Hunter Baker was once a secularist. He believed in God while attending Florida State University, but he had no room for him outside of baptisms, weddings, and funerals. "If someone started talking about Jesus, it was like they were talking about their bathroom habits," Baker says. "That's how secularists feel, and they wish we would stop using religious language because it makes them uncomfortable." Now the Houston Baptist University political science professor is speaking up about the dangers of secularism. Christianity Today online editor Sarah Pulliam spoke with Baker about his new book, The End of Secularism (Crossway).
Why should Christians oppose the exclusion of religion in public discourse?
Secularism goes a lot further than the separation of church and state. Instead of saying that these things have to be institutionally separate, secularism says that religion has to be privatized and taken out of public life. Secularists argue that if we stop talking about God, we will create greater social harmony. But religion is not a hobby. To act as though God doesn't exist is fundamentally dishonest.
Second, it's unfair. [According to secularists,] you have Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, all of which orbit the sun of secularism. That's utterly fallacious. Secularism is really a competing orthodoxy. And if that's the case, why should one of these competitors be allowed to declare itself the umpire?
How has the impact of secularism changed over time?
When religious speech has been used, as in the civil rights movement, to promote care for the poor or to criticize the Vietnam War, then it's a great thing to secularists. Religious people are speaking truth to power. They're speaking prophetically. But if you start speaking prophetically about something like abortion or marriage, suddenly it's the danger of theocracy.
Your book focuses on secularism's impact on politics and science. How has it impacted church life?
There are those like the Anabaptists who believe religion is very private and should have nothing to do with politics. Their view is, "We are not part of this world; we are purely concerned with our spiritual obligations." Many Christians buy into the idea that their religion should be private and purely devotional and not have application to life in the wider world.
If we were to move toward a less secularist approach, would the church become watered down?
This is a problem for the church. Historically, the church's experience is very cyclical. We go through periods where we are marginalized, we are not in power, and we aren't the fashionable movement. During those periods, the church tends to thrive. Then the church becomes a victim of its own popularity; it tends to be compromised by having alliances with major rulers. Then the cycle repeats itself.
Our faith in God is actually a very important bulwark against totalitarianism, against the oppression of people, and against a government coming to believe that it is the ultimate power instead of God.
Wouldn't secular arguments be more effective, since they could carry weight across all religions?
Martin Luther King Jr. talked about why it was important that African Americans have rights as citizens, but he also talked about why [their lacking rights] was a scandal in the eyes of God. I question whether he would have achieved what he did or whether people would have listened to him as much if he had stuck to secular rhetoric. I don't think they would have.
One should be free to [use biblical arguments] in the public square, not just at home, not just in Bible study, and that should be a perfectly acceptable ground on which people can make their decision.
We should not have to hide because we have a religious point of view. It's not unfair to have a religious point of view, and a religious point of view is not an inferior point of view.
Sarah Pulliam is online editor for Christianity Today.
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The End of Secularism is available at ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
Hunter Baker's articles for Christianity Today include:
Christian Smith on Why Christianity 'Works' | Plus: Baylor publishing woes, and other news from the higher education world. (September 13, 2007)
David Dockery on Christian Higher Ed's Key Challenges | Plus: Fearing secularization and "fundamentalization" and whether "Christian economics" exist. (August 30, 2007)
Why College Doesn't Turn Kids Secular | Also: Richard Land on the footbath controversy, Falwell's big Liberty gift, and other stories about higher education and research. (August 16, 2007)
Speaking Out: Springtime for Baylor Still Lies Ahead | Sloan's move out of the presidency isn't bad news. A view from inside Baylor. (January 21, 2005)
Previous Christianity Today articles on secularism include:
The French Reconnection | Europe's most secular country rediscovers its Christian roots. (February 25, 2005)
That Other Church | Let's face it: Secularism is a religion. Let's treat it as such. (December 21, 2004)
Misfires in the Tolerance Wars | Separating church and state now means separating belief and action. (February 24, 2004)
One Nation Under Secularism | France's peculiar aversion to public religiosity is rooted in a sordid history of sectarian violence. (February 13, 2004)
God's Funeral | What will keep faith from nearly disappearing in America? (Philip Yancey, September 03, 2002)
The Wages of Secularism | New laws won't prevent another Enron. (Charles Colson, June 10, 2002)
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