Ashby D. Boyle II
Meridian’s Supreme Court Correspondent
We have a royal generation arising in a world that is defective because it is essentially secular.
The defects of Secularity are many, especially as inquiring youthful minds of all religious faiths demand answers to basic questions. Many of their questions relate to the effort, even work, to pattern their conduct traditionally. Here, our home-grown American Secularity has no answers to give.
Specifically we’ve lost the answer –a religious and Constitutional answer– to this question, “Why should I be moral?”
Individuals, a remnant, remain moral out of love for God. But at the social level, our nation is now almost Spiritlessness, or without faith in God. How did we forget the “historical inevitability” (to use Marx’s phrase) of dying alone, our life’s game clock expired, and death’s most profound meaning: judgment by God.
Then B.Y.U. President Elder Dallin Oaks in 1974 and at the request of the Church Commissioner of Education Elder Neal A Maxwell, observed:
“Preservation of the public health, safety, and morals is a traditional concern of legislation. This does not justify laws in furtherance of the special morality of a particular group, but it does justify legislation in support of standards of right and wrong of sufficient general acceptance that they can qualify as “collective morality.” (Dallin N. Oaks, “The Popular Myth of the Victimless Crime” (1974) at p. 10.)
“Why Should I Be Moral?”
In Western Europe, “Why should I be moral?” makes sense only as a legal or a health question. Secularity has won in Western Europe.
Western Europe assumed that secularity had triumphed here in American as well because of the patently immoral conduct of some of our recent American Presidents.
Worse, American secularists hatched the defense that the White House in previous administrations was also patently immoral. President Clinton’s defenders turned on JFK as worse.
By the time multiple Pulitzer-Prize winner Seymour Hirsch authored, The Dark Side of Camelot, in which Hirsch could document much worse White House conduct –through retired Secret Service agent testimony– the moral authority and spiritual power or capital of America was more than just diminished.
We had been prophetically warned, beginning with Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s call as Church Commissioner of Education until today, to watch-out for the Secular. President Oak’s 1974 provided the details why.
In many ways and for nearly a century, Secularity has posed more of a risk to faith than Soviet Communism did. According to recent declassified KGB files, documented in Paul Froese’s book, The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization, though the Communists tried, God could not be killed.
Can God Be Killed Through Being Trivialized in America? A Comparison to the Soviet Secularization Project
Secularity may have proven itself more powerful than Stalin himself in this regard. And without firing a shot.
In 1919, as Communism gained control of what would become the U.S.S.R., Lenin originally had hoped a “Faustian bargain” might be struck with Russian Orthodoxy by offering the clergy job security. The Russian Orthodox patriarch Tikhon took the money and publicly proclaimed church loyalty to the Soviet Communist regime.
Lenin’s hope of showing in this way there was no need for religion proved fantasy. It quickly became clear that the Russian patriarch was acting as a shepherd without any sheep.
Lenin’s plan was a failure and dropped.
By the mid 1920’s, the Kremlin tried another idea, one that was to last for two decades, that is to implement a state-sponsored surrogate anti-religion religion.
Premised on the belief that religion was “scientifically false” while secularity was “scientifically true,” the same assumption currently promulgated here in this country, “Atheist Religion”, was promulgated by Soviet intellectuals through the League of Militant Atheists.
Soon anti-religious schools and meetinghouses were built, where alternative ceremonies to the Church’s ceremonies of baptism, confirmation, marriage and funerals, were instituted. Yet none of these surrogate atheist ceremonies was ever empowered with any meaning, certainly not the clear secular meaning hoped for by the Politburo.
The whole idea is, in retrospect, rather absurd. Religion speaks to the deeply-felt needs all of us have about the hereafter, and our purpose in this life. Even though secular-state missionaries were called and trained in the worldview of “scientific atheism” to take the pseudo-Gospel to the masses, the League of Militant Atheists also failed.
The Secularization indirectly tested one sociological explanation of why any religion exists, that of Emile Durkheim. As Froese points out, to use one of Elder Maxwell’s frequently cited quotes: “there goes a brutal theory about to be murdered by a brutal gang of facts.”
Froese writes that “Durkheim’s assertion that rituals inspire social solidarity” with or without God, was disproven. (I am uncertain Durkheim’s theory was anything more than functionalism, despite Froese’s injection of content in this summary, but that’s a question for another time and place. What is more important is to note Durkheim’s interest in explaining religion away as a social artifact.)
By 1937, with Lenin dead and Stalin in command, through-out the U.S.S.R., a nation-wide census called the “All-Union” Census, revealed that despite the state’s effort to kill God, “real” religion was surviving.
Stalin was furious. So another plan was brought out.
Instead of a substitute religion, Stalin pursued a policy of forcing the population to give up religion–or else. (Similarly, compare the Book of Mormon at III N 1:9: “all those who believed . . . should be put to death [.]”)
The attack on religious figures then became systematic, guided only by Stalin’s iron fist. KGB records have summarized Stalin’s effort: “The violence during the 1930s cannot be overstated against religion.” Any and all efforts of faithful Russians to express as an objective embodiment of thought “ideas of God, the Spirit, the world and a person’s need to live in a cultural context” were singled out for violent suppression.
When Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev took over and developed an other plan.
The extreme violence subsided –perhaps “20 million had been killed, 28 million deported, of whom 18 million had slaved in the Gulags.” Simon Sebag Montefiore, Staling, The Court of the Red Tsar, at p. 643, (Knopt: New York, 2003).
