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Hunter's End


Hunter Baker of Houston Baptist University has produced a rare book. It is a book of serious explication both accessible to layman or beginner at the subject, and illuminating to those long immersed in its twisted passageways and forbidding streets. That subject is secularism, a tormented subject indeed in American history. For definition, my friend admirably gives, early in his book, several useful definitional statements: “private religion is at the heart of secularism.” “Secularism means that religious considerations are excluded from civil affairs.”

But the essence of secularism, according to him, is a cheap rhetorical trick. It is the pretense that you can kick out the supports for the edifice of traditional morality, stand in some bewilderment as it falls in a cloud of dust, and then proceed about in the ruins, appealing like some madman to a vague consensus in order to convince everyone a new structure has already been built. How the secularist has convinced so many with this particular chicanery is a story, perhaps, for our psychologists or novelists.

For our philosophers and historians and simple readers like me, Hunter gives us a serviceable narrative, succinctly composed and carefully worded, which not only summarizes the state of things now, but also incorporates some unappreciated scholars and thinkers into the conversation.

There is no sense in hiding my view that it will be a blow not merely for clarity, but for justice and truth as well, when the end of secularism has come. It is little to be doubted that when that day dawns, Hunter will have had his part in the victory.

In due time we will have occasion to excerpt Hunter’s new book The End of Secularism. For now I’ll leave readers with what may be my favorite part. To some bewildered secularist who, faced with a strongly argued religious position, throws up his hands in frustration and shouts, “why do religious people always have to make things so difficult!” — we can answer, with Hunter, that the reason people “bring their comprehensive views to bear” on political reality, “is that they have integrity.”

Comments (25)

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest the obituary of secularism is a bit premature.


Read the book and see if you still feel that way. But for a specific reply to the link you raised, see here:


Hunter Baker

Paul, I look forward to the excerpts.

How does this compare to Charles Taylor's work. Will I learn something new.

The article linked in comment #2, which is one person's subjective assertions about the matter, doesn't reply at all to the one linked in #1, which contains empirical data about secularism's growth. Just wanted to point that out. I'm sympathetic to what you're doing here, but this is the second time in the last few days I'm noticed a disregard for or even hostility to scientists and empirical evidence on this blog's posts (another post oddly referred to the editors of the journal "Nature" as "liberal medical ethicists"). This is a real disservice to the discussion. Either come up with numbers that refute the article linked in #1 or accept its data; just don't pretend that a bit of armchair sociology trumps actual evidence. If we have to make our point at the expense of the facts it's going to hurt our cause in the long run.

Just for everyone's information, I want it to be clear that the "Tim" who posts in the comment above and has begun commenting occasionally here at W4 is in no way related to me. Obviously, it's not his fault that he has the same name and uses the same sign-off style (the short name without a link) as a person related to me who posts a comment here very, very occasionally, but I just didn't want there to be any confusion.

Well, the "Tim" who posted above makes a decent point. While I agree with Baker's conclusions and his historical argument, it's an inadequate response to the survey posted.

Well, I guess the intrepid Steve and Tim would have to check out the 2006 Baylor study I referenced in the article I linked to find out whether I offered any evidence or not.

But let's realize this for what it really is, which is threadjacking.

Sorry for "threadjacking" -- yes, that Baylor study which you mentioned in your article would have been a perfect response to Step2's original "threadjack." Maybe that study would get a lot more attention if more people posted links to it.

But let's realize this for what it really is -- advertisement. I recommend Baker's other article, _Storming the Gates_, to which I can find no link, but if you've got a Lexis or Westlaw account available: 14 Regent U.L. Rev. 35

Oh, and: http://spectator.org/archives/2005/04/06/a-church-not-a-focus-group

Or just check out: http://hunterbaker.wordpress.com/

The reference to the Baylor survey is not evidence of a decline in secularism. The relevant passage in the above-linked article is, it seems to me, as follows:

Their findings countered the secularization narrative and tellingly showed that even among the religiously unaffiliated, nearly two-thirds believe in God or some higher power.

Frankly, I don't see what this has to do with anything. Secularism is not the belief that there is a God or some other sort of higher power; it is the belief that (a variety of kinds of) public institutions should be free of religious influence. Pointing out that a lot of people who don't go to church still believe in God (or are deists) is beside the point.

That the percentage of Americans who claim no religious affiliation is growing (as Step2's pdf shows), however, is significant. Even if you hold constant that two-thirds of the "nones" still believe in a higher power, this growth translates into a clear advance of atheism. If Dr. Baker had explained whether the survey shows movement in this percentage, we'd know more. (Although he "referenced" it, he did not provide a hyperlink or any bibliographic information.) Moreover, it is unlikely that people who believe in God but identify with no particular church are interested in robust religious influence in public institutions. They are much more likely to be secularists themselves. Whatever else may be happening, the growth of the "nones" is a clear indicator of the growth of secularism.

