BY FATHER ALFONSO AGUILAR, LC
National Catholic Register,
January 4-10, 2008 Issue | Originally posted 12/19/08 at 1:26
In 1991, James D. Hunter published Culture Wars: The Struggle
to Define America. In his book, Hunter claimed that abortion,
women’s rights, gay rights, court packing and other moral controversies
were not isolated from one another, but were, in fact,
part of a fabric of conflict over the meaning of
America. The contemporary culture war is fought along new and
unfamiliar lines — it cuts across established moral and religious
Seventeen years later, we may say that the cultural war
between religious liberty and secularism has grown in intensity, and
the former has yielded some ground to the latter.
we win this cultural war?
No magic formula or secret nuclear
weapon is available to any of the opponents. I believe
that, with God’s aid, secularism can be defeated by the
power of reason and the use of some strategies. Let
me point out some of the arguments and initiatives we
Once we clearly understand the distinction between
secularity and secularism, as it has been explained in the
first three installments, we may put forward in the public
square both anti-secularism and pro-secularity arguments.
In order to prove a
point, you use indirect and direct arguments. Indirect arguments seek
to show the contradictoriness of the opposite thesis. Direct reasons
prove one’s own thesis.
For example, the thesis “God exists”
can be argued in two different ways: indirectly, by showing
that the thesis “God does not exist” is illogical and
false; and directly, by providing positive reasons to conclude that
Let us start by sketching the indirect arguments to
prove that the secularist project is absurd and self-contradictory.
rooted in rationalism — the belief that human reason is
the only source of knowledge. Naturally, rationalism does not leave
any room to supernatural faith — the knowledge acquired from
God as he revealed himself to mankind.
But mark the
paradox: How can reason rationally verify that reason can know
all things? It can’t. Reason can never prove by itself
that it is the only source of knowledge. Reason can
only believe in it. Rationalism’s starting point is not a
rational reasoning — it is an irrational belief. Reason has
never told the rationalist-secularist that there is no other source
of knowledge outside of itself. Such a thesis has been
believed — but this is the expression of a willed
decision, not of a rational conclusion.
Thus, rationalism and its
political expression — secularism — are self-contradictory. Both are determinations
of the will. None is rational, for none allows reason
to reason about its own self-limitations and the possibility that
other sources of knowledge may exist. They have imposed their
belief on reason and want to impose it on others.
Since rationalism and secularism are closed-minded and cannot dialogue with
people who claim to have a revealed truth, they end
up being antirational and intolerant — just the opposite of
what they claimed to be at the beginning.
as rationalism’s sociopolitical project, is totalitarian. It forces citizens to
believe in the utopia of a godless civilization and cannot
put up with a church or religion that publicly acknowledges
God’s existence as Creator and Ruler.
As Alexis de Tocqueville
put it, “Despotism may govern without faith, but Liberty cannot.”
History proves the point. Secularist projects launched by people like
Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Zedong and Pol Pot, were
ruthlessly despotic and caused the greatest slaughters of all times.
Secularism is, indeed, oligarchic and discriminatory — the “enlightened” elite
of rationalists have the right to rule over the uneducated
herd of religious people, even without democratic procedures. On the
international level, the Western secularist model is being imposed on
other civilizations through political and economic pressures.
By crushing religious
liberty, secularism suffocates the meaning of life that many people
find in faith and stifles the irreplaceable contributions that churches
offer to society in culture, education, charities, health care, arts
Since rationalism and secularism are rooted in a
nonevident belief, one should demand they take the place they
allow to other faiths — confinement to the private sphere
with no right to stand in the public forum.
sort of reasoning, we may add direct arguments in favor
of a healthy dialogue between the state and the churches.
Secularity, indeed, is reasonable: Consistent with reason, it is open
to nonrational but reasonable sources of knowledge and progress. It
works together with churches to foster the integral development of
the human person and harmony in society. In this way,
society becomes the home of all peoples and gets enriched
by the spiritual and temporal contributions of religion.
secularism, secularity can recognize the intrinsic dignity of the human
person and avoid discrimination on account of people’s beliefs. For
this reason, it is capable of establishing an authentic alliance
between peoples and nations — human rights are found in
nature, and not provided by the state.
conclude this series, I can only suggest a few courses
of action we may take to establish a civilization of
justice and love.
First of all, secularism should be unmasked
and be exposed as it is — contradictory, intolerant and
This critique is exclusively addressed to the ideology, not
to persons. Secularists may be well-intentioned when promoting a religion-free
society. They may sincerely believe that religion is evil or
illusionary and that the churches do not have any social
rights. Nonetheless, they unwillingly promote an irrational and despotic creed
whose effects will be devastating for the entire society.
In conversations, e-mails, letters to the editor and articles, we
should explain that secularity is the only possible way to
respect human rights and the only source for authentic justice,
social flourishing and world peace. Islamic confessionalism and fundamentalist secularism
can only lead to tensions and conflicts.
Open to truth, we
must engage effectively in debate with mutual respect, dialogue and
The New Fundamentalists: Beyond Tolerance, by Legionary Father
Daniel Brandenburg [editor’s note: published by Circle Press, affiliated with
the Register], offers a good example of respectful analysis and
positive proposals about the cultural problem we are facing today.
especially the Catholic Church, has to do a better job
of showing how much good it does for society. The
historical contribution of Christianity in all areas of human life
is immeasurable. Read, for instance, Thomas Woods’ book on How
the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.
Thousands of schools, colleges,
charities and hospitals — including more than half of the
hospitals operating in Africa — are run by faith-based institutions.
The Church is blamed for the spread of AIDS due
to her opposition to contraception, but 25% of the world’s
AIDS victims are taken care of in Catholic hospices. The
Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio has played an effective role in
resolving conflict in Mozambique and other African countries.
than not, faith-based groups work without financial help from local
and federal governments.
Thanks to her schools, the Catholic Church
in Spain saves the national state from paying $6.13 million
a year in education. Over half a million poor are
assisted in Spanish Catholic institutions. The Church generates countless people
who heroically give themselves to others, but we do not
hear much from secularist “Father Damians” and “Mother Teresas.”
response to secularizing traditions may offer a lasting lesson.
Nov. 9, 2005, the Catholic League started a boycott against
Wal-Mart, citing discrimination against Christians. The next day, WorldNetDaily.com flagged
this story on its website as the lead news story.
This led to a string of interviews on talk radio
around the nation. By Nov. 11, Wal-Mart folded and the
Catholic League called off its boycott.
We should not be afraid
of publicly displaying our religious convictions and symbols.
can be taken whenever religious liberty is threatened. National public
interest law firms that protect the free expression of religious
traditions, like the Beckett Fund and the Thomas More Law
Center, are commendable.
One can write letters to political leaders, expressing
one’s concern about religious liberty. Believers should also bring their
religious outlook into business, the media, the entertainment industry, politics
and public responsibilities.
The key to the future is the formation
of our children in the faith, in critical thinking and
in a fair knowledge of history.
Witnessing to our religious
beliefs and values is certainly the most effective peaceful weapon
we have at our disposal.
We should not be afraid.
Secularism is a monster fed by powerful organizations, media outlets
and political establishments, but it is a monster with clay
feet. Its weaknesses are too strong. By trying to annihilate
the deepest and indelible longings of the human heart —
eternal life, transcendence, lasting love and meaning — and by
trying to build on sand a dreamy sociopolitical utopia, secularism,
like communism, is doomed to catastrophic failure.
Sooner or later,
the clay feet will melt and the monster will collapse.
Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar teaches philosophy at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum