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Catholic Faith

in a
Secular Age

Bernard D. Green SDS




Defining secularism.............................................................................6


The dangers of secularism................................................................20

The influence of secularism..........................................................20


The challenge to Catholics................................................................26

The influence of secularism on ordinary people...........................29

Secularism and the future.............................................................31

Secularism and the providence of God.........................................33


The secular and secularism...............................................................35


The importance of the secular......................................................36

The emergence of secularism.......................................................37

A positive view of secularism........................................................38

The mission of the Church............................................................39

Secularism as an ideology.............................................................42

The process of secularization........................................................43

The results of secularization.........................................................44

Progress and fulfillment................................................................45

Nature and usefulness..................................................................47

Fragmentation in modern life........................................................48

The medieval and modern world view..........................................49

Post-modernity and nihilism..........................................................50

The new situation..........................................................................52

Rights and morality.......................................................................53


The task of the Church......................................................................55


The challenge to the Church.........................................................56

Human development and the common good................................57

Catholic health and social doctrine...............................................57

The vocation of the laity...............................................................60

The culture of death......................................................................61

Reason and the secular.................................................................63

Salvation and the culture of life....................................................64

The Church as a counter-culture...................................................66

A political agenda..........................................................................67

Accepting the cross.......................................................................68

The Catholic spirit.........................................................................69

The challenge to the Catholic.......................................................72


Signs of hope.................................................................................74

Appreciating the secular...............................................................76

Political implications......................................................................77

In the world, for the world but not of the world............................79

In the world, for the world but
not of the worldIntroduction

Viruses can be very harmful and medical science is concerned to

identify them. If we can identify these negative influences on our
health, we can find ways of defending ourselves from them, and that is
an enormous step forward in helping us to stay healthy. Currently we
are being encouraged to be inoculated from the ‘swine flu’ virus to
ward off any terrible consequences. Whether or not the claims for this
virus are accurate or something not, is another issue. We know that it
is important to be inoculated against harmful viruses if possible, and
we know that flu shots do help.

Just as this is important in maintaining our physical health, so it is

important in terms of our spiritual health. In the past we were warned
about the dangers of materialism and a good many ills in the Church
were attributed to the influence of this virus, though it was not called
that. But, thinking of it as a virus is not a bad way to describe it. It is a
mentality and a set of values that can get a grip on our whole outlook
and so influence us at our core.

If we are at all concerned about our spiritual health, we need

continually to ask: are we being subjected to pathologies that will
adversely affect our spiritual growth and development? In particular,
what unconscious cultural influences might prevent us from living our
faith and so experience the joy and peace of the kingdom? If we can
identify these negative influences, we can take steps to combat their
influence on us.

And this is what this booklet is about. It is based on the belief that
there is something akin to a virus that is threatening our spiritual
health as Catholics. It is not materialism, though that is related to it,
but goes much deeper. It is more insidious than materialism and is
affecting us at our very core. This booklet is an attempt to identify that
virus and so understand better its danger to our spiritual health.

I want to concentrate on this virus because recent Popes have
themselves identified this as the cultural virus debilitating our spiritual
lives as Catholics and, if we are to appreciate their concerns and
pastoral programs at this time, we need to grasp more deeply what
this concern is.

This virus has been termed ‘secularism’, and both John Paul II and
Benedict XVI have tried to warn the Church worldwide as to its nature
and dangers. But how many of us really understand to what they are
referring? I suspect not many. It is not that we are not listening but
many of us are not sure to what they are referring.

When they talk of its particular manifestations – abortion, same-sex

marriage, euthanasia -- we know what they are talking about but
these are particular issues. Do they have a common root? The Popes
are suggesting that they do. This booklet, then, is about identifying
the root virus from which all these particular issues come.

We know the evils that result from it in general1 and, on the whole
Catholics will side with the official Church in opposing them, but until
we can identify the root we will not really know what it is we are really
opposing or know how to avoid being influenced by it.

So I am concerned with identifying this virus more clearly because

most Catholics are unaware of how deeply they are affected by it, and
hence are unable to combat it with the vigor that is required. They
may be aware that all is not well, either within our own ranks, or in the
world at large, but are not able to identify and articulate what is
causing it.

This booklet, then, is an attempt to articulate what this virus is. It is

based on the belief that, if we can identify it sufficiently well and grasp
just how it is destroying us spiritually, we will be better able and more
strongly motivated to combat its influence both in ourselves and in our
world, and so live our faith more authentically and witness to it more

I say ‘generally’ because a good many Catholics do support aspects of the progressive agenda. This
was evident in the last election.

It is also based on the belief that we do have many resources for
combating this sickness. There is vigor to the Catholic body, both here
and in the West generally, that is underappreciated, and it needs to be
aroused. It is already beginning to show that vigor but it needs
nurturing and encouraging.

I am writing then to encourage that nurturing. Indeed we might almost

be able to see the mergence and presence of secularism as a
providential development, enabling us to discern more clearly what it
actually means to be Catholic in our present age. If we can strengthen
that we will be in much better shape to redeem our world from its
sickness, and that is what this booklet is about.

Bernard D. Green SDS

Tempe AZ
December 2009

Defining secularism

Viruses are notorious difficult to identify. They are so small and yet so
powerful and they come very often masquerading as something
positive. And this is true of the virus of secularism. Hence, identifying it
is not going to be easy, especially for us, living in our American culture.
Not only has this virus entered into our body through the very culture
within which we ‘live and move and have our very existence’ but it has
come to us disguised in ways that really do appeal to us.

But, we are becoming increasingly uneasy about the direction our

society and our world is going, and the Church is at the heart of this
concern. While we instinctively resist finding fault with our own society,
it is becoming less and less difficult to recognize that something is
radically wrong with the way we are. The signs are all around us that
we are collapsing from the inside, and increasingly we cannot avoid
seeing them. But, at the moment, people generally are simply

confused by this and what it means. It has to do with morality, but
they are not quite sure how.

Perhaps the greatest sign of the trouble we are in is simply the split
that has occurred among us in defining what it means to be an
American. We would still like to think that there is something that
unites us, some set of values that define what it means to be American
and that these are good and wholesome. We want to believe that
American values are important to the welfare of the world, and,
therefore, values that we should promote, but we are no longer sure of
what these are.

The fact is, and recent elections have all borne this out, we are split as
to what it means to be American, and this split seems to run
throughout the country. The country is split almost 50/50 along a
particular fault line – commonly referred to as the divide between
conservative and progressive. It showed itself most recently in the
protests against the Health Care Bill. The vigor of this opposition from
so many quarters is deeply troubling and we do not know quite what it

The uneasy feeling is arising that we really are a divided nation and
our division goes to the heart of what it means to be ‘American’. It
means we have lost any common understanding of what is good or
bad, right or wrong, and, when a nation loses that, it is inevitably on
the verge of disintegrating. The Manhattan Declaration issued in
November of 2009, by a body of prominent religious leaders has said
simply: ‘If you proceed with certain provisions, know that we will not go
along with them or implement them. We will become civilly
disobedient. And the country will lose a good portion of its health
providers”. When we get to a situation where the churches wholesale
and across the aisle threaten civil disobedience, we are in a very new
and very sorry state. It is an indication that the situation is reaching
crisis point.

How did we get to such a pass where a substantial body of religious

leaders from all Christian communities reject a body of legislation in
this way, and on the basis of moral principle? What has gone wrong? Is
it a fault at our core or something fairly superficial? What level of

change does it require of us if we are to put this situation right? How
can we be part of God’s purposes for this world if we are too sick to
function as a united society with a set of values that are good for
humanity as a whole?

Whatever answer we come up with, it is becoming evident to many

that all is not well with us, and we are being forced to reflect on this.
And the signs are everywhere. It is not just political issues such as
health care but also a breakdown of moral standards generally and the
increase of violence among us. Every tragic mass-killing tells us all is
not well. Every report of a pedophile ring among the wealthy and
powerful, with its tentacles reaching to the highest levels of society,
tells us that something is very wrong. Every revelation of corruption in
government and business tells us that there is something wrong with
us as a society. Moral traditions are breaking down and the results are
scary. All this is vitiating our attempts to influence the world for its

So, what is wrong? Is it possible to trace this to a single cause? John

Paul II has suggested that the whole of the Western world is coming
under the control of ‘a culture of death’, and that includes ourselves,
and that this is at the root of our disintegration. We seem to see killing
as the way to solve issues, from abortion, to the death penalty or
military action. We are beginning to accept as a given that killing
others is the way to create a better world. How can we be surprised
that the result of such a culture is the increase in violence among us?

Whether one agrees with his analysis or not, it is clear that we are
becoming an increasingly violent society in which minor disputes are
resolved by killing others. Much of the violence is related to drug
abuse, and we are fueling the world trade in drugs. We seem to have
an insatiable appetite for ‘getting high’. Drugs are rampant among us,
fueling a massive, worldwide underground of criminal activity and the
use of guns and violence. The family structure is breaking down and
violence is rampant in its ranks. Reports come in daily of mothers
killing their children, of men killing their wives and their children and
then committing suicide, of children murdering their parents in order to
get their hands on an inheritance. Is this evidence of a disturbingly
new tend or just the result of better reporting? It is not clear, but it is

clear that it is a sign of a society that is breaking down morally, and
that is of great concern to all.

Whatever the cause, it is widely agreed that ‘trust’, the very cement of
social life, is fading among us. That much is clear to many
commentators today. It is fueled by the growth in child sexual abuse
among close relatives, educators, politicians and clergy, in short, those
whom we need to trust most. Pornography of all sorts with its radical
sexual exploitation for money is increasing and is now offered by hotel
chains as part of their service to their guests. Prostitution is being
increasingly treated as a legitimate business and we, members of an
affluent society, are fueling a worldwide trade in the sexual
exploitation and slavery of vast numbers of women and children. The
Far East is complicit in this thirst for sexual sensation and is supplying
the demand. All this is working to create a fear of each other that is
new and frightening in its pervasiveness.

There is something very sick about our very culture and at its core it is
a moral issue: we are losing any common sense as to what morality is
or means. We are becoming in the words of one article ‘morally
illiterate’ and are raising a generation of ‘moral illiterates’2. What is
causing this? Can we trace it all to one source, or is there a major
player on the scene that we need to be aware of, as Pope John Paul II
suggested? We need to know.

And we need to know especially as Catholics, since, not only does our
taken-for-granted culture influence us, molding and forming us in ways
of which we are not really aware, but we may actually be promoting
cultural values that are destructive of humanity. We may not be
actively promoting them, but we are allowing their growth among us
because we seem too bemused by these developments to confront and
denounce them. The sleeping giant might be waking up but it is as
gradual awakening. At the moment he is merely grumbling about being

The sleeping giant would like to get back to sleep but is not is not
being allowed to. More and more, we are being disturbed by a variety

Decadence. The Social Affairs Unit. London.

of questions and these questions are daily being set before us, not just
by the authorities in the Church but by the television with its daily
catalogue of horrors. These are facing us with a question: are there
attitudes and values being promoted by our culture that we are
imbibing that are destroying us a Catholic people called to serve the
purposes of God in this world? How are these values related to creating
a culture of life, one in which human life is respected, sustained and
promoted? Are we not really committed to this? How did we get into
this situation?

What recent popes are suggesting to us is that we are suffering from

the virus of secularism and need to recognize what this means. One of
our difficulties in recognizing this is that we confuse it with simple
materialism or worldliness and we are ambiguous about this. What is
wrong with trying to better oneself in this life? Why should we not work
hard, amass a good fortune and live the good life? Is that so wrong?
We have real difficulty with this: creating the good life is what America
is all about and surely this is a good thing! Should we not try to spread
this to all rather than try to get rid of it?

Unfortunately, this worldliness is the gateway to deeper evil, that of

secularism. Secularism is riding to triumph in our culture on the back of
a legitimate desire to create a better world. So the question facing us
is: is there a way of seeing and fighting secularism while still retaining
the value of living the good life and making it possible for more and
more to enjoy it? I think there is but we need to distinguish them from
each other.

First of all, secularism is not exactly the same as materialism or

worldliness though they are related. Our materialism itself, which is
evident in our implicit belief that human happiness lies in what we call
‘the good life’ , is a dimension of this deeper pathology, but not quite
the same as it. Materialism sees human happiness only in the things
of this world. Its aim is gaining luxury in this life in the belief that this is
what will bring happiness. As such materialism does not directly deny
the religious dimension of life but really simply ignores it and in this is
destructive of the human spirit.

However, one can in fact overcome the more selfish tendencies of
materialism and be committed to creating a ‘good life’ for all by
charity towards others in need and traditionally, this is what we have
done. We have sort to overcome the inadequacies of worldliness by
being a very generous people, always there to aid in disasters no
matter to whom they come, friend or foe. We try to use our wealth to
help others less fortunate than ourselves and this is certainly a positive
way of integrating the search for ‘the good life’ and being good to our
neighbor in need. It is a way to redeem materialism.

Secularism, however, though it builds on materialism, however, is

different. For one thing, it is explicitly and militantly dedicated to the
rejection of and elimination of religion as being inimical to human
flourishing. A recent article in the Daily Telegraph of England pointed
to its presence when it said:

There is now a very strong secularist agenda working its way through our
public authorities. There is even a group of militant secularists
preposterously called “Brights” who want to drive religion out of the public
square. Already you see it in rows about a nurse who prays with a patient,
or about sex education, or even about what to call Christmas3.

This secularism does not just ignore religion as somehow irrelevant to

‘the good life’, which is the weakness in worldliness, but actively seeks
to eliminate religion as harmful to human flourishing. Out of this
secularism you get books written showing just how better off people
are when they are not religious4. People are simply better off when
they concern themselves with making a better world for themselves
here-and-now and this is what they should be encouraged to do. This is
the secularist mentality and it goes deeper than mere materialism,
though it supports it and materialism gives it entry into the human

Dec.23rd 2009
This was the thesis of a recent book by Phil Zuckerman called ‘Society without God” New York
University Press. 2008

Defining secularism
What then is this secularism if it is different from simple materialism or
worldliness? In an address to the Australian bishops, John Paul II
outlined what it is. He suggested to them that

At the root of this disturbing development is the attempt to promote a vision

of humanity without God. It exaggerates individualism, sunders the
essential link between freedom and truth, and corrodes the relationships of
trust which characterize genuine social living.

This is secularism. It is essentially, and in a committed way, opposed to

‘religion’. In Australia, for instance, which is far more advanced in
secularist thinking than we are, a governmental committee has been
set up to study whether religious freedom is detrimental to human
rights! To be religious was not considered a human right but something
that might be inimical to human rights! 5 This is secularist thinking. It
simply assumes and promotes the notion that we have no intrinsic
right to be religious and to practice our religion.

This notion, though not as explicitly is present here. Relgion is a matter

for the individual and should have no influence on public matters. So in
his written decision in the Planned Parenthood versis Casey case in
1992, the celebrated abortion decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy

These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person
may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy,
are central to the liberty protected by the fourteenth amendment. At the
heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of
meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about
these matters could not define the attitudes of person were they formed
under the compulsion of the State.

This spells the end of any common morality and for any public role for
religion.. Each individual in our society has the right to define moral
principles and practices for themselves. This effectively divorces all law
from common morality and makes the law simply the imposition of one
person’s or group’s ideas of morality on the rest of the populous.

See Calma and Gershevitch “Freedom of Religion and belief in a multi-cultural Democracy, Paper
presented t the Unity in Diversity Conference, Townsville August 2009

For secularism there is, at least overtly, no ‘objective’ truth and hence
is overtly committed to ‘moral relativism, and this is term that Pope
Benedict uses a great deal to describe secularism. Moral relativism is
committed to the creation of a world in which God and religion as the
objective foundation of morality are absent.

And, so, Lawrence Besseman has described this secularism as a

particular view of life.

… in which human beings find consolation and sustenance in their own

works and through their own efforts, and reliance on the supernatural in the
form of a personal deity is no longer felt to be a viable option6 . 1

And The General Directory for Catechesis (1998) has defined it as

….an excessively autonomous view of man and of the world ‘according to

which it is entirely self-explanatory without any reference to God

We as a culture are open to this virus, possibly in ways that other

cultures are not because it comes to us cloaked in an acceptable garb
and to recognize it clearly we need to distinguish it from this garb. I
have called this garb ‘world-liness’ rather than materialism. We are a
‘this-worldly society. As a society we are dedicated to creating and
enjoying ‘the good life’. It is this that has laid us so open to the
influence of ‘secularism’. It leaves the door open for secularism to step
through and influence our ways of thinking and valuing.

Progress and secularism

Just how insidious this secularism can be on us can be seen if we look
at the notion of progress. How many of us, for instance, are really
aware of how much one of its key planks, the notion of ‘progress’,
affects our attitudes and evaluations of our experience? This notion of
‘progress’ is so much a part of our cultural outlook that we almost
take-it-for-granted as true. As Christopher Dawson pointed out in his
discussion on the notion of progress:

Every period of civilization possesses certain characteristic ideas that are

peculiarly its own. They express the mind of the society that has given them
Sacred and Secular in Medieval and early Modern centuries. Palgrave 2006 Pxvi

birth, no less than does the artistic style or the social institutions of the age.
Yet so long as they are dominant, their unique and original character is
never fully recognized, since they are accepted as principles of absolute
truth and universal validity. They are looked on not as the popular ideas of
the moment, but as eternal truths implanted in the nature of things, and as
self-evident in any kind of rational thinking. 7

For him, this notion of progress was one such idea and this, I suggest,
is a manifestation of the virus that is infecting all of us and which we
simply take it for granted. We automatically believe that humanity has
progressed in its history, and that our own liberal democratic society
stands at the peak of that development. We have realized the human
dream of ‘the good life’. Therefore progress in our society should not
be opposed. To oppose it is to take a step backwards. It is, as it is
becoming increasingly common to say, to be on the wrong side of

Secularists believe that their liberal agenda is simply the wave of the
future and should be allowed to flourish that way. In law, for instance,
it has given rise to what is termed ‘settled precedent’. That means
laws passed in the past should not be altered. What this is meant to
protect is the Roe v. Wade decision that introduced and legalized
abortion. It would not affect, for instance, the Dred Scott decision by
the Supreme Court in 1857 that made it illegal for blacks to own
property on the grounds that they were property. The contradiction
involved here is ignored. It simply shows that the notion of ‘settled
precedent’ is a legal fiction used to support a liberal agenda.

