Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Michael Terheyden

10/1/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Modern Western secularism has mutated into an ideology

When I realized that secularism was irrational and intolerant, I rejected it, but I was still not sure what to trust. If I had trusted in Jesus, I would have known that our nature reaches beyond the material universe in search of God. But not just any god, the Christian God.

Tolerance or indifferentism?

Tolerance or indifferentism?

Highlights

By Michael Terheyden

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

10/1/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Secularism, Faith, Christianity, Catholicism, Catholic Church, Michael Terheyden


KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - I was born into a Catholic family but that is not why I am Catholic. I am Catholic because I believe that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is only found in the Catholic Church. I did not always feel this way. My confession of faith is the result of searching for truth and the meaning of life for many years (and baptismal graces). This is the fourth in a series of articles which focus on some of the main ideas I struggled with on my journey.

In my last article, I mentioned some philosophical ideas (materialism, idealism, subjectivism, relativism, skepticism, and nihilism) which have had a large impact on our society and, consequently, on all of us. These ideas undermined much of what my parents and my Church had taught me, especially before I learned about them. But the more I learned about these philosophical ideas, the more their grip on me slowly loosened.

Part of this learning process occurred in the classroom. Books familiarized me with these ideas and helped me recognize them as they spread throughout our culture and mutated. But the heart of this process occurred in the context of my daily life and a rapidly changing culture. I read about these ideas in the news. I saw them reflected in the popular social and political issues consuming our society. I watched my friends interact with them. I too interacted with them. 

Going through this learning process, forced me to evaluate my beliefs more carefully. As a result, these ideas and the issues of our time slowly came into sharper focus. The more clearly I saw them, the more chaotic, ugly, unappealing, and harmful they appeared to me; and the more disenchanted I became with the popular secular culture. In time, my disenchantment grew so strong that I began searching for truth and meaning in other places: Eastern thought, Protestantism and finally Catholicism.

Therefore, the culture I grew up in played a huge role in my faith journey. So in order to explain some of the main reasons why I am Catholic, I need to reflect on our culture. Two words best describe Western culture or society for me, secularism and Postmodernism. In the remainder of this article, I will reflect on secularism: how I understand it and what it means to me. In my next article, I will do the same with Postmodernism.

As I have said before, I am aware of two senses of secularism. The first sense refers to secularism as being worldly or not pertaining to religion. I was referring to this first sense when I wrote an article about experiencing secular studies. My original understanding of a secular society was based on this first sense. A secular society was neutral toward religion. It put people's shared humanity above their differences, and the result was a more pluralistic and tolerant society.

In my mind, American democracy originally represented secularism in this sense of the word. From the beginning, Americans of different faiths and nationalities were, in general, able to participate together in public life. Of course, this was only possible because these different people had a similar sense of decency and the common good. Even though America was imperfect, it was the most pluralistic, open, tolerant, and fair society I have ever known.

But this is not the sense of secularism that prevails in many Western societies today. Modern Western secularism has mutated into an ideology, which reflects a second sense of secularism. To help me put these two senses of secularism into perspective, I would like to draw upon comments made by the Deputy Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, Yohanna Qulta. He made these comments at the beginning of this year, around the time that Egypt was taking its first tentative steps toward a democracy.

He said, "The role of religion is to educate the human conscience. It shapes the conscience of humans, so that merchants have a conscience, engineers have a conscience, laborers have a conscience. Religion is not supposed to regulate traffic or taxes, or to determine whether one should wear the hijab or niqab. Religion is supposed to advise and guide, but to leave one with freedom of choice."

In the second part of his first encyclical, God Is Love, Pope Benedict XVI voices similar thoughts. He reminds us that the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belong to God is fundamental to Christianity (Mt 22:21). At the same time, he says that the just ordering of society and the state is the responsibility of politics but that politics needs to be based on objective reason informed by faith. He reminds us that Saint Augustine once said, "A state which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves."

Pope Benedict goes on to say that "the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice," and "the State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions." But in many ways today the secular nations of the West are restricting religious freedom, and, while they are not imposing religion on the people, they are imposing a secular ideology on them.

