Would America be better off as a secular nation?

Is secularism an ideology?

  • Evangelical Christians are deeply opposed to the moral corruption of modern society
  • According to Mark A. Smith, who has written a book titled Secular Faith, culture has trumped religion
  • Secularism might have the unintended consequence of enabling Christianity to crystallize some of its distorted worldviews

The role of Evangelical Christians has been extensively debated in the United States and abroad. Many consider them a threat to the gradual secularization of American society. They worry that once in power (at the local, state, and federal levels), Evangelical Christians would reverse the landmark rulings and legislations that have facilitated the evolution of our society into a significantly less religious/Christian one.

Evangelical Christians are deeply opposed to the moral corruption of modern society and are trying to seek ways to purge it of its decadence by voting for candidates who would purportedly refashion this nation’s laws and create some form of an idealized republic (some a far more extreme form of government).

According to some scholars, the dominant Christian narrative that runs through the history of the United States was written by Christians. Therefore, much of American history needs to be reviewed and corrected through the secular lens. It is also true that religious systems interact with society and eventually transform both beliefs and values.

When religion degenerates into politics (in its most dysfunctional and grotesque form) or vice versa, egocentrism and hatred emerge to potentially unravel the fabric of a society. Unfortunately, the religious right seems to be the source of most of American Christianity’s ills.

The argument that religion has a deleterious effect on society while secularism does not because it is uncorrupted by an immoral past is becoming more prevalent in some intellectual circles.

However, it is unsustainable and fallacious.

Did the Founders want to establish secularism and peel all the layers of religion off?

Secular Faith by Mark A. Smith

Secular Faith by Mark A. Smith

The evidence refutes the argument of a path toward absolute secularism.

According to Mark A. Smith, who has written a book titled Secular Faith, culture has trumped religion. The author also dismisses the narrative that Christian ethics galvanized opposition to slavery. His argument is that secular rather than religious ideas were key to the abolitionist movement and eventually the end of slavery.

There are concentric circles of Christians, with fundamentalists at the center and groups of decreasingly zealous believers surrounding it. It does not mean that the center contains the “true” believers. On the contrary, much of the center is made up of believers who have distorted the tenets of Christianity in response to the alleged cultural decadence of our society.

Yes, we adopt, adapt, and adjust our beliefs and values. However, the religious right has politicized this whole notion of moral decay in a way that is gradually polarizing and paralyzing both society and government.

Many sociologists argue that our society is experiencing a decline in personal religious belief and practice. The exclusion of religion from the public sphere, however, does not necessarily mean the absence of spirituality/transcendence in people’s lives.

It is true that differing interpretations of the Bible yield different concepts of both public and private morality. Even socioeconomic theoretical exegeses and policies vary from one Christian to another. Therefore, as the term democracy has its Swedish version and its American variant, Christianity’s spectrum is as broad as democracy’s.

One of the worst moral lapses in human civilization is the desensitization to evil and its horrendous consequences. Even if most people have beliefs and values but they rarely practice them, the continued presence of transcendent/spiritual ideals are essential to human life. An appropriate comparison would be elections. Citizens should still exercise their right to vote even though a sizable number of the electorate (sometimes more than half) do not participate in elections. The right to vote is a vital component of a democracy, although sometimes we are stunned by how some citizens exercise this right.

Moreover, if we leave transcendent meaning out of our lives, we will remain one-dimensional human beings devoid of universalizing, humanizing, and imaginative ideals and insights. As one prominent atheist said: “It is hard for me to comprehend and explain how an American living in the United States would help a needy family in Africa.”

Is reason used only in the secular world and intentionally shunned in a religious argument? Is secularism really rational, neutral, and devoid of values and beliefs? I think secularism cannot be indifferent to other philosophies, belief systems, and polities. Therefore, it cannot be neutral and is, unquestionably, an ideology with all its trappings.

To ignore the significant contributions of Christian thought and praxis to the abolitionist movement and the struggle for civil rights is unacceptable and vile. Even if the Enlightenment thinkers were the inspiration of most of the Founders and social and political reformers, they still believed in a Supreme Being, simultaneously condemning the highly objectionable practices and recurring abuses of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches.

READ: Chicago Tribune Book Review – Secular Faith

Smith’s argument is, at times, a glaring misrepresentation of historical facts and a revisionist account of key events in the American experiment.

It is true that we are living in the midst of a secularizing and diversifying society. Christians are rethinking deeply held beliefs and many are reinterpreting some of the hard sayings found in the Bible. They are not necessarily watering them down, but adding more layers and making them more relevant and challenging. There is no doubt that attitudes are evolving and perspectives are broadening.

Let’s not forget that even during the Enlightenment and its aftermath, slavery was thriving (most of the time justified by those so-called reformers), injustices were prevalent, and minorities were oppressed. Criticizing Christians for the practice of slavery and other collective sins is not going to solve some of the deep existential issues facing humanity.

It will take a multi-dimensional approach to tackle these persistent and intractable challenges. Even then some of these perennial quandaries would undoubtedly remain unsolvable.

Secularism might have the unintended consequence of enabling Christianity crystallize some of its distorted worldviews, beliefs, and values that have, for centuries, adulterated the fundamental creed of Jesus’ sayings and actions.

About the author

Vahe Tcharkhoutian is the founder and editor of Los Angeles Intelligence. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science [American Politics] and a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration. He currently teaches in Glendale, California.