Yet, we automatically support the notion of progress and see our

present age as the best yet. And we do so in spite of the last century
being the most horrific century in the history of humanity. We do so in
the face of the fact that since the Roe v Wade decision was made that
legalized abortion, we have destroyed well near 50 million unborn
children. We do so in the face of the fact that we are now facing what
is called a demographic winter in which the number or births will not
replace those who are dying and Western civilization will likely fade

Progress and Religion. Sherwood Sugden and Co. Peru, ILL. P3

Still, in the face of this evidence, we cling to the belief that we have
‘progressed’, that we are better off now, more intelligent now, better
people now than people of long ago. This notion of ‘progress’ remains
inviolate for most of us, including Catholics. It determines in a very
fundamental way our view of life and its meaning and the significance
of what we experience, yet we are hardly aware of it. And, because it
is largely unconscious, we as Catholics are inevitably influenced by it in
the way in which we view our faith. We have adopted this key plank in
the secularist philosophy as a simple fact.

I think that part of the paralysis that Catholics are experiencing in the
West in the face of many of its developments today is precisely
because the influence of this understanding of ‘progress’. We
inevitably ask ourselves: is our faith in line with the dynamic of
progress or is behind the times; is it still reactionary and childish or
courageously and maturely forward-looking?

For many, it is reactionary and they wish to bring the faith into line
with progressive thinking as that is found in the general culture. They
actively wish to re-interpret Catholic faith in the light of what they
take-for-granted are the progressive thinking of secular society. It is
characteristic of the liberal/ progressive wing of the Church and they
are still in the ascendency in the Church, both in academia and in
diocesan offices.

While others are not so swept along by this, in the face of social
criticism that tells us that we are behind the times, they simply back
off in confusion and either do nothing or protest weakly. At the
moment it seems that as a Church we are just trying to find ways of
surviving in this society rather than reaching out to challenge it to
change and change radically. We are betwixt and between on the
issues because it puts us out of harmony with our society and we do
not wish to be out of harmony with it. We want to be part of it. We
believe that we have progressed and we wish to be part of that

Sin and secularism

This notion of ‘progress’, then, is one that influences us at our core and
is a major barrier to our resisting the influence of our culture and

tackling its ills. Yet it is a notion that is utterly foreign to our faith. It is
a perversion of a very core Christian belief that history is linear with a
beginning, middle and an expected end. But, in Catholic faith, there is
no notion that this entails in human society any automatic progress
towards perfection or fulfillment. Human development is marked at its
deepest level by the distortion of’ sin’ and it is ‘sin’ that prevents us
from ever progressing automatically towards the kingdom.

May be we can see the influence of secularism on our faith in the very
simple fact that we have lost the consciousness of what sin is and how
it distorts our thinking and valuing? We have been to influenced by our
culture to think that we, as a modern age, have progressed beyond the
past, that even though the last century was filled with the devastation
of wars and the horrors of several holocausts to a degree never before
seen in human history. None of this has seemingly penetrated our
consciousness and we cling to the naïve belief that somehow we have
progressed and that our modern age is a better one than those that
preceded it.

In the last century we have witnessed and millions have experienced

the devastation of ‘sin’, yet we have lost the ability to articulate it.
Even in the face of our current financial meltdown we cannot seem to
grasp that sin is at its heart. We are in financial crisis because of
greed. This is now recognized by many. For instance, in The New York
Times, Paul Krugman writes:

But there was nothing accidental about the crisis. From the late 1970's on,
the American financial system, freed by deregulation and a political climate
in which greed was presumed to be good, spun even further out of control.
There were ever greater rewards --bonuses beyond the dreams of avarice --
for bankers who could generate big, short-term profits...Sooner or later this
runaways system was bound to crash8.

Greed is endemic in our society, and always has been, and greed is a
matter of individual and societal moral character. What we are really
suffering from is a radical selfishness and callousness to the good of
others, uncontrolled or uninhibited by any social moral ideals.

Article Bankers without a clue. P A21 Friday January 15th. 2010

Even with the sense that greed needs regulation by societal and
cultural expectations, we naively cling to the notion that humanity is,
at heart, good and that all we have to do to make things better is to
tinker with the mechanics of our economic and financial systems.

Worldliness and t he triumph of secularism

We have elevated life in this world to the highest level and look for our
fulfill-ment within it. We have then to see it as supportive of our
efforts. If we really did not believe that we can gain happiness in the
good life as defined by our worldliness, we would not be so committed
to it. And we are committed to it ideologically. We are a society formed
expressly to creating a better life in this world. It is this that defines
our society. It is one dedicated to the creation and enjoyment of luxury
and ‘the good life’.

And largely we have been successful in this. We are the wealthiest

society ever to have existed in human history, and that wealth has
extended right down to the poorest among us. Our poor are better off
in many ways than the wealthiest of other societies. We created the
economic and political machine for generating wealth and luxury and
this machine now governs the world. People from every country in the
world want to emigrate to our shores to ‘get a piece of this good life’.
It is the land of economic and social opportunity and as such attractive
to everyone and we are proud of it.

But, I think that it is this very ‘worldliness ‘ that has enabled the virus
of secularism to gain such a grip on us. The hierarchy may preach
against the effects of secularism among us, but the faithful are not
listening, or are not listening too closely because, with the generality of
Americans, they too are generally committed to ‘worldliness’ and see
worldly comfort and prosperity as evidence of social progress. They
are consequently allowing the virus of secularism to grow and flourish
among us. In the process however, they are, unintentionally to be
sure, weakening and destroying the faith.

Because of the pervasive influence of secularism in our culture, which

is radically committed to finding, creating and enjoying ‘the good life’
in this world for individuals , it takes real effort to discriminate its

contours and detect its influence on us. But, we need to do so if we
value our faith. We need to reflect on our culture to see how it might
be influencing us negatively in our spiritual growth and development.

The State as the source of morality

I have mentioned one such element of the secularist perspective: that
of progress, let me now suggest another that is also important and
influential: the belief that the State has the right to define what
‘marriage’ is. The question goes beyond the issue of same-sex
marriage to a fundamental principle: the right to the state to define
reality. Have we in fact given the state the right to define human
reality? I suggest that we have. We have implicitly bought into the
notion that the state has the right define who is a person and which
persons can be legitimately ‘married’ and this view of the state and its
power is intrinsic to a secularist perspective.

The issue of same-sex marriage is but one instance of this secularist

principle of state power. We have bought into it because we have
acquiesced in the notion that the state has the authority to determine
what is right and what is not. We have lost the notion that marriage is
a given in our created nature. It is and always has been seen as the
union between a man and a woman for the creation of a family. While
progressives wish to alter that definition to include same-sex couples
because they are dominated by the secularist agenda, yet, how much
of the opposition that Catholics generally mount to this is vitiated by a
fear of actually telling the State to back off and out of this arena; that it
is treading where it has no right to go. A great deal, I think. We have
in fact bought into the belief that the state has the right, and indeed
the duty, to define what marriage is and who is entitled to it, just as we
have bought into the notion that the state has the right to determine
who is and who is not a person, which is the issue involved in abortion.

Both these issues flow from the same secularist principle: morality is a
matter of human determination. It is determined by man not
discovered by him. Ultimately the morality that should prevail in any
society is set by democratic vote. This s secularism. It is a deliberate
repudiation of the notion that morality comes form the way we have
been created by God.

From a secularist perspective, there is no created nature that we need
to respect as objectively given. Man determines what is good or bad,
right or wrong. It is the individual ‘person’ who determines who or what
they should be. They can change sex if they want to. The only issue is
a political one: who has the social power to determine these things.
We are afraid of opposing the state in this because we are infected by
the virus of secularism that tells us that man is the source of what is
right and wrong, not God. Because of the influence of secularist
principles on our minds and hearts, we have granted the state
authority to tell us what marriage is or what it means to have a sexual

Becaue fo the pervasive influence of this secularism on our minds and

hearts as Catholics, the battle today, then, between Catholic
conservatives and progressives over these issues is not against the
secularist mentality that informs this situation but simply a battle to
see which outlook will prevail. It is a battle that for Catholics ignores
the real problem. It is a battle that Catholics in our culture will not
ultimately win if they do not recognize the principle that they really
need to fight. They will have already conceded the playing field. They
are playing on secularism’s home court and the home team is always
the favorite to win.

The secular mind

Such is the insidious influence of secularism on us. What does this
mean? Is it possible to discern the influence of this mode of thinking
and discriminate its destructive influence on our spiritual wellbeing. I
think it is not only possible but essential that we make the effort, and
that is the presupposition behind this booklet.

It was originally provoked by a book written as far back as the sixties,

though I did not read it then. When I came across this book, I found
myself resonating with its central thesis. It seemed very accurate to
me and made sense of my own uneasiness.

It was by one, Harry Blamires, an Anglican writer9. He prophetically
highlighted this pathology of secularism and pointed out its insidious
influence on Christian faith and life. Speaking from within the
Anglican tradition, he complained with some sadness that Christians in
his own communion were no longer united in a common culture
determined by their faith; rather that their thinking and acting was
determined by what he called the secular mind. He wrote:

Except over a very narrow field of thinking chiefly touching questions of

strictly personal conduct, we Christians in the modern world accept, for the
purposes of mental activity, a frame of reference constructed by the secular
mind and a set of criteria reflecting secular evaluations. There is no
Christian mind; there is no shared field of discourse in which we can move
at ease as thinking Christians by trodden ways and pre-established

As he saw it, Christians no longer share a common outlook on life that

flows from the revelation in Christ as to the nature of God and His
purposes for the world and humanity. Their faith no longer provided
them with the framework within which they needed to interpret their
life-experiences; rather, they automatically looked at life and dealt with
it on the basis of secular perspectives and values and it is this that
unites them, not their faith.

What he prophetically pointed out then has now far progressed. It is

endemic in Catholic life. I recognized that what he said of Anglicans
was also true of us as Catholics. As I traveled the United States giving
workshops of counseling and communication to ‘Catholic’ audiences, I
was struck and confused by the fact that we did not seem to belong to
the same faith. We were not in fact bound together by a common
framework of thinking. It was as though I was talking a foreign
language to many. We did not share the same presuppositions and

Hence, when I read Veritatis Splendor, I recognized the legitimacy of

John Paul’s anxiety about Catholics being seduced away by this virus of
secularism. He made a similar observation to that of Blamire but of

An Anglican is the English equivalent of an Episcopalian here
The Christian Mind Servant Publications. Ann Arbor Michigan 1963 P4

Catholics and, in doing so, revealed his concern about the influence of
this secular mentality within which we lived:

We are speaking of a mentality which affects, often in a most profound,

extensive and all-embracing way even attitudes and behavior of Christians,
whose faith is weakened and loses its character as a new and original
criterion for thinking and action in personal, family and social life.11

What concerned him was his observation that it was not the faith that
was the source and ground of a Catholic perspective on life but, rather,
the attitudes and values that flowed from secularism. As he saw it, we
were in danger of becoming secularist almost by default.

Evidence of this is now becoming commonplace Social surveys have

shown that in matters of divorce, birth control, abortion, pre-marital
sex and matters of gender, a large number of Catholics, from the most
educated to the least, differ very little from their surrounding non-
Catholic fellow-citizens12. They have been seduced away from seeing
their lives and pursuits from within the context of the faith to seeing
them from the perspectives and values of our surrounding secular
culture and being at peace with this. As John Paul has said:

The present-day phenomenon of secularism is truly serious not simply as

regards the individual, but in some ways as regards whole communities, as
the Council has already indicated: "Growing numbers of people are
abandoning religion in practice."(8). At other times I myself have recalled
the phenomenon of de-Christianization which strikes long-standing
Christian people and which continually calls for a re-evangelization13

In the light of this concern, which has been taken up by Benedict XVI
and is a recurrent theme in all his talks, we need to explore more fully
the nature and influence of this spiritual virus on us as Catholics
Unless we grasp better what it is he is concerned about and why he is
so concerned, we will not be able to join him in his efforts to combat
the influence of secularism on us and on our times, and this is
something that we need to do if we wish to be redemptive of our world.
The issue involves distinguishing secularism, not just from worldliness
Par 21
A recent survey of students commissioned by the Cardinal Newman Society is just the latest

indication of this.
Par 4

or materialism but also from what it means to be genuinely secular.
The Church is committed to this and sees secularism as a radical
danger to it. We need to see why.

The dangers of secularism

The influence of secularism

Many parasites are essential to good health. Every living organism is a
community of organisms that cooperate together for the health of the
whole organism. Much as we might not like the idea, the fact is that we
could not live without such parasites. But, some parasites are
iniquitous to physical health and the organism has to mobilize to
combat their influence. Viruses are often parasitic in form and
influence. They reside in the body masquerading as healthy parasites
while in fact gradually destroying it. Distinguishing a virus, then, is not
always easy. Sometimes it is very difficult to identify these negative
parasites from the positive ones but if we wish to protect ourselves
from their destructive effects we need to do so and do so as accurately
as possible.

On the spiritual level, secularism is such a parasite. It developed in the

wake of the emergence of an aspect of human reality that we are
beginning to see was a very healthy and important development in our
history: the differentiation of the genuinely secular from the
ecclesiastical. This became enshrined in a principle that the Church
has now come to recognize as very important and valuable: the
separation of Church from State. We are now able to recognize the
dangers in inherent in any theocratic state in which the ecclesiastical is
not differentiated from the secular and exercises too much power over

A current example of this is Iran. The mess it is in at the present

moment with the revolt against the government is precisely the result
of the confusion of the religious establishment, or, analogically, the
ecclesiastical, and the political. As a nation, it is in the throes of finding

a way of harmonizing these different factors in human life. The
opponents of the regime are opposing it in the name of creating a
genuinely secular state. What the opposition has yet to do is to come
to terms with the essential role that religion has in forming and
creating a genuinely secular state.

The political and the ecclesiological are distinct realms and, as distinct,
from a Catholic perspective are best understood as being in necessary
tension with each other. For both to remain healthy they need this
tension. When one is absorbed by the other, then, trouble ensues.

We have learned this from bitter experience. In Ireland, for instance,

the ecclesiastical exercised too much informal power over the state,
and the state no long functioned as a critic of the policies and attitudes
and values of the Church. Many who represented the Church felt
themselves to be immune from criticism and were sealed off from
secular critique and many who represented the secular felt radically
inhibited in critiquing the leaders of the Church, even when they were
harming people.

Because of this, both Church and state are now paying the price. The
result has been disastrous. The state ended up collaborating with the
Church to cover up terrible sexual abuse of children by clergy and
religious. Some clergy and religious seem to have thought they were
immune from moral critique and could do as they wished, and their
wishes were psychologically, socially and spiritually perverse. The
same sort of disaster results when the Church is absorbed by the state
and no longer functions as a moral critique of its policies and
programs. Where this happens, the State takes over functions of
religion and become tyrannical as it did with Communism.
Communism devastated the mental and spiritual health of its
populations and eventually had to fall and decay. It could not cope with
the reality of human being and becoming. It had to fail, but not before
inflicting untold mental, emotional and spiritual devastation on its

It is this sort of situation that secularism, however, is working to

promote. It wants to be the dominant cultural influence over people
with the power to enforce its positions. It is using democratic means to

achieve this as against the overtly totalitarian ones employed by
Communism, but it is seeking the same dominance over the minds and
hearts of people. Secularism is posing as the only way in which the
genuinely secular can be lived. It is suggesting that anyone who wants
to create a genuinely secular world must necessarily adopt secularist
ideas and values and relegate their religious perspectives and values
to the backburner of their own private lives. They too wish, at least
overtly, to marginalize both religion and morality14.

And many Catholics are ‘buying into’ this. They are simply pleading for
the room to live their own lives within the state. They have in effect
lost the sense that their faith is of real significance for human well-
being and flourishing and therefore needs to influence the way the
public sector functions. They are intent on protecting attitudes and
values that they believe in but as something that is good for them
alone rather than as something of grave importance to humanity at

This is a dichotomy that the Church now officially disputes and rejects.
This it has come to believe is not the way to deal with what is a
necessary and essential tension between the religious and the secular.
The Church has officially accepted that the development of the secular
as such is a very legitimate development in human consciousness and
something to be encouraged. There is such a realm as the genuinely
secular that comes from God not from the Church, and the Church is
there to serve the birth of a genuinely secular world.

But, to do so, she has to deny that the genuinely secular has to be
understood in secularist terms. Secularism is a philosophy of life, an
ideology, a new form of religion in fact, that, as a basis for
understanding human reality and its functioning, is radically defective.
It is in fact destroying our humanity rather than enabling it to flourish
and out of concern for humanity the Church has to speak against it,
much to the discomfort of many otherwise committed Catholics. If
secularism is allowed to continue its parasitic influence, it will pervert
human growth and development, and already we are seeing the results
of that perversion. We are already sinking into what can only be called

We will see later why I use the term ‘overtly’ here.

a new barbarism. We are in the process of destroying ourselves as
human beings.

John Paul identified the heart of this new barbarism as a culture of

death. This culture sees some human beings as expendable for the
sake of others and so can be legitimately killed in order to ‘enhance’
the lives of others. At the moment that means those with voting power,
which excludes ‘fetuses’ -- but we could quite conceivably broaden this
by depriving certain other groups of that power and therefore of no
importance – those with Altzheimer’s disease, for instance. Of what use
are they either to themselves, others or society as a whole. They are
better eliminated. We need the resources elsewhere!

What is needed, according to John Paul – the Church, following him is

now committed to this -- is the creation of a new humanism based on
commitment to a culture of life, on in which all human life is respected,
protected and nurtured from conception to natural death. It is one in
which morality is seen as central to human existence and
encompasses all of human life.

