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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIII, No. 4
Advent - Christmas 2008

Faith and Reason -
The Religion of Secularism

by Burke Mees

We frequently hear the idea that in a democratic society, religious views have no place in politics. The loudest voices making this claim are the secular atheist crowd who promote that idea through groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Such groups argue that religious ideas should be kept out of public policy because religion is a subjective matter of faith. At the same time, they assert that it is perfectly appropriate for their beliefs to shape politics because the secular position stands on the firm ground of reason, science and objectivity. According to this position, only a non-religious worldview should inform our politics, and religious convictions should be a private affair that is kept in the closet.

Religion though, is what defines our core beliefs about reality, about who we are and why we are here. If these beliefs are not to serve as our guide in the discussion on how to pursue the worldly common good, then what else could serve as a guide? It is not a question of whether religion can inform politics, but whether anything else can inform politics.

As G. K. Chesterton said, “religion is not the church a man goes to, but the cosmos he lives in” (What’s Wrong With The World, Chapter 5). Why shouldn’t our understanding of the world around us figure into our beliefs about what makes good public policy? The secularists are not shy about openly advocating that their worldview be incorporated into politics, why should religious people keep theirs to themselves? The answer of course, is because it is religious.

But really, it occurs to me that the secular view is also religious. This materialist worldview that excludes a creator is a well-defined belief system that meets all the defining characteristics of a religion: It has a creation story, a comprehensive morality, a creed, dogmas, sins, heresies and even end-times prophesies. Together, these make up the Religion of Secularism, the cosmos that a secularist lives in.

Asserting that God does not exist is a bold statement of faith that has deep implications for matters of politics. While secularists like to think their cosmos rests firmly on hard facts, their dogmas are matters of faith. For example, science can propose a scenario where life came about by chance, but to claim that it definitively happened that way requires a leap of faith that is positively unscientific. Ultimately the secular worldview relies just as heavily on faith as any other religious worldview.

Like Christianity, the Religion of Secularism has different denominations with different dogmas — the fact is that they do have dogmas. If you doubt this, challenge a ‘faithful secularist’ on abortion, global warming, or any number of dogmatic issues and they usually respond with non-negotiable religious zeal rather than cool rationalism. A discussion between a faithful secularist and a Christian is not a matter of a rational position engaging a religious one, but rather of one religious view engaging another religious view.

The point is that militant secularism’s claim to be above religion is not a valid one. Rather than having a monopoly on the political discussion, “Secularism” should be on an equal footing with other religions. If it is reasonable for the Secularist to shape his politics according to his worldview, then it is reasonable for the Christian to do the same. To do this, we Christians should use reason to make the best possible case for our ideas and submit them to the meat grinder of American politics.

What we should not do is be intimidated into ignoring or denying our religious convictions when it comes to politics. Nor should we let the Secularists set the terms of the conversation because they claim to be above religion. The Secularists are not only religious, but in a way they set an admirable example of what it means to be religious. They are tireless evangelizers and are absolutely unapologetic about living their faith and “evangelizing” the world. In that way, we should be more like them.

Burke Mees, a native of St. Louis, is a parishioner at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska. He writes for The Catholic Anchor, the newspaper for the Anchorage archdiocese.

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