity's benign but essential role as guarantor of our political and legal systems -- that is, of a moral force independent of and transcendent to the political. And what harm will come to a child who hears prayer in the schoolroom? I dare say harm is far more likely to come in those places where prayer is not heard.
The fact is, we secularists gain much from living in a world in which excesses are held in check by religion. Religion gives society a secure and orderly environment within which we secularists can safely play out our creativities. Free and creative secularism seems to me to function best when within the stable milieu provided by Christianity.
To the extent that Western elites distance themselves from their Judeo-Christian cultural heritage in favor of secular constructs, and as they give deference to a multicultural acceptance that all beliefs are of equal validity, they lose their will to defend against a determined attack from another culture, such as from militant Islam. For having destroyed the ancient faith of their people, they will have found themselves with nothing to defend. For the culture above which they had fancied themselves to have risen, the culture which had given them their material sustenance, will by then have become but a hollow shell.
An elite must, by definition, have a much larger base upon which to stand. For Western civilization, that base has over the centuries been the great mass of commoners who have looked to Christianity for their moral guidance and for strength to weather adversity. The elitists delude themselves if they think the common people will look to them for guidance once their religious beliefs have been eroded away.
The greatest crime of the elitists -- if they have their way -- will be their failure to use their gifts of intellect to lead and to preserve. Their sin will be the abandonment of that ninety percent of the population which had provided them with the secure societal and material wherewithal for practicing their conceits and dilettantes.
If the elitists of our Western civilization want to survive, then it is incumbent upon them to see to the preservation of the hoary, time-honored faith of the great majority of the people. This means that our elitists should see that their most valued vested interest is the preservation within our culture of Christianity and Judaism. It is not critical that they themselves believe, only that they should publicly hold in high esteem the institutions of Christianity and Judaism, and to respect those who do believe and to encourage and to give leeway to those who, in truth, will be foremost in the trenches defending us against those who would have us all bow down to a different and unaccommodating faith.