Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Thought Secularism was Already Dead.

From ChristianityToday, an interview by Sarah Pulliam of Hunter Baker, author of the new book, The End of Secularism, which makes the case for returning talk of faith and God to the public square:

Why should Christians oppose the exclusion of religion in public discourse?

Secularism goes a lot further than the separation of church and state. Instead of saying that these things have to be institutionally separate, secularism says that religion has to be privatized and taken out of public life. Secularists argue that if we stop talking about God, we will create greater social harmony. But religion is not a hobby. To act as though God doesn't exist is fundamentally dishonest.

Second, it's unfair. [According to secularists,] you have Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, all of which orbit the sun of secularism. That's utterly fallacious. Secularism is really a competing orthodoxy. And if that's the case, why should one of these competitors be allowed to declare itself the umpire?

Baker's justification for "reintroducing" Christian ideals into politics and public discourse? The success of Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement. His case against secularism? The Anabaptists:

Your book focuses on secularism's impact on politics and science. How has it impacted church life?

There are those like the Anabaptists who believe religion is very private and should have nothing to do with politics. Their view is, "We are not part of this world; we are purely concerned with our spiritual obligations." Many Christians buy into the idea that their religion should be private and purely devotional and not have application to life in the wider world.

Let me get the backs of my religious ancestors here: Few faiths have done more to serve than the Anabaptists and the Mennonite Central Committee. While Anabaptist do indeed eschew political participation (with some exception: a Paraguayan governor now comes from Filadelphia, the Mennonite community in the Chaco, and many US Mennonites and Amish are know to rally behind and vote for a candidate who will protect their independence) they have worked tirelessly to aid the poor, respond to disaster, and bring basic services to those without. Both here in the US and in every far-flung country you can imagine. The Mennonites (and other Anabaptists) take the bible literally and therefor see service as part of their faith. But, I digress.

Baker goes on to note how Christianity protects against Totalitarianism, apparently missing the Bush years completely. Then whines about how Christians, apparently quite persecuted in the US, ahem, are not inferior members of society.

One should be free to [use biblical arguments] in the public square, not just at home, not just in Bible study, and that should be a perfectly acceptable ground on which people can make their decision.

We should not have to hide because we have a religious point of view. It's not unfair to have a religious point of view, and a religious point of view is not an inferior point of view.

I have great sympathy for the articulation of faith as a motivation for service to the poor, the infirm, the ill and elderly, as a motivation for justice and personal rights, as motivation for the defense of compassion, justice, and equality. What I have no patience for is the barter of that service - the promise of needed goods, food, and medicine - as a tool to bring the vulnerable into the church. It's the "You let me bring you to God and I'll give you some food" approach that offends. It is a commerce that I find loathsome everywhere but particularly where it is most skillfully practiced by predominantly Christian service organizations, in Africa and other "third world" countries.

Here in the US, the problem with how "religious talk" is currently used in the public square is not that it's discredited by the public but that it is uncritically digested and used for ulterior purposes. In a culture where "God's plan" is quite successfully used to keep women from making their own role or reproduction choices, used to justify unfounded wars, used to keep the poor in their place, used to promote the dominance of particular races, we have greater problems than preserving the prominence of religious talk per se in society.

His premise is as removed from an objective understanding of contemporary public discourse as can be. Religion has a tradition of being used to bludgeon "the least of these" in modern America. Until that changes, until churches of all variety begin to effect positive change, as the Anabaptists have done, and to stand for true defense of moral rights, little trust among liberals and progressives will be fostered.

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Blogger Hunter Baker said...

The reference to Anabaptists and/or their tendencies relates to what historians call the radical reformation in which Anabaptists and others chose to be radically separate from the political community.

The idea that the Bush administration had anything to do with totalitarianism is an insult to anyone who ever suffered under Mao, Stalin, Castro, etc.

October 17, 2009 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger Ann Neumann said...

Mr. Baker, Thanks for your comments.

I'm aware of Menno Simons' teachings and the theological removal from public discourse of Anabaptists. However, I see it as a good. A good reflected in the Godly work they have done in the four or five centuries since as manifested in the service of the Mennonite Central Committee to those in need. Secularism has not prevented them from having an impact; rather it has been a guide in both their mission and effectiveness.

Regarding Mao, Stalin and Castro, an odd group to be sure. Castro doesn't belong here, but I'll leave that for another time.

My reference to Bush would be agreed with by most Iraqis, I imagine. It will take years before we have the objectivity as a country to properly process the efforts Bush and his administration went to to strip citizens of rights and privacy, wealth and quality of life.

Indeed, Stalin and Mao were evil and direct. Bush's tyranny was inflicted directly overseas; in the US it was inflicted by neglect (Katrina), overreaching (Schiavo), by manipulation (appointment or firing of judges), deregulation of corporations, and by unjust change of law (Patriot act, Faith based initiatives).

Thanks again for writing. Best of luck with your book.

October 17, 2009 at 3:25 PM  
Blogger Hunter Baker said...

I appreciate the well wishes, but can't let the Bush totalitarian thing go. Iraq basically represents a failed attempt to GIVE people rights, not a totalitarian venture.

Castro does belong to the group in question because he took civil rights away from the people. You would be shocked just at the number of librarians he has jailed.

October 18, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

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