Monday, July 13, 2015

The Tyranny of Radical Secularism (Part 2 of 3)

by Justin Soutar

A major propaganda weapon in the militant secularists’ assault on America’s Christian identity and on religious liberty is their re-interpretation of the concept of the “separation of church and state” implicitly enshrined in the First Amendment. Our nation’s founders intended the distinction between religious and civil authority to allow each governing entity to fulfill its proper public role. Radical secularists reinterpret this common-sense distinction as a radical divorce between the religious and civil spheres. In their view, every trace of religion must be scrubbed from American public life: no references to God should be made by government leaders; no symbols of the Christian religion should be displayed on public property. This malicious anti-God and anti-Christian animus would have struck the Founders as not only quite alien but extremely dangerous to the well-being of our nation. Here is what General George Washington wrote to the governors of the original thirteen states in a letter announcing the disbanding of the Continental Army on June 8, 1783 (note that this was an official U.S. military document):

I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you and the State over which you preside, in His holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field; and, finally, that he would be most graciously pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation.

 And James Madison said the following in an address to the Virginia General Assembly in 1778: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

The Founders’ Vision for America

Many of us today take it for granted that the United States is a natural product of Christian European civilization. However, we shouldn’t forget that at a time when most European Catholic and Protestant nations were governed by absolute or constitutional monarchies in which Church and state authority were closely linked and intertwined, the concept of a secular republic built on Christian religious and moral values was quite novel. As men of the Renaissance period, our nation’s devout Christian Founders did not eschew experimentation, but their experimentation flowed from the religious and moral principles they held dear. What they gave the world was something altogether unique and unprecedented—a secular Christian republic. What they created has come to be known as the “American experiment.” The Christian religion and Judeo-Christian moral code formed the foundations of this experiment and have contributed enormously to its remarkable success. Without those religious and moral foundations, the experiment would have failed long ago and our nation would never have achieved greatness.

The Founders’ vision for America was simple, intuitive, holistic, and brilliant. Today it appears utterly sane and reasonable when contrasted with the dangerous alternative vision that radically secularist ideologues are working so hard to put into practice. The Founders believed that God created all human persons equal in dignity and endowed them with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They believed that the role of civil government is to protect these unalienable human rights. They believed that such government comes from God and derives its legitimate authority from the consent of the governed. They were also profoundly aware of the fact that human nature has been corrupted by original sin, so they designed a three-branch system of government with checks and balances to minimize corruption and abuse of power. They believed that freedom is sacred because it is a gift from God our Creator, and that the truth is what makes people free. They understood freedom as the right to act in accord with the natural moral law and to practice one’s religious beliefs without government interference. They knew that religion and morality are powerful safeguards of human liberty, and considered both essential to the survival and well-being of America. Most importantly, the Founders agreed that without God’s guidance, protection, and assistance, the American experiment would be a failure.

The great majority of the Founders were Protestants who hailed from eighteenth-century England, where theocratic monarchs forced the state religion of Anglicanism on their subjects and outlawed the public practice of Catholicism and Protestantism. As a result of this experience, the Founders decided that the United States would not have an official religion. They understood that religious freedom is a two-sided coin consisting of these basic elements, one negative and the other positive: 1) freedom from religious compulsion (negative), and 2) freedom to practice one’s own religion (positive). To guarantee religious freedom in the new nation, our founders wisely integrated these two essential elements into the First Amendment to the Constitution: 1) they forbade Congress from passing any law that would institute an official American religion, and 2) they forbade Congress from passing any law that would prohibit the free exercise of religion. Thus the First Amendment authors intended to safeguard our republic from the opposite extremes of totalitarian theocracy and religious repression.

The careful distinction between religious and civil authority in the First Amendment (commonly known today as the separation of church and state) was intended to allow each governing entity to fulfill its proper public role unimpeded by the other. The First Amendment may be considered a blueprint for the secular Christian nation that the United States was founded and intended to be.

Secularism v. Radical Secularism

What are some characteristics of a secular nation, properly understood as such? First and most importantly, a secular nation is a religious nation, a nation “under God.” It recognizes that human rights and state authority both come from God and that the state is the guardian of these rights. This proper understanding of the source of human rights and the role of the state makes a secular nation a place of freedom and justice. It is a nation that values religion and morality as “indispensable supports” of its political prosperity (George Washington). It is a nation where church and state coexist harmoniously, each respecting the legitimate authority of the other. It is a place where each citizen is free to practice the religion of his or her choice, or to not practice any religion if that is his or her choice. It is a place where the contributions of religious believers to public life are recognized, welcomed and encouraged, even by those who are not religious themselves. It is a nation where traditional family values are highly esteemed and diligently safeguarded by those in authority. It is a place where government leaders are public servants, chosen by the people and responsible to them, subject to the same laws, who strive to promote the common good of all citizens. All these characteristics of a secular nation have allowed the United States of America to flourish and become the world’s greatest nation.

On the other hand, a “radically secularist” nation is a nightmarish place where atheism has become the official state “religion” and where all genuine religions are suppressed by law. This kind of nation is a nation without God. It recognizes no authority above that of the government. It is a place where human rights are believed to come from the government and may thus be given or taken away as the state sees fit. This false subjectivist understanding of human rights and government power renders it a place of bondage and injustice. It is a nation that rejects religious faith and absolute moral standards as obstacles to its freedom and progress. It is a nation where the church is completely subordinated to the state, and where public practice of religion is either severely curtailed or absolutely forbidden. It is a place where religious believers must leave their faith behind if they are to make any substantive contributions to public life. It is a nation where traditional family values are openly scorned and deliberately attacked by those in authority. It is a place where government leaders are self-appointed elitist dictators, not responsible to the people and not subject to any laws, who use their power to advance their own private interests. Such a godless, radically secularist nation is a nation in despair—a living hell. Within a relatively short time, it self-destructs and usually leaves behind an infamous legacy of violence, war, and mass murder. Historic examples include France under the Jacobins, late 1920s Mexico, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Maoist China. Contemporary examples would include Communist China and North Korea.

