In last week’s article, I pointed out how Great Britain, through incremental concessions to Muslim demands, is sowing the seeds of its own subjugation. As to the cause of this civilizational suicide, Europe rendered itself impotent long ago when it traded its Christian philosophical foundations for that of secularism.
The roots of modern secularism began in the Renaissance, which marked the transition from the medieval to modern era. From the fourteenth to sixteenth century, Renaissance scholars and artists began to oppose the ever more oppressive church-state hegemony that Rome had come to represent. In reaction, old and new ideas alike were kindled, ideas that sought to “liberate” humanity from the oppressive bonds of ecclesiastical authority and religious dogma. (How unfortunate that the church was largely responsible for its own removal from public life.) The Renaissance purposed to elevate man and eliminate God.
Faithful Christians also reacted to the corrupt and hegemonic church leading to the sixteenth century Reformation, recovering old ideas in the form of historic orthodoxy and producing new ideas that would positively shape much of Western cultural and social life, including everything from politics and philosophy to science and the arts.
These two worldviews—Renaissance secularism and Reformed Christianity—offered competing interpretations of the world until the eighteenth century when the Enlightenment, buoyed by the rapid advances of science and technology and coupled with a growing spirit of anti-intellectualism within the church, finally began to succeed in shifting the public trust from the God of Scripture to human reason. The sacred-secular split was complete and what followed was a diminution of all things religious. The only meaningful knowledge was now scientific; religious thought was relegated to a secondary and subservient category of knowledge that would increasingly find itself excluded from public life.
Because this sacred-secular split was also accepted among many Christians, Western institutions, once dominated by the Christian interpretation of reality, gradually began to fall under the influence of secular humanism.
In Europe where this shift occurred first, the belief that the universe was the creation of an infinite and personal God, that mankind rebelled against its Creator (thus bringing death and evil into the world), and that our only hope is in Jesus Christ who is making all things new was rejected. Instead, Europeans came to accept that the world and everything in it is the product of time and chance, that evil is only ignorance, and that our hope is to be found in education and enlightenment, which will bring about an earthly utopia. In essence, the secularizing process was complete—and this is why Europe is now so impotent in its ability to resist the increasing domination by Islam.
Because secularism ignores those fields of human experience that science cannot address—such as religion, philosophy, ethics, and the other metaphysical questions of life—secularism fails as a worldview. It doesn’t deal with reality because science cannot explain everything; it cannot enlighten countless areas that touch human lives, nor can it define what it means to be human or answer our most fundamental questions of meaning and purpose. By ignoring these vital areas, secularism is unable to offer any cogent basis from which one can analyze and critique the varied interpretations of life and reality. Tolerance becomes the only virtue and belief in anything and everything follows.
Once this is achieved, you essentially believe in nothing. There is no consensus view of life and reality and no overarching truth awaiting discovery. We are each allowed our own interpretation, regardless of how unreasonable it may be. This philosophical ambivalence doesn’t know how to respond to the Islamic interpretation of reality, no matter how violent or bizarre, for fear of appearing intolerant. Secularism’s blind belief in human goodness, despite all evidence to the contrary, has led its adherents to hope that by being “nice,” Islamic terrorists will stop blowing up themselves and others. Europeans engage in philosophical hand-wringing and self-condemnatory statements that ask “Oh my, what have we done to incite such anger?” The idea that Islam as an ideology may be the source of this evil never occurs to them.
Furthermore, reliant upon the assumption of evolutionary progress, secular Europe’s utopian hopes were decisively shattered in the twentieth century. The First World War, which suffered over 40 million casualties, was closely followed by the worst pandemic in recorded history: the Spanish flu, which killed roughly another 1.7 million Europeans (between 50 to 100 million people worldwide). Then came the Great Depression, followed by the atrocities of World War II, which claimed more than 50 million lives. With the jettisoning of religion and the destruction of their utopian hopes, Europeans no longer know what to believe in. They are powerless in the face of unwavering convictions, zealous devotion, and the cosmic purpose of the faithful Muslim. Also, by not taking religion seriously the secularized culture fails to recognize the implications of religion in general and Islam in particular. And not taking Islam seriously has proven deadly. Next week, I will compare the cosmic dimensions of the Islamic narrative with those of the gospel, demonstrating that the American church must recover and once again convey the full gospel story, which includes creation, the fall, redemption, and re-creation. I will argue that the privatized gospel, which has come to dominate much of American evangelicalism, is—similar to secularism—inadequate to inoculate America against the domination of radical Islam.
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of discipleship and Church renewal that works to equip Christians with an intelligent, thoroughly Christian and missional approach to culture. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources, and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org