What Aggressive Secularism Does to Society  

Brian Worley

(Will Durant & George Santayana on aggressive secularism) 


What's with all this antagonism between the clergy and secularism? Is it true that people, organizations, books, media and websites engaging in religious skepticism will be what ultimately brings down society? Is the sky falling and if so who should be held responsible?

Millions of us have graduated from religious schools; weren’t all of us taught (especially the clergy) that secularization will be our downfall? Professors and preachers taught us that religion and morality are the “glue” that holds society together and that “God will bless us” if we were faithful.

Skeptics think that such clerical warnings against secularism are somewhat like a self serving “religious vaccination” meant to inoculate pew dwellers from straying from the fold. These claims aren't baseless, qualified historians tell us that the clergy’s warnings are merited! Historians are legion, those whose specialty is world history are best qualified to address the subject matter. Samuel P. Huntington's, "The Clash of Civilizations" on the "why" involved religion and is currently accessible upon Wikipedia in layman's terms. Arnold J. Toynbee wrote of "schism," it's another interesting place where one should look. This writer strongly feels that laymen need someone to clearly and succinctly address the subject matter. Nobody does this better than Will Durant:   

The Story of Civilization, V.1., 71. (courtesy via Wikipedia page on Will Durant)

On the decline and rebuilding of civilizations

Will Durant saw the decline of a civilization as a culmination of strife between religion and secular intellectualism, thus toppling the precarious institutions of convention and morality: 

"Hence a certain tension between religion and society marks the higher stages of every civilization. Religion begins by offering magical aid to harassed and bewildered men; it culminates by giving to a people that unity of morals and belief which seems so favorable to statesmanship and art; it ends by fighting suicidally in the lost cause of the past. For as knowledge grows or alters continually, it clashes with mythology and theology, which change with geological leisureliness. Priestly control of arts and letters is then felt as a galling shackle or hateful barrier, and intellectual history takes on the character of a "conflict between science and religion." Institutions which were at first in the hands of the clergy, like law and punishment, education and morals, marriage and divorce, tend to escape from ecclesiastical control, and become secular, perhaps profane. The intellectual classes abandon the ancient theology and-after some hesitation- the moral code allied with it; literature and philosophy become anticlerical. The movement of liberation rises to an exuberant worship of reason, and falls to a paralyzing disillusionment with every dogma and every idea. Conduct, deprived of its religious supports, deteriorates into epicurean chaos; and life itself, shorn of consoling faith, becomes a burden alike to conscious poverty and to weary wealth. In the end a society and its religion tend to fall together, like body and soul, in a harmonious death. Meanwhile among the oppressed another myth arises, gives new form to human hope, new courage to human effort, and after centuries of chaos builds another civilization." 

Wow! What a sobering lesson from history that Durant has delivered! Would anyone care to dispute Durant? Durant needs no commentary, no one understood history better than he. Secular groups that pose the question "Would the world be better off without religion" fail to understand that Durant answers their question. Some folks lack discernment though. They can read what Durant has written here and fail to realize that religion helped build America to it's higher stages, and thus religion is foundational to this republic. Fools fail to recognize or respect this fact.  In America's case, the question isn't whether society would be better off without religion; the question is where would it be without it? Durant (a secular intellectual) understood the proclivities of secular intellectuals through observation and from his study of history. His conclusion from history serves as a warning to all but particularly to secularists. If you asked me for the bottom line, the sound bite would be: "Aggressive secularism threatens the foundation of society.

Durant's scholarship combined with George Santayana's insight are best brought together for those wanting an intelligent discussion of our subject matter. A timely assertion from Wikipedia seems appropriate here:

George Santayana  “The Life of Reason” (1905-1906)

Vol. I, Reason in Common Sense

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it 

Durant passed on 30 years ago, but I believe his observation to be a timeless truth! One could say his concern was about secular folks taking an informed approach towards religion. Question is, what should the non-religious practitioner's response be in light of the current day unfolding and clashes between secularism and religion?  

