Secularism has always been hard to define. Though often pronounced with algebraic lucidity, its topsy-turvy logic is often as unintelligible as the dog-Latin of monkish hexameters. In practice, it is an odd attempt to forge a cultural consensus on the fact that there really can be no cultural consensus. It is the unspoken assumption that a happy and harmonious society can be maintained only so long as the only common belief is that there are no substantial common beliefs. It is the reluctant affirmation that the only moral absolute is that there must not be any moral absolutes. It is the brash affirmation that meaning and purpose in life may best be found in meaninglessness and purposelessness.
Philosophers and historians might argue that secularism is the inevitable fruit of Enlightenment materialism, skepticism, pragmatism, and utilitarianism. But social theorists point to the smothering influence of partisan ideology, which is now everywhere evident. Wresting control of every academic discipline, of every cultural trend, of every intellectual impulse, even of every religious revival in our time, ideology has become the organizing construct of the secular society. From Nazism and Stalinism to Pluralism and Multiculturalism, from Liberalism and Conservatism to Monopolism and Socialism, ours has been an epoch of movements beguiled by the temporal seductions of ideological politics. Virtually all social historians agree that this is indeed one of the most distinctive aspects of our age: the subsuming of all other concerns to the rise of political mass movements based upon comprehensive, secular, closed-universe, and millenarian intellectual systems. We live in what many have called an “Age of Ideology,” where ideological politics drives everything.
Nearly every question, every issue, every social dilemma has been and continues to be translated into legal, economic, or political terms and supplied with bureaucratic, mathematical, or systemic solutions. If there is something wrong with the business climate, family values, health care, or education, government must rectify the situation. Whatever the problem, it seems that politics is the solution. That is why every election is portrayed in the starkest of apocalyptic terms—both within the church and without.
The name of the secularist’s ideological game is power. With cool detachment every other consideration is relegated to a piratical humbug. G.K. Chesterton observed,
There is, as a ruling element in modern life, a blind and asinine appetite for mere power. There is a spirit abroad among the nations of the earth which drives men incessantly on to destroy what they cannot understand, and to capture what they cannot enjoy.
This is the worldview of secularism—and it gives shape to nearly everything we think and do. As Herb Schlossberg has argued in Idols for Destruction, it is merely an updated, Americanized form of idolatry. It is a worldview as thorough and as dominating in our time as was the faith during the epoch of Christendom.