The End of Secularism

Voice after voice in America has in some way asserted that religion is nothing more than a powder keg when brought near the important political and cultural issues of our day. Its incendiary nature needs to be relegated to private life, set apart from the potentially explosive debates of the public square. Far better to have a thoroughly secular society…or so the voices say.

In response, Hunter Baker, a member of the political science faculty at Houston Baptist University and contributor to publications ranging from the Journal of Law and Religion to Christianity Today, has authored a recently released book called The End of Secularism. A self-described former secularist, Baker has come to hold a far different view. As he writes in his introduction:

As both a Christian and a professional student of law and religion, I have come to believe secularists are profoundly wrong to suggest that leaving religion out of the public square is a good thing for all involved. Secularism is neither necessarily fair, nor clearly superior to other alternatives. Secularism is supposed to provide a new way forward for humankind. It is, in actuality, a dead end.

As previous blog posts might indicate, this whole subject is of great interest to me. So I ordered a copy of The End of Secularism shortly after I became aware of its release. Having only just begun the book, I’ll have to defer offering a review of the entire work, but what I’ve read has been intriguing. For those of you who might be interested, here’s a summary of Baker’s own overview. The book contains:
1. A brief survey of the relationship between religion and the state in the history of the West since the time of Christ.
2. A more extensive treatment of the development of the American public order and the rise of secularism in this country.
3. An argument that, rather than guaranteeing social peace in a pluralistic culture, secularism shifts the social burden from one group of citizens to another.
4. An examination of the claim that secularism is rationally superior to theistic alternatives, including a look at the assumptions that science and secularism go together, whereas Christianity is necessarily hostile to science.
5. And finally, a case study dealing with an actual attempt to reform the tax code.

Here’s one more quote from the book:

The idea that rests at the foundation of this entire investigation and critique of secularism is that the though it is a way of addressing problems with religious pluralism, it is far from the only way. It is certainly more extreme that simple institutional separation of church and state because it entails religious privatization. Just as microsurgery proves more effective than amputation of a limb, there are better ways to deal with religious pluralism than removing religion from public life.

If you have the inclination, reading this book might be a great way to get more involved with a discussion that, on some level, involves us all. If you do read it, I’d love to hear what you think.

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