Thoughts of a Dying Atheist
Scares the hell out of me
and the end is all I can see...Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
~ Revelation 16:13
Radical Secularism, Militant Islamism
The contemporary secular campaign being waged against Judeo-Christian civilization.
By Joseph Morrison Skelly
‘God is dead,” Friedrich Nietzsche declared in Thus Spake Zarathustra and The Gay Science, two of his nineteenth-century assaults upon the established moral order.
“God is not great,” Christopher Hitchens decrees in his tome of the same title released last year.
“Stop!” Herb London shouts, as he stands athwart history in his new book, America’s Secular Challenge: The Rise of a New National Religion, published this autumn by Encounter Books. In it, he takes on the high priests and acolytes of radical secularism, which he deems to be an emerging national faith. Such an ideology elevated to the level of religious doctrine poses a grave threat to the West, London, the president of the Hudson Institute, properly asserts. This is true of extreme secularism in and of itself, but even more so when it is juxtaposed against the designs of one of our mortal enemies, militant Islamism.
“In particular, I hope to demonstrate,” he writes, “that our culture’s increasing commitment to the tenets of radical secularism undermines our resolve to oppose a fanatical foe on the world stage.” As he argues elsewhere, “[t]he question is whether radical secularism offers a sufficiently robust alternative to religion — robust enough, that is, to nurture our allegiance to the core values of Western civilization at a time when those values are under siege not only from the external threat of radical Islam, but also from the internal threats of spiritual fecklessness and moral anemia.” No, it does not, is his sobering reply, which makes his latest publication a must read.
In his book, London differentiates between a healthy secularism and its extremist counterpart. The former is one of the pillars of enlightened liberal democracies. Many of its adherents are patriotic citizens of the West. “There are secularists who love America and will sacrifice for it,” he affirms. Radical secularism, however, “is a kind of faith, as is the dogmatic commitment to scientific rationality, to which so many secularists appeal in the hopes of answering moral and ontological questions that were once answered by religion.”
The rational secularist — someone like Alan Wolfe, Christopher Hitchens, or the staff of the American Civil Liberties Union — “disinters a ‘religious’ canon of his own, one that has a distinct value system even as it rejects Christianity and Judaism.” At first glance it may seem ironic to refer to radical secularism as a religion, since it is bereft of any faith in God, but the author is right to assert that it constitutes a new belief system, a postmodern creed of sorts, which is one of his key insights. Another is how he turns the tables on elitist commentators who are so quick to excoriate religious fundamentalists by applying their standards to radical secularists, demonstrating in the process how it is the latter group that more often exhibits intellectual rigidity.
London identifies five developments in our time that have paved the way for the ascendancy of radical secularism. They include the rise of multiculturalism; the decay of traditional religion; the degeneration of the liberal virtue of tolerance into an unwillingness to discriminate (relativism, in other words); transnationalism, which is “the effort to reduce or eliminate the national heritage of European states through continental harmonization” — and a phenomenon creeping into American life; and “a loss of existential confidence that is at the same time a failure of nerve.” There is a historical dimension to this process, too, since the assault upon established religion has deep roots in the West, including Friedrich Nietzsche, as mentioned above, and extending back to the radical French branch of the Enlightenment, which the author acknowledges early on in his book.
While London details the contemporary secular campaign being waged against Judeo-Christian civilization writ large, he is eloquent in his defense of Christianity itself. “[T]he historical truth is that our way of life, including the liberty ensconced in liberalism, emerged from and is sustained from Christian principles,” he argues. “Judeo-Christian principles” might be the more accurate phrase, this reviewer believes, but the author’s effort to bolster a Christianity now unsure of itself is most welcome. He welcomes Pope Benedict’s appeal to reason, or logos, in his Regensberg address, revealing that his book is not, by any means, a simple-minded attack upon modern science. “Pope Benedict’s lecture at Regensberg University was, in fact, an exploration of faith’s basis in reason.” He recounts in a positive manner the Pope’s recent remarks to a youth audience. “The great challenge of our time is secularism,” the Pontiff said. “Society creates the illusion that God does not exist, or that God can be restricted to the realm of purely private affairs. Christians cannot accept that attitude. This is the first necessity: that God becomes newly present in our lives.”