In such a culture, ‘religion’, as opposed to any specific organized

expression of it, has an essential role to play in public life. Religion is
the foundation of the moral life and, without an active and adequate
moral life, society itself begins to fall to pieces. Secularism is
destructive precisely because it wants to marginalize religion from
public life and is committed to seeing morality as peripheral to human
flourishing. Hence, Pope Benedict’s continuous warnings about ‘moral
relativism’. Secularism is based, at least overtly, on a morally
relativistic understanding of human striving for fulfillment.

Secularism wishes to identify religion with particular communities and,

under the guise of separating the State from the Church, marginalize
religion and with it any moral positions other than its own. It is
important to realize, then, that despite its claims to being morally
relative and hence supportive of varieties of morality this secularism
has spawned a new moral absolutism. Secularism is not just a
perspective on life but also and intrinsically a moral system. In practice
it offers a set of objective moral positions by which all must abide and
is willing to use the power of the state to impose these on everyone.

But, it denies this in theory. It has become and is in the process of
becoming tyrannical, and all in the name of increased tolerance.
William D. Watkin has outlined some of these new moral absolutes that
have been developed since the sixties under the inspiration of
secularism as being:

1. Religion is private and should be kept out of the public square.

2. Human life is only valuable to the extent that individuals decide it is and
for as long as they do so.
3. Marriage is relational contract made between any two people regardless
of sex.
4. A family is a grouping of any two or more people. It has nothing to do
with begetting or rearing of children.
5. Sexual intercourse is a human right and should be unrestricted between
consenting adults.
6. Sexual activity of any and every variety is morally permissible between
consenting adults.
7. Women need to be freed from men and from domination by their sexual
potential. All should be treated as ‘persons’.
8. All human persons are equal, but people of color should be given
preferential treatment.
9. Only politically correct ideas as determined by academia should be
allowed expression in society. 15

What Watkin’s is pointing to is that our culture is in fact in profound

moral contradiction with itself: it is both relativist and absolutist at one
and the same time, and this contradiction exists within the same
people. Its relativism is driven by a belief that the tenets of their
relativism demand moral conformity from others. In other words, they
are proposed with a moral absolutism and are being backed by legal
authority that all, as moral beings, are expected to obey because they
are the best norms by which society should function so that all may
enjoy the fulfillment of their being. Hence, those who do not live by
them are morally condemned. Pope Benedict XVI recently referred to
this in one of his talks:

Relativism, which is the starting point of all this, thus becomes a dogmatism
which believes itself to be in possession of the definitive scope of reason,
and with the right to regard all the rest only as a stage of humanity16.

They are absolutist precisely because those who hold them believe
they have reached the most reasonable of positions. These absolutes
The New Absolutes Bethany House Publishers Minneapolis 1996 P 43op.cit P45
Zenit 8/14/05

flow from an overall perspective that can only be termed ‘religious’,
but religious without any overt transcendental reference and that is
what we now call an ideology.

Secularism as an ideology
An ideology is a perverted form of religion. It is an religious system
masquerading as set of intellectual beliefs that are self-evident. As
such it is a rival religion and is itself evidence that religion is a crucial
dimension of human reality and always has been. As Christopher
Dawson showed in his book, ‘Religion and Progress’, all great
civilizations have had a religious base. Religion can be and ought to be
the foundation of any genuine civilization. Ideology is what results
when religion is overtly denied and the ideas that we live by are not
given any transcendent justification but are seen or believed to be
their own justification. This gives those who hold them the right to
impose them on others. What results is social and political tyranny
which is the condition that we are approaching now.

To be human, then, we need to acknowledge the religious dimension of

human existence. But, that does not give religion simply carte blanche
to do as it wishes. Such again lead to tyranny, only this time religious
tyranny such that the people of Iran are experiencing. Religion needs
to justify itself at the bar of human flourishing. It needs to show just
how it supports and furthers human flourishing and that means the
flourishing of all human beings simply as human.

The Catholic position is that a religion will provide as secure basis for a
civilization to the degree to which it actually serves human flourishing.
Every particular form of religion requires purification from this
perspective: how well does it account for human being and its need to
realize fulfillment?

Religion may take particular forms but it cannot be identified

exclusively with any one of them. While religion as such cannot be
separated from politics and it is utterly unreasonable to try to do so,
particular forms of its expression can. These can each be judged, and
need to subject themselves to this judgment, as to how they enable
human beings to flourish.

Politics needs to take the exercise and influence of religion into
account and, not only allow for it, but take active steps to see that it
can flourish. It needs to make room for its legitimate expression and
be prepared to critique it as to how well it enables human beings to
flourish simply as human beings. And specific religions need to be open
to that critique.

In other words, the primary mode of relationship between the Church

and the State needs to be dialog, dialog in terms of what is good for
human beings now and in the future.

That means on the part of both that specific instances of religion –

religions -- need to grow and develop. Religions need the room and
encouragement to grow and develop through internal and external
dialog with each other and with the State. And the criterion for judging
that growth and development is how well any particular expression of
the religion instinct enables all human beings to grow and develop.

The criterion by which the state needs to critique any particular

religious expression, then, is the degree to which it supports and
promotes the common good of all citizens. Unfortunately, the
dominance of secularism in our culture is preventing that necessary
dialog by seeking to suppress the expression of the religious instinct
entirely. It wants humanity to be seen as totally ‘secular’ as it defines
In the process of so alienating the religious instinct, secularism is
creating the conditions for the emergence of perverted forms of it. We
are seeing today the emergence of many such perverted forms from
vampirism to various forms of cultism. Indeed, it is possible to see
secularism itself is one such perverted form. It has important
characteristics of a religion, and we fail to understand it if we do not
recognize and acknowledge that. It is constituted by a set of ultimate
beliefs as to the meaning and significance of human life. It offers a
total system of moral values and is lived and promoted by specific
community of people. As such it is a secular religion or, to use a more
accurate term, an ideology such as communism was.

The danger is that people are just assuming the identification of
religion with particular ecclesial communities and, while not wanting to
give any one community a privileged place in political and social life,
are acquiescing in the marginalization of what is central to human
being: the existence of the religious instinct. As a result they are
rending it impossible to purify religion. They are making it impossible
to recognize, critique and purify secularism itself as a religion. This is
leading to increased pathology in human life.

This was the concern of Pope Benedict in his speech in Regansburg

that caused so much negative reaction. His point in that speech was
that both religion and politics are in need of purification and the
instrument of that purification is concern for the welfare of humanity in
this world.

As he has consistently proposed it, genuine religion is reasonable and

enables man to become more reasonable. That means that genuine
religion opens men up to dialog with each other as to what is genuinely
important to humanity as humanity. He was intent on setting such
dialog in motion, and has effectively done so in many ways.
Secularism, on the other hand, and its adherents are intent on shutting
that dialog down. They do not want dialog. They want conformity.

At Regensburg, Benedict challenge all who were concerned about the

emergence of a genuinely secular state to broaden their understanding
of what it meant to be reasonable and to see that religion itself is not
the enemy of reason but its support. What secularism is preventing us
from actually creating at the moment, despite its professed agenda, by
its restriction of reason to science alone , is a genuinely secular state.

In the development of a genuinely secular state, the influence of

secularism is a cul-de-sac. A genuinely secular state is not necessarily
irreligious, but, it is essential to the very existence of a genuinely
secular state that it promotes and furthers the development of religion.
It has to seek out and promote a genuine dialog with religions as to
how to create a world in which all human beings can flourish.

The reason for this is that a genuinely secular state needs continual
moral critique, and religions are the primary sources of such critique.

Religion, per se, as distinct from an ideology, looks at life from a
transcendent moral and spiritual perspective, and looking at life in this
way is essential to human growth and development. It is intrinsic to
being a rational person, and what a genuinely secular state has to
promote is rational people, people that is who are able to dialog with
one another as to ultimate issues in human growth and development.

A genuinely secular state, therefore, will promote the development of

rational religion, not seek to marginalize it. It will make room for and
even encourage the development of religion while challenging it to
contribute to the common good of humanity, and so purify itself. The
correct and appropriate challenge to any religion for the state, then, is
justify its positions by the degree to which it supports the common
good of all its citizens. It cannot do that if it is forced to the sidelines of
human existence and considered irrational and hence not something
that can be discussed in terms of its truth or value.

The challenge to Catholics

We only wake up to the presence of a virus in our system when we

begin to experience pain and discomfort. Then we are challenged to
investigate and do something to reverse the situation in order to
regain our sense of well-being. Maybe we, as Catholics, are not
sufficiently aware yet of the influence of secularism on our thinking
and valuing and distressed by this really to do anything about it. We
are just beginning the experience pain and discomfort and are
wondering what it is about.

Perhaps this lack of awareness is due to the fact that secularism has
become the dominant perspective among those in government,
education and legislatures throughout the Western world and we still
trust them to do what is best for us. It is still difficult us to realize that
we now live in a secularized world, one in which Christian perspectives
and values are no longer dominant. The recent financial crisis has
awakened us to some degree to which the sense of morality among

our business and political leaders has already died. We have difficulty,
however, coming to terms with the moral callousness that they have
betrayed. We some- how wish to believe in good secularist fashion
that it is simply a question of correcting the system and creating more

But we are increasingly confused by current developments and in that

confusion sense a real challenge to important perspectives and values.
Secularism is not producing a better world. In fact we seem to be hell-
bent on destroying all that is valuable in our world and descending into
deeper and deeper chaos. Even if vaguely felt, many are recognizing
that the secularist attitudes and values are not enabling us to flourish
as human beings. It leaves out the most important question and that
is a religious and spiritual question: how do we overcome ‘sin’?

It is here that Catholics are most challenged. The whole of our faith is
based on the belief that sin has been defeated in Christ and we have
the possibility through faith in him to overcome sin in ourselves. Our
central concern is with the defeat of sin. Perhaps one reason that we
as Catholics are so weak at the moment in confronting secularism and
its effects because we have lost the sense of what sin is and just to
what degree they are committed to defeating it both in themselves
and in our world.

What we have at present is a surfeit of’ ’cultural Catholics’, Catholics,

that is, who are such in name only or have remained Catholic out of
habit. What we lack are convinced Catholics, Catholics who are
convinced that Jesus Christ is the answer to the human problem of sin
and that that answers is present with us in our faith. We have become
secularized, and our sense of God and sin have faded and these two
seem to be linked together. In the fading of the sense of God’s
presence, has gone a fading of the sense that holiness, or sinlessness,
is primarily a characteristic of God. We have lost the sense that
‘holiness’ is something objective and something that judges us,
something that we should be deeply concerned to overcome, both in
ourselves and in our world.

Instead of holiness being a concern for us, we are now concerned more
with success and personal satisfaction. And here we can see the

influence of the secularist ideology. An instance of just how subtle a
negative influence secularism can be was given by an Italian
immigrant to America. Speaking to Robert Cole, she made the point
that when she was a girl in Italy, she prayed that she would be able to
do God’s will. Now after a few years in America she found herself
praying that God would do her will17. Very astutely she was able to
recognize that the focus had shifted: it was concern about the quality
of her life in this world that was now central and God had shifted to
being a possible ally in this project. Now she called upon God to help
her in that life in different ways. It was not the will of God for this world
that was central for her but her will, and that concerned the quality of
her secular life in the here-an-now. God was appealed to for help in
this. She could still believe herself religious and Catholic when in fact
she had abandoned the fundamental premise of Catholic faith: that we
are here to follow the will of God who is holy and that our happiness
depends on this. Fortunately she was still aware of the difference.
Many Catholics are not.

What Catholics need to recognize in a new and more convinced way is

that, by the very nature of the relationship, God is not in any way
bound to follow our will. God does not exist to give us what we want. It
is central to the revelation given to us in Christ that God is sovereign
and hat we realize our happiness through seeking to be in harmony
with the will of God, not by getting God to do our will. A curious but
powerful expression of how the early Church understood this
sovereignty of God as expressed in Jesus is given to us in the Letter to
the Hebrews.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with
loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he
was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he
learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having
been designated by God a high priest according to the order of
Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:7-10 )

Jesus wanted salvation from death, especially the sort of death that he
was facing. The scene in the Garden of Gethsemane testifies to this,
and, the writer, say: he was heard, but it was His Father’s will that he

The Secular mind

undergo that death first. Then he would be saved. Jesus served his
Father’s will and so entered into salvation.

We are here to serve God, not God serve us. Such a way of viewing
God is utterly inappropriate. It reduces God to the human and, in doing
so, vitiates any saving relationship with Him. God is not just a resource
that we can draw on in order to create the sort of world that we want.
God is. God is the fullness of personal existence and the origin of our
existence and its destiny. He is the perfection of what it means to be
personal, and that is a good definition of what it means to be holy.

Holiness is the fully personal and as such is the characteristic of God.

We are able to realize that holiness in ourselves because we were
made in God’s image and likeness and realize our perfection as
persons only through a relationship with God in which we ourselves
become more fully personal and to become more fully personal means
to become more fully self-determined by objective values that we seek
out and to which we are voluntarily obedient.

This means that the proper, the only true way to relate to God is by
faith. We grow in being human by becoming like God and doing His
will, not the other way around and we can tread that path only in faith.
Under the influence of secularism that focus, however, which has
always been weak among us simply because we are human, has faded
even as a background to our religious lives. How many Christians today
no longer worship God or seek His will in faith but seek the help of God
to help them live their secular lives. Success in this life has become
their main concern.

Their faith is that God will give them what they want to make them
happy. As with many others in our culture, they at best see God as
one possible powerful resource in enabling them to get what they want
in order to be happy. Their concern is with what they see as their
welfare in this world, with God as a useful resource for achieving that.
The worship of God and the desire to be part of His purposes for the
world and a concern as to how to be part of those purposes is no
longer central, even theoretically. Rather, it is secular purposes,
comfort, health, happiness and that of our children, family friends and
neighbors, even others in the world at large that are central.

De facto, for many Catholics, the faith has sunk into the background. It
has become peripheral to life. We have bought into its marginalization
because that marginalization is now so much part of our culture. Our
faith is no longer the source of our way of seeing and evaluating our
experience, rather this secularism is. Hence, as Blamires noted, we do
not talk together about what our experience in the world means from
within the faith, nor what it means for our faith and how we might deal
with the issues it raises. It is secular pursuits and making our lives
good within this world that provides the language of our discourse
together, not how, in this world, we might be doing the will of God or
what that might demand of us.

The influence of secularism on ordinary people

But, at least we still acknowledge the existence and transcendent
nature of God. It is still there, even if at the periphery of our lives. For a
large majority of our fellow-citizens, it is not even peripheral. John Paul
has noted that:

(We) …….have to go to the heart of the tragedy being experienced by

modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and man, typical of a social
and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which, with its ubiquitous
tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities themselves to
the test.

It is this fading of the sense of God as the source of holiness that most
concerns Pope Benedict. Now people do not think to acknowledge the
moral reality of God even in a minimal way: God has faded from
consciousness pretty much entirely.

As a personal being, God is no longer of any real relevance to the lives

of most people today. Their primary concern is with the quality of life in
this world and what can be done to improve it. People are preoccupied
with how they can gain the wherewithal to have a ‘happy’ life in the
here-and-now and the very notion of God as personal is irrelevant to
this. They rely only on their own ingenuity and expertise.

If they do acknowledge something greater than themselves, it is a

somewhat impersonal force that they are able to tap into for their own
benefit. Such is the character of much New Age spirituality and some

are willing to pay thousands of dollars to find ways of tapping into this
divine power. They do so under the notion of ‘spirituality’ and, even
many who reject organized religion, or even belief in God as personal,
seek to harmonize with this divine power that they believe resides in

Under the heading of spirituality, God is now seen as a natural force

that we can harmonize with and so realize success and fulfillment in
this life. What is sought are ways to tap into this divine power and
utilize it for personal ends. God as personal is not at the center any
more but man. God becomes useful for human growth and

We might call this a manifestation of ‘practical secularism’. We can

distinguish it from theoretical, or ‘ideological secularism’. The one is
the practical stance of the majority of citizens, the latter is the
espoused philosophy of a dedicated ‘few’. Practical secularism
manifests the secularist perspective but almost by default. I have
referred to this as ‘worldliness’.

However, there is now this difference from the past: people have
become irreligious because in a real sense, they no longer see being
religious as being in any way necessary to human wellbeing. They are
radically encouraged in this worldliness today by the development and
promotion of ideological secularism.

This is espoused deliberately as the only way to create a genuinely

secular world. As secularists see it, a genuinely secular world is
necessarily non-religious and they are actively working to destroy its
influence and, building on a natural bent to worldliness, have

Secularism and the future

We can see the devastating success of this ideological secularism on
our own particular culture in the United States in the fact that, not only
are we becoming increasingly irreligious in any formal sense with fewer
and fewer people willing to identify themselves as Christian, but more
directly in the tendency to concentrate on personal satisfaction in life
here-and-now. As with the Western world in general, this is revealing

itself in a very troubling lack of concern for the future. Attention is
fixed on individual satisfaction and pleasure in the here-and-now, not
on any belief in the future.

This radically affecting marriage and the family. It is a sociological fact

and a troubling one that people are increasingly losing interest in the
perpetuation of the human community into the future. People have
become so focused on their own personal satisfactions in this life that
they have lost their connection with the well-being of society itself and
its need to perpetuate itself into the future. This inevitably impacts in a
negative way the creation marriage and the family which is essential to
the health and wellbeing of any society In this our society as a whole is
following in the footsteps of Europe that is likewise, and even more
virulently, dominated by secularism.One commentator on Europe has
been able to say:

Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our
future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as if they were taking
something away from our lives. Children are seen as a liability rather than
as a source of hope18.

It is a mentality that is increasing among us in the States.

This is being promoted in the silly and highly dangerous belief that the
only right children have to exist is if they are ’wanted’, and that means
if they are seen to contribute in some way to the happiness and
fulfillment of their parents. If taken seriously, this is a monstrous
doctrine and one that inevitably results in abortion. This practice is
based on the notion that, for the sake of the happiness of those living,
women should be allowed to get rid of their conceived children if, in
some way, they are not wanted at that time. Only those that are
wanted should be allowed to come to term. There are many reasons
for abortion but among the most acceptable are that these children
might be defective and require special medical attention and concern.
They become simply a financial and emotional burden and children
should not be that. Therefore, because they are unwanted, they are
better off dead.