Secularism from a clergyman's perspective

I have pondered this dilemma and have sought to fine tune Ex-Minister’s direction and approach in a time when most are oblivious to what would lie ahead should religion be conceivably snuffed out. From the perspective of an ex-minister, I'd like to show you some things from a different angle.

Clergymen sometimes view secularism as a direction while we primarily look upon it as a destination. Whenever a parishioner strays, they are going away from the church's tradition in a secular direction. 

A clergymen, by nature of their position, wear many hats. One of these involve counseling. They frequently become confidants and are told about private matters from the personal lives of their congregants. People have problems, I know I do. They hear and observe many things that involve morality based issues. The great clerical refrain is that secularism is destroying society. They say these things because this is what they're seeing. They see people straying from one of the morality anchors established by their religious tradition/revelation and it grieves them. Family disruptions often follow. One could say that secularism through the eyes of a clergyman is straying from one's morality anchor. That they have taught one thing, yet the parishioner did something contrary which has caused a disturbance. The parishioner dumps this problem onto the laps of the clergyman and asks what should they do? 

If properly trained, a clergyman has been prepped upon the best way to handle these situations. Understand, that the minister just might be the middle man between people with different moral anchors. I fully understand the clergyman's dilemma about secularism. This isn't something new (brought on by the onset of new-atheism), no, this is an ancient problem. A well educated clergyman, somewhere along the line gets introduced to Will Durant's perspective upon history concerning secularism. I'm embarrassed to tell you that I must have bumped my head and had forgotten about it. This writer had been an ex-minister for about a decade until I recalled the lessons of Durant. It changed my outlook upon secularism and I knew that I needed to somehow find a way to apply what I had learned within the secular community. My older postings, prior to 2011, were a bit more feisty than those of the past three years. My secularism hasn't wavered, I just became more conscious about the effect that my secularism has. The old preacher in me and the early days of this website speak to my conscience about the dangers of aggressive secularism. Is secularism destroying society? The short answer is... yes!   

Why Will Durant & George Santayana's perspectives are so important

It's vitally important that both Durant and Santayana are understood. Nobody within the secular movement's funded organizations would dare tell you this, no one, in 38 years, has been able to refute Durant's viewpoint. Santayana's significance addresses secular/progressive ignorance that one could conceivably "pull the religious rug out from underneath society" without repercussions. To the crusading secularists, it would be a mere oil change rather than the severe ramifications and societal chaos that past societies have faced! In context, Santayana's great quote first addresses the folly of progressives before delivering the great historical line, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 

Many secularists don’t like the “glue” (religion) and are eager to destroy it. The clergy are alarmed by secularism, some feel doomsday is beckoning (i.e. last days scenario). I wished they weren't so "Chicken Little" about this, because the right type of secularism is harmless. Skeptics view skepticism as somewhat of a self-improvement journey while the clergy view it as a grave threat to society (some view it as a threat to their career and livelihood). What we see is a ratcheting up of rhetoric from both sides.

Religion has drawn their lines -- Secularism hasn't defined theirs

Secularists bristle whenever it's implied that they can't possibly be moral without religion. We resent this because it is both untrue and unfair. We have a different anchor (thus far undefined) that isn't based upon religion. Let's get this out of the way -- Secularists can be good or bad without God just as well as the religious can be good or bad with God. All of us are subject to the law (judicial codes) which has drawn the lines between right and wrong. These are usually necessary though we may disagree about some of them. As we know, there are many things that aren't addressed yet by law or that are unlikely to advance to that point for various reasons. Religious traditions/revelation have drawn their own lines of what is right and wrong. Secularist on the other hand don't have any extra-curricular morality lines drawn for themselves beyond the common judicial codes we share. Morality without definition is vague, an thus there isn't anything of substance for the faithful to quantify concerning secular claims upon morality. Minus documentation, it is easier for the faithful to question secularist's capacity for morality. There is a vacuum here ripe for contempt. I choose not to fuel that flame.

