I have recently noticed two major threats to reason and religion in America today. Unfortunately, it may be necessary for me, at the outset, to affirm that reason and religion are not mutually exclusive. Each serves the other to some extent. Most great philosophers have found the idea of God to be a necessary contingent. And not even the most experiential of religions has long survived without positing grand metaphysical statements on which to base belief and practice. I may develop this subject in detail at a later date. For now, I will take it as a given, keeping in mind that the purpose of this essay is to treat both reason and religion generically.
The first threat to reason and religion is the secularist who believes that religious belief is unfounded, irrational and irrelevant to public life. He has his own principles and philosophies by which he orders his life. He most likely came about them through experience and education. They inform his decisions and guide his actions. They have led him to believe that religious teaching has merit only insofar as it affirms naturalistic and rationalistic notions of the way things are. Supernatural assertions and explanations of the world are fantastical and superfluous to him. His view being delineated as such leads him to categorically discount anyone who takes religion to be anything more than inspiration, moral education, or a conduit of goodwill. To the secularist, those who allow their experience of and beliefs about the metaphysical to inform their decisions and guide their actions are not to be trusted. He fears religious people who take themselves seriously and would advise the conscientious citizen to marginalize believers whenever possible.
One example of this is the media’s marginalization of Tom Cruise, whose Scientologist ranting has come across as abrasive to secular sensibilities. If the secularist ever were to honestly employ reason to judge the merits of various religions or particular religious teachings, this would not be a problem. On the contrary, his default posture is to label all religious thought and thinkers as misguided. This being the case, when people like Tom Cruise make a scene in public, in the mind of the secularist, Cruise is at that moment a representative of all religions. Thus the secularist, who really thinks his way of approaching the world is better than the religionist’s, never has to contend for his point of view, even if challenged with a more robust religious argument.
(It may be worth noting that, in much the same way the secularist maintains the baseless notion that all religions are equally invalid, the multi-culturalist maintains that all cultures are equally valid. She maintains that every culture should be appreciated and celebrated and no culture should consider itself better than any other since such arrogance would likely lead to oppression and power-mongering. The incongruity of such a perspective has come to light in America’s ongoing immigration debate.)
The second threat to reason and religion is the “Christian” who does not believe the Bible is true. The academic would call him a progressive; the theologian would call him a liberal; the sociologist would call him a secularist. This is apropos since his religion is subservient to his secular presuppositions. I will call him a deconstructionist. I do so because I believe this is likely his problem. He, if from the beginning or over time, has come to be skeptical of the biblical writings from a philosophical and historical point of view. Since he is secular in orientation he tends to doubt the mythical accounts of the supernatural and miracles in the Bible. And due to his naturalistic convictions he is also suspicious of the motivations of the biblical writers who make extraordinary claims about Jesus. He readily accepts the value of Jesus’ teaching. But stories about the virgin conception of Jesus or his resurrection from the dead may be hard for him to swallow. And all the theologizing about sin and atonement is a little archaic for his postmodern tastes. He is reluctant to admit to a fallen humanity. And at best he sees the death of Christ as a demonstration of God’s perpetual love and acceptance rather than the satisfaction of divine justice.
There is an obvious problem with the Christian deconstructionist. He purports to believe in the Christian God, yet in reality he has become his own god by his acting as editor of the biblical texts. Why would he bother calling himself a Christian? It is useless and inconsistent. But that is his own problem. The threat he poses to our society is that it fuels the secularist’s notion that religion is irrelevant and unworthy to be taken seriously.
Here’s how it works. The apologist for the secular point of view, not wanting (in this case) the Christian who is faithful to the Bible to be taken seriously in public discourse, will try to win her over to the view of religious privatization. The faithful Christian, who actually thinks that she has good reason to believe that what she believes is true and relevant to real life, resists the notion. So the secular apologist reasons with her by quoting respected “Christian” ministers and scholars, who are really just deconstructionists, who cast doubt on her Christianity and look down on her notions of truth. Whether or not the apologist succeeds in convincing the Christian, he gains ground in the public perception by popularizing, and passing off as legitimate, a new breed of secularized Christianity. His secularist friends, who before were tolerant of Christianity at best, now discover that they have some common ground with these “progressive” Christians (who are really just secularists in Christian clothing). So then the secularists and the deconstructionists join forces against faithful Christians, both legitimizing secular Christianity and marginalizing faithful Christianity in the culture.
Since 9/11, this has been happening enforce to the Muslim. A clear distinction is being imposed between “peaceful” (secularized) Islam and “radical” Islam. But such extreme categories leave little room in the American mind for a more fundamentalist approach to the religion that is neither secular nor fascist. Unfortunately, when it comes to religion the secularist does not put much thought into the spectrum of religious commitment and relies on tired stereotypes. In effect, those religious adherents who accept the idea of religious privatization are tolerated by the secularist. But those of any religion who take their beliefs seriously are considered fundamentalists. And in a political climate where the term “Islamic fundamentalist” has a particularly negatively charged connotation, the consistent secularist blanketly applies that attitude, regardless of warrant, to anyone who takes his religious beliefs seriously.
This would all be fine if indeed the secularist was indisputably right in thinking he is right and that all religions are wrong. But that is not the case. In reality, what we have is a case of secular totalitarianism. Rather than considering views on their merit, whether religious in origin or not, the secularist exercises a dictatorship over American culture. He would have us believe that this domination of the public square is the result of already having debated the other ideas and demonstrated superiority. But in fact he dismisses opposing views without due consideration and has the audacity to call himself rational. The result is the mitigation and corruption of true religious belief and the degeneration of true reason in the American mind.