No traction for Secularism in the UK – Why?

Front page at The Independent today contains an interesting article by Peter Popham about secularism in the UK. The British still have an official state church, and 71% ticked the “Christian” box in the last census. If you don’t want to read the whole article (it rambles), it’s worth it just to scroll to the bottom and read all of the quotes… pretty telling stuff.
Popham says “secularism is the bastard child of monotheistic religion.” He quotes John Gray’s book Straw Dogs, “secularism is like chastity, a condition defined by what it denies.” I think this is almost right, but it is not monotheism which is to blame, it is fundamentalism.
Evangelicals have consistently misunderstood the nature of secularism.
Through the 70s and 80s the secularists were evangelical’s public enemy number. It’s still this way today. I wrote about this in an article at HuffPo in regard to a poll which said, “92 percent of those surveyed from the U.S.said that secularism is the major threat to evangelical Christianity.”
In the UK, the secularists are not gaining any traction.
I believe this is not because the British church is facile and weak, but because secularism requires a robust fundamentalism in order to thrive?
What if secularism is really just a reaction to religious fundamentalism? If they are two sides of the same coin, one of the best ways for Christians to stand against secularism would be to eschew fundamentalism.
Christian fundamentalism seems to be more and more intent on institutionalizing religious control over society. Their beliefs are rooted in their interpretations of the bible; interpretations they belief to be above criticism. Fundamentalism becomes strident, rigid, and often shrill about the certainty that their way of running the world is the right way. Fundamentalism is defined in part by its all out opposition to secularism.
Secularism seems more and more intent to keep God and religion out of public life, especially the political realm. Secularist beliefs are rooted in science and the natural world, which they also take to be above criticism. Secularism becomes strident, rigid, and often shrill about the certainty that their way of running the world is the right way. Secularism is defined in part by its all out opposition to fundamentalism.
Notice any similarities?
Fundamentalism and secularism exist on a continuum. Fundamentalists rail about the dangers of secularism, secularists do opposite, each providing a never ending supply of pull quotes for the other’s fundraising newsletters.
Ultimately, it’s possible that there is at least a bit of wisdom in the Brit’s intransigence with regard to the role of faith in public life.
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  • Den

    I haven't had a chance to read the entire article yet, but I think I can make a comment on the issues it addresses. Secularism and fundamentalism do seem to be the pair of twins separated at birth, don't they? They're both characterized by an absolutist mindset, one that says, "My system is the way the world works." That one pronouncement is the beginning and end of discussion.

    I've been thinking lately that all models of the world, among which are fundamentalism and secularism, as well as liberalism, capitalism, and all their assorted siblings, are really nothing more than shared delusions. If we assume that reality is stranger than we can imagine – which seems to fit right into believing in an infinitely gracious and sovereign g-d – then, any attempt we make to describe, or model, the world is going to fall short. What we have left is a partial description, one that if we hold to it to the exclusion of other competing interpretations, could be described as a delusion. If we can convince other people to agree with our particular delusion, then it becomes a shared delusion. It's at this point that we have conflict, as one group's shared delusion collides with another's, as the groups jockey for power, prestige, and whatever else they want.

    I'm perfectly willing to admit that I have a partial understanding of the way the world works, that my delusion is the best I can do, and that I must admit that there might be validity to another person's or group's delusion as well. I think that means that I must be gracious. Perhaps it's an aspect of grace that is keeping secularism from ruling the roost in the UK.

  • I think it's especially interesting to consider what you are saying with regard to economic systems. I've been wondering lately if the choice of system is irrelevant. Any economic system can function in ways that are just and unjust. The system isn't the point, the point is actually will we the system serve justice, or serve itself (i.e., the interests of those empowered by the system)? Maybe capitalism, socialism, even antiquated stuff like the barter system, or agrarian economies could all serve the kingdom if they will pursue economic justice.

  • Den

    It's interesting that you use the phrase "economic justice." When you consider that economics is a reflection of the actual items, and their trade, that exemplify the lives we lead, social and economic justice become two facets of the same thing, justice for human beings. Social justice involves the relationships we all have – power relationships, family relationships, hierarchical relationships, etc. Economics starts with these relationships and attaches to them physical items, which are traded and enhanced with the results of physical labor. You could say that economics involves the incarnation of social relationships, I suppose.

    I suspect you're right that the particular economic system becomes irrelevant in much of life. The only reason I can see that strongly selects one system over another is the way in which it scales to larger and larger aggregations of people. There's a fellow whose writings I follow, Bruce Schneier, who has written a book that addresses the question of trust in our modern society. This issue of trust is so pervasive today – just look at the current political climate in this country, for instance, and see where you find trust betrayed. His book is Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive. Even though he's a cryptographer and security researcher by profession, his thoughts on the issues covered in his book are very relevant to what security actually is, as opposed to what we think it is. The whole issue of trust is another aspect that governs whether we can truly have justice in our world – no trust, and selfishness rules by default. I might even say that the lack of traction for hard-core secularism in the UK is due to a lack of trust in its inherent merits on the part of the general population, just as there's a lack of trust in hard-core fundamentalism. It's fascinating to think that what exists for such a large part of the population in this country apparently doesn't in the United Kingdom.

  • Lack of trust could be a factor. I didn't write it in the post, but the truth is I think the Brits do not think democracy is the end-all be-all of political systems. They still have a parliament and a state church. Their house of Lords still includes non-elected, titled gentry.

    The British have always seemed to know that democracy is wonderful and necessary, but it can only do certain things. There are other things that must be done in a society in order to govern.