Great societies have advanced in part because they aren't stopping to argue about the drawing of the lines. As a secularist, I ask myself do I want to draw up our own secular lines? Then I think of all of the haggling and consternation that would bring because there is little secularists agree upon. Religion has already drawn their lines, and I say good for them. Do we want two societies? I defer to Durant and Santayana here because this isn't feasible or sustainable. What I really want is the freedom and liberty of self determination without a governmental or religious chain. I've concluded that as an American citizen that I am in my element and have adapted to my environment.

Skepticism in theory shouldn’t or need not be a destructive force. Are questions daggers? Isn’t education a good thing that is superior to superstition? There is absolutely nothing wrong with a healthy dose of skepticism. It is the aggressive, demeaning, destructive type of secularism that we are endangered by. Groups like Freedom From Religion Foundation, Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, American Humanists Association and others like P. Z. Myers whom write things like these  Sunday Sacrilege: Bad Without God are classic examples of what aggressive, destructive secularism looks like. For those that cannot discern things, Myers confesses to having subversive goals and wanting to tear down the convention of morality in the preceding link. Myers is the poster child of aggressive secularism. It isn't secularism, per say, that is detrimental... it is the wrong type of aggressive secularism that we should be wary of. 

Personally, I see society headed down the path that Durant describes. I don’t necessarily think that the ultimate destination has to end up in chaos…but we will unless secularism and religion make sustainable adjustments. 

Sustainable Adjustments

Who is at fault here? This will surprise many of you, this isn't a one-sided, 100% secular movement causation of the problem. First, the Christian churches need to re-focus upon the basics and present a genuine, purified presentation of your faith. Things have gotten out of hand the past few decades! Don't cry about secularism if you model it to your congregations. Along these lines, this writer has been impressed thus far by Pope Francis with his humility & efforts of reform and to clean things up. As any Tennessee Temple University graduate knows, "Everything rises and falls upon leadership!" 

Meanwhile, organized secularism is the main problem. I'm aware that these are fighting words, but organized secularism doesn't read the right books! I have yet to read of one American organized secular group that has acknowledged or mentioned Durant & Santayana (the antidote against aggressive secularism!) The "Will Secularism Destroy Society" article was first posted upon Ex-Minister website in January 2011, still three and a half years later, no other secular group dares mention Durant & Santayana. Why? The Skeptical Inquirer, July/August 2014 issue, posts a page upon their website entitled "Would the World Be Better Off Without Religion? A Skeptic's Guide to the Debate" that fails to mention the most significant historian (Durant) upon the subject matter. Why? Ignoring something significant as Durant & Santayana on the subject matter leaves a good man to the conclusion that they are either ignorant or have sinister intentions as a movement. I think both apply!

This writer challenged the The Skeptical Inquirer's editor. I wanted to know why Durant & Santayana's insights were omitted from a magazine that supposedly caters to intellectuals? The editor refused to answer the question, I doubt that he could intelligently do so. What I later found amusing was that a PH.D came to the editors defense and had the audacity to deny Durant without apparently having read him. A lazy man could read the "Cliff Notes" version of Durant just by reading his quotation above.

What should be done about aggressive secularism? Proposing a strategy...

The question becomes, what should be done to change the destructive course of the secular movement? Can it be reformed? Does it need to be destroyed? Or could it be that the movement is a progressive tool that has more lives than the Freddy Kruger character from the Friday the 13th movies? Whatever the opinion, it is very clear to me that they are major players engaged in the culture war. They can and do ignore us, but we cannot afford to ignore them! They won't go away, they can't be reasoned with. Contrary to popular opinion, reason is their weakness...not their strength. This writer is a social/fiscal conservative, I've discovered when you challenge the secular movement leaders they retreat. There are certain ideas that frighten them, there are certain truths they must ignore to survive. Silence is damage control. We're in a culture war. We didn't ignite it, but we have to fight it!

If we care to change things, we must employ a "smash mouth football" type of strategy against aggressive secularism. We must line up Durant & Santayana and "run them down their throats" because they have no answer for their scholarship. We must be relentless and question the intellect & humanity of anyone that favors or protects aggressive secularism.

