The prime objective of secularists in modern times has been to “free” us all from the influence (the burden, they’d say) of Christianity. Just how they have gone about destroying that influence on the course of human affairs is ably described in Dr. Benjamin Wiker’s new book Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became our State Religion
Wiker, who has taught at Franciscan University and Thomas Aquinas College, holds that the raison d’être of secular philosophers’ has been to reduce Christianity’s hold on Western culture, and either to subordinate the Church to the state or to establish a rival civic religion that would make the Church irrelevant – or impotent.
In Wiker’s telling, it was Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) who “invented the absolute separation of church and state that is the hallmark of liberalism.” His hope was to deny the Church any moral power and to subordinate it to the secular sovereign.
Machiavelli insisted that for a prince to survive he must “learn to be able not to be good,” hence he must be free from the moral restraints the Church imposes, even on a head of state.
Machiavelli does argue, however, that the ruthless prince should appear pious and if necessary use the Church to control the unenlightened masses.
Twenty-three years after his death, Machiavelli’s notions on the relationship of state and Church were utilized at the Peace of Augsburg (1555). The European monarchs agreed to a compromise known cuius regio, eius religio, “whose realm, his religion.” Each state was to determine its own established Church.
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), author of Leviathan, built on Machiavelli’s political philosophy to undermine the “seditious” influence of religion. Hobbes, Wiker points out, “concluded that the political problem was the existence of any notion of religion independent of the political power. . . . Christianity itself had to be reformed in a Machiavellian way so that it would support the state rather than continually challenging it.”
Hobbes, the first proponent of the totalitarian state, dismissed the Church’s doctrine of sin insisting: “there was no sin and no right and wrong until the sovereign declares them to be so.” Natural rights do not come from God, but from the state. If there is to be a Church, it will be state controlled.
Dr. Wiker persuasively arguers that modern liberals adopted Hobbes’ notion of “moral relativism, and of an entirely secular materialistic foundation for politics.” The difference? Instead of the sovereign king determining what is right or wrong, the sovereign individual would define his own values.
The next philosopher to advance the case for the secular state was Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677). The leaders of his Jewish faith excommunicated Spinoza, primarily because he was a pantheist who “makes a god of this world and thus completely undermines the entire Judeo-Christian understanding of reality that flows from the creator – creature distinction in Genesis.”
In Spinoza’s view, the secular state is the “greatest manifestation of the divine.” A state-sponsored church would be available merely to promote the agenda of the state to the “plebs,” the dumb common people.
Such a church would be dogma-free and its core belief would be reduced to “love of neighbor,” in other words being nice. By love, Wiker writes, “Spinoza meant minding one’s own business, not bothering others but just getting along – in a word, tolerance. . . .Spinoza enshrines doctrinal tolerance as the supreme virtue in the established secular liberal church.”
While Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza encouraged the sovereign to use the Church to achieve secular goals, it was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who held “that Christianity is wholly incompatible with the new secular order and . . . must be superseded, replaced by an entirely new religion completely defined by the secular political project.”
For Rousseau, there is no “Body of Christ” only a “Body Politic.” He called for a pagan civil religion that requires the complete devotion of its citizenry.
The basis of his radical egalitarian religion is tolerance. Sexuality is liberated from Church restraints; marriage is not sanctioned by God but is defined by the state in a civil contract. According to Rousseau, “whoever dares to say there is no salvation outside the Church should be chased out of the State, unless the State is the Church, and the prince is the pontiff.”
Wiker concludes that these four philosophers laid the groundwork for the liberal secular revolution in the United States. Their joint influence has reduced morality to hedonism, bodily pleasures. Rights have been redefined as desires. Evil is the result of a bad environment, not inherently wrong choices.
Wiker rightly asserts that in the United States, “secular liberalism has definite moral beliefs, quite different from Christian morality, which liberals are trying to impose by governmental force: contraception, abortion, infanticide, sexual libertinism, easy divorce, the continual redefinition of marriage, euthanasia, and so on.”
The Obama Administration’s move to force the Church to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortion is just the most recent example of the state attempting to impose its views in the name of “tolerance.”
Dr. Wiker proves that ideas do indeed have consequences. In the secular state, freedom no longer means choosing what is right or just; it now means doing whatever one feels like doing. The act of choosing is all that matters. Choosing in itself becomes the ultimate value. Without absolute truths to measure actions, willingness becomes willfulness. What is an irrational action in Judeao-Christian teaching has now been elevated to a necessary principle.
Originally published by The Catholic Thing on May 1st, 2013. Reprinted with permission.