Catholic Social Science Review 13 P91

For more and more couples today children are brought into existence
because they in some way serve their parent’s satisfaction. If they do
not, then they are seen as inimical to their well-being and can be
legitimately aborted. Peter Singer, a Princeton professor of Ethics, has
even suggested19 that people should be granted a period of grace to
determine whether or not they should keep the children they have
already generated. They may not turn out to be quite what we wanted
and should therefore be capable of being disposed of legally.

The existence and legal sanction for partial birth abortion is a major
step in this direction. Singer is only extending secularist logic. What he
is openly advocating is in fact the extension of abortion to explicit
infanticide. Whether or not the abortion mentality that has already
legitimized partial-birth abortion will lead us to this horrible end, we
have yet to see, but, the fact is, and it is revealed in surveys in our
own culture, children are increasingly being seen as a burden and a
constriction on personal happiness and fulfillment and there does not
seem to be too much justification any more for taking on that burden,
simply from a secularist perspective at any rate.

And now with all the pharmaceutical aids available there is less and
less reason for accepting that conceiving children can or should be
linked to sexual intimacy and pleasure. These dimensions of the act
can now be separated. At one time it was seen as a normal dimension
of human growth and development, but it is no longer seen that way.
Through the development of ‘reproductive medicine’ and conception
control technologies, having children has now become an optional
extra to what has become its primary purpose – the physical and
emotional satisfaction of individuals. If babies are conceived within a
relationship, it should be for personal satisfaction, not because they
have any importance for society and its continued existence.

This is the result of a culture that is practically secularist, 9or what I

have termed ‘worldly’, and which is being promoted by ideological
secularists. And it infects all of us, including Catholics. There are in fact
many Catholics today who explicitly live the secularist agenda and still
think of themselves as ‘good’ Catholics. Ths lies behind the current

The New York Times

controversy over Catholic politicians who support abortion receiving
communion. The Church has said that receiving communion indicates a
public acceptance of and witness to the faith of the Church. If one’s
moral and spiritual stance is radically at odds with that then one should
not receive communion. But, many Catholics, including prominent
politicians, continue to do so, refusing to accept that taking up certain
moral positions puts them directly out of harmony with the Church, and
many Catholics agree with them in that.

What the Pope and many bishops are concerned about, and are
challenging us to reflect on, is that, under the influence of a secularist
culture, we are in danger of losing, if we have not already lost it, the
belief that our faith in God as the Ultimate Personal Being and the
source of all life, who in Jesus Christ incarnated Himself in human
reality for its redemption and continues His presence among us in His
Spirit, is absolutely essential to our personal well-being and that of
humanity and that that faith is necessarily expressed in some moral
behaviors and violated in others, abortion or the promotion of abortion,
stem-cell research and same-sex marriage being but two of them.

Secularism and the providence of God

All this is bad enough and something that we have to combat. But,
maybe under the providence of God, this cloud has a silver lining.
There may be many negative effects of this secularism that we have to
battle -- abortion, same-sex marriage, stem-cell research and
euthanasia -- but it is also an opportunity to recover something that is
very important: we are being challenged to take a deeper grasp of the
nature of our faith and its relationship to the wellbeing of humanity.
We are being challenged to become Catholics by conviction and not
just by habit. We are being challenged to move beyond being what
has come to be called ‘cultural Catholicism’ to conviction Catholicism,
convinced, not only that Catholicism is ‘true’ but that it of vital
significance for human welfare.

What this situation is challenging us to recover is the conviction as to

the importance of our faith to realizing our fulfillment as human beings.
We have got to move beyond merely trying to protect our ability to live
by our own perspectives and values and move to taking real
responsibility for the creation of a truly human world by showing the

world the intrinsic human value in thinking and acting as a Catholic.
We are being challenged to show how being Catholic means growing
and developing as a human being.

Because of the explicit work of ideological secularists, the choice is

becoming clearer. Through their control of the important social and
political agencies of our society, we as Catholics are no longer being
allowed simply to live their own lives within the boundaries of society.
They are being forced to adopt and live by secularist principles and
values. This is forcing us to recognize that our Catholic faith can no
longer be simply part of our background but is something that we
have to deliberately adopt because we believe in it as the way to our
fulfillment as human beings and by implication the way for all human
beings to grow and develop.

What is the barrier in us to doing so? Have we succumbed to the notion

that religion is merely a personal preference, something of
idiosyncratic value only, but not really of any importance to the well-
being of humanity? If we have then we have in fact by default adopted
the secularist perspective that ‘real’ life should be lived by secularist
perspectives and values, not religious ones. We have, in fact, without
perhaps really realizing it, adopted the secularist notion that there
should be a rigid separation of the Church from the State because the
Church stands for religion and the state for the secular, and never the
twain should meet. Have we in fact succumbed to the secularist notion
that religious adherence is a matter of personal emotional preference
rather than rational conviction? If we have, then we have bought into
and are contributing to the spread of the secularist idea that religion is
really peripheral to human existence.

It is in this that the core danger of secularism reveals itself: religion is

being promoted as peripheral to human wellbeing and it thereby
rendered immune from being purified so that it serves the well-being
of humanity. If we are to work at improving humanity, we will
necessarily ignore religion and concentrate primarily on economic and
social engineering realized through political power. Gaining political
power then becomes primary.

Secularists abhor the pathological effects of ‘religion’ and are quick to
point out its negative dimensions, at the same time, by relegating it to
the peripheral and to the emotional, they are actually contributing to
religion become more and more pathological. And a good many
Catholics are practically supporting this by confining the practice of
their faith to ‘going to church on Sundays’ rather than seeing their
Catholic faith as a way of life that permeates the whole of their
existence. They too have marginalized their religion. De facto, they do
not see the faith as having any real value for the world. They do not
see it as salvific of humanity and therefore essential human wellbeing.
It may have personal and social value to them as individuals but is not
necessarily of value to anyone else.

The first stage of the ‘secularization’ process whereby the faith is

weakened is being ‘cultural Catholics’ alone. And this seems to
characterize many Catholics today in the West. They adhere to the
faith because it is part of their cultural identity, not because they
actually believe it or see its importance. They were born Catholics and
have been raised in a Catholic family. They see no particular reason to
deny it. They may even participate in it for family events. In being
‘cultural Catholics’ only, and, hence, in fact ‘practical secularists’ ,
however, Catholics have become part of the problem, not part of the
solution. They are unable to contribute to what is essential to human
growth and development: the purification of the religious instinct so
that it becomes more reasonable. They are in fact aiding its
development in pathological ways.

The secular and secularism

It is important in fighting off the evil influence of a virus that we
distinguish it from surrounding healthy tissue. The many tests that are

employed today in medicine are often aimed precisely at
differentiating healthy bodies from the unhealthy. It is not always easy
to do. Hence it is not always easy to combat the influence of these
invaders without destroying good cells in the process and, in treating
any disease it is important that we adopt means that safeguard
healthy cells and destroy the unhealthy

One reason, I think, we seem unable to recognize the dangers

involved in this secularism is that the secular mind, or what is termed
‘secularism, emerged as an ideological offshoot of a profoundly
important development in human history, one that we have learned
that we must to support and that is the emergence of the secular as an
autonomous realm of human interest and c0oncern. But distinguishing
these two is not easy or sure. We have to tread a fine line between the
m and in human affairs there is always the danger of treading across
that line in one direction or another.

To help us to distinguish between the two, it will be helpful to see how

they developed. If we can trace the emergence of the genuinely
secular as an independent arena of human affairs distinct from the
ecclesiastical and show just how Catholicism supports that we will be
better able to distinguish the ideology of secularism and see how it
makes the emergence of a genuinely secular state from emerging and
must, for the very good of humanity, be combated.

While, the Church has officially welcomed the emergence of the

secular as a distinct realm of human reality, and one that has its own
legitimate rational, ordinary Catholics have not yet grasped the
significance of the secular for their faith. Currently, there is confusion
around this point: it is not clear what the relationship of our faith life is
to life in this world. Do they have any relationship or are they simply
different and disparate realms? How does Sunday relate to Monday?

The Church has come to believe that they do have a profound

relationship with one another: the Church is intimately involved in the
human project of creating a genuinely secular world, but why? What is
it now saying as to the relationship of our lives as Catholics to the
creation of genuinely secular world. If we are not to react to secularism
in a way that throws out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, we

need to see better what this relationship is. We especially need to
disentangle the difference between a genuinely secular world and the
sort of world which is being promoted by secularism.

The importance of the secular

The emergence of the secular has constituted a massive and positive
shift in human consciousness in which we have come to see that there
is a realm of genuine secularity that has its own rightful, albeit limited,
autonomy. The emergence of this realm has introduced as new and
fundamental tension into human existence: the tension between
particular religious bodies and the rightful demands of the state. We
are in the throes of trying to sort these out.

Secularism is one manifestation of this tension. It developed out of the

conviction that religion was inimical to human growth and
development and it has equated being religious with membership in a
specific community. It sees this as divisive in our world and something
to be eliminated. For the secularist, the way to eliminate this is to
destroy the notion that religion itself is central to human growth and
mentality. We need as human beings to create a world that is run
entirely on non-religious lines. It is this secularist mentality that has
come to dominate our modern world.

The emergence of secularism

It is because of this domination that Pope Benedict has characterized
our modern age as quite different from any that preceded it. He has

Europe had developed a culture that, in a way hitherto unknown to

humanity, excludes God from public consciousness, whether he is totally
denied or whether His existence is judged to be indemonstrable, uncertain,
and so relegated to the domain of subjective choices, as something, in any
case, irrelevant for public life.20

Secularism is influential because a fundamental shift has taken place

in human consciousness. In general, this shift can be characterized by
the discovery of the ability to mold this world into any form that we
deem desirable. We have moved from seeing ourselves as victims of
supernatural forces beyond our control to a view of ourselves as

Communio Summer 2005 P347 Art. Europe in the crisis of cultures.


agents personally responsible for creating the world in which we want
to live. We no longer refer events in our world to supernatural agencies
that are beyond our control but rather look to those causes within
nature that we can control and alter to fit what we deem necessary for
our welfare. While this in itself is not necessarily anti-religious, what
has resulted is a general loss of concern about fulfillment in a life
beyond this to one in which human fulfillment is seen possible within
the boundaries of space and time, and the belief that this should be
the proper object of human concern and interest. Because of this
development, there has been a fading of religious consciousness
generally such that the emphasis now is on the personal possibilities of
life within this realm of existence only. It is this that made it possible
for secularism to emerge as the dominant modern social and political

It is the emergence of this primary concern for the secular, then, that
has given rise to what can be termed ‘the secularist mentality’. This
secularist mind is, at best, indifferent to any understanding of human
life that refers it to a Transcendent origin and destiny. At its worst,
however, it has generated forces and agendas that are actively
antagonistic towards any reference to the supernatural. It sees God as
a divisive and destructive concept that is best left behind if we wish to
create a better human world. This has turned the new awareness of
our capacity to understand and manipulate natural forces for our own
ends into an ideological dogma: this is all there is so make the best of
it. It has de facto created a new but secularized religion21. In this new
dogmatic system, the world explains itself; man has to understand
himself only from within the categories of this life; everything can be
explained from within this world. Man in his ability to know and control
natural forces is now at the center of existence. He and he alone can
give it significance by his desires and projects. Outside of this it has no
meaning or significance.

By religion here is meant a set of beliefs about reality that have the character
of being ultimate and the source of a way of living. I intend it as the equivalent
of an ideology. And ideology is reign without the transcendent reference. It is a
set of intellectual beliefs about reality as a whole that seeks no rational
justification but simply acceptance. Proof of its value comes only through living it.
Then it becomes self-justifying.

This secularism, however, is parasitic. It is feeding off the very genuine
development in human consciousness that the secular world, as
secular, is an autonomous realm of human concern. It has its own
rationale and structure that we have to respect. There is a realm of the
secular that has its own reality and autonomy that renders it distinct
from the ecclesiastical. Secularism, however, is not in any way intrinsic
and essential to this respect and affirmation. In fact it is destructive of
the creation of a genuinely secular world. In its dogmatism it is just as
fundamentalist as any religion. It shares in its pathological dimensions
and seeks acceptance by all whether they believe it or not. It is using
all the forces of law and education to enforce its perspectives and
values. And make them the taken-for-granted perspective of all people
and they are succeeding. What secularists are actively engaged in is
creating a world in which its principles will be placed beyond critique.

A positive view of secularism

While from a Christian perspective, the emergence of secularism can
be seen as a manifestation of the power and influence of the anti-
Christ, seeking to destroy genuine religion, it can also be seen in a
more positive and fruitful light as one sign of the birth of a genuinely
secular world. It is a manifestation of humanity seeking to develop a
more humane world. While that genuinely secular world has yet to
emerge and secularism in fact is preventing it emerging, nevertheless,
I think that we need to recognize its positive dimensions if we are to
deal with it properly and so birth a new world.

What we are experiencing, at the moment, then is a painful birth: the

pain is caused by the desire of the secularist to totally marginalize
religion and the Church and it is producing devastating results. The
Church is resisting this marginalization and insisting that it cannot be
so marginalized in human society. Hence, the current clash between
the Church and many influential forces in society.

In resisting secularism the Church is proclaiming that religion is central

to being human and that the state has a vested interest in promoting
its healthy development. A genuinely secular world will make room for
and even encourage the expression of the religious instinct. Only in
this way can this instinct be purified through dialog.

At the same time, She has accepted that particular religious groupings,
or organizations, what I have termed the ecclesiastical have to be seen
as distinct from the state. For the sake of the health of both religion
and the state, there cannot, and should not, be any easy identification
of the state with any one ecclesiastical structure. Theocratic states are
extremely dangerous to the health and wellbeing of their members.

We are currently seeing this in the crisis of sexual abuse in the Irish
Church. What we are seeing is in effect the result of a theocratic state
in which the secular authorities were subservient to the ecclesiastical
authorities and thereby allowed large numbers of children to be
abused at the hands of a clergy that, in many instances, had lost any
real sense of what it meant to be Christian. Their moral outlook had
become corrupt with devastating consequences for many young
people. It needed confrontation over this from the state, but it was not
there: the Church had become too dominant in society. It was in need
of purification and there was no agency that could provide it or
challenge it to that purification. Instead, for the sake of its position in
society, it simply covered up the abuse, and secular authorities, for
fear of the Church, aided and abetted this cover-up. It was a radically
unhealthy situation and made possible the persistence of radical

The mission of the Church

The solution to the tension between religion and the secular is not the
desire on the part of either to absorb or marginalize the latter but to
recognize the necessary tension between them and to make it possible
to dialog. This any genuinely secular state will do. It will confront the
Church with the need to create a society within which all human
beings, no matter what their ecclesiastical affiliation, can flourish. It
confronts the Church with the challenge to say how it contributes to
that flourishing. This is likely to bring it into tension with the Church,
but it is a necessary and salutary tension.

At the moment, the Church, under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI
recognizes this necessary tension and is attempting to initiate and
maintain such a dialog. She has come to this position after many
centuries of conflict. As it emerged in the late Middle Ages, the Church

and the State had to work out a new form of relationship. It has been in
the process of doing that ever since.

What has emerged is that there is a real tension between the secular
and the spiritual realms, the former now represented by the State, the
latter by the Church. What the Church is seeking, and Pope Benedict is
promoting, is dialog about what sort of society really does serve
human flourishing in this world. This is ultimately a moral issue and
She wishes to explore the morality of various secular programs. She
wishes to open up morality to rational discussion. The rationality of
morality has been degraded since the Enlightenment period of
European history and the emergence of secularism by its relegation to
the emotional, the merely subjective and the irrational.

This has been disastrous. It is a disaster that even some who consider
themselves secularist are now willing to recognize. Austin Darcey,
himself a secularist, has pointed to the disastrous results for secular
thinking of the privatization of morality. He writes:

It [secular liberalism] has been undone by its own ideas. The first idea is
that matters of conscience – religion, ethics, and values – are private
matters. The privatization of conscience started with two important
principles: religion should be separate from the state and people should not
be forced to believe one way or another. But it went further and said that
belief should have no place in the public square. Conscience belongs in
homes and houses of worship, not in the market place22.

He calls this the privacy fallacy and rightly points out that this prevents
secularism and religion from dialoguing as to how to create the
conditions for human flourishing.

As Darcey rightly recognizes, the Church has the right to insist that as
a body of citizens, in line with what other citizens are entitled to, She
has the right and responsibility to pass judgment on various moral
positions in society. She has the right and responsibility to live by Her
moral positions23 as do all citizens. She is insisting that any state that
wishes to be genuinely secular has the duty to respect that.

The Secular Conscience. Prometheus Books, New York 2008 P14.
Op.cit P14

At the same time, the State has the right to critique the Church as to
how ell Her moral positions and way of life actually enables the
development of a genuinely secular state. The Church Herself now
insists on this. The primary responsibility of the State is for the
common good. It has to work to create a society in which all human
beings can flourish, simply as human beings.

She insists on this because She sees it as essential that morality be

seen as an objective dimension of human being and becoming. It flows
from human nature as created by God. Morality is central to human
being and becoming. It cannot be marginalized as simply relative and
its contents thereby of interest only to individuals and groups.
Moralities are not simply matters of personal preference but are of
concern to humanity as a whole. Precisely as moralities they claim to
have significance and importance for all human beings. They should,
therefore, be issues of the most profound, sustained and committed

A society that proclaims that morality is a matter of personal

preference only is a society that has lost the foundation of its own
existence. It can only become tyrannical in its imposition of law: one
obeys simply because one fears legal sanction of one sort or another
and having the power to do that is a matter of attaining political
position and status.

No doubt there will always be a tension between the state and the
Church over what constitutes the best structures for enabling human
beings to flourish. But it is a tension with which we have to live and
find ways of dealing. It does not necessarily have to be simply one of
conflict, something that needs to be eliminated by the victory of one
over the other? The choice before us is not between a totally and
irreligious state with the Church of minor interest only to individuals,
neither is it t one in which the Church is dominant and every state is
subordinated to the perspectives and values of one particular religious
community? It can and should be one in which the Church or various
religious groups within the state and state authorities are able to enter
into a debate as to what will truly help its citizens to flourish.