The point where we lose the battle is when the exasperated secular leader chooses silence and ignores his critics. I call this the "turtle technique", when they pull their head under the shell in retreat and count upon us to grant them a "gentlemen's" response. We realize that the aggressive secularist has the weaker hand and we in mercy "let them off the hook" to salvage their self worth and dignity. In faith like manner, we hope we can make a future friend. We reason that they will "see the light" and join us. I remind everyone that these are the guys that are sabotaging society and they deserve no mercy. Our mercy is our peril. While we pull back, they are back at it tomorrow counting upon our mercy that allows them to conduct future business. If they play "turtle", we should consider this a mere postponement of our duty and resume things again whenever their heads emerge from underneath the shell. We must have the tenacity to finish them off (without being jerks) and chase the false "gentleman's guilt" away that political correctness has implanted into society.

Organized Secularism operates with a twisted hypothesis that religion is the world's greatest problem and that the secularism they are pitching is the cure. If secularism wants to organize for the good of society, it must immediate cease and desist from the rugged, aggressive style of secularism that is destroying society! The odds of this occurring are about the same as winning the lottery. Organized secularism must be forced to change or die. Churches undoubtedly have their best minds upon aggressive secularism...how is that working out? Whenever a cleric seeks engagement, the secularists belittles them for such things as publicly proclaiming that snakes speak to human beings. Are there any of clerics "out there" that are optimistic that things will change on it's own? I see a great need for a parachurch/parasecular organism to stand in the gap!

There is a vacuum within society for a healthy secularism that is amiable towards religion. Aggressive secularism is currently filling that empty space. If secularism is going to change, that change must come from within secularism! Aggressive secularism needs to go! It must be destroyed and the funding for a friendly religion understanding - statesman style of secularism needs to be granted. If those that have the means to bring this about fail to comprehend this vacuum -- and fail to fund the right people to build this amiable secular movement -- if they care about the culture war, they can kiss it goodbye unless they take action.   

Winning this battle at the street level rather than the "Ivory Towers"

I once had a gentleman write me because I hadn't posted in a long time. He urged me not to quit and asked me what was my plan to change the state of organized secularism? He proceeded to tell me of an academic book he had written, implying that if they could only read his book then this would precipitate the change. 

The Biblical book of Judges laments that "everyone does that which is right in his own eyes". Mark Twain once said, "A person who won't read has no advantage over one that can't read". I told the man whom wrote to encourage me that this battle has to be won upon the street level rather than the "Ivory Towers." It will be done through reason, accessible media, and persuasion though winsome personalities with the tenacity of a happy warrior. It's sad, but our society just doesn't read. 

This organization’s radical departure from traditional models of secularism focuses upon a relational embrace of religion and a slower rate of delivery. We are still working upon the concept, but I would liken it to a “statemenship type of secularism.” For a 50 something year old man, I have seen a lot by witnessing religion as a minister, then as a disbelieving ex-minister. My three years in the former Soviet Union (Latvia) “smacked me in the face” as to the vast benefits of a religion that I see as myth! Myths can help build a great society. This doesn't mean that we must give intellectual consent to the myth, just that we understand the role of a myth in history and our society without dumping the applecart.

I don’t want to foment or increase rhetoric between the parties. This is bad business and a serious secular mistake. I’m working for a better secularism that can communicate with people of faith without conflict nor compromise. Yes, this is possible and the key is working with the clergy! I'm asking for funding. I'm asking for your support.

In closing, I’d like to challenge those wanting to kill off religion by asking you to re-read and ponder the insight that Durant provides. Especially this paragraph:

Conduct, deprived of its religious supports, deteriorates into epicurean chaos; and life itself, shorn of consoling faith, becomes a burden alike to conscious poverty and to weary wealth. In the end a society and its religion tend to fall together, like body and soul, in a harmonious death.

Surely, you don't want this - do you? Think hard about this.


Brian Worley   Ex-Minister.org      July 17, 2014   All rights reserved


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