Why it is objectionable to promote “secular values”

My conservative Swedish correspondent was very unhappy with my attack on the secularist anti-Islamist manifesto last week. I’ve already posted his initial critique and my reply. He then wrote a 2,000 word follow-up. When I told him that that was too long, he sent me a more concise e-mail, to which I have replied. I thank my Swedish friend for challenging me in a way that has helped me better articulate my own position.

Mr. Particular Swede to LA:

Just as you, I’m deeply troubled by this dangerous gulf that is so quickly created between Christian Westerners and Secular Westerners here. But right now I think you are adding to the injury by the way you are expressing yourself.

You wrote:

“The manifesto says: ‘We … call for … the promotion of … secular values for all.’ As I read it, that is a call for the creation of a Europe stripped of Christianity.”

The way you describe it here is as if Christian and secular values were as oil and water. A friend of mine asked, “Doesn’t this imply that Auster thinks that secular values are completely incompatible with Christianity?” And I had no good answer to that question, except that I do not think you really meant what you wrote here….

I see a vast difference between promoting secular values and promoting secularism. While secularism is clearly an attack on Christianity, certain secular values are an integral part of Christianity itself. The appropriate answer to secularist attacks is not by turning to some form of inverted secularism (which could be called Christianism), but by proper Christianity. And I do not think the manifesto of the twelve was even a secularist attack on Christianity.

The manifesto of the twelve starts with:

“We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.”

The way I read the Bible and early Christian history, Christianity— as explained by Jesus and Paul—was in many ways a resistance to religious totalitarianism (of comtemporary Judaism), and a promotion of freedom and secularization in many respects.

Secular means wordly, and there are many important secular ideas in Christianity which means a secularization of the Judaism of the time. Already by Jesus Christ himself, God is made more wordly than in other religions. Luke 17:20-21 expresses the idea of the Kingdom of God being in our midst. And the most well-known is Mark 12:17 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The idea of secularization of political power.

Such secular values are not contrary to religion, when the religion is Christianity. Reversely, these secular values strengthen Christianity. It’s thanks to this, that it was the Christian civilization that gave birth to Capitalism. Christianity is a religion of checks and balances, and let’s keep it that way. So while I fully agree with you that it’s mainly the spiritual values that need to be restored, we should not jump at any promotion of secular values.

But with the current quarrel about the manifesto of the twelve, I see before me how it takes the Westerners less than 24 hours to gravitate each into their respective “isms,” with both sides feeling that they are under attack from the other side, and both motivating their behaviour as purely defensive, while continuingly denouncing each other and drifting further toward the extreme poles.

I’m stuck in the middle. And I do not know what to do. I’m opposing secularism, but I do not consider it wise to jump on the manifesto for promoting secular values. Quite as my opposition to democratism, doesn’t make me jump on its adherence to democracy.

Mr. Particular Swede

LA to Mr. Particular Swede:

I’ll agree with you on this much. When Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” he was providing for the authority of a secular sphere as distinct from the authority of the religious sphere. And this was one of the most important things he ever said.

However, this secular sphere does not exclude God. It merely operates independently of direct religious authority.

But when modern people promote “secular values” per se, they are specifically promoting things in the light of their not being religious and of having nothing to do with God or any transcendent reality.

To illustrate the difference between doing secular things and promoting secular values as secular values, when the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 drafted the U.S. Constitution, they were creating an instrument of secular government. But they didn’t say, “We’re promoting secular values.” They said, “We’re creating an instrument of government.”

When Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, he didn’t say, “I’m promoting secular values,” he said, “I’m inventing dynamite.”

To do a secular thing, like creating an instrument of government or inventing dynamite, does not exclude God. But to promote the spread of secular values as secular values is to attempt to create a world order that excludes God and any transcendent truth. Which of course is what the entire modernist and post-modernist project is about.

Why would the manifesto signers promote “secular values for all,” unless they specifically were seeking to exclude God and religion as such? To advance their ostensible purpose, the protection of liberty from Islamic tyranny, all they had to say was that they were in favor of individual freedom, tolerance, rule of law, etc. By pushing the notion of “secular values” into the center of their statement they make it clear that they are asking for more than individual freedom, tolerance, rule of law etc. They are seeking the creation of a social order that excludes God.

Do you deny that this is what the likes of Salman Rushdie seek?

Mr. Particular Swede then told me he had changed his mind about the manifesto, on the basis of the information he posted under the name “Loranga” showing that one of the signers of the manifesto is in fact a Communist.

