Overcoming Secularism

In 1991, James D. Hunter published Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. In his book, Hunter claimed that abortion, women’s rights, gay rights, court packing and other moral controversies were not isolated from one another, but were, in fact, part of a fabric of conflict over the meaning of America. The contemporary culture war is fought along new and unfamiliar lines — it cuts across established moral and religious communities.

Seventeen years later, we may say that the cultural war between religious liberty and secularism has grown in intensity, and the former has yielded some ground to the latter.

How can we win this cultural war?

No magic formula or secret nuclear weapon is available to any of the opponents. I believe that, with God’s aid, secularism can be defeated by the power of reason and the use of some strategies. Let me point out some of the arguments and initiatives we may take.

Rational Arguments

Once we clearly understand the distinction between secularity and secularism, as it has been explained in the first three installments, we may put forward in the public square both anti-secularism and pro-secularity arguments.

In order to prove a point, you use indirect and direct arguments. Indirect arguments seek to show the contradictoriness of the opposite thesis. Direct reasons prove one’s own thesis.

For example, the thesis “God exists” can be argued in two different ways: indirectly, by showing that the thesis “God does not exist” is illogical and false; and directly, by providing positive reasons to conclude that “God exists.”

Let us start by sketching the indirect arguments to prove that the secularist project is absurd and self-contradictory.

Secularism is rooted in rationalism — the belief that human reason is the only source of knowledge. Naturally, rationalism does not leave any room to supernatural faith — the knowledge acquired from God as he revealed himself to mankind.

But mark the paradox: How can reason rationally verify that reason can know all things? It can’t. Reason can never prove by itself that it is the only source of knowledge. Reason can only believe in it. Rationalism’s starting point is not a rational reasoning — it is an irrational belief. Reason has never told the rationalist-secularist that there is no other source of knowledge outside of itself. Such a thesis has been believed — but this is the expression of a willed decision, not of a rational conclusion.

Thus, rationalism and its political expression — secularism — are self-contradictory. Both are determinations of the will. None is rational, for none allows reason to reason about its own self-limitations and the possibility that other sources of knowledge may exist. They have imposed their belief on reason and want to impose it on others.

Since rationalism and secularism are closed-minded and cannot dialogue with people who claim to have a revealed truth, they end up being antirational and intolerant — just the opposite of what they claimed to be at the beginning.

Consequently, secularism, as rationalism’s sociopolitical project, is totalitarian. It forces citizens to believe in the utopia of a godless civilization and cannot put up with a church or religion that publicly acknowledges God’s existence as Creator and Ruler.

As Alexis de Tocqueville put it, “Despotism may govern without faith, but Liberty cannot.”

History proves the point. Secularist projects launched by people like Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Zedong and Pol Pot, were ruthlessly despotic and caused the greatest slaughters of all times. Secularism is, indeed, oligarchic and discriminatory — the “enlightened” elite of rationalists have the right to rule over the uneducated herd of religious people, even without democratic procedures. On the international level, the Western secularist model is being imposed on other civilizations through political and economic pressures.

By crushing religious liberty, secularism suffocates the meaning of life that many people find in faith and stifles the irreplaceable contributions that churches offer to society in culture, education, charities, health care, arts and sciences.

Since rationalism and secularism are rooted in a nonevident belief, one should demand they take the place they allow to other faiths — confinement to the private sphere with no right to stand in the public forum.

To this sort of reasoning, we may add direct arguments in favor of a healthy dialogue between the state and the churches. Secularity, indeed, is reasonable: Consistent with reason, it is open to nonrational but reasonable sources of knowledge and progress. It works together with churches to foster the integral development of the human person and harmony in society. In this way, society becomes the home of all peoples and gets enriched by the spiritual and temporal contributions of religion.

Contrary to secularism, secularity can recognize the intrinsic dignity of the human person and avoid discrimination on account of people’s beliefs. For this reason, it is capable of establishing an authentic alliance between peoples and nations — human rights are found in nature, and not provided by the state.

Some Strategies

To conclude this series, I can only suggest a few courses of action we may take to establish a civilization of justice and love.

First of all, secularism should be unmasked and be exposed as it is — contradictory, intolerant and antihuman.

This critique is exclusively addressed to the ideology, not to persons. Secularists may be well-intentioned when promoting a religion-free society. They may sincerely believe that religion is evil or illusionary and that the churches do not have any social rights. Nonetheless, they unwillingly promote an irrational and despotic creed whose effects will be devastating for the entire society.

In conversations, e-mails, letters to the editor and articles, we should explain that secularity is the only possible way to respect human rights and the only source for authentic justice, social flourishing and world peace. Islamic confessionalism and fundamentalist secularism can only lead to tensions and conflicts.

Open to truth, we must engage effectively in debate with mutual respect, dialogue and honesty.

The New Fundamentalists: Beyond Tolerance, by Legionary Father Daniel Brandenburg [editor’s note: published by Circle Press, affiliated with the Register], offers a good example of respectful analysis and positive proposals about the cultural problem we are facing today.

Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, has to do a better job of showing how much good it does for society. The historical contribution of Christianity in all areas of human life is immeasurable. Read, for instance, Thomas Woods’ book on How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.

Thousands of schools, colleges, charities and hospitals — including more than half of the hospitals operating in Africa — are run by faith-based institutions. The Church is blamed for the spread of AIDS due to her opposition to contraception, but 25% of the world’s AIDS victims are taken care of in Catholic hospices. The Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio has played an effective role in resolving conflict in Mozambique and other African countries.

More often than not, faith-based groups work without financial help from local and federal governments.

Thanks to her schools, the Catholic Church in Spain saves the national state from paying $6.13 million a year in education. Over half a million poor are assisted in Spanish Catholic institutions. The Church generates countless people who heroically give themselves to others, but we do not hear much from secularist “Father Damians” and “Mother Teresas.”

Proper public response to secularizing traditions may offer a lasting lesson.

On Nov. 9, 2005, the Catholic League started a boycott against Wal-Mart, citing discrimination against Christians. The next day, WorldNetDaily.com flagged this story on its website as the lead news story.

This led to a string of interviews on talk radio around the nation. By Nov. 11, Wal-Mart folded and the Catholic League called off its boycott.

We should not be afraid of publicly displaying our religious convictions and symbols.

Legal action can be taken whenever religious liberty is threatened. National public interest law firms that protect the free expression of religious traditions, like the Beckett Fund and the Thomas More Law Center, are commendable.

One can write letters to political leaders, expressing one’s concern about religious liberty. Believers should also bring their religious outlook into business, the media, the entertainment industry, politics and public responsibilities.

The key to the future is the formation of our children in the faith, in critical thinking and in a fair knowledge of history.

Witnessing to our religious beliefs ands values is certainly the most effective peaceful weapon we have at our disposal.

We should not be afraid. Secularism is a monster fed by powerful organizations, media outlets and political establishments, but it is a monster with clay feet. Its weaknesses are too strong. By trying to annihilate the deepest and indelible longings of the human heart — eternal life, transcendence, lasting love and meaning — and by trying to build on sand a dreamy sociopolitical utopia, secularism, like communism, is doomed to catastrophic failure.

Sooner or later, the clay feet will melt and the monster will collapse.

Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar

teaches philosophy at

Rome’s Regina Apostolorum College.