Symposium examines threat of ‘radical secularism’

November 29, 2012 at 2:05 PM


"Radical secularization does not claim to be eliminating any religion, and indeed on its own terms it is not. What it is doing is radically privatizing and relativizing faith, rendering it irrelevant to the public culture and social order," said Thomas Rourke, professor of political science at Clarion University, Nov. 28 during a public forum at DeSales University, Center Valley.

Rourke, author of "The Social and Political Thought of Benedict XVI," was the main speaker at the forum, "Symposium on Faith and Society."



Andrew Essig, professor of political science at DeSales, was the moderator of the discussion focusing on radical secularism and Pope Benedict XVI's understanding of faith and reason.

Rourke opened the forum by pointing to the recent attempt of the authors of the European Constitution to strike any reference to Christianity among the sources of European culture.

"This is a breathtaking reversal of a position, which not long ago would have been considered a most commonplace assertion, namely, that the faith was the culture core of Europe, that indeed it was the faith that united the disparate cultures of religion into a genuinely common culture that made the term 'Europe' meaningful," he said.

According to Rourke, Pope Benedict does not perceive the action rooted in a spirit of religious toleration and proposed another reason as the driving force behind the measure.

"There is something far more disquieting at work, and that is the movement to what he famously referred to as a 'dictatorship of relativism,' or the absolutization of a way of thinking and living that is radically opposed to all of the historical cultures of humanity, the expression of consciousness that would like to see God eradicated once and for all from the public life of humanity," he said.

"Pope Benedict sees something new on the cultural horizon, a process more advanced in Europe than in the United States, but one we can recently see advancing here in the United States, and that is the elimination of God from public life, making God irrelevant in culture, legal and political life," said Rourke.

While the right to practice religion in one's own home or church is preserved, Rourke said it does not equate to calling a secularist regime tolerant.

"There is a Machiavellian source of political genius in this, as the new regime can hide behind the shibboleth of freedom and tolerance, even as it forcibly removes all traces of the historical culture from public life," he said.

Therefore, Rourke maintained, a dictatorship of relativism is succeeding, even among historic Christian denominations.

"This is evident in the substantial numbers of the members of traditional churches who accept the government's mandate that employees of Catholic and other religious institutions must pay for practices contrary to the beliefs of all of historic Christianity, in the name of a commitment to belief that only state-sponsored secularism merits any public respect," he said.

One of consequences surfacing from secularization is the diminishing role of reason that goes hand in hand with faith and preserves moral order, said Rourke.

"Pope Benedict notes that without orientation to the truth, reason loses its character as reason and reduces itself to a program of justifying just about anything," he said.

Pointing to the Affordable Care Act, Rourke asked the audience to consider some of the assumptions behind the health care legislation.

"The plan assumes that putting young, unmarried women on the pill is part of a plan to better their health, despite the health risks of taking the pill, and the well-known advantages for health at all levels of the life of sexual restraint," he said.

"In our society today there is no constitutional guarantee of a right to life through the first nine months of life, but there is a right to free contraception, sterilization and abortifacients drugs financed by a coerced public," said Rourke.

Without a guarantee to life in a human's first nine months of existence, he said, reason has become a casualty.

"Benedict reminds us as we struggle to correct the fundamental errors we have fallen into, we need a comprehensive vision," said Rourke.

"The secular way of life does not produce happiness. If we can create an alternative where people can look to – like a vibrant community of Christian faith – people will be able to see the truth," said Rourke.

The symposium was part of the Year of Faith, and was co-sponsored by the Salesian Center for Faith and Culture at DeSales and the Diocese of Allentown.

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