Category Archives: Secularism

What Modernity Promised & What Modernity Produced

“Modernity promised us a culture of unintimidated, curious, rational, self-reliant individuals, and it produced . . . a herd society, a race of anxious, timid, conformist ‘sheep’, and a culture of utter banality.”

~ Colin Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many (Cambridge, UK; Cambridge University Press, 1993, 2002), 13.

The Irony of Modern Intellectual Progress

Richard Tarnas provides some helpful insight into the dehumanizing effects of modern scientism:

The more modern man strove to control nature by understanding its principles, to free himself from nature’s power, to separate himself from nature’s necessity and rise above it, the more completely his science metaphysically submerged man into nature, and thus into its mechanistic and impersonal character as well. For if man lived in an impersonal universe, and if his existence was entirely grounded in and subsumed by that universe, then man too was essentially impersonal, his private experience of personhood a psychological fiction. In such a light, man was becoming little more than a genetic strategy for the continuance of his species, and as the twentieth century progressed that strategy’s success was becoming yearly more uncertain. Thus it was the irony of modern intellectual progress that man’s genius discovered successive principles of determinism — Cartesian, Newtonian, Darwinian, Marxist, Freudian, behaviorist, genetic, neurophysiological, sociobiological — that steadily attenuated belief in his own rational and volitional freedom, while eliminating his sense of being anything more than a peripheral and transient accident of material evolution.

~ The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped Our World (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1991), 332.

The Great Question Confronting Modern Humanity

“The great question confronting modern humanity is this: Granted that the universe contains both persons (like you and me) and impersonal structures (like matter, motion, chance, time, space, and physical laws), which is fundamental? Is the impersonal aspect of the universe grounded in the personal or is it the other way around? Secular thought generally assumes the latter — that persons are the products of matter, motion, chance, and so on. . . .

If the impersonal is primary, then there is no consciousness, no wisdom, and no will in the ultimate origin of things. What we call reason and value are the unintended, accidental consequences of chance events. (So why should we trust reason, if it is only the accidental result of irrational happenings?) Moral virtue will, in the end, be unrewarded. Friendship, love, and beauty are all of no ultimate consequence, for they are reducible to blind, uncaring process. . . .

But if the personal is primary, then the world was made according to a rational plan that can be understood by rational minds. Friendship and love are not only profound human experiences, but fundamental ingredients of the whole world order. There is someone who wants there to be friendship, who wants there to be love. Moral goodness, too, is part of the great design of the universe. If personality is absolute, there is one who cares about what we do, who approves or disapproves our conduct. . . .”

~ John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1994), 35-36.

Church, State & Secularism

I’m really enjoying Hunter Baker’s book The End of Secularism and think he has many insights into the origins, character, influence, and weaknesses of secularism as an ideology. It is historically and philosophically well-informed. Baker helps Christians think through the challenges of living out their faith in a society pervasively influenced by secular assumptions. Here is one paragraph on the relationship between church and state:

When the church is provided for by the state, it becomes concerned with pleasing the state and gains a second master. Though Christians often bemoan the separation of church and state and claim angrily that the separation of church and state is not in the [US] Constitution, they are actually expressing their frustration with secularism as the preferred ideology of many elites in politics, media, and education. Christians should absolutely bring their faith to bear in the public square. They should reject the influence of secularism urging them to keep their faith private and not to argue for a Christian perspective in areas like politics and education. What they must not do is to repeat the mistake of mingling the church’s future with that of the state. Temporal kingdoms have no eternal destiny. The church does.

~ Hunter Baker, The End of Secularism (Wheaton, Ill.; Crossway Books, 2009), 148.

The Temptation to Practical Atheism

” . . . one of the most consequential ideas embedded in modern institutions and traditions and habits of thought is theological. Stated bluntly, it is the assumption that even if God exists he is largely irrelevant to the real business of life. To put this somewhat more tactfully, contemporary society and culture so emphasize human potential and human agency and the immediate practical exigencies of the here and now, that we are for the most part tempted to go about our daily business in this world without giving God much thought. Indeed, we are tempted to live as though God did not exist, or at least as if his existence did not practically matter. In short, one of the most insidious temptations fostered within contemporary secular society and culture, a temptation rendered uniquely plausible by the idea and assumptions embedded within modern institutional life, is the temptation to practical atheism.”

~ Craig Gay, The Way of the (Modern) World (Grand Rapids, Mi.; Eerdmans, 1998), 2.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): Prophet of Postmodernism

nietzsche

“No one comprehended the stark contrast between belief and unbelief like Nietzsche, and therefore none of the secular prophets depicted the implications of atheism as clearly as he did. Nietzsche brought the tradition of the secular prophets to its conceptual end by proclaiming that atheism was extremely costly. After Nietzsche, easy belief and easy unbelief proved impossible. As the culminating voice of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche foreshadowed the postmodern tradition that effectually eradicated the easy confidence in human nature and in rationality that was trumpeted by his Enlightenment predecessors.”

~ Richard Lints, “The Age of Intellectual Iconoclasm: Revolt Against Theism,” in Revolutions in Worldview, ed. W. Andrew Hoffecker (Phillipsburg, NJ; P & R Publishing, 2007), 301.

The Enlightenment as Christian Heresy

“One way of understanding [the Enlightenment] is to think of it as a Christian heresy. What Christian faith had offered was retained while the Source from which that offer had been made was rejected. The prerogatives that had belonged to God did not simply disappear; now they reappeared in human beings. The revelation he had given now reappeared in the form of natural reason, which would do what revelation had done but without the discomfort of requiring humanity to submit to God from whom the revelation had come; the idea of salvation was retained but transformed into the drive for human perfectibility, at first achieved by moral striving and then, as we know it today, by psychological technique; grace became effort; the life of faith became the hope of personal growth; and eschatology became progress (what Lord Acton called the religion of those who have none).”

~ David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Powers (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2005), 30.