In this email, we shall dig a bit more deeply into how this has occurred, and also, what the effects of the secular domestication of religion has had.
From the Secular point of view, religion was a two-edged sword. As Smith notes, Secular Revolutionaries held, on the one hand, that “Religion is in the business of promoting morality,” but on the other, that “in actuality religion has been history’s primary source of oppression, immorality, conflict, and error.” At one and the same time, religion proved useful for maintaining public order and the most powerful cause of social chaos. It both tamed people and made them wild, lulled them into peaceful submission and led them into utter barbarism. It simultaneously provided the glue of social harmony and the ammunition for anarchy.
This was the reigning view of those intellectuals who began to dominate American Universities in the early part of the 20th century. Canvassing the sociology textbooks of the period, for example, Smith found that “initial credits to religion” as a source of social harmony “invariably served as convenient setups for extensive, damning critiques of religion’s actual propensity toward moral failure and misconduct.”
We, who are living at the beginning of the 21st century, are quite used to this treatment of religion—so used to it, in fact, that we take it for fact. We have been sold on the secular story that the lessons of history teach the following truism: while religion has been the cause of some good, it has been the source of nearly all evil. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Trial of Galileo, the bloody Thirty Years War (1618-1648) between Catholics and Protestants, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera down to the present-day conflicts in the Middle East.
The litany of evils caused by religion—primarily Christianity—was an historical lesson embedded into nearly every Academic field in higher education. The recitation of this litany had the intended effect of taming religious believers by shaming religious believers—a domestication by humiliation—so that they would meekly accept their newly-defined, and very secondary role as moral nannies and cheerleaders in the secular order.
There are two points we need to see very clearly and sharply about this process of secular domestication of religion. First, such domestication demands the denial of doctrine because (so the lesson goes) doctrines are divisive and lead immediately to endless bloody wars, witchhunts, and sundry pogroms and persecutions. Therefore, the only permissible religious doctrine, according to Secularism, is that doctrines are impermissible except as purely private and entirely subjective preferences.
To gain any credibility in Academia and the secularly-defined public square, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims each had to confess that the particular beliefs that made them (respectively) Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims were the very sources of evil and conflict in human affairs. The only “cure” was to teach that such particular beliefs were entirely groundless (which, as Smith points out, is exactly what Secularists really did believe.)
Thus “Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” “the Torah is God’s Holy Book,” and “There is only one God and Mohammed is His Prophet” are all equivalent to proclaiming “I like chocolate ice-cream,” “I’m for vanilla,” or “Butter pecan for me!” A matter of taste and no more.
Since such doctrines are a matter of taste and not truth, the highest virtue taught by religion under the Secular yoke is tolerance. Secular Revolutionaries, who did not believe any religion at all, were fond of teaching that (for example) Jesus himself taught toleration, but (in the words of early-20th century sociologist Edward Ross), “the Church came to cultivate hatred of [the] heretic,…Thus Christianity became one of the most terrible dividers and embroilers of men and brought on the devastating ‘wars of religion’.”
That leads us to a second point. Surely it is true that religious believers have done a lamentable amount of evil in the name of their respective religions. The famous Thirty Years War that raged in the first half of the 17th century between Catholics and Protestants is testimony to that.
But we need to be clear about what that testimony really tells us. In this particular case, for example, we need to be accurate about the actual complex of causes that defined the Thirty Years War. As recent historians have pointed out, the rise of nationalism is as much or more to blame for the atrocities of this famous war than conflicting religious beliefs. In fact, as William Cavanaugh has argued, it was the rising nation-states’ desire for political power and complete control that brought them to use religious conflict to fuel their political wars. In other words, nationalism was more to blame than religious sectarianism.
Even more to the point, the 20th century is by all counts the most secular of centuries. If religion is the cause of bloodshed, how did this most secular of centuries fare? As Zbigniew Brzezinski sadly notes, it has been the century of “Megadeath,” racking up more death and carnage than all previous centuries combined. Nearly 90 million killed in non-religious wars. About another 90 million slaughtered by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, the greatest Secular Revolutionaries of the 20th century, in their efforts to establish their secular utopias.
May we count those murdered by abortion in America alone--50 million in the last quarter of the century? How many from euthanasia?
At the beginning of the 20th century, it is somewhat excusable that Secular Revolutionaries were optimistic both about their own inherent goodness and the happy prospects for the dawning secular age.
The real lesson? Unbelief has proven to be a far more dangerous, ruthless, destructive force than belief.