Modern Western secularism is not open to religion educating the human conscience or advising and guiding people in their affairs as the Deputy Patriarch and Pope Benedict have indicated. Rather, modern Western secularism is an ideology, a belief system with its own value system. By definition it is supposed to be neutral toward religion, but in practice, it is aggressively anti-Christian because it wants to educate our conscience according to a materialistic and atheistic world view.

This is the second sense of secularism that I alluded to. As I now understand it, modern Western secularism is about who controls the values of society. It is about who determines what those values will be and on what basis they will be determined. The aim of modern Western secularism, then, is to overturn Christian morality and replace it with secular values. When I realized this, my first thought was that I had to find out what its values were.

Although there are others, I will discuss four of these values, or beliefs. All four played a important role in my faith journey, as they helped me see popular secular culture for what it was and reject it. First, secularism rejects the influence and contribution of religion in society, that is, in public and political decisions. But it is my understanding that this secular value is fundamentally flawed. 

Based on my understanding, the glue which holds society together and enables it to grow is derived from virtue, especially justice and worship. Whether a society is healthy or sick, strong or weak, depends on the degree to which it is virtuous, just, and religious. Moreover, religion has the ability to tie the virtues together. So I see society as relationships rooted in religion. If my understanding is correct, then secularists cannot do away with religion.

Second, secularism values a materialistic philosophy. As materialists, secularists view themselves as highly rational and scientifically minded, and they claim it is irrational to believe in anything that cannot be shown to be true. As a result, they regard religious people as irrational. But the Christian faith is not irrational. God can reasonably be shown to exist, and even if Christians cannot understand the great mysteries of their faith, they can see that these mysteries logically flow from God's attributes. For instance, although no one can understand or prove the existence of the Trinity, they can logically see that an all-powerful, infinitely perfect intellect and will could be triune.

Of course, secularists try to debunk this kind of reasoning. One of the ways they do this is by claiming that science offers the only legitimate knowledge of reality. But this claim itself is not rational or scientific since it cannot be established by any science. Faith and science do not deal with the same subject matter. They ask different questions. Consequently, their answers do not conflict with each other; they compliment each other.

Third, one of the common reasons secularists reject religion in the public domain is their belief that religion causes wars. This is especially true of Christianity, they tell us. But it seems to me that much of the condemnation against Christians is based on distorted information, and when viewed within a historical context, it appears that Christians have generally held to a much higher standard than the norm. However, Christians have given great scandal at times, even waged unjust wars, which was terribly wrong.

On the other hand, it is not Christians who have waged the bloodiest, most devastating wars in human history. That disgrace belongs to the devotees of atheistic, materialistic, relativistic, and pragmatic philosophies, and their children: Nazism, fascism and communism. It seems to me that the most immediate threats to peace today are radical, postmodern secular ideologies and radical Islamism. Christianity is not the problem in the world; it is the world's hope.

Fourth, secularists claim that Christians are intolerant because they have firm beliefs based on objective moral norms (natural law). This claim is silly. Even secularists, relativists and subjectivists exclude every belief that is not compatible with their world view. In Volume 2 of his book, Living A Christian Life, the renowned Catholic theologian Germain Grisez says, true tolerance is not indifferentism; it is respect for those who hold another world view.

He also says secularists are not immune from intolerance. Because they do not acknowledge a higher reality or an objective moral standard to which all reasonable people must submit, Grisez believes they are especially tempted to lying, manipulation, exploitation, suppression, arbitrary behavior and self-righteousness.

After analyzing secularism and some of its main beliefs--materialism, atheism, anti-religion, anti-Christianity, tolerance, relativism, and subjectivism--I realized that secularism was irrational and seriously flawed. I could not accept popular secular culture and its values, but I was still not certain what to believe, so I continued searching for truth and the meaning of my life.

If I had known what to believe back then, after I realized that secularism had wedded a materialistic and atheistic world view, I would also have known that our nature reaches beyond the material universe in search of God. But not just any god, the Christian God; for the only real solution to the human condition is a God of infinite love and mercy who would become one of us, be willing to die for us, and raise us up to a life of supernatural love in this world and in eternity. This God has a name above every other name and at which every knee shall bend, Jesus (Phil 2:9-10). 
 
