Secularism and its discontents

22 03 2010

This past March 17th, AG and I went to a talk at Loyola University here in New Orleans given by Fr. Joseph Tetlow S.J. entitled “American Culture, Religion, and Spirituality”. This was part of the Sacred Word / Sacred Music series, and true to its name, the talk was interpolated with verses from popular Protestant hymns sung by the audience. The subject of the talk was the rise of secularism in the American context, and what we can do to defend ourselves from it. While I agreed with many of his arguments, and was surprised by the radical nature of some of his proposed solutions, I found them not convincing since they appealed to a sense of non-confessional “religious decency” that tends to paralyze cultural thought in this country. In my opinion, if any collective action is to be taken against the “secular menace”, its foundation must lie in truth and ideas, not in vague sentiments of “needing a god” to uphold the social order.

Much of Fr. Tetlow’s talk consisted of a catalogue of the attacks by militant secularists against any public manifestation of religion, and the historical background of the role of religion in public life dating to the colonial era. He described how militant atheist groups are striving to strike such phrases as “one nation, under God” and “in God we trust” from use in various places in the public sphere. For him, this has nothing to do with “freedom of religion” or violations of the establishment clause, but is a direct persecution of believing Christians in public discourse. This of course has accompanied the general decline of religious practice in the last fifty years, and Father provided all of the statistics with which all of you I am sure are now familiar.
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