The spirit of secularism, which may be thought of as the idea that man, not God, determines what is right and wrong, permeates the West’s political landscape.
Secular dogmas concerning abortion, euthanasia, transgenderism, and blind trust in so-called scientific authorities are imposed on us by governments, educational institutions, the arts, and bureaucracies. The secular Left’s Long March through the institutions has succeeded. The values which shape Western nations differ from what they once were. In fact, they are now the antithesis of those values. The revolution happened, but many of us didn’t notice because it left the buildings intact.
Secular dogmas are usually cloaked in the language of diversity, inclusion, equity and “rights.”
For example, gay people have a “right” not to be discriminated against, therefore “marriage equality” must be affirmed.
Trans people have a “right” to be their “true” selves, meaning pathways to supposed self-actualisation such as altered pronouns, hormone therapies, and “gender confirmation surgery” must be promoted.
Women have the “right” to choose whether they want to give birth, meaning abortion must be defended (never mind the inconvenient question of whether abortion ends a human life). To obstruct any of these “rights” means you’re affecting the “mental health” of others, which makes you a terrible person.
Essentially, secularism leads to the conclusion that people have the “right” to do whatever they want, if doing so means being their true selves. The secular vision of the good life is a life with no limitations or constraints, which in reality makes one a slave to their base desires.
These distortions of the concept of rights are incompatible with Christianity, which stands in the way of their realisation. If Christianity is true, these “rights” are lies that hinder, not help, human beings to reach their full potential as persons made in God’s image. Yet many Christians, and Christian organisations, still act as though secularists and Christians can agree to disagree but otherwise get along with roughly the same intentions for society. This is foolish, and dead wrong. Secularism and Christianity propose profoundly different visions of what makes a good society and a flourishing individual life. Both make absolute claims about the nature of reality, meaning that if one worldview is upheld then the other is defeated.
The term “secular” means something like “of this age,” and its meaning has morphed over time. Nowadays, to live in a secular culture is to live in one that is preoccupied with the temporal and finite, which is all that remains when the human mind rejects and suppresses the knowledge of God. A secular society says, “consequences be damned, I want what I want now.” In a secular culture, the people do what is right in their own eyes, believing that they will not be held accountable to a moral standard that exists independently of their own beliefs and desires. Everything is permissible if it can be justified as self-actualisation.
God’s standards are eternal because He is eternal. His laws and ways come to us from outside ourselves, which is why Christians speak of revelation. To be truly human is to conform to the truth and thus reflect the divine image in which we are created, to be what God intends us to be, not merely what we want to be in our short-sightedness.
Many Christians abdicate themselves from political engagement, citing a wish not to combine church and state, or not wanting to “impose” their views on others. Others are too worldly to sense that secular dogma is hostile to God’s will, or observe the grip it has on so many minds. However, Christians are called to be good citizens of the societies they find themselves in, and this necessitates political engagement in one way or another.
God told the prophet, Jeremiah, to tell His Israelite exiles in Babylon to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” God called his exiled people to pursue what may be called the common good – the conditions conducive to human flourishing for all people. There is a specific context to this story, but it provides a lesson for us. We, too, are exiles, strangers in a strange land, and we have a duty to make our land as good, peaceful, and prosperous as possible. As God told Jeremiah, we must do so prayerfully. Revival does not merely come from good policies or wise leaders, important as they are, but from prayer for the Holy Spirit to renew and refresh our hearts.
Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, have generally understood pursuing the common good to be a part of their mission on earth. As St. Augustine explains in his City of God, we are dual citizens of the divine city and the earthly city, but our primary allegiance is to the former. We are to seek the good of the earthly city (its material and spiritual flourishing) while remembering that our destiny is the new heavens and the new earth. Creation will only be perfected, glorified, and restored to its fullness when Jesus Christ returns and visibly rules and reigns over all. We are to do what we can for the earthly city, and do it well, knowing that it will never be perfect until that day.
What does this look like, practically? Should Christians become members of political parties and/or politicians? Absolutely. Politics is one way of seeking the common good. As Christians, we have access to the good, true, and beautiful through the Gospel. We have a responsibility to ensure that society upholds the rights of all, and does not enforce destructive policies such as assisted suicide, abortion, and the mutilation of children. To close our eyes to such things is to forego our Christian duty. We must get involved in the machinery of politics, whether it’s running as a political candidate, supporting candidates with decent policies, or confronting these issues in another meaningful way when they present themselves to us (such as by protesting, boycotting certain companies, etc). It’s not about being “nice,” it’s about speaking the truth in love.
However, politics is only one means of pursuing the common good. It’s arguably more important that Christians shape the culture from within through the way we raise and educate our children, value sexual purity and marriage (in a culture that treats these with contempt), and show the grace of Christ to others while remaining true to our Christian principles. Politics is downstream of culture. Christians should create artistic content that offers something more meaningful and transcendent to a culture that is deprived of beauty and tradition. Complaining is one thing, creating and contributing is another.
In ancient Rome, where the lives of the weak, such as women, slaves, unwanted infants, and disabled people were not valued, the Church offered something more to people who had been rejected by their society. We have the opportunity to do the same today. Where our culture tells women that killing their children and being promiscuous is liberating, the Church can hold up an image of womanhood that is divine and brings joy rather than pain. In a culture that discards unborn children as though they were “parasites”, the Church can give these babies homes and the opportunity to know they are wanted by God. Christianity can hold a mirror to the culture, revealing culture’s ugliness to itself, meaning some will want to smash the mirror, while others will want to be more like that peaceful image.
Our hope lies not in perfecting our world but in a kingdom that is yet to come. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, in that time, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat… The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all [God’s] holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Christians can, indeed must, live with hope.
The poison of secularism can cause us to become depressed and discouraged. That is the burden of living with a sense of how things ought to be and seeing how far society is drifting from that. But the hope we have is real and eternal. May we oppose evil and falsehood courageously, prayerfully, charitably, and with hope, seeking the good of our society while knowing that it is Jesus who, ultimately, will fulfill all things.