‘Secularist’ Faith vs. Christianity: The Culture Wars are a Battle of Religions
Our culture is locked in conflict, and it’s a religious battle, through and through. For years, the powers-that-be said the culture wars were about pushy Christians imposing their faith on a neutral, secular world. It was also always a fiction — one that’s becoming harder to maintain as time goes on.
Today’s secularism has all the features of a new religion. This secularist faith demands full obedience — no rivals allowed, especially Christianity. It’s time we see the culture war for what it is: Two belief systems vying for the soul of our nation, and for the whole Western world.
The Religious Reality of “Secularism”
Not long ago I wrote about the new religion of polytheism, with its millions of small gods creating their own little worlds to live in. Many others are saying the same sort of thing. More and more people are seeing the culture wars for the religious conflict it really is.
One of them is Bishop Robert Barron, who raises concerns over today’s “culture of self-invention.” (He says it at about 12:30 in this video.) He explains this as the popular belief that “it’s my right … to invent myself, so my will determines the truth for me at all levels of life.”
He could have gone even further than that. (I suspect he would agree if we asked him.) No longer is it just “the truth for me.” These “self-invented persons” love to impose their “truths” on others, who must also take their “truths” as “true.” What else can we call it when one person’s view of his gender must dictate how others view him as well? This very god-like move is one feature of the “secular” religion in action. (In this context, I really must put “secular” in quotes. This new faith is no more secular than your local Christian college.)
Sex at the Center of “Secularism”
It’s a very pagan move, actually, for it puts sex right at the center. Greg Forster, visiting professor of faith and culture at Trinity International University, wrote on this in Christianity Today the month. “Sex is at the center of the culture wars,” he explained. “The growing political divide over sexuality is inseparable from a growing religious divide, one that began in the 19th century as a division between those who followed historic Christian teaching and those who followed ‘modernist’ theologies.”
Mary Eberstadt, author of several books and senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute, echoes and expands on that theme. Even the title of her recent piece in First Things tells the whole story: “The Zealous Faith of Secularism: How the Sexual Revolution Became a Dogma.” Eberstadt notes how the Western world has “entered a time of paganization.” A “rival, secularist faith,” has arisen, she says, “which sees Christianity as a competitor to be vanquished.”
Did someone say “religious conflict”?
This new “secularist” religion — and the conflict it brings to our culture — is built on sex and its free expression. As Eberstadt says, “The fury directed at Christianity can be pressed into a single word, sex. … All of the … animosity now aimed against Christianity by this new secularist faith shares a common denominator. [It is] rooted in secularist dogma about the sexual revolution.”
Mythological and Not Really Rational
Which means, by the way, that we ought not expect it to be fully rational. Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs explores its not-so-rational nature in a searching article at New Atlantis, “Wokeness and Myth on Campus.” Campus culture, he says, is driven by a “mythological” impulse that precedes and overrules rationality. Therefore even the attempt to speak rationally of, say, the university’s mission to promote careful thinking on diverse viewpoints, is “perceived as a kind of violation.” It is a kind of “defilement from which [campuses] must be cleansed.” Therefore, he says, “cheap talk of ‘critical thinking’ and ‘the free exchange of ideas’ is clearly no longer adequate to the challenges we face.”
Eberstadt’s article includes a great example proving Jacobs’s point. “Within this new church of secularism,” she says, “pro—life women are heretics: despised transgressors of a religious community’s teaching and norms. … Abortion is sacrosanct. It is a communal right.”
It isn’t about critical thinking any longer. And there’s no “free exchange of ideas” there, either.
Explaining the Anger
Therefore, Eberstadt says, “When people say that they hope the Church changes its position on marriage or birth control, they are not talking about one religious faith – i.e. the Christian one. What they really mean is that they hope the Church will suborn or replace its own theology with the theology of the new Church of secularism.”
Which brings us back to the culture wars. Eberstadt’s conclusion may be disturbing, but it help explain the anger directed at the Christian faith these days:
At long last and after great troubles, Americans have grown accustomed to the peaceful coexistence of multiple faiths and denominations. The rival Church of secularism seeks no such comity, as today’s unprecedented attacks on Christian schools, charities, colleges and other works go to show. The new Church of secularism serves a very jealous god.
Of course, t serves secularists’ purpose to play the role of the “rational, non-religious” ones. It even serves their purpose to view themselves that way. Most of them would deny they’re living out a new faith. But they are.
To See the New Reality With Clear Eyes
In sum, we must see clearly the new reality of the culture wars. It isn’t a matter of one religion (Christianity) crusading against some mild and innocuous secularism. Neither is it one religion imposing its morality on non-believers. Or maybe it is, after all — but it’s the new “secular” faith that’s doing the imposing. It certainly has more power to do that these days than Christianity has. And it’s not afraid to wield that power.
“We are not waging war according to the flesh,” wrote the apostle Paul. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:3–4). We’d better find out what that means in this new day of religious conflict.