by Scott R. Murray
So-called “secularity” is now being imposed on Christians. This is beginning to be seen in laws such as the California law (SB1146) that would forbid Christian universities from using religious criteria in hiring professors. We cannot let our schools and churches have “secular” hiring practices imposed on them. They would cease to be Christian in any recognizable way. Why are secularists attempting to impose this on us?
Progressives in our culture presume that “secularity” is the default non-religious position. However, we Christians must argue that secularity is itself a religious presupposition. It is a presupposition as easily defended as a traditional religious position. Secular materialism is no less religious than a spiritualist position. By spiritualism, I mean a theistic view of the world in which there is presumed to be something beyond the measurable world, whatever that something might be. Materialism is the philosophy that there is nothing beyond this visible, measureable world. The materialist believes that we live in a closed system. Materialism denies there is anything beyond what can be seen, measured or quantified. Most moderns are implicit materialists. They believe that materialistic secularity is the intellectual default position. They won’t believe anything they can’t see. This way, religion is ruled out of bounds tout court. J. Budziszewski, however, points out that that which is religious is not merely a prejudice for the existence of God, but rather a religion is that which is of ultimate concern to the believer.
If religion is the practice of ultimate concern, then we have another problem. In the first place, even secularism may be the place of an ultimate concern. We acknowledge this, for instance, by calling Leninism a religion; simply we say of the greedy man that ‘his God is money’ and call this misplaced devotion ‘idolatry.’ In the second place, even among those secularisms that do not go so far as to identify ultimate concerns, none is without implications as to what could, or could not, count is an ultimate concern. John Stuart Mill could never decide which, if any, of the ‘permanent interests of man as a progressive being’ was deserving of unconditional loyalty. But one thing he was sure of, that the Messiah was not among them.
What makes this position religious is that it is held against all other evidence. Ask a materialist if there is any evidence that could be offered to them that would lead them to reject their materialism, they will likely answer, “No, there can be none.” We would answer the same about giving up faith in Christ. Both are religious positions.
It is both increasingly clear and increasingly opaque that progressives in our culture are claiming that their position is both secular and rational, when in fact it represents a belief of ultimate concern and is therefore as much religious commitment as one centered on the Messiah. It is increasingly clear, in that we can see how progressivism will not tolerate any views divergent from its own. It is increasingly opaque to the average person, because of the brainwashing to which the media industrial complex is committed. “What all this tells us is that ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ constitutes a false dichotomy.”
This runs completely counter to the claims of the Christian revelation of God’s constant intervention into the world and especially in His incarnate Son. Many Christians in America are “implicit” materialists. They reflexively accept the presupposition of materialism that they have not examined but which is fed to them from their mother’s breast.
Government is susceptible to being influenced by both secularity and religiosity, because neither position is defensible in a rationalistic way. If this is true, how would the constitutional government of the United States be kept from being taken hostage to a particular sectarian religious view, if there is no barrier to keep religion from influencing government? This pivots on the way Christianity views the specific religious teachings of the Bible. Christians believe that the sum and essence of the Christian religion is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. These acts of Jesus are the way in which God, through the preaching of His Word in the world, converts, saves, forgives sins and brings to heaven those who believe in Jesus Christ. None of these things are susceptible to worldly wisdom. They are, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, foolishness to human reason by itself.
For Christians the government can never have the competence to establish a religion of any kind or to offer religious instruction to the people. In other words, the Gospel is the Church’s difference from every other institution, including, and especially, government. The Gospel is not the government’s bailiwick. Law is. That competence God has given to the government, even if we might doubt the rationality of the present Congress’s particular actions.
God has given government power over right and wrong. Moral authority is precisely the government’s gift from God. I am amazed by the number of people who say that government must not impose morals on people! What else is the authority to punish evil doers? When a murderer is sent to prison for life, how else could this be done, but by moral authority? If it is not a moral authority that permits this, then we ought to open all the prisons and let out those poor souls upon whom the government has imposed its moral view. Government is God’s creature to punish and keep external order. But government may not tell you what you are to believe about Christ, forgiveness and eternal life. The government’s competence is only in law, reason, right and wrong, do and don’t do. This is the competence of moral law or what we might call natural law.
As we fight for our right to exist and to exercise our religion within our country, I believe we need to make more forcefully the point that secularism is not a religiously neutral point of view, but rather an ultimate concern demanding faith on the part of its adherents. Secularists must be treated just as the churches are treated by government. Unfortunately, there will be a great deal of brainwashing to overcome as we try to make this point with our secularist/materialist friends. If we are to recover an understanding of the first amendment that gets Christians and Christian institutions equal protection under the law, this is a case that we will have to make. If we don’t, we may soon lose our schools.
The Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray is pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston Texas, and Fourth Vice President of the LCMS.
 J. Budziszewski, “The Illusion of Moral Neutrality,” First Things (August 1993).