By Scott Fowler
Secularization. Its proponents desire to rid the public square of all religious influence, relegating religious beliefs to the private realm. Some advocates of secularization are no doubt “pure” in their motives, truly believing that the commonweal is better off free of all religious influence. Others seem bent on ridding society of certain religious influence (read Judeo-Christian ones).
Put in practical terms, the message from our culture is, “You [Christians] can come to the public square but while you are here, you must not allow any of your Christian convictions to influence the decision-making process thus affecting the culture at large. Leave your convictions at home!” D.A. Carson addresses the naiveté of Christians who think there is ground to be gained by playing along with the culture:
“Consider, for example, the oft-repeated advice that if we wish to influence the broader culture through the media and in the corridors of power we must translate our Christian values and priorities into secular categories. . . . If all our energy is devoted to making our stances acceptably popular by appealing to goals that are broadly secular, it is a short step to enabling those secular values to take precedence over a Christian frame of reference that bows in principle to the Lordship of Christ. . . . Moreover . . . our opponents are likely to sniff out our Christian beliefs anyway, and then they will blast us for hiding them and trying to appear secular when we are in reality religious wolves in secular sheep’s clothing. . . . Worse still, our form of discourse may be signaling that we think secularists are right: we ought to avoid making any appeal to our ‘religious’ convictions because we support the separation of church and state. . . . If Christians are not allowed to argue in the public arena as Christians, then implicitly we are supporting the contentions of Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins and their friends, to the effect that atheistic secularists are the only people who are arguing their case from a ‘neutral’ position (Christ and Culture Revisited, 196-197).”
The claim that anyone today argues from a neutral position is a fallacy. Further, Christians have not been commissioned by Jesus to be neutral. So, the idea that one can come to the public square, sans religious beliefs, is erroneous and everyone knows it! Richard Dawkins can no more look at the world without viewing it through his atheistic perspective than Billy Graham can without viewing it from a Christian perspective. The old understanding of tolerance (see Carson’s treatment in his latest book The Intolerance of Tolerance) would not have expected anyone to do that but would have made room for competing truth claims to be hammered out and for people to decide for themselves. The situation today is not one of a culture that is neutral but one that demands that God be expunged from civic life and for those who believe in Him to be marginalized and minimized as anti-intellectuals still living in the dark ages.
So, what we really have in the call for secularization is a request that Christians stay home altogether! Put another way, we are not far from the wholesale disqualification of Christians themselves—not just their viewpoints—from every form of public discourse strictly on the basis of their religious beliefs.