In his concluding chapter London exhorts Christianity to rise to the occasion by appealing to its noblest achievements: “[w]hether Islam will find the will to reform itself is a looming question of our times, but it is equally important to ask whether Christendom, which has often wanted to sit out the battle, will mobilize the spiritual strength to fight for the greatest and most liberating tradition the world has yet known.”
Radical secularists seek to banish religion entirely from the public square. But what do they believe in private? In an important chapter London delineates their six central principles, what he calls the “articles of a possible secularist catechism.” Listen closely, and we can hear several of them reverberate in this presidential election season.
The first doctrine is that “[t]ruth is subjective, relative, or contextual.” Next is the assertion that [r]ationality can solve moral and ontological questions about man’s nature,” followed closely by the notion that a “rational government is freed from the limits traditionally imposed on its purview through the attainment of technical knowledge. Man’s eternal problems, including the plight of the poor, can be solved through a welfare state based on the redistribution of wealth.” The fourth article of faith holds that “[s]ince we are all children of the globe, subject to the same rationality, national loyalty and patriotism are dangerous anachronisms.” The fifth asserts that the “most important goal one can seek is self-transformation, what the psychologist Abraham Maslow called ‘self-actualization.” The last dogma stipulates that“[d]iscrimination is the great bugbear of social intercourse.
The mandate ‘judge not, let ye be judged,’ stripped of its original meaning as a plea for compassion, is not a justification for closing one’s eyes to the difference between right and wrong.” London’s assessment of these secular commandments is quite damning. “[L]et us say that, taken together, they form the basis for a seductive new religion. Since this religion is based upon individual, self-directed action as the source of salvation — and upon manifest disapproval of the transcendent — one might just as accurately describe it as a new form of paganism.”
The perpetrators of 9/11, alas, were not pagans, but adherents of militant Islamism. Radical secularism, London is right to stress, is incapable of confronting this deadly strategic threat. Since it eschews theology in favor of rationality, this paradigm cannot adequately comprehend a fanatical movement rooted in religion. As he laments, “[b]elieving that there must be a rational explanation for seemingly irrational behavior, Western leaders and opinion makers bend over backwards to contrive exculpatory explanations. Rarely do they come to the conclusion that the violence is fomented by religious zealotry no liberal concessions can possibly mitigate.” Many Western policymakers are handicapped by the limits of the secularist imagination, in other words.
Militant Muslims, for their part, perceive that the fissures now visible in the foundation of Western resolve — due in part to the corrosive effects of radical secularism — present opportunities they can exploit, cracks they can pry open. During a recent seminar on his book in New York City, London made a perceptive comment in reply to a question on what might be fueling the rise of extremist Islam at this historical juncture: “Perhaps it is because radical Islam recognizes a cultural weakness in the West,” he said. As he puts it in his book, “[c]ertainly part of the reason for the recent tumult is the belief circulating in the Islamic world that a secular West no longer has the will to resist Islamic jihad.”
Herb London is correct. At bottom, our social malaise is a spiritual illness. We are fighting now on battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq, but, as he warns, “if the West cannot marshal the strength to defend its core values, these contemporary Crusades will assuredly end in disaster. Part — a large part — of that task is spiritual. It involves challenging the gospel of radical secularism, according to which the goal of human life is entirely defined by material well-being.” In its place can stand a revival of the Judeo-Christian founding principles of the West in general and the United States in particular. Religion remains a vital force in American life and represents a wellspring of national renewal. Tapping into it can help to ensure the more favorable outcome of the two scenarios that, London believes, lie ahead of us.
“As the first decade of the twenty-first century comes to a close, its seems clear that there will either be a rebirth of the West, bolstered by a resuscitation of its key traditions, or further disintegration as we struggle ineptly against fanaticism.” The obstacles to achieving the first outcome are formidable, to be sure, but America’s Secular Challenge: The Rise of a New National Religion outlines a strategy for ultimate success.
— Joseph Morrison Skelly is a college history professor in New York City and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I speak peace when peace is spoken
But I speak war when your hate is provoking
The season is open 24-7-365
Man up yo ~ time to ride
No need to hide behind slogans of deceit
Claiming that you're a religion of peace
We just don't believe you
We can clearly see through
The madness that you're feeding your people
The cry of your unholy war
Using the willing, the weak and poor
From birth drowning in propaganda
rhetoric and slander
All we can say is damn ya
My forefathers fought and died for this here
I'm stronger than your war of fear
Are we clear?
If you step in my hood
It's open season