WORSHIPPING THE STATE:
How Liberalism Became Our State Religion
by Benjamin Wiker
(Washington, DC: Regnery)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Reviewed by Bill Muehlenberg
Of the major competing ideologies and worldviews locked in fierce combat with Christianity to see which will gain supremacy, the one that has been in constant conflict is secular humanism.
I have looked at this ideology and its war on Christianity before, of course. More background on this can be found on my website (for example, “Secular religion”, CultureWatch, May 22, 2007).
I now more specifically want to examine how secular statism is at odds with Christianity. Indeed, it always has been.
As the early church discovered, the secular state did not take kindly to this new faith, because it presented someone other than Caesar as lord.
That could not be tolerated, so persecution erupted very early on against these recalcitrant Christians. And this battle has always taken place. A secular state has always known that it cannot command the full allegiance of the masses if another competing ideology stands in the way.
Those who give obedience to a transcendent God can never be fully subservient to any human jurisdiction. Thus, throughout its 2,000-year history, hostile governments have sought to eradicate Christianity, or at least subvert it for their own purposes and subsume it under their own rule.
An important new book on this theme has recently been released — American ethicist and author Benjamin Wiker’s Worshipping the State: How Liberalism became Our State Religion. (Wiker uses the American definition of “liberal”, which means left-wing and secular, not the Australian version of the word, which usually means conservative).
In this vital volume Wiker shows how the modern liberal war against Judeo-Christian faith and values is not new at all, and fits into this long-standing struggle between state supremacy and the supremacy of God. He rightly notes that secular liberalism is a political religion which cannot peacefully co-exist with Christianity.
He offers an historical overview of this struggle, and spends much of his book examining political philosophy of the last 500 years. He notes that the separation of state and religion was first championed by Christianity. Before that, the two were closely fused.
But when Jesus insisted on rendering to Caesar his due, and to God his, he revolutionised the way religion and politics interacted. And Christian resistance to the state began from the earliest times, with believers refusing to bow to the state.
So a war between these two allegiances has always existed. But it was during the past half millennium that the philosophical and ideological basis for this rejection of Christianity was carefully spelled out. Wiker closely examines the political thought of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Locke and others in this regard.
All these thinkers, in various ways, saw Christianity as a threat to the political order, and believed that the state could not allow it to have free rein. It must be co-opted if not destroyed, if the liberal vision is to be realised and established. Their thoughts, especially as propagated in the universities, eventually held sway, and today we see secular liberalism as the de facto state religion in the West.
Although pretending neutrality, the modern secular liberal ideology is “itself a religion, or an anti-religion — a complete worldview and an agenda in direct and fierce competition with Christianity”, says Wiker. “The domain covered by secular liberalism is as extensive as that of any religion and in particular of Christianity, the religion that it has displaced.”
It has its own cosmology (there is no supreme being or spiritual reality, only deterministic materialism and physical cause and effect), and its own moral philosophy (there is no universal good and evil, with the maximisation of human pleasure and “rights” the chief end of man), and so on.
These two worldviews are at total odds with each other: “Secular liberalism defines itself against Christianity, self-consciously and dogmatically denying what Christianity affirms”.
Four contrasting beliefs
Wiker nicely lays out a series of contrasting values, goals and emphases.
1) Christians believe that God exists, the universe has meaning, and we have purpose and significance because of God’s existence. Liberals believe there is no God, the universe is ultimately meaningless, and there is nothing special about humanity.
2) Christians believe people are fallen and need God’s grace to be made right, while liberals deny the fallenness of humanity, and think we are perfectible by our own efforts. Because of this, Christians believe all political and social life is tainted, and we cannot place our final hope in the state or this world. Liberals see the state as saviour, and believe that human reason and political power can usher in an earthly paradise.
3) Christians see church and state as complementary institutions, each with its own jurisdiction and power. Liberals want to see the church totally subservient to the dictates of the state, with the latter being the sole source of authority and power.
4) Christians believe that human life is sacred because it is made in God’s image, and is thus worthy of protection. Liberals see no inherent value in human life, and believe that the state can and should determine who should live and who should die.
5) Christians see sexuality as something confined to the parameters of heterosexual marriage, while liberals see it as an anything-goes affair in which every form of sexuality is regarded as equally valid and acceptable.
Says Wiker: “We could go on, but the point should be clear. In defining itself from top to bottom directly against Christianity, secular liberalism is a kind of inverse image, like a photo negative, of the religion it has so energetically worked to displace for the past several centuries. It is a kind of anti-Christian religion as extensive in its claims as the Christianity it denies, with its own set of passionately held beliefs and dogmas.
“It doesn’t just look like a religion. It doesn’t just function like a religion. It is a religion.”
Or, as he says in a recent article, “But the truth is secular liberalism isn’t what you get when you subtract all religions. What you get when you subtract religion is another religion, secular liberalism, an entirely secular worldview dominated by materialism and hedonism and exceedingly intolerant of all other religions, especially Christianity.
“You get, to be exact, the secular culture championed with religious zeal by the Left imposed with all the power the federal government can muster. The naked public square is secular atheism’s monument” (Benjamin Wiker, “Atheists flood the public square”, ToTheSource, July 18, 2013).
This is the battle we face. Of course, it manifests itself in all sorts of specific ways; but at bottom it is a war of worldviews. It is the Judeo-Christian worldview pitted against the secular humanist worldview. The two cannot just happily get along side by side — one has to prevail.
It is this big picture which we need to grasp when we see the myriad culture-war battles taking place, be it over homosexual marriage, abortion, the new biotechnologies, religious freedom or judicial activism. Unless we see the larger ideological struggle taking place, we will fail to properly understand and effectively counter the various fights occurring within Western culture.
Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com
Bill Muehlenberg, “Secular religion”, CultureWatch, May 22, 2007.
Benjamin Wiker, “Atheists flood the public square”, ToTheSource, July 18, 2013.