Secularism as an ideology
While the Church considers it to be a situation of tension and is seeking
a viable relationship between Herself and the State in which neither is
absorbed by the other, secularism says it is the latter: it is a matter of
conflict and religion must go. It must be totally marginalized if man is
to grow to maturity. And this is what it is intent on doing.

It is not insisting that it is possible for human beings to live together

and create a decent life together without a shared religion, nor it
insisting that morality can be seen as a separate aspect apart from a
specific religion. What it is insisting on is that all religion is iniquitous
and needs to be marginalized if man is to grow and develop to
maturity. What Catholicism is suggesting is that this itself is iniquitous.
It marginalizes what is an essential dimension of human reality: its
drive to create a religious framework in order to deal adequately with
human affairs.

This, then, is the fundamental difference between secularism and

Catholicism: the Church seeks a dialog with the world over what
constitutes human flourishing and hence what would constitute a
genuinely secular state, secularism, as currently being promoted, does
not. It wishes to see its own definition of what it means to be secular
paramount over human affairs with religion itself marginalized. It does
not want dialog over its positions, simply wants acceptance and

Secularism, building on the emergence of the secular as an area of

overriding concern, constitutes an agenda that is now being actively
promoted by people of influence in politics, academia, public education
and the legislature. It is being forced on people. In effect, secularism is
an ideology. This is in fact a better way of viewing it, than calling it a
religion since it seeks to eliminate any overt basis in a transcendent
source and destiny for human existence, that would seem to be the
characteristic of any genuine religion.

By an ideology is meant that it is an intellectual system that has simply

to be accepted and not questioned. Its adherents want it to be the
taken-for-granted framework within which we interpret and evaluate

life. It, therefore, programmatically and deliberately, seeks to remove
any reference to the Transcendent from public life and its affairs so as
to eliminate this sense of Transcendence from human consciousness,
at least when it comes to the public realm.

The process of secularization

The attempt to do this is now referred to the process of
secularization24. As understood here, secularization is not just a
process of sorting out the proper spheres of the secular and the
religious, which is positive, but rather the process of subordinating all
religion and its manifestations to the secular. It is this process of
secularization that lies behind the conflict between Church and State
today. Blamires recognized this conflict in the sixties and saw that it
came out of a deliberate agenda:

There is a campaign to undermine all human acknowledgment of the

transcendent, to whittle away all human respect for objective restraints on
the individualistic self. 25

It is a situation of conflict because in the sixties, secularism went

mainstream and its proponents were able to see themselves as the
wave of the future. They saw their work to be one of active
secularization in the negative sense. All religion was banished from
public life and prevented where possible from having any public
influence and they have been working for this ever since under the
guise of separating the church from the state.

What this secularist agenda actively and zealously promotes through

this secularization is the view that man is not only capable of living a
good life in this world by the use of his own inherent intellectual and
moral capacities, but can do so only by overthrowing religion. He
does not need religion and, in fact, would be better off without it. To
grow to full maturity it is essential that humanity leave religion behind
as a relic of a childish past. To be religious is to rely upon a ‘big daddy’
to take care of you and a ‘pie-in the-sky’ expectation of rewards and

Not everyone understands ‘secularization’ in this way. For some it simply mean the process
whereby the Church and State sort out what properly belongs to each. This could be termed positive
secularization. I take it more to mean the effort on the part of secularists to marginalize all religion
from public life. This would be negative secularization.
The Post-Christian Mind. Servant Publications. Ann Arbor Michigan 1999. P9.

punishments beyond this life that leaves us victims of suffering in this
life instead of being actively engaged to relieve it.

From the secularist perspective, it is this ‘infantile attitude’ that

prevents man from deciding for himself what is good and bad, right
and wrong. It subjects him to something greater than himself, and this
the secularist cannot endure. It is humiliating. In the secularist
perspective, man is divine: he is the center of existence and
everything beneath him is there to serve his needs as he determines
what these are. He is answerable to nothing higher than himself. He
and he alone is the source of what is good and bad, right or wrong.

The results of secularization

And, generally, secularists have been successful. The general culture
within which we now live in the West, and which secularists are now
actively promoting through the process of secularization, is one in
which the sense of God’s reality has faded. Western man is now
conscious only of his own agency in creating better world.

As the taken-for-granted sense of the realm of the transcendent has

receded, a shadow has passed between human existence and the sun
of God’s presence and providential action in history. That shadow is
man’s preoccupation with himself and with all his intrinsic potentialities
and possibilities. Modern man, as he has discovered his own creative
potential, has made this his main preoccupation. What looms largest in
his consciousness now is his own godlikeness, now approaching the
realm of being creative of new life itself.

Just as man has become more and more enamored of his own
godlikeness, he has also discovered the world as a realm of
possibilities for creating for himself an ever better life. He knows he
can create a world of greater comfort, one more pleasurable, more
luxurious than ever known before. He can attain a level of material
prosperity that will ensure his satisfaction and happiness and has no
need to look beyond it. He now takes for granted that life in the here-
and-now is the place and the time in which he can find the satisfaction
of his desires, and he can rely on scientific knowledge and
technological know-how to accomplish it.

And now, at least since the sixties, this has become a universal
aspiration. The ‘good life’, once the realm only of the powerful and the
rich, is now open to the common man, the ordinary person, given the
right education, a modicum of good fortune and a willingness to work
hard. No one, especially one who is poor, has any need of a 'pie in the
sky’ reward beyond this life.

Especially in the sixties, the common man has come to believe that the
world is open to him and there is nothing that he or she cannot do or
be, given the right education, training and hard work. Socially and
politically, we have generally moved from aristocracy to meritocracy.
The ‘elite’ in this world are now those with the drive, know-how and
ruthlessness to create their own world according to their desires and
ideals. They are habitually measured by their monetary worth, as is
everything else. The elite are now not the aristocracy but the ones who
have 'succeeded' in amassing wealth, and, consequently, social and
political status and influence --- a new aristocracy!

Progress and fulfillment

In his efforts to create this ‘heaven in this life’, modern, secularist man
is open to playing with life. He is an experimentalist. Through science,
he has discovered his capacity to understand the dynamics of nature
and harness those dynamics to his own consciously determined goals
and he wants, and he has taken to himself, the freedom to experiment
with his own creative potential in every area of natural existence,
unhampered by moral thinking. So now, he demands the freedom to
create new forms of life, new forms of being and relationships, new
forms of living, in accordance with his own desires and determinations.
Science is his way of doing this.

America, it seems, now has a President that embodies this secularist

mentality. One commentator has said of this belief on science to
deliver the ‘good life’:

On this, Obama has nothing to say. He leaves it entirely to the scientists.

This is more than moral abdication. It is an acquiescence to the mystique of
‘science’ and its inherent moral benevolence. How anyone as sophisticated
as Obama can believe this within the living memory of Mengele and

Tuskegee and the fake (and coercive) South Korean stem cell research is
hard to fathom.26

We can see the influence of this rather blind pie-eyed view of science
as somehow above morality, not only with regards to stem-cell
research but also in the development of cloning and in the ability to
harvest and transplant organs; and in the desire to augment physical
capabilities with artificial aids – creating the bionic man.

The modern mind is in favor of this almost instinctively now. Though at

the periphery of his consciousness there maybe some vague
uneasiness with what is happening, modern Western man finds it
difficult to oppose these developments and of trusting scientists in
what they are doing.

Opposing scientists, then, in what they want to do, is difficult for us. It
is part of our take-for-granted way of thinking that progress as
determined by scientific and technological developments cannot and
should not be stopped. It is self-evidently a good thing. One should not
stand in the way of progress. That is the mortal sin of our times and
progress is overwhelming the responsibility of scientists. Hence,
modern man generally applauds the ability to create hybrid beings
never before seen in nature, providing they are useful. These can be
hybrids of flesh and machine. New bacteria and viruses created for
specific purposes are now possible because of his cleverness and he is
open to their development.

But, this mentality goes beyond simply science. Because of his

scientific expertise, and the ability to manipulate reality that this has
given him, modern man want to experiment with new forms of ‘family’
and new definitions of marriage; even new definitions of what it means
to be male and female. Through surgery and hormone treatment, he
can choose which sex to be in accordance with personal desires. He
can design and manufacture his own children through manipulation of
the gene-pool. Women no longer need marriage or a partner to have
the children they want. They simply go to the local AID clinic and pick
out the sort of donor they want and have the fertilized embryo

The Arizona Republic Sunday March 15th 2009.

artificially conceived or implanted. If unable to bear it themselves, they
can pay another to bear it for them.

All this now seem to be within his reach and, for many today, it is
simply obvious advance over what went before. It is evidence of what
is essentially a natural process --‘progress’. Modern man sees himself
as allied with this ‘progressive’ movement. He serves it. It is the
guiding impetus of nature, and those who oppose it are going to find
themselves on the ‘wrong side of history’. They are opposing what is
an inexorable force. In effect it has connotations of a divine force,
operating in human dynamics, leading it forward to a better future. In
effect, it is a secularized form of the Holy Spirit.

Through cooperation with this divine power, man has achieved the
status of absolute 'manufacturer' of life. He can create any sort of
world he wishes, one manufactured to satisfy his desires, and this is
seen as progress. And there does not seem to be any limit on what he
can do, and so he is intent on experimenting and discovering just what
he can do with life. He rejoices in his own cleverness in manipulating
and utilizing it for his own ends. He no longer feels any overt need to
refer his life or its fulfillment to God’s purposes or providence.

In effect, he has become God. There is no distinction between his

desires and the impetus of the Holy Spirit. So, modern man no longer
seeks the will of a God as distinct from his own, or tries to live in
conformity with it. He seeks for ways to realize his own will and the
power to achieve a better life for himself in the here-and-now. There is
nothing higher than this. He himself is the only one who can
determine what is good and bad for him and there is no external model
upon which to draw in determining what is good and bad. He himself
has simply to decide this for himself.

Nature and usefulness

In this elevation of man to a god-like position, nature itself has been
turned into merely a realm of usefulness. It has been disenchanted.
Daniele Hervieu-Leger comments:

The disenchantment of the world responds to the advance of the process of

rationalization in which is manifest the capability of human beings, as
creatures endowed with reason, to create the world in which they live. The

rationalist imperative, which is inseparable from the assertion of the
autonomy of individuals in their beliefs and actions in regard to any
exteriority or otherness prescribing their beliefs and actions, has gradually
deprived reference to supernatural powers of plausibility27.

Generally, for Western culture, nature is no longer a mystery within

which humanity lives, and of which he is part, but simply a puzzle that
he has to ‘figure-out’ He can stand outside of it and use for his own
intellectually determined ends. It has become merely utilitarian.

Even his very self, bodily and emotionally, has become something to
be used. It is the means to an end, not an end in itself. This is showing
itself especially in matters sexual. One’s sexuality, particularly female
sexuality, has become a means to an end, something to be used to
achieve something else. It is not something to be lived into and
developed in its own intrinsic, actual life-giving potential, something to
be discovered with fascination and joy in the company of and through
relationship with another, but merely something to be used to achieve
other goals, usually wealth, luxury and power, all of which we usually
sum up in the term ‘success’.

Fragmentation in modern life

As a result of this secularizing perspective, however, the world, far
from becoming more understandable, has become less and less so. Far
from creating a better, more fulfilling life, human existence seems to
be fragmenting. It has lost its center. It has become unintelligible and
people have become confused as to what is really of value and what is

Lacking any overarching view of meaning and significance that can

give life as a whole any intelligibility, human existence is dropping to
pieces, and modern man does have a general if vague uneasiness
about this. As Christopher Dawson has observed:

The Western world today no longer possesses this principle of moral order.
It has become so deeply secularized that it no longer recognizes any
common system of spiritual values, while its philosophers have tended to
isolate the moral concept from its cultural context and have attempted to
Religion as a chain of memory. Daniele Hervieu-Leger. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick,

New Jersey 2000 P74

create an abstract subjective system of pure ethics. If this were all, we
should be forced to conclude that modern Western society does not possess
a civilization, but only a technological order resting on a moral vacuum28.

Our Western world no longer has any way of understanding itself as a

whole. There is no ‘story’ that it can tell itself as to the meaning and
significance of human existence. There is no objective basis on which
to judge the significance or value of anything other than personal,
idiosyncratic desire, and this does give rise to a vague uneasiness.

Remnants of past moral tradition stemming from its Christian heritage

linger on and have remained sufficient until now to put some brake on
personal whim and wish. But, without the underlying rationale, or
story, as to why these are the right attitudes, values and practices,
these brakes are gradually losing their power to curtail what
psychologists term ‘impulse control’. The numbers of people in our
society at the moment who are behind bars for one horrendous reason
or another has never been higher. The numbers of psychopaths that
we are producing seems to be increasing. We have, as one study put it,
raised a generation of moral illiterates29.

They are moral illiterates because they see their own whims and
wishes as the locus of what is right and wrong. What they want to do is
right. There is no higher source of morality. Of course there are laws
that try to curtail their desires and their actions and agencies to
enforce them, but these are the creation of others. They are not
necessarily the laws of the individual. They belong to someone else
and are imposed on him. It is their own desires that are paramount.
The constrictions on them are barriers to be surmounted, worked
around, fooled even in the pursuit of their own whims and wishes.

The medieval and modern world view

This lack of overall intelligibility and significance, and hence, the
objectivity of moral law and obligation is in stark contrast to the
medieval world in which all was evaluated from within an overall

.Christianity and the New Age. Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, New
Decadence The Social Affairs Unit. London.

religious context. Reality had a unity to it because it all flowed from
one source and was destined to find its fulfillment in that source and
through its power. And that source was a moral one. Life had come
from a moral ground and was being called to a moral destiny.
Happiness lay only in realizing that destiny. To live by idiosyncratic
whim and wish was simply to court disaster. To live well one had to e in
harmony with the objective moral law and that law extended to every
area of human existence, including the economic and political.

In the medieval world each level of reality had its own rationality and
each level was related to the higher level and could only be understood
properly from within it. There was a hierarchy of being with the
physical as the substrate and the spiritual at the top. Man was at the
peak of this hierarchy of being and revealed the ultimately moral
nature of the universe. In him, the moral nature of reality as a whole
was revealed. Man could therefore legitimately relate one level to a
higher one and the whole to a higher source totally. And that higher
source was ultimately personal. It was the perfection of moral being
and purpose and the source of the objective moral dimension of the
whole of reality, now revealed through human consciousness.

It is this that with the development and spread of the secularist

perspectives has now gone and the individual man decides his own
way to happiness. It is his right. It is a right that we have now
enshrined into law. It has come to define us as a democracy. Every
man has the right to determine the meaning of human existence and
pursue his own self-determined way to happiness. Economic success
rests on the ability to meet that which human beings want. If sufficient
numbers of them want pornography, then it makes economic sense to
supply it, as hotel chains now do. If he wants better sexual experience,
then it makes sense to supply him or her with the pharmaceutical
products that will make it happen. The better able someone is to
supply what others want the more economically successful he or she
might be. It has nothing to do with morality. It is simply a matter of
making an economic profit.

Because of this loss of an objective moral order that integrated the

whole of reality, the various areas of human functioning have
fragmented, with each sealed off from the other and operating

according to their own specific laws and purposes. They have lost their
moral unity. The tendency has been to ever-increasingly disparate
areas of specialization. So economics, politics, social relationships are
understood as operating by their own internal laws and purposes.
There is no overarching moral meaning that would integrate these
areas of experience. They function as separate areas and are in
themselves quite devoid of any moral character. Dawson has
summarized this development thus:

The Western mind has turned away from the contemplation of the absolute
and eternal to the knowledge of the particular and contingent. It has made
man the measure of all things and has sought to emancipate human life from
its dependence on the supernatural. Instead of the whole intellectual and
social order being subordinated to spiritual principles, every activity has
declared its independence, and we see politics, economics, science and art
organizing themselves as autonomous kingdoms which owe no allegiance to
any higher power. (op.cit. P59-60.)

Post-modernity and nihilism

This has inevitably resulted in a profoundly nihilistic attitude towards
life that is increasingly worrying. The young especially are increasingly
taking a nihilistic attitude to life. Daniel Bell describes this nihilism

Nihilism, then, is the end process of rationalism. It is man's self-conscious

will to destroy the past and control his future. It is modernity in the extreme.
Although at bottom it is a metaphysical condition, nihilism pervades all of
society, and in the end must destroy itself30

The era we now live in is sometimes called ‘Post-modern’ Post-

Modernism is characterized by a total loss of any sense of objective
truth and value. Human life ultimately has only the meaning and
significance that we choose to give it at any one time. In itself it is
meaningless and of no objective significance.

We see this reflected in art and literature. In this post modernism, we

have the ultimate fruits of the secularization process that we have
been going through. It ends in spiritual death, and ultimately it will end
in physical death also unless reversed and rejected. As a parasite, it
ultimately sucks the life out of its host and dies along with it.

The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism Basic Books New York 1976 P4


Currently, secularism is leading to what has been called the
demographic winter, and that demographic winter is simply to a future
in which there are no children.. In a presentation to a Business
conference in Davos, Switzerland, Herbert Meyer of Fortune magazine
said of this:

Most countries in the Western world have stopped breeding. For a

civilization obsessed with sex, this is remarkable. Maintaining a steady
population requires a birthrate of 2:1. In Western Europe, currently stands at
1:5 or 30% below replacement. In 30 years there will be 70-80 million
fewer Europeans than there are today. The current birthrate in Germany is
1:3. Italy and Spain are even lower at 1:2. At that rate the working age
population declines by 30 % in 20 years, which has a huge impact on the
economy….. The Europeans simply don’t wish to have children, so they are
dying…. Western civilization seems to have forgotten what every primitive
society understands – you need kids to have a healthy society. Children are
huge consumers. They grow up to become taxpayers. That is how society
works, but the post-modern secular state seems to have forgotten that.

Because of the secularist perspectives that now dominate Western

culture, we are dying out. Secularism is in fact a parasite. It is
gradually and inexorably strangling its host body: the life is going out
of Western civilization.

