In his Utopia, St. Thomas More insisted that while there should not be a specifically mandated religion in society, that every person should have a religious belief of one sort or another. While his fictional King Utopus allowed atheism to exist in Utopia, it was looked down on because the atheist looked to no authority above him/her, therefore being considered untrustworthy and unreliable—the reasoning was simple: if one is not answerable to a “higher power,” then to whom is this person accountable? If they have no regard for God’s law, then how can one trust them to conduct themselves rationally and civilly?
Two centuries later, John Locke wrote in A Letter Concerning Toleration, “Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.” That same century, James Madison wrote in his Memorial and Remonstrance that “Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe.” These thinkers seem to affirm precisely what More pointed out about society. In other words, for society to function well and with as little chaos as possible, it must be populated chiefly by people who are not only believers in God, but who also practice their religion. And as God wants us to come to faith by our own will and our own choice, then it must be that a truly civil society does not force any specific religion on its citizens, but does not encourage citizens in disbelief, for the sake of its own survival.
But wait, we have freedom of religion in this country! The government can’t impose a religion on its citizens! We have a Constitution to protect our religious rights...don't we? Isn't that still being honored and respected? Maybe not. In fact, many people of faith these days would likely argue that the government and the courts have gone way too far in the opposite direction, seeming to try to extinguish any sort of religious expression in the public square or even in private life. What has become crystal clear is that the culture has become alarmingly secular, even anti-religious and specifically, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish.
Among the many current offenses are as follows:
These are only a small fraction of what is going on in this country these days, and that doesn't even begin to address the assault on our culture overall. But this takes us back to what Madison had to say. Doubtless, his words would be considered "offensive" to many these days, even to some people of faith. But that's just the problem. We have normalized a tolerance of atheism to such an extent that to speak against it, as in this very article, is considered wrong.
But wrong by whose standard? This is the irony and the source of our current cultural willful ignorance. After all, someone has to be the arbiter of morality, but if the culture is secular, then what establishes what is right or wrong? If there is no evil, then can there be good? Yet if you suggest that an atheist cannot be a good citizen, as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus does, they will be up in arms and in your face, calling you hateful and intolerant. Yet how does one measure what is good? Is that just being nice and not causing disruption? Is that really all it is? An atheist can rightly argue that he/she pays their taxes, drives safely, respects private property, and so forth, but is that enough to be considered "good"?
This secular, post-Christian society in which we live seems to want it both ways. The general culture doesn't want to be hampered by religion and religious people and all their judgmentalism and intolerance and homophobia and forcing their religious beliefs on women's bodies and their right to choose and so on and so on. Religion, in the eyes of the culture is the "party of No," whereas the secular culture says yes...to everything. Well, everything except self control, accountability for ones actions, a modicum of personal restraint. Otherwise, everything goes!
This philosophical and ethical conflict can only have devastating consequences on our culture and on our society in general. When you have an entire mass of individuals being informed by a culture that has no connection to the divine, to the supernatural, to any higher power beyond their own inflated egos, how can anything be called definitively good or bad or right or wrong? Says who? When something as simple as the very notion of gender is challenged, when you read all the smut in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, which celebrates the most extreme forms of hedonism, then how can we take seriously the idea of faithfulness in marriage, or even of marriage at all?
If marriage, for example, is just a legal contract where "love is love" and it doesn't matter who you love, then what are the limits of that? Should there be? Marriage Equality activists insist that their movement will not lead to plural marriage or bestiality--in fact, they're offended by the suggestion. Yet why not plural marriage? If it doesn't matter who you love, then why not a 45 year old man and a 13 year old boy? Why not a brother and sister? If you can't help who you love, then is it fair to place such limits as genetics on a potential partnership? Is that fair? If we can question gender, then can't we question genealogy? One can't help being born into any given family, so couldn't one argue that they are a non relative trapped in the body of a relative? Is there a surgery for that affliction?
The other day, I was in the Ralphs parking lot, just heading out in my car. Right in the middle of the whole lane, a car had stopped to let someone out. The problem wasn't that, though that itself is pretty rude. But the driver put her hazard lights on, and then got out of the car, despite the fact that other cars, mine included, were waiting for her to get her ass out of the damn way. So when I honked, she got hostile! This is the shit that our permissive and secular culture has produced, and I don't believe I'm exaggerating or jumping in the conspiracy bandwagon. Here's an equation:
Over-indulgent egotism + no reference to God or virtue + smut everywhere you look + cultural censorship against anyone who might want to place limits on rampant selfishness and destruction = a culture that permits all, punishes virtue, bullies the faithful, and lauds thugs and punks and hooligans.
Dare I say, may God have mercy on us all.
Witty; cunning; crafty
© ArtfulCatholic 2016
All rights reserved
This material may not be reprinted without permission from the author.