C.S. Lewis wrote in the introduction to Joy Davidson’s conversion story that every conversion is the story of a blessed defeat. As a tenured professor in the secular university, my conversion at age 41 not only defeated my life style and my high view of myself, it also made me realize I did not work, as I had presumed, in the free open-marketplace of ideas. Secularism, the absolute rejection of God in public discourse and decisions, has dominated the university and Western culture for a good century now. It maintains its dominance by simply declaring that secular thinking is more reasonable, progressive, neutral, and safe; it is now so pervasive that it rarely needs any defense.
For Christians this makes the study of worldviews critical because most people, particularly the secular cultural elite either assume they do not have a worldview or that the one they have is the only viable option. Worse yet, secularists assume that Judeo-Christianity is simply an optional life embellishment for those of us weak enough to need such things, rather than that Christianity is a distinct and complete worldview that contains indispensable knowledge unavailable elsewhere. What follows are two popular examples of how the secular mind shapes Western culture’s image of itself.
Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington in his popular book, The Clash of Civilizations, writes that, “The 20th Century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist-Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and Christianity.” This is a typical secular assumption; rarely does anyone challenge such claims. However, this conclusion misses the fact that 9/11, for example, was an attack on the proliferation and mass dispensation of Western secular economic and moral norms to the rest of the world. Their targets were the World Trade Center, Pentagon and White House, not the National Cathedral.
Prominent secular scholar Phil Zuckerman has become popular for beginning a secular studies major at Pitzer College, now gaining popularity in other colleges. Never mind that it is impossible for a student at his college or any other secular college to get any other kind of degree, even most who get degrees in religion and theology. Zuckerman’s often-referenced book, Society Without God, suggests the reason to abandon divine authority is that the most prosperous, happy and healthy cultures are secular; he contends that as Denmark and Sweden became more secular they became more prosperous. The facts related to his observations are important. Zuckerman’s data compare statistics from Denmark and Sweden (more secular) to the United States (less secular).
In social science research, when comparing factors across nations the researcher must make certain that the nations are similar in all other respects or that the differing variables are otherwise controlled. The fact is that Denmark is less than twice the size of Massachusetts and has about 20 percent fewer inhabitants. The population of Denmark is less than 10 percent immigrants, 54 percent of whom are European. So one cannot so easily compare one aspect of the culture of Denmark to the United States.
A more accurate investigation of his hypothesis would compare, for example, Denmark to Denmark as it became more secular. In 1960, Denmark had 100,000 crimes committed; in 2000 it had five times as many (500,000) with only 13 percent growth in population. In 1960 there were 300,000 people of working age who received fulltime government welfare; in 2000 there were three times as many (900,000). From 1970 to 2002, the divorce rate grew from 18 percent to 37 percent. In 1970, 83 percent were married compared to 47 percent in 2002. These are not signs of improvement or even stasis; these are the same signs of decline repeated elsewhere in the West as it succumbs to secularism.
Both of these prominent books and their positive uncritical receptions are instances of the hegemony (uncontested, veiled power) of secular worldviews. Secularism maintains its power by remaining either unselfconscious or by intentionally masking its distinct worldview. Huntington presumes secularism is safer and of higher status, situated above the violent sectarianism of those with religious worldviews. Zuckerman tries to convince us of the superiority of secularism in building healthy national cultures. They both rely on assumptions of secular humanism, which denies any presence of God and believes that man essentially makes himself. Man is not only physically but also socially and morally evolving, thus we are increasingly able to make a better world without depending on some set of God-given norms. Material-naturalism, a second secular worldview, denies any metaphysical aspect of humanity such as consciousness, free will, love and intentionality and instead posits humans are nothing but material (DNA molecules and biochemistry). A third and increasingly influential worldview in the West is pantheism, which undergirds the category spiritual but not religious. Later posts will take up each of these three worldviews independently through the lens of Judeo-Christian principles.