Living in the Iron Cage of Secularist Modernity
Civilly and publicly we live life as if God does not exist, a life of practical atheism
We moderns, the German sociologist Max Weber said, have voluntarily placed ourselves in an "iron cage" of secularism, a life where most of our public life is lived, and civil and political discourse is conducted, in purely secular terms. Civilly and publicly we live life as if God does not exist, a life of practical atheism. So-called "public reason"--which is the only reason allowed in the "iron cage"--does not allow God-talk, disdains Christianity, and positively despises Catholicism.
According to this modern way of thinking, God and Faith belong only within the confines of the four walls of the Church. In the open, ample field that covers everything else, God and Faith (what the liberal political philosopher John Rawls--in secular terms--referred to as a "comprehensive doctrine") is expected to be bracketed, cabined, or perhaps more applicably "churched."
This, so the story goes, is done to make us more "free," more "equal," and to prevent some people from forcing others to do things against their will. We may not have a good life, but at least we have the goods life, and freedom is maximized and oppression minimized.
There is some value in seeing the ostracizing of God and Faith from public life as something that results in citizens being "disrobed" or "naked." Priests wear vestments in the Church, but not outside of it. Priests do not wear chasubles to political rallies. And so secularists think that what is required by good liturgy is required by good politics.
There is an ominous aspect to the insistence of a "naked public square." Obviously, disrobed or naked citizens are much easier to control and manipulate and get to accept the wiles of the devil as good (namely, the entire gamut of the liberal credo, including such moral enormities such as divorce and remarriage, contraception, abortion, and homosexual "marriage"). Citizens who are clothed with the whole armor of God, which includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of justice, the sandals of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, are not so malleable. (Eph. 6:10-17)
There is, however, an image other than the "naked public square" that might profitably be used to look at the efforts of secularists to control believers. We might say that the secularists would like to see us all forced to live in an "iron cage." I borrow that image from Steven D. Smith's book The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, who himself borrows it from the famous German sociologist and political economist Max Weber. Max Weber referred to modernity and its secularist assumptions as something that puts us in a stahlhartes Gehäuse, an "iron cage" or "hardened steel-like shell."
We moderns, Weber said, have voluntarily placed ourselves in an "iron cage" of secularism, a life where most of our public life is lived, and civil and political discourse is conducted, in purely secular terms. Civilly and publicly we live life as if God does not exist, a life of practical atheism. So-called "public reason"--which is the only reason allowed in the "iron cage"--does not allow God-talk, disdains Christianity, and positively despises Catholicism.
The "iron cage" mentality explains why the Obama administration, acting through the Department of Health and Human Services in issuing the recent mandate, was totally deaf to the argument of the Church. The Church's teaching on contraception, sterilization, and abortion--even though it is not based upon confessional truths, but based upon reasonable truths (i.e., the natural moral law)--is by an act of secular will not part of the "public reason" recognized by secularist liberals. The Obama administration wants the Church to remain within the "iron cage." It insists in a "naked public square." Catholic truths, even if based upon reason, are to be "churched."
Within the "iron cage" of secular discourse, God and the Faith can be mentioned in completely vague and innocuous ways, but when it comes to implementing them or encouraging their practice in public displays (e.g., the Ten Commandments, Christmas crèches), or public ways (e.g., public school prayer), or in a publically-enforceable manner (e.g., in policy or law), the cry is quite clear and insistent: fuhgeddaboudit.
Some human activities work well when done in what Charles Taylor calls the "immanent frame" of the Weberian "iron cage." When one enters into the "iron cage," one looks at everything in an empirical way, and it follows that those things that require empiricism as part of their essential thought work well within the iron cage's bars: so science as science, applied science (technology) as applied ...
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