WHILE those committed to extreme forms of secularism argue that religion, especially Christianity, must be abolished, it’s ironic that they adopt many of the characteristics of the very belief systems they wish to destroy. Secularism becomes a new religion.
One reason offered by Adam Zamoyski in his book Holy Madness, tracing the impact of the Enlightenment and radical forms of humanism, is that abolishing religion, especially Christianity, results in a spiritual and moral vacuum yearning to be filled.
Drawing on the example of the French Revolution (1789-1799) Zamoyski writes: ‘Man seeks ecstasy and transcendence, and if he cannot find them in church, he will look for them elsewhere.’ Denying faith in God leads people to pledge allegiance to various secular-inspired political philosophies and movements dedicated to ‘constructing heaven on earth’.
As the Christian faith draws on a text central to its teachings, so revolutionary movements such as socialism and communism define themselves in terms of a seminal text. While Christians revere the Bible, revolutionaries praise Das Kapital and Karl Marx.
Christian martyrs and saints are lauded and worshipped for doing God’s work and for often suffering torture and death as a result. Figures such as St Thomas More and more recently Australia’s St Mary MacKillop inspire dedication and faith in others.
Revolutionary movements also have their iconic heroes including Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro and Che Guevara plus martyrs such as the anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were controversially executed in the US in 1927, and George Floyd.
Throughout history various religions have warned about an impending apocalypse where sinners are told that unless they repent the world will be destroyed. Those preaching the evils of man-made global warming, as well as worshipping the teenage prophet Greta Thunberg, also predict the world’s end unless the planet becomes carbon neutral by 2030.
Some religious sects are so doctrinaire and authoritarian that any who question or fail to conform are declared heretics and either banished or punished. In communist Russia under Stalin and during Mao’s reign in China any who deviated from the party line or who questioned the Great Leader experienced a similar fate, ending up in death camps or being expunged from history.
While less extreme, today’s cultural-Left ideologues, including those committed to gender fluidity, man-made climate change and identity politics are also doctrinaire, intolerant and rigid, with anyone failing to conform vilified and attacked. One either succumbs to the prevailing groupthink or is ostracised and silenced.
Notwithstanding the similarities it’s clear that extreme secularism, while adopting a number of characteristics associated with religion, is the polar opposite. While Jesus in the New Testament preaches non-violence epitomised by the statement ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God’, movements such as communism are inherently violent.
As noted by Pope John Paul II: ‘When people think they possess the secret of a perfect organisation that makes evil impossible, they also think they can use any means, including violence and deceit, in order to bring that organisation into being. Politics then becomes a “secular religion” which operates under the illusion of creating paradise in this world.’
Lenin’s statement ‘Not a single problem of the class struggle has ever been solved in history except by violence’ and Mao’s aphorism ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ illustrate an essential difference. The Black Book of Communism shows the brutal reality that communism, instead of salvation, has caused the death and suffering of countless millions.
As detailed by Larry Siedentop in Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western liberalism, Christianity is based on concepts such as the inherent dignity of the person, free will and individual agency, the presence of good and evil, promoting social justice and a commitment to the common good.
Totalitarian ideologies, on the other hand, justify cruelty and violence by arguing the end justifies the means, and whatever must be done to further the revolution is allowed. Instead of free will, Antonio Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony, where the capitalist state manipulates and controls, denies individual agency as citizens are conditioned by larger historical and economic forces outside their control.
As noted by Zamoyski, radical secular movements and philosophies, unlike Christianity, also deny a spiritual, aesthetic and transcendent sense of life. Art, music, literature and dance, instead of dealing with the sublime, are part of the capitalist state’s superstructure complicit in oppressing and subjugating the lower classes.
Whereas Christian England and Europe are responsible for Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Chartres Cathedral and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, one searches in vain for anything comparable arising from communist Russia, China or North Korea.