In 1949, a book titled “The God That Failed” hit the market. It was comprised of six essays, each written respectively by Louis Fischer, André Gide, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Stephen Spender, and Richard Wright. The premise of the book was a critique of communism, and how each author become disillusioned with it, ultimately rejecting it entirely. In 2001, another book entitled “Democracy: The God That Failed” was published. The author, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, argued that modern democracies have essentially failed in their mission to civilize the world, instead bringing the opposite of unparalleled incivility since World War I, resulting in the expansion of public debt, the insolvency of social security systems and rising unemployment. He attributed democracy’s failures to its vulnerability to special interest groups of all types, seeking to manipulate government policy for their own gain. Hoppe argued the monarchy is preferable to democracy, but also offered his own government proposals which he claimed are more ideal. Then, in 2012, a third installment was published: “Liberty, the God That Failed: Policing the Sacred and Constructing the Myths of the Secular State, from Locke to Obama,” written by Attorney Christopher Ferrara Esq., that covered a pantheon of failed gods, such as Liberty, Reason, Secularism, Protestantism, Anti-Catholicism, Democracy, etc. It’s a hefty tomb, but fairly easy to read, and if you’re looking for a worldview that’s 180 degrees opposite of what we were all taught in public schools, this book is for you. My first read of the book was very rewarding. I’m going to have to go back and give it a second read.
Modern man tends to worship ideas more than abstract deities. But then, when we really stop and think about it, the gods of ancient man were just ideas too. The only difference is, the ancients where more honest with the world and themselves. They knew they were worshiping abstract ideas, concepts and forces of nature. So they made idols of these things — personifications with an image they could focus on. This allowed them to be honest with themselves. For example, an ancient man might say to himself: “Lust is the most important thing in my life. I live for it. Therefore lust is my god, and I worship it. So here is a goddess of lust I can focus on. I’ll give her a name, and and idol, where I can burn incense and pray toward her. Then I will be honest with myself and the whole world. I will always know what’s most important to me, and so will everyone else.” Now that’s honesty!
Modern man isn’t so frank. Modern man tends to hide his gods, and pretend he’s not so primitive as to worship them. Rather, he just assumes they are reality and lives accordingly. He gives homage through his actions, his words, his rhetoric, his allegiance, and even his willingness to defend his gods to the death, without ever really acknowledging that they are his gods. In this respect, he is not being very honest with himself, nor anyone else. Yet he is still worshiping gods of his own making. Once in a while, an artist will boldly make an idol of a modern god. Sometimes, if modern man is feeling playful enough, or wants to make a point, he’ll acknowledge that he worships this idol, as was the case during the French Revolution, when an idol to the goddess of reason was fashioned and placed in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1793.
What is the modern pantheon? The modern pantheon of modern gods (ideas to live and die for) consists of: Reason, Liberty, Capitalism, Democracy, Secularism, Statism and Communism. I could write an entire book on all of these modern gods, but alas, somebody else has already done it far better than I could. For the purpose of this essay, I just want to focus on one god in the modern pantheon and that is the god of Secularism.
The word secular used to have very innocuous definition, and it still does within the Catholic Church today. Secular, according to the Catholic understanding of the word, simply means “not under direct Church control.” So, for example, the Secular Order of Franciscans is simply a third order of Franciscans that are not religious brothers or sisters. They’re not part of some abbey and don’t fall under the direct religious oversight of a religious superior (abbot or abbess) or a bishop. Typically, these are laypeople, usually married couples, who live according to the Franciscan rule within their own homes. We see similar secular ranks among other religious orders. It could also mean, in a Catholic sense, things in the world that are not under the direct authority of a bishop. So, for example, a mayor of a small city during Medieval times would be considered “secular,” because his office operates independently of the bishop or Church oversight, even though he might still be answerable to the local bishop for charges of corruption or abuse of power. The word “secular” was (and is) simply a way of saying that things operate independently of direct Church oversight. Families are secular. Businesses are secular. Yes, under Medieval Christianity, even governments were secular, or at least they were supposed to be. Now that doesn’t mean these secular institutions didn’t give some form of allegiance to the Church. In fact, they almost always did, especially in Medieval times. But allegiance is different than oversight. A particular king might declare Catholicism the state religion, and he may himself be a Catholic. That’s called allegiance. But the Church does not directly supervise this king and tell him how to do his job. That’s called secular. This is the traditional Catholic understanding of the word.
Now, the modern, post-Enlightenment understanding of the word is a little different. Under this understanding of the word, “secular” means no connection to religion at all, neither in oversight nor allegiance. A good example of this is the First Amendment to the US Constitution called the “Establishment Clause,” which simply states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This is counterbalanced in the next phrase called the “Free Exercise Clause,” which states: “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The gist here was this. The Founding Fathers of the United States did not want the federal government to have an established religion. Why? Because a number of states already had established religions at that time! The Founders didn’t want the federal government to declare a federal religion, and effectively trump those religions already declared by some of the states. In other words, what the Founders wanted was federal neutrality on the issue of religion, so that it couldn’t force a federal religion on the states, or tell the people of those states they couldn’t exercise their own state religions, or some other religion of their choice. That was, and remains, the only motivation behind the wording of the First Amendment, though admittedly, the understanding (for better or worse) has evolved into something more.
Now, what came out of this, over the next century, was something new, a concept called “Secularism.” The adding of “ism” to the end of the word, indicates that the concept has progressed from a practical application of government neutrality, just to keep the peace, to an ideology that has no limits or boundaries. Gradually, American states dropped their established state religions. Secularism became the idea that religion and government shall have no connection at all, and that not only would governments be neutral on the topic or religion, but they would actively work to remove all traces of religion from government institutions, practices, art and words. Nowhere was this more apparent than in America’s public schools, which forbade prayer and study of religious texts. Then the business world began championing secularism within their corporations and institutions. Religious expression was frowned upon in the workplace, and managers were told to remove any religious symbols, books or expressions from their jobs. All of this, collectively, led to a form of functional atheism in Western Culture, particularly in the United States. While people may be very religious in their personal lives, their careers became effectively non-religious, as did their education and any other dealings they might have with government institutions. Religion was relegated to the area of privacy, tucked away from public life. This is when Secularism effectively became a god — and idol — that failed to produce anything but social decay.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.