Did He Just Use the S-Word?

four letter word

But by my count “secular” has seven letters, not four.

Feldman’s identification of these two political constituencies fails, however, to address those Christians who find no home with either values evangelicals or legal secularists. These adherents might be best called Christian secularists. They are Christians who dissent vigorously from the notion that government has any role in promoting faith or its moral teaching. The institution charged with this task is the church, through its teaching and worship, along with the instruction and counsel that comes through Christian families. For Christian secularists, the work of government lacks any overtly religious or spiritual purpose. This is not because Christian secularism has a certain political philosophy that involves government’s religious neutrality. The Christian secularist who could not admit that history is littered with governments, both Christian and pagan, that used religion to promote social order and unity would be foolish. Instead the reason for keeping Christianity out of the hands of the government stems from a particular understanding of the Christian religion and the institutions that bear responsibility for its propagation. Christian secularists disagree vigorously with values evangelicals both about the nature of Christianity and what it means for statecraft.

Where Christian secularists differ from legal secularists is a nicer question. On the matter of religion’s role in public life, both sides would agree that faith is properly a private concern—with some qualifications. If private means the category we reserve for private school, or private social clubs, that is, institutions that are not open to citizens but spring from voluntary associations, then calling Christianity a private affair makes perfect sense. The local congregation, the synod or assembly of a denomination, a parochial school—these are all private institutions, and their separate status from public bodies is an important contribution of the dissolution of Christendom that the American and French revolutions heralded when they disestablished the church. For theological reasons having to do with the role of divine agency in the development of human faith, Christian secularists might not be prepared to go as far as legal secularists in calling belief a matter of private preference. But even here, in the personal dimensions of religion, calling acts of piety personal and private does seem basically sound form a Christian secularists’ perspective. The reason is that the most intimate and sacred acts of religious devotion, those that fulfill the Christian’s duty to love God, take place in either personal (the home) or private (the church) settings.

Beyond these similar perspectives on Christianity, Christian and legal secularists will likely agree or disagree on public policy or legislation or electoral candidates on the basis of political philosophy or gut instincts about public life, not on the basis of belief or non-belief. From a Christian secularist’s perspective, this is precisely how politics should proceed. Citizens and public officials should articulate their ideas about the true, the good and the beautiful, or about the American Experiment, or about the GNP and tax rates, and debate these matters forthrightly…But, as Feldman observes, if anything, the contribution of religion to recent American politics is not to offer unparalleled insights but to make elections, policy debates, and court appointments extremely partisan. Keeping religion out of politics along the lines proposed by Christian secularism may be a welcome relief to the fear-mongering practiced by both sides in the red-versus-blue-state partisanship that dominates so much of contemporary American political discourse.

Hart, A Secular Faith (pgs. 15-16)

This entry was posted in Church and State, Civil religion, DG Hart, Quotes, Reformed piety, Spirituality of the Church, Two-kingdoms. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Did He Just Use the S-Word?

  1. stephy says:

    Paul did, he used the Greek ‘scubula.’

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