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August 30, 2006
Dear Concerned Citizen,
by Dr. Benjamin Wiker
side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar We return this week to our ongoing series on the rise of Secularism, focusing especially on the insightful book by Christian Smith, The Secular Revolution.

Again, we are examining Smith’s claim that the Secular Revolution did not happen by accident, but as the result of a well-planned, well-executed strategy. As we noted earlier, the push to secularize American society began in earnest at the end of the 19th century. But secularizing elites faced an overwhelmingly Christian society, which for them meant a society based upon primitive superstition. Progress entailed the destruction of such superstition.

The secular-minded therefore had to carry on a revolution without seeming revolutionary.  Religion did not fit into their materialist worldview. Science had demonstrated (at least to them) the impossibility of the spiritual world, but nearly the whole of American society held the spiritual world to be more real and more important than the material world. Religion was an obstacle to science, an obstacle that had to be systematically dismantled without arousing alarm.

But how to do it? In our last email, we looked at one aspect of secular strategy, the “two spheres” doctrine. According to the two spheres doctrine, science deals with reality, religion with morality, and never the twain should meet. On this view, religion is fine as long as it makes no claim about reality, but humbly sticks to making its adherents peaceable citizens in the new secular state—a “heads we win, tails you lose” victory for secularism. A nice strategy indeed.

Smith provides an illuminating analysis of another important and related aspect of the Secular Revolution’s strategy for dealing with religion, the casting of religion as purely and only spiritual.

Now what could be wrong with that, you might ask? After all, religion is concerned with the spiritual realm above all. What could be the harm with casting religion as it cast itself?

According to Smith, this seemingly positive affirmation was the insincere flip side of Secularism’s adamant dismissal of all things spiritual as unreal. Secularists appeared to affirm religion by publicly declaring that religion is concerned with the spiritual realm, a realm beyond the ability of science to examine. But at the same time—and far less publicly—they insisted that “all religions are finally reducible to naturalistic, material, and social causes, and are clearly false in their claims” (126). With the more famous secularizing figure Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, they declared religion to be an illusion. In short, they treated religious believers as parents patronizingly treat children who still believe in Santa Claus—with a condescending wink.

How about an example taken from Smith’s own field of sociology to make this point more clear, this time from early 20th century sociologist Charles Henderson. On the one hand, Henderson would assert that sociology “does not consider whether creeds are true or false. That work belongs to metaphysicians, theologians, [and] preachers.” Ah! A division of labor. Sociologists study religion, if they study it at all, from the outside; they merely describe it as objective scientists of social behavior. But metaphysicians, theologians, and preachers—they deal with an area beyond science, the spiritual core.

The problem, however, is that Henderson didn’t believe that the spiritual core was real. In this division of labor, the metaphysicians, theologians, and preachers are busily working on thin air. To demonstrate this, Henderson (like his colleagues) provided the real explanation of religion. Take a peek at what Henderson believed that Christians were really doing when they were praying the “Our Father.”

As the family expanded into the clan or tribe…the common ancestor became the common deity…From the long history of the family, religion has come to think out the meaning of its universal prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven” (128).

Get it? The notion that God is our Father is simply a carryover of the ancestral worship of dead fathers. Again, we find ourselves in Freudian territory. In his Moses and Monotheism, Freud presents the origins of Judaism, not in the God who reveals himself to Moses, but in the guilt of the Jews in rebelling against and murdering Moses--the father figure--in the wilderness.  Following in the same secularizing ruts in his treatment of the New Testament, sociologist Henderson argued that the “Our Father” that Jesus utters in the Gospels has no spiritual object.  It is simply the relic of the ancient Jew’s veneration of the dead Abraham, the tribal patriarch.

Wink! Wink! Don’t tell the little children that Santa isn’t real.

The condescending wink arose from their we-know-better-now attitude. Religious believers still think that the universe was created by a benevolent deity who watches over it with great care; that is, believers still think that spiritual beings are real. That is because they have yet to grasp the truth about the universe, the great cosmic secret of Secularism: the universe is an accident, an unintended effect of the fickle forces of chance and brute, indifferent matter.

The ultimate root of the secularist revolution was the denial of this fundamental Judeo-Christian belief. In the words of Lester Ward, one of the preeminent secularizing sociologists in early 20th century American academia, “There is no intelligent reason why anything should be as it is. That this little planet of ours happens to be peopled with life is merely an accident, or rather the convergence of a number of accidents” (126).

Human life, all of life, is an accident, not the result of a divine plan. A purely spiritual being has not created us. In a purely material cosmos, governed by chance, purely spiritual beings are pure nonsense.

But again, publicly declaring the beliefs of an overwhelming majority of Americans to be nonsense was a rather delicate affair a century ago. Hence the strategy of speaking out of both sides of the mouth, and this occurred not just among sociologists, but as we have said, all throughout academia in nearly every discipline. Hence, American colleges and universities became--especially under the immense influence of Freud, but also of the lesser luminaries like the sociologists mentioned above--the place where the intelligentsia whispered the “truth” about religion to the sons and daughters, even while to the parents (who were paying the tuition bill) they offered a condescending smile.

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Responses to Accepted:

Sir, Let me add another dimension to the university article. I taught there for many years and realised, like others and as you describe, that the university had lost its way. Our response (six professors) was to start our own college ( www.augustinecollege.org ) . It has been a pleasure to teach but we have no funds for advertising and although 90 % of our graduates of this one year course then survive University with an intact faith we are still not getting to the people who need to know this – the parents. We have got to do more to prepare good Christian young people for a world they cannot comprehend. Here are some test questions, if a student fails these University will be a spiritual disaster; 1. Can you deconstruct moral relativism? 2. Can you say I am intolerant and win the argument? 3. Can you deconstruct multiculturalism? 4. Can you defend the sanctity of human life? 5. Can you defend traditional sexuality against the homosexual propaganda? - Dr. John Patrick Professor History of Science, Medicine and Faith, Augustine College
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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

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Ben Wiker  Trans Benjamin Wiker
Benjamin Wiker holds a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary's University (MN), and Thomas Aquinas College (CA).

He is now a Lecturer in Theology and Science at Franciscan University of Steubenville (OH), and a full-time, free-lance writer. Dr. Wiker is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and a Senior Fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He writes regularly for a variety of journals.

Dr. Wiker just released a new book called Architects of the Culture of Death (Ignatius). His first book, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists, was released in the spring of 2002 (InterVarsity Press). He has written another book on Intelligent Design for InterVarsity Press called A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature.
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