Mr. Particular Swede then wrote this, indicating he understands my objection to “promoting secular values”:

And regarding the word secular. It seems to me now that it has travelled the same way as the word liberal, and is therefore often used in left-wing sneak attacks, where they use it to promote a left-wing agenda. The crux is that both terms are of the kind that if you oppose them, you will look like a bigot.

It doesn’t hinder that both liberal and secular are words, that can be used sensibly by people who are secular liberals in an honest way.

The sentence “Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present” appears in a new light when communist leader Maryam Namazie illuminates us that it should be read as “a reactionary right-wing movement.”

The sentence, “It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats,” appears in a new light after Maryam Namazie has enlightened us that there are two poles of terrorism: Islamism and U.S. state terrorism. And it makes me wonder if “theocracy” is meant to be the explaining factor behind the “U.S. state terrorism”?

Note that Wafa Sultan does also use the formulation “this is not a clash of civilizations,” but she means something all different by that. This quote stems from Atatürk, as far as I know, and refers to the idea that Islam is not even worthy of being called a civilization. Pia Kjærsgaard uses the same expression in the same way.

And Wafa Sultan uses secular only as a way to describe herself, and not as a way to describe her cause:

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: Are you a heretic?

Wafa Sultan: You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural…

And the symbiosis of the secular and the Christian of the West is expressed most eloquently by her when she calls us the “people of many books.”

Ibn Warraq was “my guy” among the signatories. And I think he might already be regretting it. I also trust Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and I think she’s painted most unfairly in your blog, e.g. when she’s called anti-Christian. I would say that she’s clearly more naive than Wafa Sultan, Ali Sina and Ibn Warraq, but she’s true to the cause, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. But she has been used as a pawn by the leftists in this manifesto, and so has Ibn Warraq. As usually the right-wing haven’t even started eating breakfast when the leftists are already fully mobilized. The manifesto is very well written, and it pushed several of my buttons, as I mentioned in my first email. It gave relief for all of us who are sick and tired of political correctness, multiculturalism and “Islamophobia” newspeak (including from the Bush people). But they managed to sneak in something more. It’s an apple with worms in it.

Before writing my above reply to Mr. Particular Swede, I had written the below reply. I don’t think it gets to the core of the “promotion of secular values” problem the way the later reply does, but it’s still worth posting.

LA to Mr. Particular Swede:

I understand your distinction between secular and secularism. But I still have a problem with the manifesto’s “promotion of secular values for all.”

Prior to the last decade and a half in the U.S., and earlier in Europe, mainstream Western society never described itself as “secular” per se, except in the medieval context of the secular and spiritual powers. So calling our society “secular” per se is very new.

Further, what possible relevance does “secular values” have to defending Europe from Islam? When the Poles defeated the Turks at Vienna in 1683, did they need to rally in the name of “secular values”? I’ve been writing about the Islam threat for years. Did I ever once have to couch this as a defense of “secular values”? If you want to oppose Islam, you oppose Islam. Islam is an attack on everything we are, our customs, our laws, our liberty, everything. Why bring “secular values” into this discussion unless you’re pushing something in addition to the defense against Islam?

It would be as if, in order to rally Europe agains Islam, I began promoting “the equality of the whole human race.” If I did that, I would be promoting leftism, not defending the West against an enemy.

The point is, leftists can never embrace any position, unless they can relate it to a larger leftist purpose.

I first realized this in 1979, when I was involved in preparations for a big demonstration against a nuclear power plant in Shoreham, Long Island. I went to a planning meeting for this demonstration. There wre many people at the meeting from various leftist organizations. They were talking about how the protest could be used to advance black rights, or feminism, or Indian rights, or whatever. They were all pushing their own agendas. I said, “What do these things have to do with nuclear power? I’m here because I’m against Shoreham, not because of these other things.” The whole situation felt wrong.

But that’s the way leftists are. They are incapable of simply defending society from an objective danger. In order to relate to any particular problem facing society and take action against it, they must connect it, not to the defense of the good of the society per se, but to some leftist cause. This is because they don’t believe in the society, they believe in leftism. To defend the society from third-world enemy, would be to take the side of the society they oppose. So they take the side of “promoting secular values for all,” or “advancing tolerance, diversity, and universal equality,” or “opposing religious totalitarianism.” That allows them to be comfortable in taking what they would otherwise see as a right-wing, bigoted, reactionary defense of the existing society against a third-world people.

This is why we can, cautiously, welcome leftists who want to ally with us against a common enemy; but we must never embrace or legitimize the leftists’ reasons for allying with us (such as the reasons in the recent anti-Islamist manifesto), because their reasons will always be leftist.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 06, 2006 11:42 AM | Send

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