Illustration: G.J. Holyoake (1817-1906),
a British lecturer who coined the term
'secularism' in 1851
Photo credit: see below
The Rise of Secularism
For several generations the cause of Christ in our country has been in steep decline. We can trace this back at least to the mid-nineteenth century when the devil mounted a two-pronged attack upon the Bible, the foundation of our most holy faith. What was termed ‘higher criticism’ questioned the authorship of much of the Old Testament, especially the Pentateuch, and the theory of evolution challenged the authenticity of the creation record in the Book of Genesis. Tragically much of the church capitulated, preferring the learning of men to the truth of God.
Since that time there has been a rapid decrease in the church’s numerical and spiritual strength. Having become unable to declare, “Thus saith the Lord,” she has become increasingly ineffective in her role as the conscience of the nation: her utterances no longer seem to command the attention of government or people.
For one section of our society things have not yet gone far enough however. Secularists are pushing for the Christian faith to be removed from the public sphere altogether. They will not be content until every last trace of Christianity has been eradicated from our national life.
Secularism is the belief that the state should be free from the influence of organised religion. The term is often equated with ‘atheism’ – the belief that there is no religious basis for the universe and our place within it – but secularism is not confined to those of an atheistic viewpoint. Sadly there are Christians who advocate a form of secularism, maintaining that there should be no relation or cooperation between church and state.
The rise of secularism, particularly the atheistic variety, means that more and more battlegrounds are emerging in the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan in our country: these require us not only to watch and pray and but also to fight before privileges and blessings we have enjoyed for centuries are lost.
A number of recent issues help to highlight the situation. Last year Highland Council removed prayer from its formal meeting agenda after the National Secular Society threatened legal action, replacing it with a “Time for Prayer and Reflection” held before meetings for those who wish to attend: Edinburgh City Council and Dumfries and Galloway Council did something similar. Prior to this the Society had won a legal case against an English council forcing it to drop prayers from its agendas and although new laws superceding the court’s decision were fast-tracked at Westminster it seems that Scottish councils were not prepared to resist the demands for change.
In September there was a furore over the teaching of ‘creationism’ in a non-denominational primary school in East Kilbride. Two teachers were moved to other duties after complaints that they had allowed members of the Church of Christ to distribute books to children exposing evolution and teaching a young earth. The Scottish Secular Society called for a ban on teaching creationism as science and clear guidance on how “religious theories” about the origins of life are taught. The Society has petitioned the Scottish Parliament urging that state schools should no longer routinely involve pupils in religious observance or activities where religious beliefs are presented as truth: instead parents should be asked whether they wish their children to opt in to these things.
Earlier this month there was a proposal to drop the use of religious oaths in British courts, such that defendants and witnesses may no longer be able to swear on the Bible. (This despite the existence already of alternative affirmations for those who do not want to swear on the Bible.) The new oath suggested was: “I promise very sincerely to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and I understand that if I fail to do so I will be committing an offence for which I will be punished and may be sent to prison.” The National Secular Society welcomed the proposals saying that institutions should reflect the way Britain is and “not the Christian country it perhaps once was”. Thankfully in the last few days the Magistrates’ Association has rejected the proposal.
The same spirit is affecting prominent institutions beyond the state. Earlier this year Girl Guiding UK replaced its promise to “love my God” with a pledge to “be true to myself”. Not to be left out the Scout Association has announced an alternative atheist pledge to be used from next January. The Scouting movement was founded by Lord Baden-Powell on Christian principles in 1908 and in a handbook for boys he ranked atheism alongside gambling, swearing and drunkenness.
Three brief comments may be made on these developments. Firstly and most importantly, secularism is inconsistent with the Word of God. The state is not permitted to be indifferent or ‘neutral’ with regard to God. The “powers that be” are not only ordained of God they are His ministers too (Rom. 13:1,4,6). In serving God the state must be directed by the teaching of the Bible, especially the moral law: only then can it fulfil its duty to uphold what is good and punish what is evil. In all its various functions the state should honour God and His Word.
With respect to councils, Surely their deliberations can only benefit when members acknowledge that they need wisdom for the matters they handle and call upon Almighty God for His help through Jesus Christ accordingly? Concerning education, How can the theory of evolution be regarded as ‘scientific’ and a reliable explanation of origins when it is neither observable nor testable and opposes the account which is given by the only witness to what happened in the beginning, namely God Himself? We wonder whether parents would be allowed to withdraw their children from lessons where evolution is taught as true?! And with regard to justice, Is it really to be expected that people will be more likely to tell the truth if they make their promises to their fellow men merely, rather than to the One who searches their hearts and will judge them at the end of time?
Our nation has rejected the idea of absolute truth in the name of ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ and the evil results of this false tolerance are now becoming apparent.
Secondly, secularism is incompatible with our nation’s constitution. We agree with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali who said recently: “The Bible is bound up with the constitution, institutions and history of this country”. This is evident particularly with our monarchy and parliament since the Reformation. The present state of affairs is that while the Protestant Christian religion remains established by law the actual place of Christianity in public life has been eroded to a great extent. The result of this tension is the increasing instability of our United Kingdom.
If the state is really to dispense with Christianity then something must replace it for a state cannot be without values any more than an individual. It is a great mistake to think that secularism is ‘valueless’: in reality it is an alternative philosophy to Christianity. Secularism is born out of the belief that there is no God or that God does not really matter to life in all its aspects (which amounts to the same thing). At its core secularism devalues God.
Finally, secularism is inimical or unfriendly to the best interests of any society. With its rejection of the Word of God and ridiculing of Christian values secularism has been responsible for the ‘permissive society’ we are now familiar with in the West, notable for its sexual immorality, abortion on demand, drug abuse and hedonistic lifestyles in general. This is what happens when the material and temporal are regarded as the whole of our existence to the exclusion of the spiritual and eternal. The prospects for such a culture are grim indeed.
The only way out of this morass is for the church as a whole to repent of her compromise and recover her belief in the authority of Scripture. Then she will speak with a voice more powerful than any other and the nation will listen once again.
G.J. Holyoake (1817-1906), a British lecturer who coined the term 'secularism' in 1851
By Stefan1975uk [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons