How Secularism Misses the Mark

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

How Secularism Misses the Mark


Byline: Carol Herman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Noted social critic Herbert London opens his latest book with a simple statement: Belief matters. Every bit a cri de coeur, in little more than 100 pages Mr. London goes on to show how Americans, to the contrary, have come to embrace secularism - and do so at their peril.

In a chapter titled Secularism: America's New Religion, he writes: So much of American society has been constructed on the basis of both the belief in the divine and the organizational religion that it entails that secularism threatens to leave America with a 'naked public square,' to borrow a phrase from Father Richard Neuhaus. Secularists justify their anti-religious sentiments by citing concerns about the impending 'theocracy' of the Religious Right. This is odd, because in many respects secularism is itself not unlike a religion. It is grounded in several ideas that are valued by its adherents as deeply and unquestioningly as any spiritual creed.

These ideas are, as Mr. London maps them out in the book, multiculturalism, cultural relativism and scientism, which proselytizes for the belief that science will ultimately offer explanations that will exhaust the need for a divine creator.

Among secularist cultural preferences are those of which Mr. London clearly disapproves, and to this reader, some of them seemed more harmless than corrosive (Full disclosure: I, for one, am a fan of the music of the Mamas and Papas, the TV show Seinfeld, and even the movie American Beauty, all of which come in for withering appraisals from Mr. London.) But Mr. London's greater point is that underlying much of America's secularism is hubris, and there is a toll:

"Those who exist under the presumption that they are the best are setting themselves up for a fall. One may well ask: Why should hubris inevitably lead to a fall from grace? What is there about hubristic behavior that brings about opprobrium and failure?

"Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, provides an answer: His villains exhibit monstrous vanity. Various Bond nemeses claim, almost comically, 'I am invincible,' or I cannot be stopped' or 'The world will be mine.' It is in these declarations that a weakness is found, the weakness that the MI5 agent exploits. A belief in invincibility sets in motion circular thinking: I cannot be defeated; hence I need not concern myself with potential rivals.

From the Maginot Line to the Roman Empire, history has been colored by this pernicious delusion . …

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