The Dogmas of Secularism
Book Pick of Benjamin Wiker’s Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion.
Worshipping the State:
How Liberalism Became Our State Religion
By Benjamin Wiker
Regnery Publishing, 2013
256 pages, Hardcover: $20.76
To order: barnesandnoble.com
In Worshipping the State, author Benjamin Wiker takes the reader to school in the best sense of that phrase. Written with professorial exactness and supporting footnotes, the book expertly chronicles the perennial tension between state and religious interests. And in doing so, it provides the historical perspective to better understand the current rise in what the book describes as “radical secularism.”
Wiker posits that today’s secular culture has its pedigree in the materialistic pagan world, which co-existed with the Old Testament Covenant, but was subdued and tamped down by the rise of the New Testament Covenant. And although this worldview became increasing subterranean due to Christianity’s 1,500 years of transcendence in the West, nature abhors a vacuum; and with Christianity ebbing, the old ways, albeit with new language, are making a comeback.
The author locates the beginning of the resurgence of radical secularism to 500 years ago and the publication of Machiavelli’s The Prince. It was Machiavelli who, according to Wiker, erected the first wall of absolute separation of church and state in the Christian era. Ironically, the concept was nothing new, as the book instructs us so thoroughly.
In the Old Testament, the political power of David was separate from the moral authority of Nathan, and when those two imperatives intersected quite nastily, David eventually bowed to the unbeatable hand Nathan held. In the New Testament, Jesus drew a line between the interest of the state and that of the Divine by suggesting people take a good look at whose visage was on the coin in their purses.
But what Machiavelli did so well was not only claim this separation as the cornerstone of civilization, but relegate the state to a plateau above all others, especially religion (Christianity). In short historical order, Machiavelli was followed by a slew of thinkers and philosophers who, standing on each other’s shoulders, further whittled away at the Divine genesis of Christianity so as to build a variety of brave new worlds in the image of man.
There was Hobbes’ now familiar sounding relegation of religious thought and action to the private shadows of an individual’s life, while the light was reserved exclusively for the all-powerful state; Spinoza’s rejection of the reality of objective good and evil; Rousseau’s re-imagining the advent of man as the sum of his wants and needs; and Rousseau’s foster child, the French Revolution, which was equal parts rebellion against the Bourbons and Christianity.
This animosity fostered by Machiavelli and nurtured by the philosophers who followed him, traveled well into the New World. As Wiker describes in his book, Thomas Jefferson was so convinced the evangelists had made a critical error “inventing” a Divine narrative for Jesus that Jefferson took it upon himself to edit the New Testament with all references to Jesus’ divinity excised.
In 19th-century America, the aforementioned philosophers and others took hold at the most prestigious European universities and through cultural cross-pollination, the American academy as well. The results of the creeping secularism, (Wiker reminds us that elite Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale started out as divinity schools), was that truly radical thought and ideas that were anathema to a Christian view of life are now the status quo of most mainstream university curricula.
Secular touchstones, such as the truth being unknowable, that the only “sin” left worth fretting about is intolerance and that all religious expressions are equally relevant or irrelevant, have been carved in stone in front of not only every secular school, but at most mainstream Catholic universities as well.
The source of the conflict can be laid at the foot of the cross. Christianity comes along at a time and place, imperial Rome, where the pagan template is as solid and entrenched as Roman concrete. There is rampant pornography, sexual license, infanticide, euthanasia and state-sponsored murder. In one footnote, Wiker sites the first-century Roman poet Martial describing a “wedding” where a man dressed as a groom “marries” a man dressed as a bride. “Does that not seem enough yet for you, Rome?” Martial writes with head-scratching incredulity. If he only knew what the future would bring.
With its greatest years behind it, Rome was still the superpower of its day as Christianity dawned, and no power, whether a Central-American kleptocracy or modern-day superpower wants to share power. And the essence of the Christian premise, founded on God’s ultimate authority and objective, unchanging eternal truth, was too much for ancient Romans to bear and too much for “moderns” of every century thereafter.
The ultimate irony, as Wiker so aptly demonstrates, is that the radical secularists of today, just like the followers of Machiavelli, Hobbes or Rousseau, are not the exemplars of a non-religious view, but more precisely the high priests of an alternative religion. The secularists have their dogma (abortion, licentiousness); their clergy (elites from Washington to academia); and they have their inquisitors (media) to keep the “faithful” in line. The most recent manifestation of this phenomena even has a commandment — Thou Shall Be Tolerant (or else).
Sobering content indeed, but Wiker’s book does not leave us to wallow in self-pity, but instead urges Christians to arm themselves to the teeth with the truth. And he advises us well to re-insert the truth into modern education, science and the body politic in a kind of reverse engineered Reformation where culture, education and science are reclaimed by the faith.
As the book readily admits, it’s a tall order, as so much damage has already been done. Still, as only a person who holds to the promise of Easter can believe, the cause is not lost. Writes Wiker, “Neither the real meaning of the U.S. Constitution nor the actual historical truths about Christianity and liberal secularism support the liberal myth about history or the project to secularize our society. On the contrary, true history and honest constitutional interpretations cut against secular liberalism every time.”
Abby Hoffman, a radical secularist of a not so ancient history, advised people to “steal this book.” I say, buy Worshipping the State, and counterrevolutionaries of the world unite.
Register correspondent Robert Brennan writes from Los Angeles.