Philip Sampson, author of Jubilee Center’s report “Sustaining Democracy,” argues that secularism has become religious, arrogating to itself the privilege of judging what are acceptable beliefs and seeking to marginalize the views and values of traditional Christianity.
We know exactly what he means. The experience of Christians in education, local government, health care and many other spheres is that it is increasingly harder to find space where their faith is acknowledged. It is to be left at the door, and woe betide them if they complain.
The New Atheists, as they are being described – high-profile, articulate and aggressive proselytizers like Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”) and Christopher Hitchins (“God Is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything”) – are the heralds of this new world order.
Having carried all before them in terms of media coverage and book sales for a good while, their arguments – often weak and ill-informed, it has to be said – are being met with robust rebuttals, both from those arguably with a religious axe to grind and those without. (See Terry Eagleton’s “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” for instance, or “God is Back” by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge.)
But our cultural malaise runs deep, and our political leaders have too often floundered as their philosophical armament, such as it is, has proved inadequate to deal with the ever-increasing complexity of modern society.
What place should religion take in our country today, given that we can no longer work from the position that there’s only one? The apostles of secularism, priding themselves on their liberal credentials, would say, none at all, which denies, in a fundamental betrayal of liberalism, the very values they claim to uphold.
Granted that the old church/state settlement symbolized by Anglican establishment is dead and only awaits a decent burial. A new understanding is called for, which will allow people of faith a space in the public square, not on the basis of a claim to privilege, but on the basis of a shared citizenship. Ditchkins, as Terry Eagleton calls our atheists, are implacably opposed even to this. There’s a battle to fight.