The Clothed Public Square
The End of Secularism
August 5, 2009
224 pp., $5.98
Hunter Baker was once a secularist. He believed in God while attending Florida State University, but he had no room for him outside of baptisms, weddings, and funerals. "If someone started talking about Jesus, it was like they were talking about their bathroom habits," Baker says. "That's how secularists feel, and they wish we would stop using religious language because it makes them uncomfortable." Now the Houston Baptist University political science professor is speaking up about the dangers of secularism. Christianity Today online editor Sarah Pulliam spoke with Baker about his new book, The End of Secularism (Crossway).
Why should Christians oppose the exclusion of religion in public discourse?
Secularism goes a lot further than the separation of church and state. Instead of saying that these things have to be institutionally separate, secularism says that religion has to be privatized and taken out of public life. Secularists argue that if we stop talking about God, we will create greater social harmony. But religion is not a hobby. To act as though God doesn't exist is fundamentally dishonest.
Second, it's unfair. [According to secularists,] you have Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, all of which orbit the sun of secularism. That's utterly fallacious. Secularism is really a competing orthodoxy. And if that's the case, why should one of these competitors be allowed to declare itself the umpire?
How has the impact of secularism changed over time?
When religious speech has been used, as in the civil rights movement, to promote care for the poor or to criticize the Vietnam War, then it's a great thing to secularists. Religious people are speaking truth to power. They're speaking prophetically. But if you start speaking prophetically about something like abortion or marriage, suddenly it's the danger of theocracy.
Your book focuses on secularism's impact on politics and science. How has it impacted church life?
There are those like the Anabaptists who believe religion is very private and should have nothing to do with politics. Their view is, "We are not part of this world; we are purely concerned with our spiritual obligations." Many Christians buy into the idea that their religion should be private and purely devotional and not have application to life in the wider world.
If we were to move toward a less secularist approach, would the church become watered down?
This is a problem for the church. Historically, the church's experience is very cyclical. We go through periods where we are marginalized, we are not in power, and we aren't the fashionable movement. During those periods, the church tends to thrive. Then the church becomes a victim of its own popularity; it tends to be compromised by having alliances with major rulers. Then the cycle repeats itself.
Our faith in God is actually a very important bulwark against totalitarianism, against the oppression of people, and against a government coming to believe that it is the ultimate power instead of God.
Wouldn't secular arguments be more effective, since they could carry weight across all religions?
Martin Luther King Jr. talked about why it was important that African Americans have rights as citizens, but he also talked about why [their lacking rights] was a scandal in the eyes of God. I question whether he would have achieved what he did or whether people would have listened to him as much if he had stuck to secular rhetoric. I don't think they would have.
One should be free to [use biblical arguments] in the public square, not just at home, not just in Bible study, and that should be a perfectly acceptable ground on which people can make their decision.