-----

Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.

-----

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for January 2015
General Intention:
That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.
Missionary Intention: That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.



Comments


More Living Faith

The forgotten plight of Native Americans

Image of

By Tony Magliano

When it comes to the harsh difficulties many Native Americans face every day, the saying "out of sight, out mind" hits home. Many people have only a vague sense of the serious past and present injustices suffered by Native Americans.From the very beginning, starting ... continue reading


Andrew M. Greenwell: St. Bonaventure and the Fear of the Lord Watch

Image of You want God's mercy?  Here is St. Bonaventure's advice: avoid sin and develop a healthy fear of the Lord.- Andrew Greenwell

By Andrew M. Greenwell

The Church teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given us as part of sanctifying or habitual grace.  If we are in a state of grace, these gifts are present.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are similar to supernaturally-infused virtues in that they ... continue reading


Mustard Seed Faith and Living as a Christian in the Real World Watch

Image of The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened. (Matt. 13: 31 - 33)

By Deacon Keith Fournier

All the images Jesus uses in these parables concern the spreading of the kingdom or reign of God. They are meant to bring home the new reality that comes when we choose to live our call to discipleship and truly begin to cooperate with grace in our daily lives. ... continue reading


VATICAN HELPS THE HOMELESS, plans to provide free showers, haircuts and shaves near St. Peter's Square Watch

Image of Rome's homeless can receive free haircuts, shaves and showers beginning February 16.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Vatican will begin providing homeless people in Rome a place to not only shower, but to also receive haircuts and shaves starting next month, according to Pope Francis' charity office. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - St Peter's Square will open with the ... continue reading


Play with your children, Pope Francis commands fathers Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While some of his comments have provoked controversy, Pope Francis in a private audience this week said something that very few people would argue with. The Pope commanded that all fathers take time to play with their children - and not be so absorbed with work ... continue reading


Archbishop reprimands Catholic lawmaker, says no true Catholic can dissent from church teaching on abortion Watch

Image of Archbishop Cordileone said in a written statement, that

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a press conference on January 22 at the Capitol, was asked twice whether an unborn child 20 weeks into pregnancy is a human being. Pelosi finally replied that a woman has "the right" to abort her child. Archbishop ... continue reading


Religious persecution uniting Christians worldwide in 'Ecumenism of blood,' Pope Francis says Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs, the martyrs of today," Pope Francis said as he was speaking to members of a number of Christian Churches. Gathered in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls this past weekend, ... continue reading


Andrew M. Greenwell: Jesus is the Heart and the Marvel of the Gospel Watch

Image of Since the incarnation of the Word, the

By Andrew M. Greenwell

If pursued, and pursued rightly (that is, without moral or intellectual prejudice), metaphysics leads us to a threshold, a threshold we might call the limina fidei, the threshold of faith.  Reason takes us to a place where we know God--that He is.  But ... continue reading


Who Are My Mother and Brothers? We are the Family of Jesus Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Through our Baptism, we are invited into the very family of God. When we choose to respond to grace and live in obedience to the will and the Word of God; we enter into an eternal relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We actually become a part of ... continue reading


St Francis DeSales Challenges Us to Live a Life of True Devotion Watch

Image of Today in our Liturgical calendar in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, we remember St Francis DeSales (1567-1610). The Saints are all given as examples to emulate. They are our companions on the journey, men and women like us who responded to God's invitation to become like Jesus. They pray for us because we are joined with them in the eternal communion of love. They also put legs on the Gospel, showing us what holiness looks like.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Hebrews 10:32-39
32 Remember the great challenge of the sufferings ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 37:3-4, 5-6, 23-24, 39-40
3 Put your trust in Yahweh and do right, make your ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 4:26-34
26 He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 30th, 2015 Image

St. Aldegunais
January 30: Virgin and abess, also known as Adelgundis, Aldegonde, or ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter