The secular front in the US

Roundup




John Fea

is a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. His latest book, The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society, will be published in 2016.  

Pay even passing attention to political society in the United States, and you will learn that secular progressives are threatening the country.

Beginning in the 1970s, Christian conservatives complained that godless ideologues were exalting human reason, placing human beings above God, and worshipping unlimited freedom and individualism. They called them secular humanists. They saw secular humanism behind every Supreme Court decision on religion and public life that did not go their way. These Christians turned to the evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer to provide much of the intellectual firepower in the war against this dangerous threat to the republic. From his chalet in the Swiss Alps, Schaeffer influenced an entire generation of evangelical culture warriors. In his popular book and later film series How Shall We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1976), he convinced evangelicals that secularism was born out of Renaissance humanism and, if allowed to grow in influence, would inevitably lead to the collapse of Western civilisation. The survival of Christendom was at stake and the lives of babies in the womb were at risk. The US had lost its moral centre. Schaeffer wrote and spoke with a sense of urgency that moved evangelical Christians to political action.

‘Secular progressivism’ replaced ‘secular humanism’ in the late 1990s. Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling book Culture Warrior (2006) called attention to a left-wing movement associated with the culture of Hollywood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and professors at elite universities who were waging war against Judeo-Christian values. Another US media personality, Glenn Beck, today wages war against President Barack Obama’s progressivism (‘hope and change’) by demonising earlier progressives such as presidents Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. 

Supporters of O’Reilly and Beck need only look to recent polls to see that godlessness is creeping – ever so slowly – into US culture. A recent report from the Pew Research Center reveals that nearly 23 per cent of Americans now fall into the ‘unaffiliated’ category. These so-called ‘nones’ include atheists (3.1 per cent), agnostics (4 per cent) and those who claim no religious affiliation ‘in particular’ (15.8 per cent). The Pew study also shows that 70.6 per cent of Americans identify as ‘Christians’ and just over 25% of the Christian population are classified as ‘Evangelical Protestants’. In other words, evangelicals are the largest religious sub-group in the country. 

Yet for evangelicals, the secular progressive vision of the world is a threat to the institutions that they hold dear. They believe that progressives are threatening the biblical idea that God created men and women for the purpose of procreation and family life. Many evangelicals believe that human rights come from God, and thus the exercise of these rights – particularly in the area of sexuality and the protection of human life – must always be measured by the will of God as contained in the scriptures. Families who choose to have an abortion are putting their selfishness, disguised as the ‘pursuit of happiness’, over the dignity of a helpless human life. Secular progressives, who frequently brandish Ivy-league degrees, a sense of intellectual superiority, and contempt for Christian faith, often treat evangelicals like idiots. Granted, few politically minded members of the Christian Right try very hard to listen and learn from secular progressives. But the deafness and incivility go both ways. ...




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