February 8, 2019
The Secular State Must Be a House Divided
Confronting the soul is an intellectual exposure that tears open the mind to incalculable questions, the answers to which are not easily earned. Modern man, therefore, believes that his security lies in refraining to raise such issues. Ultimate questions have become the object of his favorite unawareness. Since the dedication to tangible matters is highly rewarded, he does not care to pay attention to imponderable issues and prefers to erect a tower of Babel on the narrow basis of deeper unawareness. (Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion, Abraham Joshua Heschel, p. 191)
Into the Athenian marketplace stepped Paul of Tarsus, Roman citizen, Jewish rabbi. Hearing him preach, the philosophers conveyed him to the Areopagus and bid him speak. He told them,
"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth ... gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. ... Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being';as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.'"
There was no secularism in Athens of old. If "in God we live and move and have our being" was true, then it is true for us moderns whether we perceive or acknowledge it or not.
All things have their very existence from him Who Is: "I am that I am." There is no time or place or thing or person that is apart from God. If we make our bed in hell, or the depths of the ocean, God is there. Man Is Not Alone. Anywhere.
Modern man fancies to create a secular Babel free of "imponderable issues" such as God and what he requires of man. Like an ungrateful teenager who posts a "Private" sign on his bedroom, he pretends the Lord has not built the house in which he prospers, does not feed and clothe him, and is not the source of his life.
He pretends there is a secular space free of religious and divine imperatives. But if, as we believe, "in him we live and move and have our being" then the attempt to create such a space is to divide man from himself in God.
For the sake of religious tolerance, our forbearers desired a very limited special space: They would not fight over religious differences therein, but still carry on the work of the republic. Yet they assumed (and articulated) a shared commitment to a body of higher truths. They did not embrace the Ten Commandments because they thought them efficient for the state but because they were Truth from above.
Regardless of our interpretation of this past, today we should see that we are in a state of disunion; there is no shared ground between theists and secularists. The latter, having erected a wall between religion or philosophy and the public square, patrol that wall assiduously sounding the alarm of "Illegal religion!" whenever someone arrives with any metaphysical argument of which the alarmists do not approve. Witness the claim that being anti-abortion is an attempt to impose religion on citizens. But their alarms fall silent when one of their own argues that passing a certain piece of legislation is a matter of high moral justice. Says who?
Should a state foolishly pretend that injustice faces no divine judgment, or ignore the voice of innocent blood crying out from the ground? It is foolish, if not even shameful, for those who bear the symbols of the Lord--the cross, the collar, the crozier--to pretend there are secular places, where the Lord must not "go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me." (Gen. 18:21)
Yes, the fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." Dare any nation train its heart to thrill to such a motto? There is no secular space free of the divine gaze, judgement, or law. Even snow and frost, stormy winds fulfill the Lord's command, and of the falling sparrow the Lord said, "not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father." Even the fall of the sparrow is not secular and falls under the gaze of God; so with the little deaths in the dark depths of abortuaries.
Just because someone posts a "Private Keep Out" sign on public institutions or private lives does not mean God is not there. Some may be taken in by such divisive fantasies, but the truth of the Lord remains forever.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.