Secularism vs. Civitas

At an early April press conference in Muslim Turkey, our Secularist-in-Chief Barack Obama said, "One of the great strengths of the United States is … we have a very large Christian population — we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

The former belief, according to my friend Dr. Herb London’s new book, is among the greatest dangers to our future, and the latter tragically wrong.

Secularism is a euphemism for a set of beliefs that are the antithesis of faith. Boiled down to its basic elements, secularism is man’s subordination of morality to his own earthly judgments, scientific and otherwise.

London, president of the Hudson Institute, argues in America’s Secular Challenge: The Rise of a New National Religion (Brief Encounters Press, 2008) that secularism is the enemy of the basic elements of our society, what Toqueville called the “social contract.”

That, London explains, is because the secularist catechism holds that truth is subjective, relative or contextual; because it demands that rationality can solve moral and ontological questions about man’s nature, that discrimination is the greatest of all evils and that patriotism is the only social disease that isn’t sexually-transmitted.

Reading Herb London is a pleasure and a burden. A pleasure, because his prose is like your favorite easy chair: you settle into it instantly, effortlessly, and relax immediately in it. A burden, because London’s theses, arguments and proofs are of such importance that they comprise a civic duty of conservatives to read and learn well enough to explain to others.

Obama’s thesis — which London’s book thoroughly debunks — is that our moral code can exist in the absence of a religious foundation. London writes that secularism — and its cousin, multiculturalism — are the primary causes of the weakening of western society at a most dangerous time in history.

The weakness results, as London says, because secularism turns the bedrock of western society — the moral code derived from Judeo-Christian faith — into sand. By divorcing our societies from faith, we render every man’s morality equal to every other’s, and thus make them all valueless. When President Obama says we are a nation bound by ideals and values, he postulates an impossibility: where do those secular ideals and values come from if — as liberal dogma requires — every man makes up his own?

And those secular ideals and values, as London shows, don’t come at all. The common bonds that used to unite Western societies are cut: religion is discarded in the realm of the secular humanist because man can and should live his life without it.

The antithesis of secularism — civitas — was a word,” …frequently used by the Roman writers to express the condition of a Roman citizen, as distinguished from that of other persons not Roman citizens,” according to Smith’s “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.”

London explains it in terms more useful to us. He quotes Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell’s definition, “that spontaneous willingness to obey the law, to respect the rights of others, to forgo enrichment at the expense of the public weal.”

To the secularist, civitas — and its first cousin, patriotism — are to be scorned in favor of man’s immediate needs and self-defined values. The secularist believes that man’s first duty is always to himself. The phrase “duty, honor, country” so deeply valued among our warriors, means nothing to the secularist.

I will not spoil London’s book for you by revealing more. Except that it is — like the best of histories — written in a gripping and entertaining manner.

One final example. Beginning his chapter on the secularist belief that truth is a relative concept, London quotes Buller’s limerick on Einsteinian relativity. It makes you laugh at first, and then it makes you think.

This brief book will, I predict, become as foundational to conservatives as was Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative.” Yes, it’s that good and that important.