Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Seasonal wailing from anti-secular pessimists

I was going to do a post about the wrongheadedness of all those predictable 'secularism has spoiled Christmas' articles that proliferate around this time of year, but Max Dunbar has saved me the trouble.  Max responds robustly to all the familiar nonsense about the rise of 'aggressive secularism' and religion supposedly being pushed out of the public sphere (ho ho), and scorns the 'parochial wailing' that characterises the fulminations of many religious commentators (as well as those secular liberals who don't have faith themselves, but think religion is all that stands between us and social collapse) about the state we're in:

Religion may not be based on truth but at least it kept people together. Now look at us. An empty, vapid, consumerist society obsessed with Facebook and the X Factor. The family's gone, our national identity has gone. We believe in nothing, we worship the false god rationality; we stumble around in our mindless hedonistic lives like characters in a Douglas Coupland novel, desperately searching for something to fill the void.

[...]

This sort of bullshit would have been laughed out of town in the liberal-left circles of the 1960s: now it's taken for wisdom, even radicalism.

Max's post is a welcome riposte to articles like this one by James Hanvey in a recent issue of The Tablet. Leaving to one side the article's annoying confusion of 'secular' and 'secularist' (the latter means a belief in the separation of church and state, so it's a nonsense to talk about a 'secularist' Christmas), the piece is full of the usual unexamined cliches about secularists who want a society free of religion, and about the intolerant 'high priests of secular modernity'. As I read Hanvey's piece, I began to wonder at what point in the recent past 'secularism' replaced sin and evil as the primary enemy of religious folk? As I've written many times on this blog, there was a brighter time, back in the 60s and 70s, post Vatican 2, when thoughtful Christians saw secular humanists as allies in the fight against the common enemies of poverty and injustice. These days, more and more people of faith seemed to be infected by a dangerously anti-modern pessimism, and more concerned with saving 'religion' from those nasty secularists than with looking for the good in contemporary society.

4 comments:

maxdunbar said...

Fair enough for the Tablet to print this kind of nonsense.

But we're now seeing it in the serious papers, and everyone nods their head and says, 'Yeah, keep an open mind.'

Sarah Franco said...

mit happens that I am a believer, but... when I listen to other believers saying this:

"""Religion may not be based on truth but at least it kept people together. Now look at us. An empty, vapid, consumerist society obsessed with Facebook and the X Factor"""

I go mad. maybe the person who said this is speaking for himself or having his own entourage as a representative sample.

the other day I read an article about catholics in spain, and there was this girl who loved to get drunk every friday night. then the journalist asked, how do you fit that behaviour with your religious convictions, and she said, after I get drunk I go to confession, then I can go to the mass and receive the communion.

Sarah Franco said...

"""These days, more and more people of faith seemed to be infected by a dangerously anti-modern pessimism, and more concerned with saving 'religion' from those nasty secularists than with looking for the good in contemporary society."""

some months ago I met a young researcher in political science who told me sha was researching on secularism. I said, great choice, and then she explained how secularists are radicals of the oposite sign of religious fundamentalists...

Martin said...

Max -You're right, the 'we're all doomed' article has migrated to the secular press and is now a staple feature on the comments pages of the Guardian - Madeleine Bunting being the pioneer of the genre. But there was a time when the more liberal and thoughtful organs of the religious press - such as the Tablet - would also have scorned this kind of pessimistic revulsion from modernity.

Sarah - Thanks for the comments. It's good to hear that there are some believers out there who haven't surrendered to mindless anti-secularism. I've always argued that it's in the interests of believers to endorse secularism, as it's the best guarantee of their religious freedom. And as a former Christian, I still think there's something unchristian about faith trying to claim political power and influence, rather than convincing people by the power of example.