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How (Not) To Be Secular (7) – The Shortcomings of Secularism

In sum, though secularism seems self-assured and confident, it is rife with weaknesses.

1) Secularism has been assumed, not proven.

We need to remember that the view of reality that secularists take for granted is simply a view they have constructed—it is not clear and obvious. The “immanent frame”, the idea that the only things that exist are things we can see, taste, smell, touch, and hear, is not something we have proved, but is instead an assumption that influences and often determines the things we think we know. When we think that science is the most certain way of knowing and that it is heroic to hold fast to it, then it is easy to believe that this framework is something we have discovered, something we have worked towards, as opposed to something we assume and work from.

2) Secularism cannot explain major areas of life.

What is more, there are three fundamental realities of life that we all assume and experience that secularism cannot explain.

A) Agency. We all intuitively sense that we are not just mechanically determined beings, but that we are active, building, creating, shaping agents.

B) Ethics. We all have a sense of morality that cannot be reduced to mere biological instinct or natural drives.

C) Aesthetics. We are moved by beauty and find meaning in it, even if we can’t explain how or why.

3) Secularism cannot explain or guide us as we face injustice.

In terms of injustice, in a city like ours secularism has three answers, all of which fail. (And I use these terms here, for lack of better ones, slightly differently than we commonly use them.)

A) *Liberal. The idea here is to act compassionately, but within limits. Give money to good causes, post the right articles on Facebook, attend swanky charity events, but don’t go crazy: you still want to enjoy a good bottle of wine and be able to sleep at night. This may make one feel good, but it accomplishes no real change. *(Note: I am not claiming that all liberals are secular or that liberalism is bad, I am simply referring to a certain type of secular liberal, the type that arguably constitutes the majority in our county.)

B) Bolshevik. In a ‘rage against the machinery’ of injustice one becomes willing to do anything, break any law or command, to bring about one’s view of justice. This often leads to change, but all the change it brings, because it only focuses on ends and not means, is ultimately harmful to human life and destroys human flourishing.

C) Victimhood. Here all evil is projected onto others—they are completely evil whereas we victims are completely pure. This self-righteousness often leads to Bolshevik type ruthlessness.

To understand the problems of these approaches, consider just the liberal response. While secular liberals are motivated to help those less fortunate or more vulnerable, at the same time there is a temptation to pat oneself on the back and recognize one’s own moral superiority. This in turn leads to frustration with others—why aren’t they recycling, driving a Prius, wearing a ribbon, retweeting things that promote this cause? Ultimately liberalism can’t change people. It can, for example, set up politically correct speech codes and limit what people say by “cancelling” them when they step out of bounds, but that is all liberalism can do—it can set up rules, but it cannot change hearts like Christ can. This isn’t to insult liberal causes, but rather to show that a liberalism apart from Christ might not be all that benign, that it might miss something fundamental that Christianity has.


We may not be able to prove to our secular neighbors that there is something more than this earth, but don’t we somehow know there is? And if they are being honest, don’t they too? No matter how hard we try, we can’ shake the feeling that there is something more. The confidence of secularism is misplaced—there is a lot it cannot answer. Christianity actually does a better job of explaining our experience. We may not be able to prove its truth to the secular world, but neither must we cower in intellectual fear, believing they have better answers and that we must cling to an irrational faith.

I hope you have found something in this series edifying.