Friday, February 10, 2012


Thinking about growth of secularism, I wrote a bit about the role of abortion yesterday. Really the sexual revolution was huge. But I think racism also played a role. Not that one side or the other was racist but the issue of racism and the way it has been discussed in the culture has made people more secular. It is an inflammatory issue. The topic of race is almost never discussed rationally. People have strong opinions and they don't want to have them questioned. It is one of the few true evils in society. Racists are given no respect and they are offered no forgiveness. Oddly enough even a small incidence of racism is enough to trigger this. You must be pure of all stain of racism.

Despite the fact that race is still such a sore spot with so many people it is still seen as an area where modern man has made some great strides forward. Slavery has been ended. Segregation in many forms is a thing of the past. The thought of excluding a person based on race just seems crazy to us now. So there has been great progress made. How did we make it? What was the process by which we arrived at the consensus that discriminating based on race is wrong? In particular, what role did religion play?

On the positive side the role of religion was more behind the scenes. Many of the major players were Christians and their opposition to racism flowed from  their Christian world and life view. But there was no explicit doctrine that this idea was connected with. In fact, there were a lot of intellectuals involved who were not very religious at all. Some black leaders were Muslim. In Africa and India you had a wide variety of religions on side. So it is very hard to draw a clear line between one religion and the emerging consensus that racial discrimination is a morally wrong.

On the negative side you can see religion much more clearly. The white southerners who defended racism were all religious. Many used religious arguments. They found scriptures to back up their point of view like protestants tend to do. I grew up in a Dutch Reformed church. I remember being embarrassed by our sister churches in South Africa. Those churches were some of the most racist institutions in that society and they remained so for a very long time.

So the net effect of religion in the area of racism seemed quite negative. It seemed like man reasoned his way to moral progress rather than praying his way to moral progress. The underpinnings of that reasoning were often Christian but it was man that was largely credited with making the steps forward. Religious people were seen as in the way. They were obstacles to progress. Even when that progress was moral in nature.

So if you talk with a secularist today it won't take long before they compare gay marriage or abortion to racism. The implication is clear. Christian thinking is not infallible. You got the racism question wrong and eventually admitted that liberal intellectuals were right. That pattern is likely to happen with other moral questions as well.

Again the Catholics have a good answer and the protestants don't. Catholics believe in a very precisely defined doctrine of infallibility. So it is very easy to see that racism is old but it isn't magisterial. That is, it does not have the authority of popes, ecumenical councils and saints behind it. So we can label that as sinful because sin is old too. But our teachings on abortion, gay marriage, contraception, divorce, etc. are magisterial. That means Christians have not just believed them but God has led His church to teach them with her full authority. Christians can err. God cannot.

Protestants just don't believe in this distinction. Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura. The trouble is he cannot really say Sola Scriptura could not lead him into error. So how can he say his biblical source of truth is more reliable than secular sources? Even if the secularist accepts that the bible is trustworthy when interpreted right the protestant has to admit it is often not interpreted right. So why should we not believe those that say religious people are standing in the way of progress again?

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