But anti-religious propaganda increased.
By the1970s, the Soviet leadership, led by Brezhnev, is said to itself have become “disillusioned with Russia’s own ideological commitments.” The U.S.S.R. accordingly embarked on détente with the West.
Brezhnev’s policies of Perestroika and Glasnost were carried to their logical conclusion by Gorbachev, who adopted an open policy toward religion. This had the effect of revealing the extent to which the Russian population yearned for a religious alternative to the then fatigued and just plain boring dogmas of Marx and Lenin—not just on religion for which a collective guilt had set in for all the gratuitous slaughter—but on everything else Marx and Lenin so idiotic about.
So, can God be killed? In Russia, no.
But in America, the Grim Reaper is still out.
Cultural Formlessness of Life Style Becomes the Woodstock Generation’s Legacy
Its ancient history now, but for roughly eight years beginning in the 1960’s, our nation’s culture was hijacked by an in-principled politics characterized by the celebration of anti-structure–it took eight years of “doing nothing” to succumb to ennui, and burn itself out. (Details may be found in the Hudson’s Institute’s 2009 book: “Secularity, The Rise of a New National Religion”.)
Eight years was a very long time for our nation to experience what anthropologists such as Victor Turner have phrased as a “liminal period.
” A liminal period is when a society allows itself a “time out”. For example, in today’s culture, the Super Bowl is a “time out”, because basically all America stops its individual routines (but the most vital) to spend time together as the American family. Watching football and Super Bowl advertisements.
This liminal period that is the Super Bowl is qualitatively distinguishable from Woodstock’s eight year run because, as has been astutely observed by the late philosopher of Spain, Julian Marias, the Super Bowl unites Americans by simultaneously joining all strata and segments of our society in doing the same thing at the same time.
If this secular event is the best we can do for national unity, it is unfortunate, but hey, I’ll take it.
Because –no exaggeration here—of my love for my country.
Following on the eviction of God by federal courts from public places, the former national glue had been faith. “Attend the Church of your choice.”
Tribute to a Professor
One of my professors at Princeton, the Russian Orthodox Father Georges Florovsky, in one of his classic books, Aspects of Church History, explains the early Church Fathers, like the Apostles, had a theology in which:
“The ultimate reference was still to faith, to spiritual comprehension. Their [–the early Christian writers—] theology was a witness. Apart from the life in Christ, theology carries no conviction, and if separated from the life of faith, theology may easily degenerate . . . .
“Theology can never be separated from the life of prayer and from the practice of virtue.”
I am quoting just a small part of what might be termed Father Florovsky’s Restoration connection, as his former student (in particular, from p. 17).
So how will the faithful ever rally to make a stand against secularity?
To attempt a quick description, Protestants have turn to qualifying scripture’s meaning by the use of secular historical criticism, damaging the person in the Protestant pews of our nation from conscientiously feeling qualified to read scripture. One day at Yale, Professor Hans Frei explained that was partly the point of his masterpiece, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative.
“Expertized Scripture” means less scriptural reading throughout the population and the decisive manner in which the New Testament speaks of revelation, “by the witness of certain deeds and events which are declared to be of God,” is diminished. The net effect is a displacement of the operation of the Light of Christ upon the minds and consciousness of Americans generally.
Our Secular Age Reaps a Whirlwind
The eight years of subjective arbitrariness or “do-your-own-thing” thinking that took place through the Woodstock Generation was in a large enough segment of our society to, unfortunately, depress our nation’s spirit.
The Spiritlessness of our age results, and now conduct in America seems to have lost its former Judeo-Christian pattern. The hard work needed for character becomes culturally illegitimate.
Thanks to America’s interdenominational remnant of the faithful, identification of the pattern throughout our culture recognized as Secularity, primarily in the work of Charles Taylor and John Milbank (both Catholic philosophers), has been identified as a common enemy to American religion: all of it, and so also, a common enemy to the Judeo-Christian way our culture had patterned out.
At the same time, from JFK’s Camelot to the national anthem rendered by Hendricks at Woodstock to Clinton’s oval office, morality in America does seem to have lost its Judeo-Christian pattern.
Free agency had been the energy for our national will. Today the pattern of a life lived in America is likely to reflect self-absorption and not cooperation, which means our agency, is now a growing form of addictions and obsessions. Television is full of death. But it is all death ripped from its formerly religious context of being alone with God, in the judgment.
A Secular Age, a Spiritless Age, is a culture at sea without a rudder.
Our culture now makes Jewish mothers of us all.
Unshaped desires lead on to random choices. What is at first random over time becomes habitual, too risky given the bad habits which culminate in a life-long ineffectual character. Shall the youth of Christendom falter? It depends partly, I suspect, on contesting secularity.
The Book of Mormon knows exactly where America is spiritually: 3 Nephi 2:1-3, foreseeing our day, states:
“[T]he people began to forget . . . they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve [.]
“Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts . . . .
“[A]nd thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people . . . he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and vain thing.
“[A]nd Satan did go about, leading away the hearts of the people [.]”
Therefore, in our secular age, I tentatively conclude what seems to be needed, as a start:
–that we need to be missionaries to our children and to the youth we are called to shepherd.
–that we need to become an immigrant into their young world, to learn what they know (and don’t).
–that we need to invest some anxiety, to help shape the choices of our elect Latter-day Saint youth become who the Lord has planned they become.