Our friend Hunter Baker’s new book, The End of Secularism, reminds me more than anything in my own experience of the work of Francis Schaeffer (though Baker criticizes Schaeffer in certain areas). It’s a dense book, heavily footnoted, presenting a lot of information in a relatively short (194 pages) format. You’ll want to keep a highlighter in hand as you read it, and if you’re like me, you’ll have to stop and contemplate what you’re reading from time to time.
Baker begins with several chapters of historical overview, tracing the history of the Christian church, then explaining how secularism as a world-view and ideology burgeoned in a world increasingly weary of religious conflict and war. Secularism—the view that religion (if tolerated at all) must be cordoned off from public life, so that even someone whose politics are formed by faith must find secular public arguments for it in order to participate in the process—was originally marketed, and continues to be marketed today, as the only rational and impartial alternative to the passions and intolerance of believers.
Baker then applies to this claim of rationality and impartiality the same kind of analysis that secularists like to use on religion. He finds secularism greatly wanting, and fatally blind to its own unexamined presuppositions. It’s strange to find postmodern thinkers presented positively in a Christian book, but Baker takes particular note of recent deconstructions of secularism by younger thinkers. These postmoderns note that secularists are not, as they imagine, impartial referees in the world of thought, but partisans holding a distinct ideology, and that their efforts to silence religious ideas in the public square are simply a new example of an elite class attempting to muzzle heretics. Baker also marshals historical facts to demonstrate that secularism has no better record of tolerance and the prevention of conflict than Christianity had. He devotes a later chapter specifically to the “legend” of the incompatibility of religion and science. In the final chapter he examines an interesting situation from recent history where politicians explicitly appealed to religion in a controversy in a southern state, and the secularists made no complaint at all—because in that case, religion was being marshaled in the service of a liberal cause.
The End of Secularism will challenge the Christian reader, and will raise some Christian hackles—Baker gives short shrift to those who claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, for instance. (Update: Hunter points out to me that he criticizes those who claim a secularist founding as well, which is a fair point.) But Christians should read it, for the mental exercise, and for the hope it presents that the long cultural dominance of secularism may finally be coming to the beginning of its end. Secularists should read it for an education.