Many countries of the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, the nations of Western Europe, and Communist China and North Korea, are currently at various intermediate stages on the road to the radically secularist inferno. Abortion on demand is legal in all these countries; in China, parents are forced by law to abort every child after their first. Euthanasia is gradually becoming acceptable and legal everywhere. More than a dozen nations on four continents have already passed laws making same-sex “marriage” the legal equivalent of traditional marriage. In Western Europe, radical secularism has gained significant ground. While freedom of religion still largely exists and the people still elect their government leaders, hostility to religion now permeates Western European culture. A few years ago, a law was passed in Ireland attempting to force priests to violate the seal of confession by reporting sins of sexual abuse heard in confession to the government; a similar attempt was made with a priest in Louisiana last year. The Catholic Church in China is officially suppressed by the government, which recognizes only its own National Catholic Patriotic Association. And North Korea resembles one large prison camp ruled by a military dictatorship.

Lessons from History

As hinted above, the takeover of a country by the forces of militant secularism is usually not a “bolt from the blue,” a sudden and swift affair imposed on unwilling and unsuspecting masses by an elite coup with whom they have nothing in common. On the contrary, it is typically a gradual process occurring over several decades or generations that involves a progressive and widespread decline of religious faith among the general population, eventually leaving a yawning vacuum to be filled by the pseudo-religion of radical secularism. This is exactly what took place in Orthodox Russia in the late 1800s and early 1900s: a steady loss of religious faith among the bourgeois paved the way for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In early twentieth-century Mexico, unscrupulous Catholic landlords had amassed great wealth through unjust exploitation of their tenant farmers and neglected to share their resources with the less fortunate. Plutarco Elias Calles, the radically secularist dictator who took control of Mexico in the 1920s, had grown up in abject poverty that left him extremely bitter and convinced that organized religion was the enemy of the Mexican people. The French Revolution offers another example of this general rule: in late eighteenth-century France, corruption within the Catholic monarchy generated popular resentment, which the Jacobins unhesitatingly exploited to push their fanatically secularist agenda. (Poland is a somewhat different case, as it did not experience a homegrown revolution but was occupied by militantly secularist foreign invaders, while its own people remained devoutly religious under Communist rule.)

Given the critical situation in which America finds itself today, with the benefit of hindsight we may wonder whether the Founders made the right decision in not establishing Christianity as the official religion of the United States. It is certainly legitimate to raise this question and discuss and debate the answer as they pertain to both national religious identity and religious freedom. On one hand, making Christianity the official religion of the United States would have removed any ambiguity about our identity as a Christian nation, making it much more difficult for today’s radical secularists to successfully mount a vicious attack on that identity. On the other hand, however, we need to keep in mind that even countries with official religions are not immune to the forces of militant secularism. France, Mexico, Russia, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Poland—all either officially Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant nations—were shaken by convulsive revolutions in 1789, 1917, 1917, 1922, 1933, 1936, and 1939, respectively, that enthroned more or less short-lived totalitarian atheistic and socialist regimes (the Jacobins, the Federales, Communists, Fascists, Nazis).  

How did this happen? How did nations that had been Christian and free for centuries succumb to the tyranny of radical secularism? The answer is that, for a significant period of time prior to each revolution, the Christian people within those nations had been growing weak in their faith; as a result, injustices had crept into society and become entrenched, providing a fertile breeding ground for destructive revolutionary ideologies. When a country loses its faith, it then loses its freedom as well, with terrible social consequences. The rise of a godless dictator such as Hitler or Stalin is rarely an accident or anomaly, but rather an ordinary consequence of a religious vacuum and its attendant social turmoil, a predictable response to the need to fill that vacuum and impose order.

A lack of charity and justice properly grounded in the truth, especially from those who call themselves followers of Christ, lies at the root of all social problems. A serious and prolonged crisis of faith inevitably leads to crisis in society. Conversely, the solution to social problems is personal conversion to Christ. This is part of the reason why Pope Benedict XVI, during his papacy, declared a Year of Faith—to address the “profound crisis of faith” afflicting the contemporary global society by summoning all Christians “to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the World.” If bad Christians give religion a bad name, good Christians make religion look attractive and contribute to the building up of human society. As a Muslim sultan once famously remarked to Saint Francis of Assisi, “If all Christians were like you, I would become a Christian.”

Radically secularist despots such as Lenin, Calles, Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin who carried out their evil ideology to the letter inflicted untold human suffering and misery and are universally condemned as traitors to mankind (except by those freethinkers in their soap bubbles who think they were just doing what was “right for them”). By contrast, great Christian figures such as Saint Francis, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Father Benedict Groeschel, Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis who live the Gospel authentically accomplish outstanding achievements for human society and are universally admired, loved, honored, and respected (except by radical secularists). The latter offer marvelous examples of how to authentically live one’s Christian faith in the modern world, while the former serve as ominous reminders of where the radically secularist path ultimately leads.

History also assures us that the stronger the religious and moral character of a people, the more likely their nation is to survive through and triumph over a radically secularist interlude. Poland is perhaps the best example of this: following fifty years of Communist rule there, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 left behind a nation still 90 percent devout Catholic.
(To be continued)

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