It is hardly surprising, then, that, in this environment, suicide among all

levels of society is increasing and taking on epidemic proportions.
From a secularist perspective, life lacks intelligibility. It lacks any
ultimate meaning or significance. It is without meaning and without
significance. It is ultimately up to every person to make of life what he
or she will and to fight others for that which give him or her some

As a culture we have no way to understand it or fight this trend

because it is ultimately a spiritual matter, not a materialistic one. It
concerns the ability to see one’s own life in the context of a larger
purpose. It was this larger context that religion supplies. ‘Getting
more’, increasing general prosperity, will not do it. The causes lie
beyond modern society to really fathom since it has banished all talk of
‘ultimate meaning’ and objective morality. Every one now has the
freedom, and the burden, of making up his own basis for
understanding and evaluating.

This is too much for many. They cannot cope, especially when that in
which they have placed their faith begins to collapse as it is at the
moment with the meltdown of the capitalist economic structure. The
foundations of a good many people’s hopes and dreams are being
dashed and they have nothing to enable them to find meaning and
significance in their lives.

The new situation

We are in a new situation, then, because the emergence of the secular
as such is new and the secularization process is a new force with which
we now have to reckon. Before the emergence of the truly secular, the
universe, even in its everyday civil life, was seen from within a unified
religious perspective, sustained and promoted by one religious
organization, the Church. It was given a framework of meaning that
gave human life significance.

Secular affairs came under the same ethical principles as all other
aspects of life and the Church stood for and enforced those principles
through Her teaching, spiritual disciplines and social influence.
Although the difference between religious and secular affairs was
always known, the context within which both saw themselves was a
sacred one. There was an underlying unity between them. This life
served to prepare one for a life beyond this.

Economics, for instance, as George O’Brian has show so well, was

governed by a moral code that society as a whole shared and whose
foundation lay in a transcendent experience. Now it is not. It is
considered to be a realm that operates by its own internal laws that,
once understood, can be manipulated to achieve an ideal world. What
O’Brian is saying is that as a realm of thinking and expertise secular
existence has come to be seen as free of any common shared
morality31. The individual is freed up from any concern for the common
good and can now concentrate solely on his own pleasure. Modernity is
overridingly concerned with augmenting that freedom of the individual
to make his own life as he or she wishes, unfettered by any concern for
objective communal morality.

The Economic effects of the Reformation. HIS Press. Norfolk VG. 1923

Rights and morality
This is currently expressed in the notion of ‘rights’. These are no longer
ways of curtailing the tyranny of the State over the individual, as they
were in Medieval times, rather, they have become justifications for
individual actions or life-styles whether or not these are good for the
community or not. “I have a right to…” is now a frequently heard

Now this notion of rights is being extended to animals and even,

apparently, to vegetables32. And the justification for the extension of
these rights comes, not from human nature, but from the government.
It is governments that take the tyrannical power to determine who has
what right and how it might be exercised. It is the state that has the
right to grant or withhold rights.

Rights, then, in contradictory fashion flow from the people. There is,
after all an objective and ultimate source of morality: it is the will of
the majority as carried out by the state. If this extension of rights then
has any ultimate justification, we refer it back to the democratic
process. “The voice of the people” –ie. those in government alone has
the right to determine who is even human. The source of morality lies
in the will of the people as interpreted by those in power. If these
decide that there are humans that are not persons and only persons
have rights, then, it is morally justified to destroy a ‘fetus’ and fetal
tissue can be harvested for human use. Those defined as non-human
can be destroyed, incinerated after abortions or flushed down a toilet
after a successful infertility procedure.

As human but not personal by fiat of those in power they can be

legitimately discarded. Moral guilt and shame are thereby avoided and
it is only social approval or affirmation that makes the experiences of
guilt and shame possible. So, in our secularized world, we believe that
we have the power to assuage the experiences of guilt and shame,
hence the modern exhortation not to feel bad about what one has
done. Society does not condemn you so why feel guilty or ashamed of
what one has done, if one does, then it is probably because one is still
affected by outmoded religious ideas about morality being objective

In Switzerland tomatoes have been given ‘rights’.

and stemming from some transcendent source that we believe stands
in judgment on us. The solution to debilitating experience of guilt and
shame is to get rid of that transcendent source.

Does that rid us of it or does it simply relocate the source of it from

God as distinct from man to the state? For many it has become the
latter. Morality for many is now equated with mere legality. However,
legality is determined by other human beings, not ourselves. It is a
matter of who is in political control of the legislature. Especially in the
united States, each party looks forward to gaining power because it
means having the ability to appoint Supreme Court judges that share
their agenda.

Since who is nominated to the Supreme Court can change with each
election, however, this reinforces the notion that morality is only
relative value, and being of relative value is there to serve what we
want of others and life. It has nothing actually to do with any objective
moral claim on our minds and hearts. It then becomes possible to
assert positions tyrannically. There is a radical divorce that takes
place between morality and law.

This loosening of morality from the law means that our primary
concern is not with morality but with not stepping outside the law and
incurring punishment. Legality as a source of shame and guilt is
likewise weakened. These are the expression of other people’s ideas of
right and wrong, not our own. Breaking the law is no longer a source of
shame or guilt, just regret that one has gotten caught.

This divorce between morality and legality is especially true in the

commercial world. That is good that enables a company to make
profits. One should not be hindered by any particular moral idea if
profit is at stake. The only guiding line is legality. So, hotel chains
regularly offer pornography to its clients. It is good for business and it
is quite legal! It has nothing to do with morality.

This is a socially disastrous state of affairs. Where a society loses the

link between morality and the law, law becomes simply oppressive. It
becomes tyrannical, and not a few commentators have averted to the
fact that our modern secularist states even as they claim to be serving

freedom have in fact become radically tyrannical33. A genuinely
secular state, by contrast will support that which enables morally
sensitive people to emerge. It will enable the religious instinct to find
expression while challenging those bodies that are explicit
expressions of that instinct to see how they support and encourage
human flourishing.

Generally, then, through the process of secularization, religion has

moved from being an all-encompassing framework of thinking as in the
Middle Ages to being a matter of peripheral and idiosyncratic interest.
This whole process of secularization came to its maturity in the
nineteen sixties. With the development of the mass media and the
creation of pop-culture, the secularist mentality has become the
culture of the masses. We now live in a thoroughly secularized world,
and secularists predict that the more secularism spreads among the
masses the more religion will disappear.

And it is this culture that so affects the thinking and evaluating of

Catholics themselves resulting in the findings of surveys that uniformly
tell us that by and large, the attitudes and values of Catholics differ
little from those of the surrounding non-catholic, secularized populous.
It is a trend that the secularists want to encourage and promote. It is
this trend that the Church has identified as its primary danger today
and which it is seeking to combat. It is debilitating Her from within,
sapping Her ability to live Her faith.

The task of the Church

Having diagnosed a particular virus as a flu virus, and determined just
what form of flu it is, we then have to decide on the treatment. We
may not be able to get rid of the virus entirely but how are we to help
the body fight off its destructive influence?

What Price Liberty Ben Wilson
The Tyrranny of Liberalism.

That is the task facing us with the virus of secularism. We may not be
able to get rid of it from our culture entirely, and should not try. It is a
stance that one can, and has a right to take, no matter how irrational it
might be. But, how do we deal with it so that it does not weaken us as
a body, that is the question.

The challenge to the Church

The answer lies, not only in identifying it and critiquing its inner
contradictions, but also in developing the understanding of the gospel
as intrinsically related to the good of this world. It is intrinsically
related to the value and significance of life in this world.

This is something that we have to recover. It is already there in our

tradition, but as a seed, so to speak. It is already contained in the
notion of the kingdom of God. But, it needs to be spelled out and
understood. The Church is the servant of the kingdom and the kingdom
is the realm of human fulfillment.

The Church is called to be the sacrament of the kingdom. It is to

witness to the world what the kingdom is like and in seeking to develop
itself to be a reflection of the kingdom to actually prepare oneself for
living in it. In it people should be able to experience the life of the
kingdom and so grow in the love of it and in commitment to it.

To live the life of the kingdom and promote its development means
developing the notion of the common good. We have to bring to the
fore the fact that the kingdom is a community, a community in which
human beings can find the fulfillment of their humanity.

To prepare ourselves for life in the kingdom we have got to develop

community in this world. To understand the kingdom and prepare
ourselves for life in it we have to give ourselves to the creation of
community in this life, and to create community simply on the basis of
our humanity.

This takes us beyond the Church to the wider society of humanity and
links the mission of the Church to the work of the Spirit of God present
in the history of humanity as a whole. Developing this can help us to

see the profound importance that the gospel has to developing
community in this world, community based on our fundamental

This is the challenge facing the Church today as it confronts the

presence and influence of secularism on our world. It is destructive of
our very humanity and is preventing human beings from realizing their
intrinsic humanity and doing it together through dialog.

Human development and the common good

To develop community among human beings we have to recognize
that human beings are both individual and communal. The problem
with secularism is that it is radically deficient in its understanding of
human nature. It sees the human person in a radically individualistic
way and then promotes radical conformity to a communal way of
thinking that stands in violation of that individualism.

In other words it does not adequately account for the reality of human
nature as both individual and communal. As such, while overtly
committed to individual moral freedom, it is radically tyrannical in the
way it treats the individual, pressuring him or her to moral conformity.

The Church seeks to integrate these two dimensions of human being

and to hold them in balance. It is in developing a way of life in which
these are harmonized that She can stand before the world as the
alternative way to secularism in the creation of a genuinely secular

The point of integration lies in the development of the notion of the

common good. To be good to ourselves as individuals we have to be
radically concerned with the wellbeing of human society simply as a
society. We have to create a common framework of thinking and
acting that will support and develop the individuals that constitute it.
The common good must incorporate the development of the individual
and the individual needs to be committed to the development of the
common good.

This emphasis on the common good and its development flows from an
understanding of the human person as intrinsically part of the whole of
humanity. Man is an individual-in-community with others and to
develop well as an individual needs a good communal environment
within which to live. It is concerned with how such a society may be
created and what has to be done morally to realize it.

Catholic health and social doctrine

This notion of the common good is central to the Church’s under-
standing of the moral challenges facing humanity in creating a
genuinely secular state. It lies at the heart of what is known as the
social doctrine of the Church. Its development is an indication of how
seriously the Church takes its commitment to humanity as a whole. Its
integration and assimilation by the Church is the way in which it can
counteract the influence of secularism.

This social doctrine has been in the process of development since the
end of the Nineteenth century, but the basis of it re-existed that era. It
was developed in the Medieval world. Its development was bound up
with a gradual recognition of the legitimacy of the development of the
genuinely secular state.

In the beginning the attitude of the Church to the process of

secularization was inevitably negative. Pius IX issued the Syllabus of
Errors and other Popes followed it up with a variety of encyclicals
condemning many of the fundamental propositions on which the
modern, secular world rested.
This negative approach continued until the Vatican Council in 1962. At
Vatican II, however, a more positive perspective emerged. The Vatican
II document, Gaudium et Spes, was an attempt to come to terms with
the emergence of the secular world as distinct from the Church and
recognize some of its intrinsic values. It proposed a dialog between the
Church and secular authorities as to the best way to transform human

This change in attitude was the outcome of many factors, not the least
of which was the interest that Church had come to have in social
justice, beginning with Leo XIII encyclical, Rerum Novarum, at the end
of the nineteenth century through Pacem in terris of Pope John XXII.

The Church realized in a new way that She had an obligation to
consider the most just way to organize human affairs. She had to be
concerned with the development of humanity as such. She could not
simply be concerned with 'getting people to heaven'.

But, again, the roots of this concern are not new. She had always seen
the care of the poor as being an obligation on Her. It flows from Her
inner sense that She is the locus of the life of the kingdom. She is
called to witness to the love of God – the Spirit of God – who is the life
of the Trinity. She is to reflect to the world the love that is God.

So, from the very beginning of Her existence, the Church has lived the
challenge to love the poor and the needy. This was unique in the world
of the Roman Empire and drew from the Emporer eventually the funds
it needed to carry out this new expression of love. It has continued
ever since. It found expression in the Middle Ages in monastic
hospitality and feeding of the poor, in the creation of hospitals and in
the creation of feast-days to give the poor laborers relief from work.
Economic theory in the Middle Ages was an aspect of ethics. It was
subject to moral assessment. There was no thought that it might be an
independent discipline.

Finally, throughout its history, individual saints have emerged from the
heart of the Church to enable the needy to sharing in the blessings of
this life and give witness to the love of God for all. One of the most
influential has been St. Vincent De Paul and the expression of his
perspectives and values through the work of Frederick Ozenam and
the organization he founded – the Society of St. Vincent De Paul.
Today, the Catholic Church is the major provider of care for the poor
and the sick throughout the world.

But, now, a new twist has been added. What has developed from the
reflection on the secularization process in the late nineteenth century
is a more definite realization that there is an intrinsic link between
entry into the kingdom of God and the way in which we relate to this
world and that this is very much influenced by the culture within which
we live. The very Catholic link between salvation and moral activity has
been reaffirmed, but together with a new realization of the degree to

which culture determines character and the need to reach out into the
world to change that culture.

We are now much more aware that the world is replete with sinful
structures that needed to be changed if the individual person is to
flourish. If man, as an individual person, is to realize his own moral
perfection, the culture in which he lives needs to be changed. What
has been developing in the Church, then, is a new willingness to work
to transform the political and social structures of this world and to see
that this is intrinsic to the mission of the Church.

This came to explicit expression in Vatican II and the document:

Gaudium et Spes. In this document the Church sought to redefine its
relationship to this emerging secular in the most positive terms while
retaining its primary commitment to the Transcendent.

While Gaudium, et Spes set some important parameters for thinking

about the modern world and the development of genuine secularity, it
also left many important questions unanswered. Among them were: in
what way does commitment to creation of a better secular life for all
relate to our capacity to enter into the kingdom of God? What should
be our primary stance towards others, concern for their eternal welfare
or for their secular welfare? What is the relationship between these?
How does the completed kingdom of God, which is essentially
transcendent to this world, relate to the transformation of this world of
space and time? How does the salvation of the individual relate to the
salvation of the race as such?

Answering these questions is the major challenge facing the Church at

this time and is essential if it is to combat the influence of the virus of
secularism. It is bound up with a renewed emphasis on the status and
role of the laity in the Church and the need to develop it as the
evangelizing arm of the Church.

The vocation of the laity

Through the work of Vatican II the Church has moved from
understanding of itself as a pyramid with the Pope at the top giving
truths and directions to those lower down to a model of concentric
circles in which the Pope is at the center of the unity of the Church and

laity at the outer edges most in contact with the secular world and
alone in a position to transform it. The Pope is the hub of the Church. It
is he that keeps the Universal Church united in its faith and life. He
articulates the mind and heart of the Church in important areas,
strengthening the faith of those on the outer edge, commissioned to
evangelize our world. And that means the laity. It is the laity that is
most in contact with the real parameters of the secular world. It is lay-
people who have the most expertise in dealing with it. It is they alone
who are most able to evangelize our world and transform its culture
into one that promotes a genuinely secular world.

The question facing the Church at the present time is how to educate
the laity in the faith such that they can both reach out to our modern
world in appreciation of its secular tasks, and be at the service of
developing them, and to do so in a way that affirms and challenges the
world to recognize the importance of the transcendent dimension of
human reality and the need to support the religious instinct and its
development. It is in this that the Church counteracts the influence of

This is a difficult task. Their involvement with the affairs of the world,
places the laity directly in the path of being seduced away from seeing
life through the lens of faith to seeing it purely in secular terms. It is
they who have to live daily in a secularist culture. They need to be
continually challenged to relate their lives and work to the love and
providence of God and see their secular concerns from within the
context of the Gospel. Such is the work and mission of the hierarchical
priesthood – within the parish, the priest, within the diocese, the
bishop, and within the Church universal, the Pope. All are especially
called to witness directly to the transcendent source and character of
the Church’s life and mission.

And they do so for the sake of the laity. It is the laity that is most in
contact with the real parameters of the secular world. It is they who
are most at risk of being seduced away from their faith. How to
educate the laity in the faith such that they can both reach out to our
modern world in appreciation of its secular tasks, and at the service of
developing them, and to do so in a way that affirms and challenges
that world to recognize the importance of the transcendent dimension

of human reality and the need to support the religious instinct and its
development? That is the question facing the Church at the moment.

The culture of death

It is a question as to how to create a culture of life. Pope John Paul II
suggested that secularism has resulted in the creation of a culture of
death and he called upon the Church to witness to and support the
development of life. Creation of a culture of life is bound up then with
defeating secularism and the culture of death that it has spawned

But, how do we define the culture of death? The best way to describe
John Paul's understanding of the culture of death is as a culture that
sees human fulfillment as bound up with the ability to kill others. In a
culture of death, killing others is seen as the way to create a better life
for all and this is the supreme characteristic of the secularist agenda:
death is seen as a rational tool for human improvement.

It makes some sort of sense, if this life is all that the individual can
expect, to suggest that, in order to create a better world for existing
individuals, 'unwanted' children should be aborted. Who wants a world
full of unwanted children? Why burden oneself with children that
prevent one’s personal self-realization now? It makes some sort of
sense to abort defective children. They cannot experience the fullness
of life and are better off dead. They constitute a real burden on the
living, especially on their parents and siblings. It is an unfair burden
and it makes sense to prevent that happening if this life is all that one
has. Infirm and demented elderly should be euthanized. They are a
drain on human resources and for no good end. They are no longer of
any value to the living, vibrant members of society and take away
precious resources that could be used to make a better life for them.
Suicide should be a legitimate option under medical supervision for
those who desire it because of some debilitating illness of some sort.
That is compassionate. It enables people to be in control of their own
destiny and to exit life with dignity, among friends and loved ones.
That makes sense. It likewise ‘makes sense’ to execute very 'bad'
people. Not only do they take up precious resources but they
constitute a radical threat to the well-being of ‘good’, law-abiding
people. It is only a matter of justice that those who have taken the
lives of others be executed themselves. And military action should be

seen as a noble activity to rid the world of rogue rulers and countries.
Its technology should and needs to be developed to become a surgical
tool ridding the world of evil societies and enabling good ones to
develop. What can be more sensible than that?