But maybe I misread something or failed to detect which portions of the reference to the Baylor survey were relevant.

Once again, just read the book if you want to know what case I make regarding secularism. There are over 200 pages there making the case in detail and in a variety of ways. Hint, my case is not based on some absolute number measurement of who believes what! It is more about the imminent decline of secularism as anyone's neutral position.

The post is not an advertisement because nobody can tell Paul Cella what to write. He takes his own position even among conservatives and doesn't give a fig what anyone thinks. He likes the book and I am very happy to meet what I feel are his very high standards.

"It is the belief that (a variety of kinds of) public institutions should be free of religious influence."

Yes, and the only way this is accomplished is by state power. For, left to our own devices, institutions would naturally develop with rich and multi-layered influences. The Christian citizen knows, for example, that without the influence of the Gospel, works of mercy that we know of today, e.g., hospitals, orphanages, etc., would not exist. For they were the product of the distinctly unsecular religious orders. But being as open-minded as they are, the religious orders saw truth in Hipocrates, and incorporated his oath into the work of medicine in the Christian world. In the formation of theology, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas mined from pagan philosophy in order to better articulate Christian truths. But the secularist, he thinks certain institutions should be free of religious influences, as the above commentator stipulates. The Christian, on the other hand, eschews such epistemological apartheid, realizing that all truth is God's truth.

Secularism is Jackson Pollock; Christianity is the Sistine Chapel. Any questions?

The post is not an advertisement because nobody can tell Paul Cella what to write. He takes his own position even among conservatives and doesn't give a fig what anyone thinks.

To which let me add--hear, hear. That is an endorsement of Paul that I envy and should be proud to hear of myself. It is a thing to admire.

But I have a totally different question about the idea of the end of secularism, and we'll see what Paul and/or Hunter think of it and whether anyone is interested in talking about it: What if secularism ends in a way that is bad in itself? Sharia, for example, would be a bad trade even for the current dismal state of affairs. I've said repeatedly that Islam and secularist liberalism are incommensurable evils, and I've repeatedly counseled against conservatives' labeling one of them as definitely the "lesser" evil, the other as the "real" enemy, and making difficult-to-sever common-cause ties with one group in order to fight the other. Conservative Christians, in particular, need to go their own way and be wary of alliances that may come back to haunt them.

All that being said: Hunter, would you say that when you predict the end of secularism you are also predicting the rise of something much like Christianity or simply the rise of something that is not secularism, which could just as well be militant Islam? As an empirical prediction, I would say that it could go that way when and if secularism falls, and that worries me.

I've said repeatedly that Islam and secularist liberalism are incommensurable evils, and I've repeatedly counseled against conservatives' labeling one of them as definitely the "lesser" evil, the other as the "real" enemy, and making difficult-to-sever common-cause ties with one group in order to fight the other.

Hear Here. This leads me to a further question still: why in the world, given that secularism and Islamicism are so much opposed to one another are THEY making common cause so successfully against us?

Why are thoroughly secular school districts mandating "Islam awareness days", complete with sharia-lite dress codes and Islamic prayers? Prayers, in PUBLIC SCHOOLS!!! Why is it that secularists are adamant that Islam is not a violent threat, despite the clear evidence?

My own theory is that while the two forces are wholly incompatible on the "natural" level, the true mastermind behind both of them is one and the same, and he is coordinating a threat from without and a threat from within to cause a civilization- rending crisis. Well, there I go again, to quote one of my favorite politicians.

Tony, I think the secular left promotes Islam in the hope that if they are nice to it, they will win Muslims over. They are also opting for the "devil" they don't know over the "devil" they know. They are sure they don't like conservative Christians. They probably still see Muslims as admirable third worlders nobly struggling against the capitalist West.

Lydia, the book is not an empirical prediction of the end of secularists. It could just as easily have been named The Failure of Secularism or The Unreasonableness of Secularism. My point is that we won't all "mature" into "reasonable" secularists and that Christianity is not inferior to secularism in its ability to provide the basis for political associations that respect the rights of people. A lot of what I do is to explain secularism, to question whether it really promotes harmony between people, and to question its assumption of being more rational than alternatives.

Thanks, Hunter, I understand.

