Thursday, November 30, 2006

Absolutist and Arbitrary Secularism

Two International Herald-Tribune writers, previously mentioned here for confusing their Roman emperors, have redeemed themselves with a short but substantive examination of Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey in an article titled Benedict's post-secular vision.

Benedict opposes secularism because it is both absolute and arbitrary. In the name of being neutral with regard to values, secular ideology eliminates all rival world views from the public sphere. By denying the existence of objective moral truths, it elevates self- assertion as the measure of all things. Social life is reduced to the arbitration of conflicting self-interest — a process in which the most powerful always win.

Ultimately, this arbitrary absolutism produces a society ruled by an unholy alliance of utilitarian ethics and the proxy politics of the managerial class. This collusion destroys the very idea of common action and a binding collective discernment. Thus does the pope attribute the failure of Europe's common political project to the growing secularization of European culture.

They also write:
It is important to realize, however, that Benedict recognizes a mutual problem in this explicit project of religious realignment around shared critiques and common discernment. Secular conceptions of race, state and nation have corrupted all the faiths, too often turning them into a vehicle for nationalism or racism.

The advancement of religion for political or cultural gain, what Remi Brague has called "christianism," is omnipresent in today's discussions of religion and sometimes more pernicious than outright secularism. People are compelled by secular habits to make utilitarian justifications for religious belief in hopes of maintaining the respect, or at least the awareness, of those who do not share their religion. Some fall into the trap of seeking converts for the benefit of demographic expansion or national vitality, rather than out of love for others in order to glorify God. Such insincere corruptions of Christian evangelism warrant great and purifying attention.

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