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The Rise of Secular Idolatry

The American League defeated the National League in last night’s MLB All-Star Game, the eighth straight win for the AL. Pope Francis was seen leaving the hospital this morning, ten days after undergoing colon surgery. And Democrats unveiled late Tuesday night a $3.5 trillion spending plan for policies that would not be included in a possible bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Normally, I’d write on each or all of these stories. I don’t often discuss Texas politics, since this article is intended for readers around the world. But it’s not often that Texas politics make news around the world.

The New York Times headlines, “Texas Democrats Flee State to Highlight GOP Voting Restrictions.” Every other American news outlet I checked is reporting on the story as well. Even the BBC and the UK’s Guardian are responding to the controversy.

At issue is legislation that affects the way Texans will be able to vote in upcoming elections. To keep Republicans from passing this legislation, Democratic lawmakers left Texas for Washington, DC, denying Republicans the necessary quorum.

These Democrats say they are “advocating for the rights of Texans for their right to vote.” Republicans counter that the legislation is simply designed to prevent voter fraud and note that the Democrats’ walkout puts at risk other legislation such as pension checks for retired teachers and the paychecks of legislative staff.

"Ideological intensity and fragmentation have risen"

Here’s my guess: you probably side with the side you already sided with before the controversy began. If you sympathize with Democrats, you likely see them as fighting for their constituents. If you sympathize with Republicans, you likely see them as abandoning their jobs and thus their constituents.

Here’s another guess: like most Americans, you probably feel stronger about your partisan views than you did even a few years ago. Here’s one reason political passions in America have become much more intense: our religious passions have become much less so. Consequently, the former are replacing the latter.

The Atlantic recently reported: “As Christianity’s hold, in particular, has weakened, ideological intensity and fragmentation have risen. American faith, it turns out, is as fervent as ever: it’s just that what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief” (their italics).

Historian Niall Ferguson agrees: “We are dealing not just with the decay of traditional religion, but far worse, the rise of new fake religions, political religions.” (I disagree that the “rise of new fake religions” is “far worse” than the “decay of traditional religion,” but I understand his point.)

He continues: “One thing that’s very clear from the twentieth century is that when people take their religious feelings and they apply them to political ideologies, terrible things can happen.” He references as examples the Nazis who thought of Hitler as the redeemer of the German nation and those today who treat scientists as if they are infallible.

Another French Revolution?

On this day in 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille. The ensuing French Revolution tried to excise all vestiges of religion from French society. In October 1793, all public worship was forbidden, church bells were pulled down and melted, and crosses and relics were seized and sometimes destroyed. In their place rose the Cult of Reason which recognized no god but worshipped the goddess of reason in former churches now known as “temples of reason.”

Are we witnessing a similar movement today?

In an important article I hope you’ll read, cultural commentator Andrew Sullivan warns of the rise of what Wesley Yang calls “the successor ideology.” Sullivan notes that this ideology argues, for example, that “the only and exclusive reason for racial inequality is ‘white supremacy.’

Culture, economics, poverty, criminality, family structure: all are irrelevant, unless seen as mere emanations of white control” (his italics).

But Critical Race Theory is just one dimension of this movement. In a larger sense, “this ideology wishes, first and foremost, to repeal and succeed a liberal society and democracy” (his italics). Sullivan continues: “In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence—and you are either fighting this and ‘on the right side of history,’ or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate.”

This is a “successor” ideology in that it intends to succeed what came before, including religious worldviews in general and Christianity in particular. Its advocates view biblical morality as oppressive, discriminatory, and dangerous. In their view, beliefs and institutions that do not align with their ideology must be replaced and removed. The so-called Equality Act is just one example and symptom of this rising tide of secularism.

Its advocates, ironically, embrace its tenets with a zeal akin to religious fervor. As Ferguson warned, we are witnessing the rise of a secular religion.

"Cisterns that can hold no water"

In Jeremiah 2, the Lord grieves, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (v. 13).

What happens to those who reject the one true God for false gods of their own making?

The Lord asks, “What do you gain by going to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile? Or what do you gain by going to Assyria to drink the waters of the Euphrates?” (v. 18). Then he answers his question: “Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God” (v. 19).

We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. For today, all of us who are children of God should join our Father in grieving the secular idolatry that is consuming our culture. We should pray fervently for a movement of Christians who will use their influence to stand publicly, courageously, and winsomely for biblical truth and morality. And we should ask God’s Spirit to spark a great spiritual and moral awakening in America before it is too late.

Leonard Ravenhill observed, “As long as we are content to live without revival, we will.”

Publication date: July 14, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Deberarr

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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