Ashby D. Boyle II is Meridian’s Supreme Court correspondent.
President Ezra Taft Benson’s insights on the cultural threat of secularism were prophetic in their day, though they were mocked at the time by pundits and professors.
I was just barely old enough to recall how President Benson in the 1960’s used the General Conference pulpit supposedly to promote partisan causes.
One book he recommended was None Dare Call It Conspiracy, a book out of fashion, mocked and reviled by J.D. Williams, a University of Utah professor. I have a clear and distinct memory of how then-Elder Benson was widely mocked by some BYU political science intellectuals. Giggling, my seminary teacher told me, was the form this mockery took.
I bought the book anyway.
What a difference three decades can make when we reassess ideas in the light of further education, family life, and experience.
I now read None Dare Call It Conspiracy much more thoughtfully. My education from Princeton and Yale have forced a re-evaluation, leaving me genuinely grateful for President Benson’s moral courage. I am trying these days to start refining an outline for a book researched during a sabbatical on the relationships between law and the theology of culture. Boxes of notes scribbled of old are being shuffled into the deck of notes scribbled only this past year.
From old boxes, I came across None Dare Call It Conspiracy. So I have re-read the book. The result is a 180-degree revision in my appraisal of it.
My revision is a function of having had the luxury this past year to return to Yale, including telecommuting from home. So it has happened that recent work on what is termed the theology of culture has given me an unexpected lesson in appreciating Ezra Taft Benson.
At this point I need to back up briefly to help set the stage. Charles Taylor, a Canadian Roman Catholic Professor at McGill –and others such as John Milbank — have changed how many academics perceive Secularity.
Secularity, in brief used to be just secularism, a product of a social process of secularization. In its most innocent days, secularism produced religious liberty in Constitutional America through the Religion Clauses. Rather than preferring one religion as an established federally-favored religion — a theocracy — all religions were favored. As I noted last September 17th, the U.S. Supreme Court has gone off into broad paths and lost sight of the Framers’ text on this matter.
Secularity has been proclaimed the North Star now, to orient the Court as the Justices (not all of them) to erase and rewrite the text of the Religion Clauses.
Secularity has changed from a call for tolerance in drafting the Bill of Rights into what it is today, a state-established intolerant pseudo-religion. It is also a force of our culture, forming our characters by its force inside the home.
A recent book’s title summarizes things nicely: Secularity and the Gospel, Being Missionaries to our Children.
We’ve already today begun to take for granted that the Cold War is over. It was “historically inevitable” that Communism would end up in the dust bin of history.
Elder Benson took a stand, it turned out, on the same points of attack on America that established Secularity represents today. Without each detail being either persuasive or necessary, clearly what was at stake was our need to protect carefully our families and religion. Where Communists failed in their attacks on the family unit and on religion, Secularity has succeeded in worming its way into the family unit and religion.
This continues today. And today it is not much of a fair fight. The refs sitting as Justices are enormously powerful people who can’t be meaningfully challenged. One definition of Secularity is exemplified in the Court’s evolution as an Imperial Judiciary. Secularists have also made much more significant inroads promoting the social decay of family and faith, it seems clear, than Communism ever did or ever could. This is because Nihilistic Humanism — that’s Secularity — has put its efforts less into theory than into changing what Charles Taylor terms our nation’s “Social Imaginary.”
Taylor describes this as an imaginary to refer to “the way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings,” which is “not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in images, stories and legends.” It is not a legal analysis of secularity, nor a philosophical one. The area of inquiry involved is known as the theology of culture, involving a theological inquiry.
What I learned at Yale is the continued relevance of Elder Benson’s concerns. Had we fought to defend family and faith at the first hue and cry, when President Benson stood apart from the crowd of national religious leaders, we would not have given up so much cultural ground. Religion and that place where character, especially religious character, take shape are in the family.
Today it is inside our homes we are most directly impacted by our culture of Secularity.
I have no doubt President Benson forty years ago, in his shrewd and dependable way, spoke to too many of us “without ears to hear.” I, for one, would like to repent.
For once, we have the Ivy brain power to protect faith and family in our culture, and to try to retake 40 years of lost ground. That is a good thing, I don’t doubt.
But the lesson to be learned here, yet again, is that the Mantle is far, far greater than the Intellect.
(C) 2011. Ashby D Boyle II