Tony, while I agree with you about the "Mastermind," I also think that at a human and natural level both groups think they can use the other against us and then conquer ultimately after all those dangerous Christians are swept out of the way. Also, of course, the leftists have that incredibly foolish view of Islam as The Romantic Other which is always so wonderful, its faults so excusable. But for the most part, it's sort of like what Frodo says to Sam about the orcs: They hate each other but would drop their quarrels if they saw Frodo and Sam. In the end, _if_ Christianity is reduced to dhimmi status in the West, as it is coming close to being in Great Britain, we will find out which of the other two groups will emerge the stronger. I have my own opinions on that (I tend to think Islam is more likely to win) but could be quite wrong. Our much-respected former colleague Zippy seemed inclined to think otherwise, and I take that seriously.

I thank Hunter and Lydia for their generous words, but warn them that flattery will earn no free advertising around here.

Hunter, would you be satisfied with this rendering: The End of Secularism [as an Unexamined Premise]?

The Celebrated Cella's post isn't any less an advertisement simply because of his character -- that just makes it a darn good advertisement.

From where the sun now stands, I will threadjack no more forever.

Thank you, Intrepid.

And Paul, that's not a bad rendering, but it was a bit of a double meaning.

The End of Secularism (thus giving you its real purpose or "end")

The End of Secularism (as you say, as an unexamined premise)

Hear Here. This leads me to a further question still: why in the world, given that secularism and Islamicism are so much opposed to one another are THEY making common cause so successfully against us

Mark Shea calls this "Satanic Ecumenism." I think that sums it up nicely.

Tony asks, “why in the world, given that secularism and Islamicism (sic – let’s just call it Islam, OK? The same way we don’t call Christianity “Christianism.”) are so much opposed to one another are THEY making common cause so successfully against us?” It’s because for both of them, the enemy of their enemy is their friend – at least until that common enemy is vanquished. They are both enemies of Christianity. And for both of them, Christianity is a much tougher adversary to them than they are to each other – or, at least, so they think. So it makes sense for them to team up against the toughest adversary, and deal with the weaker adversary later.

Liberals think – wrongly – that Christianity is a tougher adversary than Islam because in their immediate vicinity it is vastly more influential. E.g., abortion rights are much more likely to be overturned due to arguments voiced by Christians than Muslims, even though Christians and Muslims are equally opposed to abortion. Meanwhile, sharia is not a proximate threat to any liberal. They are wrong in thinking this, because a Christian society will tolerate their existence, while a Muslim society will not.

Muslims think – rightly – that Christianity is a tougher adversary than liberalism, because like Islam, Christianity is motivated to this-worldly action by other-worldly factors that cannot immediately be attacked. Like Muslims, Christians are likely to be willing to die for their religion, and to fight for it. Liberals, on the other hand, who generally have no confidence in the afterlife, are not likely to be willing to fight or die for anything at all. Plus, of course, there is the simple demographic fact that Christianity is the largest, fastest-growing and most economically successful religion. If Islam doesn’t soon deal decisively with Christianity, it is doomed. But since liberals abort their kids, liberalism is a self-correcting disease. all Muslims need to do about it is keep having kids.

Meanwhile, sharia is not a proximate threat to any liberal.

But if that is still true, it isn't going to be true for long. And actually, in a sense it isn't true already because of demands (with a tacit "or else") for special treatment. For example, any liberals running the Swift meat-packing factories knew that they couldn't afford to ignore demands for special treatment of their many Somali Muslim workers for their prayer schedule, even if it meant treating non-Muslim workers unfairly and decreasing efficiency. Various publishers pull books out of fear, and so forth.

Yeah, but - so far - the liberal accommodations to Muslims are not seen by liberals as actually threatening their way of life. If a Muslim wants to take 5 breaks per day to pray, well, yeah, it's inconvenient, but it isn't a threat. OTOH, take away their right to inconsequential promiscuity, and that's a threat.

And when publishers pull books out of fear of Muslim reprisals, they don't parse those reprisals as Muslim per se, but rather as only "Islamicist." It's not Muslims that threaten reprisal, but fanatics of the Muslim variety. To them, it's the fanaticism that is the problem - i.e., it is illiberalism that is the problem - rather than fact that the fanaticism in question happens to be Muslim.

We know secularism will end. The question is how bad will things get before it ends? Look at Christianity and the Roman Empire. Ultimately the empire died and Christianity survived. But how long did it take and how low did they go before that happened?

In your artice you cite the election of Reagan and Bush as victories for evangelical Christianity in America. But what happened during those times? Pornography got worse. Abortion on demand continued. Gay marriage grew in acceptance. It seems like when evnagelicals win politically they lose ground slowly. When they lose politically they lose ground more quickly. I find it hard to argue that they have not been losing ground for about 50 years.

With the development of mass media and birth control sexual morals have been declining. People have been trying to hang on to their faith but you can't throw out such a key part of Christianity and have it remain strong. Until Christians are going to take seriously the fact that birth control and divorce are immoral then we cannot say Christianity is stronger than secularism. Both are inconsistent at their core.

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