And so we have, flowing directly from the secularist perspective, a

whole culture in which death is seen as the way in which we can create
a better world. It is this ‘culture of death’ that John Paul II suggested as
flowing out of a secularist mentality that excludes God from human
affairs, sees human fulfillment only in terms of this world and promotes
moral relativism. Life becomes as mere technical exercise in creating a
world that those who are alive now can enjoy, and enjoy now. It
includes, not just the commitment to abortion, euthanasia, assisted
suicide, and, of late, same-sex ‘marriages’, which together with
contraception is essentially part of the killing off of the future of the
human race by destroying the natural family, but also the glorification
of militarism and the use of the death penalty as ways of creating a
better world.

In short, a culture of death is one that is wedded to the notion that it is

through killing that one can create a better world for those who are
living now, and it is this that defines the secularist agenda. John Paul II
challenged the whole Church to stand against this and develop
pastoral programs that support and promote life. For him, a good life in
this world is only possible when we uncompromisingly support a
culture of life that sees human life as sacrosanct from conception to
grave, and best realized through sound family life based on the love of
man for woman and their capacity to cooperate together to ensure the
future and the well-being of humanity as a whole. It is only
commitment to such a perspective that is capable of sustaining,
protecting and enhancing human life in this world. Catholicism offers
such a perspective in the notion of the kingdom of God.

Her perspective is based on Her belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Because of this event we are able to see life in a transcendent
perspective. Its fulfillment is possible but in a realm beyond this
attained through the grace of God. Because of this revelation, She
believes that total human fulfillment lies not in this world but in the
transcendent world of the kingdom. Death remains but now as the

doorway to eternal life. In being willing to sacrifice his life that His
Father might reveal to us where our ultimate fulfillment lies, Jesus has
released us from the fear of death and constrictions on the human
spirit that that creates. We can now think of our lives in a context that
takes us beyond this world and its limitations. We are able to make the
same sacrifice of ourselves that Jesus made: a sacrifice of our lives for
the sake of the good of others. This was captured in the early Church
by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews when he said:

Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death,
that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject
to slavery all their life. (Heb 2:14-15)

Reason and the secular

A truly secular world is, of its very nature, a place of dialog about
human welfare. It seeks on the basis of human reason to discover the
natural structures and processes that enable people to come together,
and create a context within which they can all flourish from cradle to
grave. A genuinely secular world is one founded upon concern for
human flourishing simply as human. It has to be one in which dialog
based on reason is made possible between people of different faiths as
to what it is that they must necessarily hold in common and be
obedient to if they are to flourish as human beings.

Unfortunately, since the sixties, secularists have been able to equate

the creation of a genuinely secular society with their own agenda.
Secularism has become, in effect, the unofficial religion of the Western
world. Far from being the expression of the genuinely secular,
however, secularism is an ideology that has perverted the intrinsic
dynamic in man to a transcendent reference for nature, and human
existence within it, to life within the confines of this mode of existence.
In being ideological it has no more right to determine the attitudes and
values that are necessary for a genuinely secular existence than does
any other religion.

A genuinely secular society cannot be created on the basis of the

secularist ideology. Secularism does not look to create a society based
on reason, which would create dialog and debate, but only a

conformist society based on its own ideology backed up by political
power. The premises on which the secularist wishes to build a common
world are not allowed to be questioned. They have simply to be
accepted. The intellectual rationale for the world they wish to create is
no longer based on dialog and reason but on dogmas, placed beyond
the reach of human questions. What secularism ultimately creates is a
tyrannical society based on personal preferences, or the preferences of
those in power.

This suppression of questions is currently being legislated for through

the creation of 'hate laws'. Hate laws are not aimed at stopping certain
crimes, these are already the subject of ordinary laws that apply to all
citizens,. Rather, they are aimed at suppressing any opposition to the
taken-for-granted positions of secularism. Secularists are promoting
‘hate laws’ as a way to suppress any critique of their social policies.
These laws are, and will undoubtedly be continually extended, to
suppress any promotion by the Church of positions contrary to its own
dogmas. It is essentially a tyrannical exercise of political and legislative

Salvation and the culture of life

To save the world from the tyranny of secularism, then, the Church has
to bear witness to an alternative way of thinking and acting. John Paul
defined this as a commitment to the creation of a culture of life. A
culture of life is one, rooted in this world, but extending beyond it to a
higher level of life beyond death, seen as the fulfillment of all the
hopes of this one. It has to continue its witness that human fulfillment
is possible totally only in the kingdom of God and that that has been
made possible for us through the act of grace in Jesus’ death and

But, She also need to make it clear that, while human fulfillment lies
beyond this world and is attained by the grace of God alone,
nevertheless our entry into it is linked with the quality of our lives in
this world. She has to show how the two are intrinsically linked

What I want to suggest is that we can do this is we understand life in

this world as the context in which we are prepared for the world

beyond this. We come to understand what the kingdom is and prepare
ourselves for live in it by the way in which we seek to transform this
world into a place of justice and peace. We must seek to live now the
attitudes and values of the kingdom if we are to be able to live in the
world beyond. It is essentially that we seek to transform the world so
that it mirrors the kingdom if we are to learn what it means to be a
kingdom person. So we are taught to pray: They kingdom come on
earth as it is in heaven”.

This core belief flows from its faith in the crucified and resurrected
Christ. He has revealed to us that it is not possible to attain a life of
fulfillment in the here-and-now. This world, ever since the fall of man,
has lost any ability to satisfy the human desire for fulfillment. It is a
world permeated by the tragic. The highest level that natural life is
capable of attaining is that of being a sacrament of the world beyond
this in which alone man can find his fulfillment. It can and does yield
moments of experienced pleasure, joy and satisfaction that do intimate
the fullness of life that lies beyond it, but it is not and cannot of itself
be the locus of that fulfillment.

The secularist abuses the world, and life in this world, by expecting too
much of it. Secularism leads to expecting too much from the goods of
this life and in promoting unrealistic expectations helps to turn the
goods of this life into addictions. Modern society can be properly
characterized as an addictive society in that it chronically and
neurotically tries to find total fulfillment in the pleasures and
experiences of this world.

When tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes and other natural disasters hit,

the secularist is bereft of any way of understanding the consequent
devastation. It is unable to suggest any framework for understanding
and dealing with it. The most that the secular world can do is develop
more adequate warning systems and quicker relief aid afterwards.
While this is considerable, it is in the face of such tragic phenomena
that secularism, as system of ultimate truth and values, breaks down,
and the story it tells is revealed as deceptive.

The Church is in conflict with this secularist mentality precisely

because She seeks to raise the mind and heart of man beyond this

world for its fulfillment. This conflict was brought to the surface when
John Paul defined the secularist mentality as issuing in the culture of
death and threw the weight of the Church behind the creation of a
culture of life. The two cultures are diametrically opposed. The
secularist- dominated world recognized the challenge and ever since
has been engaged in a wholesale effort to stifle the voice of the Church
in matters of public policy. It is currently attempting to have the
Church expelled from its position in the United Nations because it is
the center of opposition to the secularist programs, particularly those it
has labeled 'reproductive rights'. Within the United Nations there are
massive attempts to impose these on whole nations, often using
economic blackmail to do it.

While they see the promotion of ‘hate laws’ as an important weapon in

this war, at the same time, the secularist want to be free of such laws
in promoting their own agenda. What will not be forbidden in their
version of a genuinely secular society but, rather, will be promoted and
supported, is anything that leads to hatred of and ridicule of
Catholicism. This alone will be exempt from ‘hate laws’ because
Catholicism is its primary opponent in this war. Hence, ridicule and
slander is the stock in trade of the Mass Media today with regards to
Catholicism. It is the last culturally approved and promoted prejudice.

And this prejudice is allowed to flourish because secularists realize that

they are at war with Catholicism, and are acting accordingly, whereas
Catholics do not. Generally they are but vaguely aware of the war that
is now taking place beneath the surface of their lives. It has been the
determined efforts of Popes John Paul and Benedict to alert us to this
war and its contours. What John Paul did, in effect, is to bring to an
end the rather optimistic attempt at re-approachment with the modern
world that was set in motion at Vatican II. He re-echoed Paul’s
challenge not to be conformed to this world but to witness to it what in
means to be a ‘new creation’ in Christ.

The Church as a counter-culture

In highlighting the clash between these two cultures, John Paul II
challenged the Church to become very clearly a counter-culture to that
of modern society, and Pope Benedict is following him in this. They are
both concerned to help the world to regain a genuine humanism, one

in which the true goods of humanity are served, even in this world. It
was John Paul’s conviction that only the humanism that flows from the
Gospel with its uncompromising emphasis on the priority of the
Transcendent, the kingdom of God, is actually capable of this. It alone
gives justification for that commitment to human welfare that is
essential to creating a better world.

These two, he maintained, speaking from within centuries of Catholic

tradition, are not opposed, rather, the secular needs to be committed
to the realization of the kingdom of God in order to be truly and
genuinely secular and the transcendent needs to seek to blessings of
this life for all if it is to be authentic in its love for the world. Pope
Benedict is following him in this, challenging thinkers to recognize the
essential irrationality of secularism. What he is suggesting is that the
genuinely secular can only rest on religious foundations, and not just
any religious foundations, but on the foundation of Catholicism.

The urgency of the task flows from the fact that we now live in the
‘end-times’ in which whether or not we share in that fulfillment is being
determined. Those end-times began with the birth of Jesus, his
sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Whether we
share in that fulfillment is dependent on our willingness to serve the
extension of God’s reign over all aspects of human life. Whether or not
we are fit for entry into the kingdom depends on the way we relate to
humanity, and all that underpins the existence and flourishing of
humanity -- the natural realm itself.

Because redemption is the redemption of creation, it is therefore the

redemption of this natural world and all of natural life, and that means
the secular, without thereby annihilating its own legitimate
reasonableness. Each level of reality in the great chain of being has its
own reasonableness, and this must be respected. The secular is a
fundamental reality that demands respect for its own rationality, and
the Church is bound to respect and promote that. Intrinsic to it is
respect for and promotion of the core freedom to choose one’s
religious faith and to live it as long as it does not undermine the
common good of humanity.

A political agenda
What might the Church do to translate this deeper understanding of
Her mission into a practical agenda? However we might determine the
practical steps that this might require, intrinsic to this agenda is the
involvement of Catholics as Catholics in political life at all levels. They
need to be well informed as to the principles of social justice as
developed by the Church and able to promote social justice based on a
firm sense of the objectivity of moral law, grounded in the existence
and presence of God. Catholics are bound to seek, on the basis of
reason and in concert with others of whatever religion, to find those
laws and social structures that really do enhance the lives of all human

If the ultimate solution to the modern moral and spiritual cul-de-sac

that the modern world has gotten itself into lies in the recovery of God
as the center and basis of all human life, the Church has Herself to
recover its Transcendent character. It must recover its ability to show
the world that life in this world is a relative not an absolute good. The
Church must truly become the sacrament of the transcendent kingdom
of God if it is to be salvific of our world. It is this already through the
presence within it of the crucified and resurrected Christ. It has now to
become more clearly what it already is by its transcendent nature.

But, it must do so in a way that shows that life in this world really is
good, and that the development of science and the secular, including
the freedom of the individual to choose his or her own religious stance,
is of positive value for human spiritual growth and development. It
must show how pursuing and enjoying the good things of this life are
legitimate and necessary goods and must be made available to all.
Creating a secular world means making them available to all, no
matter what their race, color or creed.

Accepting the cross

Undoubtedly, the battle with secularism in which She is now engaged,
and which promises to become even more acute in the future, will be a
painful one. Secularists will not easily give up the power they currently
enjoy in all branches of secular life without a real fight and this fight
will undoubtedly cost Catholics dearly, since She is its clearest and

strongest opponent. Secularists will find all sorts of ways to punish it
and those who promote its agenda. It will mean for Catholics a more
deliberate commitment to following in the footsteps of Jesus in the
conviction that in following him to the cross we will also follow him into
the resurrected life. Catholics have got to bring back into focus the
essential nature of Catholicism as a following of Jesus to the cross.

Jesus staked His life on a fundamental principle: that His Father would
give Him eternal life if He was willing to follow His will and be true to
His vocation to be the savior of humanity through his dreadful
crucifixion. It was this that was so effectively portrayed in Mel Gibson's
movie, ‘The Passion of the Christ’. And it was probably this that caused
so much offense. In that movie Jesus posed to modernity the radical
question as to where our true fulfillment lies, and how to attain it. Is
the way to life really through the cross of self-sacrifice for the good of
others? Does fulfillment really mean being willing to give up one’s life
in this world? Is this what love really means?

And it is not a question that the secularist wants to ask or wants to be

asked, and, in fact, because of the predominance of the secularist
perspective in our culture at the moment, the question this movie
raised is well-nigh incomprehensible to the modern mind. So radically
does it go against the secularist mentality of our times that it’s central
and fundamental challenge is simply ignored: what is the way to
human fulfillment? Is it really the way of the cross? Answer that
question in the affirmative and the whole of modernity is put into
question. But that is the answer of the Catholic Church and it is not an
answer that the secularist want to hear and will undoubtedly do all that
he can to see that it is not heard.

For Catholics that means sharing in the cross of Christ. Grasping this
was central to the challenge John Paul issued to the Church when he
placed the church squarely behind the promotion of a culture of life. He
was, and following him Benedict XVI is doing the same, challenging the
Church to witness to the validity of that overall perspective by the
quality of its own life. Catholics must show that the Christian way of
viewing life and its meaning and significance does lead to greater
human development. It must show that it leads to a greater maturity of
character and a greater capacity for service to others for their good

even in this life. This may, given the power that secularist have today,
involve much persecution.

The Catholic spirit

In the face of this tidal wave of secularization, the Church has to
develop a people that see the whole of life from within an eternal,
transcendent perspective and witness to the world as to its value. To
do this it has to work to create a cultural framework of thinking and
valuing that flows from belief in the meaning and significance of the
death and resurrection of Jesus.

Essential to this is the promotion of dialog among the faithful as to the

meaning and significance of their faith for daily life, individually and
communally. Catholics need to come together to understand more
fully what it means to serve God and His purposes for the world rather
than to have God serve them in their very natural desire for a long and
happy life, materially and socially. It means coming to see their lives in
terms of mission, not just in terms of personal satisfaction.

It also means that they will have to accept and understand that to
integrate their lives with the divine purposes, as those have been
revealed to us in Christ, will inevitably lead them in one way or another
to the cross. They are called to follow Jesus Christ in his mission and
will have, in one way or another, to share in the consequences. This
was seen as intrinsic to the Christian life from the very beginning. The
New Testament witnesses to this indispensable dimension to the
Christian vocation. Christians were from the beginning understood as
continuing the mission of Jesus to witness to a way of life that
challenged people to repentance and conversion.

In seeking to be true to that mission, the Catholic has to be willing to

let the good things of this life pass him by if necessary. He sees this
world as transient. He interprets its forms and it’s passing from within
the context of God’s providential care, seeking to save man. Without
denying their relative value, he or she looks, not to wealth or luxury or
to the number of years actually lived, but to a quality of life that makes
it possible for him to live in the kingdom of God that transcends this
life and is offered to him as a gift.

That quality of life involves growth in the capacity for and expression
of self-sacrificing love, a love that is willing to sacrifice personal
potential in this life for the good of others. It is the good of others that
must motivate their witness and their mission. They answer the
challenge to be 'good people' so that others may experience what it
means to be loved and so be challenged to love others. And that
means accepting a task in this world, given him by God, and seeking to
fulfill that task, even if it demands the loss of his or her own life in this.
He seeks for a way of living and working that will contribute to the
welfare of others.

This is different from a secular outlook that looks out into this life to
see how to be successful and so gain its pleasures and satisfactions. It
looks out on this life from the perspective of how their way of life and
the manner in which they live it might be of benefit to others. It issues
in a characteristic Catholic moral stance: how might I be so that I am
good for others? It invites to a deep moral sensitivity as to the meaning
and significance of one's own life stance for the good of others. It
promotes the development of a virtuous character, something that is
coming to be increasingly promoted by the Church. The Catechism of
the Catholic Church now puts the development of a virtuous character
at the center of its moral teaching. Someone committed to loving
others will seek to become a particular type of person and undertake
the disciplines necessary to achieve that form of character which will
contribute to the manifestation of the kingdom of God among us.

To fulfill that task the Catholic looks to divine help, well aware that he
may not always be able to see value in the particular demands made
on him to love others. He lives in faith and hope that through his
efforts to become the sort of person capable of transforming this world
in such love, so that it reflects the ultimate kingdom of God, something
important is being achieved, even though he might not see what that
might be.

In this waiting, he worships his Creator as his Redeemer, and does so

through Christ. It is in him that the revelation of God’s purpose in
creating this world has been fully revealed. The Catholic is enabled to
escape the influence of our secularist culture by being able to see life
from the perspective of the Faith.

The Catholic then seeks to bring his mind and heart in line with that of
Christ, so as to integrate into that purpose. That mind and heart is
revealed most powerfully in the celebration of the Eucharist. In the
Eucharist, as The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us, the
whole of Christian faith is expressed. It defines us as a community
committed to the realization of the kingdom of God.

Christ is central to this perspective, because, in his death and

resurrection, God has revealed his heart and mind to us. In Him, man
has worshipped God fully. He carried out the purposes of God
completely. In him has been revealed that God's purpose in the world
is to bring all things into unity in Him (Eph. 1:9). The essence of this
unity is a new and vibrant level of community among all peoples. So
the Catholic mind seeks to understand ever more deeply how to realize
this by the sort of person they become, the way in which they live and
the types of things that they take up and accomplish. They do not take
up a role and position in this world for their own satisfaction but in
order to further the growth of the kingdom among us.

