THE NEW CIVIC RELIGION
A Christian Study Guide to Humanism
By Patrick Sookhdeo
Isaac Publishing, McLean, VA
pp 192 $17.99
Reviewed by David W. Virtue DD
July 29, 2016
Richard John Neuhaus first coined the expression and wrote a book titled, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. In it he demonstrated the artificial divorce of religion from American public life and how it imperiled American democracy, not to mention millions of American believers.
Underlying the many crises in American life, wrote Neuhaus, is a crisis of faith. It is not enough that more people should believe or that those who believe should believe more strongly. Rather, the faith of persons and communities must be more compellingly related to the public arena. "The naked public square"--which results from the exclusion of popular values from the public forum--will almost certainly result in the death of democracy.
The great challenge, says Neuhaus, is the reconstruction of a public philosophy that can undergird American life and America's ambiguous place in the world. To be truly democratic and to endure, such a public philosophy must be grounded in values that are based on Judeo-Christian religion. The remedy begins with recognizing that democratic theory and practice, which have in the past often been indifferent or hostile to religion, must now be legitimated in terms compatible with biblical faith. His book was written in 1984, 32 years ago.
This new book by the Christian scholar, Dr. Sookhdeo, on the state of the West (he is a world authority on the Islamic persecution of Christians) brings the story up to date. He writes that Western societies have been undergoing a transformation, replacing Christianity with humanism as the foundation for society. It is changing our legal system and education. Its moral principles, or lack of them, are being imposed by legislation. It likes to sound tolerant, but it tolerates everything except Christianity. Christians are being pushed to the margins over sexuality, the real nature and meaning of freedom with humanism penetrating the Church and eroding its witness.
From societies founded on Biblical principles and resting on a Christian Foundation, they are changing to societies resting on humanism and a civic religion with its own theology, ideology and morality. This has resulted in the gradual erosion not just of faith but also of a Christian moral basis.
Sookhdeo argues that following two world wars and the gross inhumanity against Jews in the Holocaust, questions were raised about the validity of societies based on Christian principles. New ideas began to be explored about Christianity, other religions and the wider world. The writer argues that what has emerged today is humanism -- a form of civic religion which has its own moral and ethical values with no belief in the supernatural.
Sookhdeo further argues that a liberal Church, influenced by a humanist culture and ideology, has allowed the Christian moral framework, which had shaped Western societies for centuries, to be watered down.
The writer says that US President Barack Obama is partly responsible for this trend by his statement (paraphrased) that [America] is not a Christian, Jewish or Muslim nation, "but a nation of citizens bound by ideals and a set of values."
Sookhdeo argues that such a civic moral system is being promoted by the Church at the expense of Christian core beliefs. "America's civil religion established at its Founding (1776) was made up of a variety of religious groups, all of which wished for freedom of religion. However, the American Founding can only be understood in terms of the Christian context in which it took place."
He cites President John Adams (1813), who asked and answered that those principles were the general principles of Christianity in which all sects were united and for which America understood itself to be in these terms well into the Twentieth Century especially in its struggles against two forms of totalitarianism -- Nazism and communism.
Sookhdeo says that American civil religion has now changed. As moral and cultural relativism (or subjectivism) became accepted, so confidence was lost in the objective truth of the "eternal and immutable" principles of Christianity. American civil religion has now been transformed into a weapon against the very truths that made it possible. The state is now being used to enforce the doctrine of humanism. C.S. Lewis had warned in 1943 that such moral subjectivism "must be the destruction of the society which accepts it."
The collapse of Christian morality in society has been partly the result of deliberate, orchestrated and intentional humanist efforts, subtle yet aggressively effective. Humanism believes that there is no God, and so it is up to humans to save themselves by creating their own morals and way of living. Unlike Christianity, humanism teaches that humans are by nature good. Humanisms does not say anything about a fallen nature that needs to be redeemed. Humanism also holds that moral standards that right for some people in some situations may be wrong for other people in other situations. This is called "situational ethics". There is no God to guide or command, so there are no absolute rights and wrongs. People can and should choose how they live and cannot be blamed for what they do. There is no such thing as sin in humanism (except the "sin" of believing in God). Humanists believe that everything can be explained by science and rational thought.
The book lays out the humanist agenda for the West, discerns future developments and offers a way forward for Christians. Several chapters provide resources for readers who want to study the subject in more depth and offer practical resources for how Christians can respond to the challenge of humanism and the new civic religion.
Dr. Sookhdeo takes a prophetic stance, calling on Christians everywhere to see the problem and properly repent. The prophets of old were not heard, ultimately despised and finally killed. Let's hope that is not the fate of Dr. Sookhdeo, and that he is not just another voice crying in the wilderness of a rapidly dying culture devoid of true faith.
I urge thoughtful Christians to buy this book. It can be useful for both private reading and in small groups.
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