Essay / Politics

A Simple Argument Against Secularism

John Mark Reynolds, 2004.

Frequently, internet atheists argue that the American Constitution is a secular document. In one way, they are of course right. From a Christian point of view the Constitution governs the “secular authority.” It is for the City of Man and not the City of God. This is just a traditional Western understanding that the secular and the sacred cannot be one until the return of Christ. The New York Times not with standing, few Western thinkers argue for theocracy for this reason. It is a confusion of roles kept apart (to a greater or lesser extent) in thinkers as diverse as Dante, Calvin, and Hooker.

Secularists of the modern sort mean something stronger. They seem to think the Constitution is a secularist document. It sets up a Republic that leaves religion out on purpose. Of course, secularists have to change word meanings historically to make this argument, but let us grant them for the moment the possibility that the Framers were modern secularists. Since there were almost no atheists at the time, and few if any amongst the Founders, this is a big concession. In fact, modern secularism essentially did not exist in the eighteenth century. Modern secularists show a confusion of Enlightenment thought (two cheers for it!) and deism with post-Darwinian secularism (useless when not wicked). Sometimes they convolute English Enlightenment thought with French thought. One need only look at the religious nature of the Glorious Revolution and the irreligious French Revolution to know the difference.

If we apply normal textual rules we need not waste much time. We need merely to read the final article.

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord (emphasis added) one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names.

Jesus Christ is mentioned in the Constitution. Of course, a secularist will say this was just a “polite phrase” of the time which meant nothing to the signers. I would dispute that for most of them but let that ride. The ability of the Framers to write about “our Lord” thoughtlessly is the most revealing fact of all, if true. It means they were so deeply immersed in Christian culture, that even when they rejected parts of Orthodox Christian teaching (as Jefferson and some of his disciples did), they could still sign documents this way.

If you doubt this phrase means anything let us try an experiment: I would advise all government-school teachers to begin to describe each New Year as “the year of our Lord.” How can such a description be unconstitutional since it is in the Constitution? Somehow, I cannot see secularists being sanguine about this experiment. The phrase is not so meaningless to them! Secular government is for the secular sphere. Our Constitution was written by people with an essentially Christian worldview for a public that was overwhelmingly Christian with an understanding that need not (and should not) paste Bible verses over every topic. That is not real integration of Scripture with life, but wresting Scripture for something else. Other non-Christian groups, in the glory of Western Christianity, were tolerated and eventually allowed to be full members of the secular polity. The massive burden of proof is on anyone who says differently. This simply was not secularism. American is, and always has been, one of the most religious nations, one of the most Christian nations (by numbers of active believers) on Earth.

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