For many this means simply taking up whatever secular work is

available and that they are capable of doing in order to earn their own
living and support dependents. The way in which they do that work and
carry out their responsibilities becomes the way in which they further
the kingdom. They will create families and raise children, but, to do so,
will be involved in the secular in all its distortion, and be limited by it.
In seeking to understand this purpose and finding ways to live it out in
a secular environment that it often inimical to true human growth and
development, the Catholic is inevitably driven to acknowledge and deal
with the specter of sin, its meaning as a human phenomenon, and its
presence in the human heart.

Recognizing its presence in his world, and his own inevitable

involvement in it, The Catholic will develop a moral sensitivity to what
sin is and how it manifests itself in his own life and in the world within
which he or she has to live and work. With growth in this awareness,
he will come to understand ever more deeply how in fact his eternal
salvation is not a personal achievement but a gift from an infinitely

merciful God. He is saved from any temptation to self-righteousness in
his witness.

In the light of the phenomenon of evil and the offer of ultimate

salvation from it through repentance and forgiveness, the Catholic is
aware of the awful prospect that it is possible to lose eternal salvation
through the state of one’s spirit. He recognizes that there is a link
between the way one lives consciously and deliberately and the
possibility of eternal salvation. He or she is acutely conscious,
therefore, even in the midst of temptation and possibility of sin offered
by the world in which he or she lives, of the need for the continual
pursuit of a ‘right spirit’ if one is to be able to receive the gift of eternal
life beyond this world. This 'right spirit' looks to what is good, accepts
failure and weakness in realizing it, and lives within the ambit of divine
mercy. He or she lives within the ambit of the Transcendent life of God
as that has been revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The challenge to the Catholic

The Church is now officially seeking to recapture this sense of
transcendent meaning and reviving its presence, especially in the
liturgy. This is something that is very close to the heart of Benedict
XVI. He has pointed out that there is a real possibility that, if we do not
recapture this sense of the transcendent source and destiny of life,
then all that will remain is the shell; the essential spirit of Catholicism
will have simply slipped away, and, with it, any reason to be or remain

If this happens, the Church simply ceases to be relevant to our world.

Being Catholic will really add nothing to the pursuit of fulfillment in this
life, and there will be less and less reason to be Catholic, especially as
the world becomes more and more hostile to it, seeks out its moral
failures and publicizes them, and ultimately seeks its demise.

To the Church in the West especially, a wake-up call is continually

being sent out from Rome. Where the secularization process has taken
hold, churches are increasingly empty and vocations to the priesthood
and religious life are drying up. There is simply no reason to belong
anymore! Being Catholic offers nothing more than the world offers and

in these days when Her failures are being paraded in every organ of
public media, a lot of shame and guilt besides.

If we need a reason to be and live the Catholic life, it is simply this: on

the shoulders of the Catholic Church lies the salvation of the world.
Secularism, for all its success and power at the moment is a spent
force. It has no intellectual credibility anymore and no longer really
seeks such credibility. It is reduced not to rational discourse but to raw
political power through which it seeks to impose its ideologies on the
general populous through the use of law

Secularism has no way of enabling the human person to flourish within

the ambiguity of human existence with its longing for fulfillment and
the uncertain prospect of ever finding it in this life. It has no way of
helping the human person be reconciled with both its promise of
happiness and its own intrinsic inability to satisfy that need. It cannot
deal with the desire to create a better world and the ever-present
reality of sin that destroys that possibility.

This ambiguity cannot be resolved from within this world but awaits
still a trans-cendent resolution. It is this resolution that has been
realized in Christ and which we as Catholics are privileged to
experience within the Church even now. Through faith in Christ as
mediated to us through the Church, the Catholic is freed from the
existential despair that characterizes a purely secular existence.

Only the Catholic Church, within which the crucified and risen Lord is
still present, has the capacity to stand against the triumph of a purely
secular outlook with the despair it inevitably brings. Hence, Pope
Benedict has said that:

What we need most at this moment of history are men who make God
visible in this world through their enlightened and lived faith. The negative
witness of Christians who spoke of God but lived against him obscured his
image and opened the door to unbelief. We need men who have their eyes
fixed straight on God and who learn from him what true humanity is. We
need men whose intellects have been enlightened by the light of God and
whose hearts have been opened by God, so that their intellects can speak to
others’ intellects and their hearts can open to others hearts.34

Europe in the crisis of cultures. Communio Summer 2006 P355.

The world needs the Catholic for its salvation. The question is will the
Catholic step forward to meet this need?

Signs of hope
The evidence is that more and more that Catholics are in fact stepping
forward to take up the challenge. A revival is taking place in the
Church, even as it suffers through the revelations of widespread sexual
abuse on the part of clergy. This revival seeks an ever deeper grasp of
what it means to be and live the Catholic transcendent understanding
of human existence.

This revival is showing itself in the emergence of new movements,

largely lay-based; it is showing itself in the development of new forms
of religious life and in the increase in vocations generally; it is clear in
the development of new colleges that take the Catholic faith as their
foundation and integrating principle as well as in the development of
new publications and new publishing houses devoted to disseminating
good and relevant Catholic literature; it is evident in the numbers of
Catholic adults seeking deeper education in their faith both formally
and informally and in the numerous programs that have emerged to
serve them.

On an official level the Church is gradually recovering a clearer grasp

of Her essential nature, mission and life with a new depth of
understanding as to what it means for the good of humanity. A re-
integration is taking place between its Apostolic traditions, as
developed prior to Vatican II, and its developments in the light of
modern challenges since Vatican II, encapsulated in the notion of
secularization. This revival was expressed most clearly in the
publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. The election of
Benedict XVI, who oversaw the production of the Catechism, is also a
clear indication that the Body of Christ is finally reacting to the danger
that secularism poses and its implications for the Body of Christ. The
Cardinals in the Church unequivocally put their weight behind John
Paul's initiative to bring unity to the family of God through a
contemporary expression of Her common faith.

In the wake of the publication of the Catechism, strong voices are now
being raised, pointing out the seduction that secularism is exerting on
the Faith and calling Catholics to recognize its dangers and reverse its
influence. Bishops are now routinely exhorted to make sure that the
faithful are not confused as to what constitutes the Catholic mind and
heart. The issues are being discussed more and more in the Catholic
press. Books, articles and International Conferences dedicated to the
exploration of this influence and how to combat it show a world-wide
concern about it and dedication to meeting its challenge.

While slowly the Church as a whole is responding, the process of

recovery has only just begun and it is problematic whether it will
succeed, at least in the Western world. What is going on at the
moment within the Church is akin to the process of a body seeking to
cast out a virus that is killing it. It is a painful yet salutary process and
there are encouraging signs that the Church is recovering this mind
and heart and that a Catholic culture is being created.

One Catholic sociologist, Joseph Varacalli, sees the beginnings of the

reformation of what he terms a 'plausibility' structure that supports
and strengthens the minds and hearts of individual Catholics in their
struggle to remain faithful35. A structure is arising within the Church
that will allow for and encourage the development of a Catholic way of
seeing life and a context for dialog and support in living it. A re-birth is
taking place, though very slowly, and it is taking place throughout the
Western Church.

And this rebirth is taking place against the background of the

emptiness of the secular world that is already beginning to pall on
many. Its crass materialism, its deepening degradation of human life
and relationships; the disintegration of marriage and the family; the
popularization and tolerant acceptance of perversities of all sorts; the
greed and selfishness of modern life are all causing a reaction among
sensitive souls. All this is fueling a renewed search among people

Catholic social thought and American Civilization. Joseph Varacalli. Homiletic and Pastoral
Review. Oct. 2002

generally for deeper spiritual values and a community context within
which to live them.

They are satisfying this need in many different ways, some of them
quite bizarre. Cults of one sort or another are flourishing as people look
to an experience of community life that overcomes the evils present in
our contemporary society. If the Church generally can renew itself and
develop its own intrinsic community life, there is no doubt that the field
is ripe once again to be harvested and the Church will once again
'gather-in' those destined to be saved, just as it did in its very early

Even secularist themselves sense the dangers of this turn-around for

their positions. A newspaper review in an English newspaper of the
movie 'Kingdom of God' approved of its subject matter as being as
study of the values and codes a man can live by without faith, but,
then went on to muse an age like ours where secularism is under assault from the claims of
faith, it is an interesting question.36

It is strange to hear such a comment: secularists see themselves as

under fire and losing their influence to religion, and that movie may
itself be an expression of this concern. Secularists are afraid that they
are losing their influence, and that the world is sinking back into
'superstition'. It may be that their time is spent, but they remain a
powerful influence on our culture and on our world, and a continuing
source of much trouble, both on the national and the international
levels. The battle between them is far from certain or over. It

It is in the light of this on-going battle that the Church is asserting its
unique character as the supporter and enhancer of human reason and
of the legitimacy of the reasonableness of any section of human
existence. Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical ‘Fides et Ratio’ to
defend human reason. In this it is asserting itself, not as an ideology
that closes off questioning, but as a framework of thinking that
supports all that renders a person increasingly reasonable.

The Sunday Times. 'Culture' May 8th.2005


Whether these various movements will be strong enough to turn the
tide of secularism in the Western world, especially within the Church,
may be uncertain, but they do promise to keep the radical difference in
perspectives between Catholicism and secularism clearly in focus, and
this itself is a positive force. It will keep the critique alive, will
undoubtedly provoke the anger of secularist forces, both within and
without, and evoke greater efforts to have the traditional voice of the
Church silenced. The battle is likely to get more vicious as the struggle
goes on.

Appreciating the secular

To meet the challenge posed by secularism, the Church as a whole, lay
and clerical, has to determine much more clearly its relationship to the
secular while continuing to stand for the transcendent origin and
destiny of humanity. It has to show the relationship between the two in
a way that is quite new in its history. The task, in other words, is a
progressive, not a regressive one. It is not an attempt to resurrect a
long-lost medieval ideal in which the Church was dominant over the
secular, but will be born of a willingness to forge a new relationship
with the secular. This new relationship is one that Benedict XVI seems
intent on making the hallmark of his papacy.

This progressive agenda rests upon the emerging realization among

scholars that it was the Church as such that gave birth to the secular.
It is now more clearly being seen that its task is to see that this child
matures. The task now is to understand this emergence of the secular
as part of God’s providential action within the world for its salvation. It
is something that has to be understood within the history of salvation.
John Paul II began this task with his major encyclicals, Fides et Ratio,
Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae. He suggested that the way
to do this was to show how the transcendent and immanent
dimensions of human existence can be integrated around the notion of
life. He tried to show how commitment to a truly human life in this
world is a crucial dimension of our search for eternal life, and that only
concern for the pursuit of eternal life enables us to live a good life in

In the process of doing this, he showed how the central quarrel of
Catholic faith is not with the genuinely secular but with the ideology of
‘secularism’. He proposed that there is a genuinely secular aspect to
life that must be respected if one is to be truly spiritual and he pointed
the way that the Church can do this by integrating its efforts around
the creation of a culture of life.

What he proposed, and this expresses the Catholic mind well, is that
the genuinely secular aspect to human life can only be sustained and
promoted, when it seeks to create a culture of life in this world yet
looks to the transcendent realm of the kingdom of God for its
fulfillment. The genuinely secular mindset can only emerge, and be
sustained, by a respect for life from conception to grave, and that
concern and respect only finds its ultimate justification within a
transcendent context of meaning and significance.

Political implications
This will inevitably and increasingly take Catholics into the realm of
politics and as it does so, so it will involve the Church in elucidating
anew the relationship between the Church and the State, between our
eternal happiness and the legitimate pursuit of the goods and
pleasures of this life. She has to elucidate how a genuinely secular
state can only rest upon acknowledgment of the reality of God as the
ground of human origin, destiny and continuing life.

This is Her central message to any state that seeks to be genuinely

secular. The worship of God alone can ground the search for that
objective humanism in which man can flourish in this life. It is a
humanism that gives full weight to the development of the common
good as against that merely of the isolated individual. It is a humanism
that gives full weight to human dignity without thereby devaluing the
transcendence of God and His claim on our worship.

‘Secularism’, in that it promotes the notion that the fulfillment of the

individual person as the most important thing to pursue in life, looks to
create the social and political conditions whereby the individual can do
this. From this active secularist perspective, the only function of the
State is to make this pursuit of individual fulfillment possible. Its job is

to safeguard the freedom of the individual to pursue their own
happiness as they decide what that means in the vague and unrealistic
hope that this will itself benefit humanity as a whole. It is this that is
known as liberalism and, currently, it is this liberalism that defines
modernity. From the Catholic perspective, the State is there to
safeguard the common good of the community within which alone the
individual can find their personal fulfillment. The Catholic principle is
that of totality, by this is meant that the part only finds its own proper
fulfillment when it serves the whole. The good of the part is
subservient to the good of the whole. The individual, then, is bound to
serve the good of the whole body politic if he or she is to realize their
own fulfillment as individuals.

However, it also promotes the reverse; those who exercise authority on

behalf of the whole must do so in a way that makes possible the life of
the individual. The concern of the State is the flourishing of the
individual person, but, the individual in community with others, not
simply isolated in the pursuit of idiosyncratic goals. Individual selfish
pursuit of material goods and a callous indifference to the needs of
others, especially the poor among us, does not promote the common
welfare. The state has a responsibility to offer the poor genuine
opportunities to raise their standard of living through education,
training and social assistance. Care for the weakest person among us
is the mark of a genuinely humanistic society and the weakest are the
‘yet-unborn’ and the ‘useless old’.

This also means, as the Church continually insists since Vatican II, the
body politic must serve especially the freedom of religion that is
essential to man seeking to be in harmony with the will of God and
realize their eternal fulfillment. This religious instinct is sui generis and
cannot be reduced to anything lower than itself. Its exercise is intrinsic
to human growth and development. The state has the responsibility to
safeguard that freedom and its expressions. It has the right to
intervene and control only when that freedom is exercised to the
detriment of the whole body and its peace.

Furthermore, as Vatican II also taught us in Gaudium et Spes, religious

freedom itself only finds its full legitimacy of exercise when it is in
dialog with the genuinely human, as that is evoked in the search for

the genuinely secular. The religious instinct to be truly humanizing
must respect and fulfill the genuinely human. The concern of all
religions must be the flourishing of all and they have the right and duty
to dialog both within and without their own communities as to what
this might be and how to inculcate it in their members and in society.

Any Catholic political agenda, then, will seek to keep in harmony the
two dimensions of individual fulfillment and the good of the community
as a whole and the relationship of secular life to the life of the Spirit.
The process of working for this touches all aspects of our personal
lives, home, business, politics, social and the intimately personal. It
impinges on that core sense of who we really are and raise very
personal questions about it, not just as modern men and women, but,
also, more sensitively, what we are as twenty-first century citizens of a
secularized society.

In the world, for the world but not of the world

In the light of the Church’s developed social teaching, then, the
primary aim of any Catholic political agenda will be to discern and
develop the good that is there in any society. The Church has a
responsibility towards the world to work for its human development.
Today, it is this positive approach that characterizes Catholic Faith. We
are much more sensitive now since Vatican II that

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who
believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did
not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world
might be saved through him. ( John 3:16-17)

Jesus came for the salvation of the world. He came that the world
might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). This life
begins in this world and finds its fulfillment in the world beyond this. In
the world to come all that is good and noble about life in this world will
be brought to its fulfillment and the good things of this life can be
sacramental of the life to come.

Catholics stand apart from their respective cultures, then, not for the
sake of condemning them, but in order to relate to them more
positively, and so seek their progress. They are called to become ever

more strongly for the world, and that means the particular world within
which they live, its racial and cultural uniqueness, and enable it to be
increasingly a place of life. It supports legitimate cultural and national
patriotism while not identifying any one political or social system with
the kingdom of God.

And that was John Paul's aim in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. He
challenged the Church to deepen its commitment to its faith so that it
might better promote life within this world. He called on Catholics to
stand against the culture of death and commit themselves to the
creation of a culture of life for the sake of the world. His critique of the
world as at the moment being permeated by a culture of death was
something he feels impelled to do, not just for the Church, but also for
the sake of the world.

To meet this challenge Catholics have to ask themselves some very

fundamental and personal questions: does our faith form the
foundation of our thinking and acting? Does it determine the way we
see life and what we consider to be important in it? Do our attitudes
and values, and the way we live them, reveal the Gospel to the world
or hide it? To what extent has secularism entered into our hearts and
minds such that we are ourselves agents of promoting a culture of
death? Pondering these questions will demand a willingness to repent
and be transformed. It will be a fitting response to Paul's admonition:

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of

your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and
pleasing and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)

This is something Catholics will do out of love for all men, no matter
their race, creed (and that includes secularism), culture or color. It
flows from the same love for humanity that God has shown us in
Christ and out of gratitude to God for actually giving us life. It seeks to
make of this world a true sacrament of the world to come through the
power and love of God and prepare people for entry into it. It is a
powerful and positive mission. It will require on the part of the
individual Catholic as well as those who represent the Church as a
whole as deep commitment and unfaltering courage as She has to

continue to battle the forces of secularism on behalf of birthing a
genuinely secular world.

Selected Bibliography
The Victory of Reason. Rodney Stark .Random House. New York. 2005
Decadence. ed. Digby Anderson. The Social Affairs Unit. London 2005
How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization. Thomas Woods
Regnery Publishing. Washington. 2005
Romero Guardini. The End of the Modern World. ISI Books Wilmington.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Liberia Editrice
Vaticana. Rome. 2005
Bright Promise, Failed Community. Joseph A.Varacalli. Lexington Books.
Lanham. 2000
Harrry Blamires. The Christian Mind. The Servant Publications. Ann
Arbor. Michigan. 1963
Harry Blamires. The Post-Christian Mind. Servant Publications. Ann
Arbor. Michigan 1999
Eric Voeglin. The New Science of Politics. University of Chicago Press.
Chicago. 1952
Science, Politics and Gnosticism. Henry regnery co. 1968
Gerald Delanty. Modernity and Post-Modernity. Sage Publications..
London. 2000
Owen Chadwick. The Secularization of the European Mind. Cambridge
Univeristy Press. 1973
Louis Dupre. Passage to Modernity .Yale University Press. 1993 New
Hampshire. 1931.P150
What is Secular Humanism? James Hitchcock. RC. Books. New York