Sometimes two events will unfold concurrently to shed some light on the state of conflicting worldviews. In this case these events took place in Iraq and France. One story finds a group of first communicants heroically defying ISIS through witness to their faith. The other involves two police officers forcing a Muslim lady at the beach to remove her burkini.
In each case, we see reactions in terror-torn countries where each undoubtedly has the right to live in some state of fear. Still, one story is defined by the refusal to allow terror to dictate the terms of their way of life while the other is defined by its exact opposite. France may very well be the more rational actor of the two, but the incident there reveals an inherent truth about secularism. As it lacks the temerity of even a pious group of ten-year-olds, the truth is that secular epistemology is devastatingly boring.
Contrast These Two Governing Ideas
Consider the message of progressive secularism, our culture’s currently prevailing worldview. It claims the only reality is approached through our senses. Nothing is transcendent. The whole human experience is just a series of firing neurons and dopamine. The love of art, beauty, and all that is good are just traits we evolved for survival. We are nothing more than sophisticated animals.
The fruits of this parasitic philosophy are on full display in the way our illustrious leaders wish to govern behavior through such ideas like contracts for dating, food laws, and even free-speech zones. The very thought of self-government is a pie in the sky anachronism as coherent as a dead language.
An ideology of this sort will inevitably descend into a system of rules that would even make a puritan’s head spin, because it assumes we can participate in evolution by setting our own parameters for improving society. We don’t legislate to mirror a transcendent natural order, but to soothe the feelings of the majority — since feelings are all there is to this life anyway.
On the other hand, Christianity suggests we are intrinsically valuable just by being made in the image of our Creator. It differentiates good from evil through a natural order. In this way, goodness is much more complex than the dopamine it creates. Christianity teaches that life—and the beauty that flows forth—is almost always seasoned with loss, growth, and danger. It is cyclical.
As seasons come and go, they transport us through different stages of life. The growth of spring flowers after a long cold winter. Unveiling a sculpture after its artist has spent months of painstaking labor. Holding a newborn child after hours of delivery and three trimesters of sacrifice. Christianity affirms what we already intuitively know: It is not always easy and often requires toil and sacrifice, but life is always worth it. This is particularly true when facing adversity to the point of death.
Taking Away the Transcendent Eviscerates Meaning
What makes these conflicting worldviews so fascinating is the secular one attempts to accomplish what seems to come so naturally to Christians. Seeking to destigmatize all activity classically viewed as culturally corrosive leads to the public being less likely to find meaning and generally less-trusting of its institutions. The extreme end of these statistics find more suicides and early death from alcohol and drug abuse.
A recent study even shows millennials are having sex less than any generation before them. Yet they are not citing eternal judgement or nagging guilt, but that they have better things to do and are intensely focused on their careers. Interestingly, it seems the hedonistic heyday our forebears had imagined during the sexual revolution was thwarted by the abundant availability of forbidden fruits. Talk about progress!
Undoubtedly a group of children in war-torn Iraq receiving their first communion is exponentially more exciting and otherworldly than the French ban on conservative Muslim women’s swimwear. These children, by participating in this subversive act, are heroically acknowledging their humanity by rising above a basic animal response. They are paradoxically affirming the value of human life by sacrificially participating in act than can and has ended in death for many others. Their act says there is a higher law than the state.
France’s says the state is the ultimate authority. The secular French succumb to fear and dehumanize a whole group of people through authoritarian law. The Iraqis will, over time, methodically breathe new life into their culture, while the French will further erode a once-vibrant country. France’s use of law to coerce its citizens to abandon their beliefs will fail for the same reason that all secular progressive epistemology inevitably will.
Secularism Is Shallow
Secularism cannot take appropriate measures to highlight cultural diversity because it is shallow. It is an ideology bereft of meaning that hates to be reminded of this. It is wholly incapable of differentiating between the truly pious and a homicidal terrorist. It cannot understand the difference between a person who opposes an institution on philosophical grounds and a bigot. It sees any religious act as a direct threat to its civil sacraments.
So it forbids any piety. The French secular paradise is facing an existential threat, and all it knows to do is purge religious symbols from public view lest that trigger its citizens by reminding them that life is not all wine and the Louvre.
Now, more than ever, would be the time for the French government to consider taking the path of its Christian community. Among recent victims of ISIS was a French priest, Jacques Hamel, who was murdered on the altar during Mass. In the same way that terror has enveloped Iraq, leaving Christians to participate in worship at their own peril, French Catholics continue their ancient rite. Just as a group of young first communicants heroically engage in a subversive act that could spell death, French Catholics continue their celebration beneath the heavy specter of Hamel’s final sacrifice.
For the Christian, life is a cycle that carries with it celebration as well as the cross, and she eagerly embraces both. As secularism seeks to establish a material utopia by purging religion, it inadvertently deprives its citizens of a necessary dimension of true happiness. In stripping strictly held religious practices from public view in fear of future religiously motivated attacks, the French government is sacrificing color in a once-vibrant culture.
This will leave in its wake a boring, bland non-culture unable to recognize what is good, bad, or ugly. Maybe if the French truly believed in their way of life they would continue living it in spite of the fear of terror, but then again that might make them seem a little too Christian, and we wouldn’t want that.