Tomorrow I am driving to Charleston, South Carolina to attend a conference on Christianity and Islam. Since 9/11/2001 the world has been challenged by the resurgence of a militant form of Islam which seeks to advance its cause by terrorist activities. We have all had to come to terms with this new threat to our wellbeing. Even the most complacent atheists and rationalists have had to acknowledge that the world is getting more and more religious rather than secular.
Toward the end of the twentieth century the myth of an increasingly secular society became very popular. There was the belief (yes, belief?) that with more education, technological advance and affluence most people would rely less on religion to sustain their lives. But this has been proven to be untrue. While more people may indicate on surveys that they have no religion (the ‘nones’), they are regarded as those who previously were only nominally religious. Today more people throughout the world are seeking for transcendent meaning in their lives and are willing to pay the ultimate price for their religion, even to becoming martyrs for their beliefs. In fact the aggressiveness of Western European and North American secularists in the media, in the educational institutions and the arts to promote atheism, agnosticism and the attack on traditional morals has contributed to a backlash from those who are defending their way of life. Militant Islam for instance will never accept the tolerance of Western culture. Orthodox Christians who accept the authority of the Bible are having to make choices between living by their moral beliefs and living by the law of the land with respect to the lifestyles of those with whom they disagree. Tolerance is reaching its breaking point in Western society.
Lesslie Newbigin writes, “It would seem to be proved beyond doubt that human beings cannot live in the rarified atmosphere of pure rationality…There are needs of the human spirit which simply must be met. It seems that those religious bodies which have tried to accommodate as much as possible of the rationalism of the Enlightenment are those which are in decline, and that those which have maintained a strong emphasis on the supernatural dimension of religion have flourished…This flourishing does seem to prove that what is loosely called ‘modernity’ does not provide enough nourishment for the human spirit…the human spirit cannot live permanently with a form of rationality which has no answer to the question ‘Why?’” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p.213)
What we have today in the West is not a secular society that is neutral and truly tolerant of all beliefs. It is a pagan society which worships gods which are not God. Secularism is an unproved collective belief that is accepted uncritically to justify a social institution, e.g. the educational establishment and commerce.
Militant Islam is a violent countermovement which threatens to destroy the good with the bad. It is not surprising that the age which called itself secular has produced an unprecedented crop of new religions.
The secular society is a myth, and it has the power of a myth to blind people to realities. Christians are called to question the underlying assumptions of secular society. We are called to peacefully witness in the public arena to the Lordship of Christ and to challenge in his name all those secular gods that deny the kingdom of God.