What is Secularism?
With me,” Darwin wrote, “the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind if there are any convictions in such a mind?”
Darwin represents, if anybody does, one of the greatest heroes of secularism. Forboding within Darwin’s fear is the postmodern anxiety — rationality is ultimately meaningless. Modernity’s secularism was always doomed to give way to postmodernity. What comes after secularism can only be a resurrected paganism.
After the publication of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” Darwin’s ‘Pitbull’ ferociously used it to promote the secular agenda. T.H, Huxley saw Darwin’s theory as his a weapon to dissolve the bonds of Christianity and achieve the secularization of society through the domination of science.
In fact, Huxley’s compatriate, the president of the British Association for Science, John Tyndall said, “All religious theories must submit to the control of science and relinquish all thought of controlling it.”
According to the contemporary intellectual conversation of sociologists, secularism is the lack of belief in a transcendent authority in the public square. According to the conversation 400 years ago of the Enlightenment philosophes, it was ‘free thinking’. Jean Jacques Rousseau may be their foremost exemplar.
The word “secular” comes from the Latin saeculum — age or generation. Secularism is the belief that this age, this generation, is all there is.
Put another way, secularism is reductionistic. It is the rejection of the transcendent. If we cannot explain the existence of everything that we see by the transcendent explanation of a Creator beyond this world, we must explain all that exists based on its constitutive elements; its atoms and parts. We cannot explain a dog by a Creator God, but only by cells, bones, and prior causation. That is, the other dogs before this one.
The secular mind elevates the Hic et Nunc — the Here and the Now — to the point that one lives (or actually believes) as if nothing exists beyond that which we can see.
Therefore, secularism holds that nothing exists beyond this life. The church has no authority in society. Belief is personal, optional, and private. There is nothing transcendent to which the secular is accountable. This is usually why accountability is given in terms of some kind of ‘social contract.’ Since there is no covenant-relating God, a contract-relating People must fill the void. Hence why some form of statism tends to follow upon the heels of secular revolutions. The imminent statesman Groen van Prinsterer correctly noted, “The Revolution began … with the declaration of the rights of man; it can only be terminated by the declaration of the rights of God.” Secularism is dehumanizing because it is de-theologizing.
Secularism reduces man to DNA, and society to a collection of contracts. Accordingly, all meaning is derived from what exists from below. It is easy to see why the postmodern mind is unsatisfied with this, claiming that there must be no meaning at all. The harvest field is ripe.
Secularism is a radical redefinition of home — a home where God is rejected. A home without any sense of transcendent grace or justice.
Since secularism rejects the transcendent, grace and justice only exists in the here and the now. Grace is all the pleasure you are lucky to find, and justice is nothing more than then what you can enforce — right here, and right now.
Redefine society without God, and you redefine justice without God. Again we may quote Groen, “The religious question is the supreme question; fundamental question; the question that includes and determines the political question.”
Society and politics, family and state are determined by the God question.
Secularism as a social project began in earnest in 1789. Redefining society as that which exists — not because of God — but because of all the individual people. The secularism of the French Revolution produced the first individualist ideology. And individualism always gives way to collectivism. Secularism must de-theologize tradition and history, providence and authority.
Secularism means that authority comes from the people, providence is coincidence, tradition is oppression, and history is propaganda.
The individualism must give way to collectivism, for the authority of family and church has been removed.
Secularism still seeks to secularize, even today. Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg says, “The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion…anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilization.” The only antidote to systematic unbelief is systematic belief. The solution to secularism is faith.
Citations & References1. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/21/science/21belief.html
Robert J. McPherson IISee More Essays
Robert J. McPherson II is a graduate of RC Sproul’s Reformation Bible College with an honors degree in theology. He has an MA in Philosophy from the University of Buckingham; conducting research under the guidance of Sir Roger Scruton. His thesis is on personal responsibility and social justice.