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The End of Secularism Paperback – August 5, 2009
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"It's a book you'll be glad you read the next time you get in an argument about religion's role in politics." --Andrew Klavan, Pajamas Media
"Baker turns a scathing critique on the secularist movement itself, and in particular, its claims to take a solely neutral and scientific approach toward social and political science." --Nathan Pitchford, ReformedBooks.net
"Kudos to Baker for a fascinating and thought-provoking book." --Mike Potemra, National Review The Corner
"Baker is a master of the succinct summary; one is never left with the feeling that he has left out a development or missed a crucial concept." --David Layman, First Things online
"Hunter Baker's volume is a much-welcomed addition to the debate on the role of religion and faith in the public square. To the confusion regarding matters of religion and politics, Baker brings illuminating clarity. To the ambiguity regarding the meaning and place of pluralism, he provides thoughtful analysis. To the directionless arguments for secularization, he offers an insightful and discerning response. This much-needed volume provides a readable, historically-informed, and carefully-reasoned case for the place of faith in our public deliberations. It is with great enthusiasm that I recommend it."
—David S. Dockery, President, Union University
"Hunter Baker is a gifted writer who knows how to communicate the issue of secularism to an audience that desperately needs to hear a critical though winsome voice on this matter. In many ways, the book is a twenty-first-century sequel to the late Richard John Neuhaus's classic, The Naked Public Square. Baker understands the issues that percolate beneath the culture wars. They are not merely political but theological and philosophical, and they are rarely unpacked in an articulate way so that the ordinary citizen can gain clarity. Baker offers his readers that clarity."
—Francis J. Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University; author of Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice
"Hunter Baker is one of the sharpest thinkers in contemporary American Christianity. This work will provoke the same kind of conversation ignited by Richard John Neuhaus's The Naked Public Square. Read this book slowly with a highlighter and a pen in hand as you think about questions ranging from whether the Ten Commandments ought to hang in your local courthouse to whether there's a future for public Christianity."
—Russell D. Moore, Dean, School of Theology; Senior Vice President for Academic Administration; Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
"The task of discerning the alternative to practical atheism lived by many nominal Christians and the pretense of a neutral secularism has been made easier by this rich study. Once authentic Christians grasp the ramifications of the incarnation of Christ, then and only then will it be apparent that, as Baker argues, "secularism only makes sense in relation to religion."
—Robert A. Sirico, President, Acton Institute
"The End of Secularism debunks the widespread myth that secularism is the inevitable wave of the future, coming at us like an unstoppable force of nature. Baker shows instead that the secularization of society was the result of deliberate planning and concerted effort by a relatively few determined ideologues. Baker makes it clear that what they did can be undone. We shall be hearing more from this promising young man."
—Jennifer Roback Morse, Founder and President, The Ruth Institute
"Hunter Baker has produced a powerful and carefully constructed argument against the secularists in our midst who are attempting to subvert the traditions that gave birth to our unique national enterprise."
—Herbert London, President, Hudson Institute; Author, America's Secular Challenge
"Secularism was supposed to have displaced religion before the end of the last century. It failed. Hunter Baker has done every Christian interested in a faithful life in the public square an immense favor. As an important and emerging young evangelical scholar and public thinker, Baker doesn't cower at the seemingly imposing face of secularism but intelligently reads its vital signs and confidently declares its inherent weaknesses."
—Glenn T. Stanton, Cultural Researcher, Speaker; Author, Marriage on Trial and My Crazy Imperfect Christian Family
- Publisher : Crossway (August 5, 2009)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1433506548
- ISBN-13 : 978-1433506543
- Item Weight : 9.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.44 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,319,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The application of Biblical logic, coupled with a careful and consistent historiography, provide the reader with the tools to weigh Hunter's evidence and conclusions. He is most effective in debunking the myth that secularism is some benign neutral position in the inevitable cultural and political issues any nation must face. There is a refreshing, positive perspective in the book; that should help readers of different initial opinions profit from an honest reading of the material.
This book would be useful as a college text; it should be required reading for any course in political science, comparative religions or church and state studies. Pastors need to read and grasp the logic of this book. Christians and secularists who want to have honest, helpful discussions with one another should include this book in their preparations.
This is an outstanding contribution to the subject and I give it my highest recommendation.
For the first several chapters, the author traces the roots of secularism from around Aquinas until modern times. He notes the obvious influences of men like Roussou and Hobbes as well as the not so obvious influences of men like Luther and the other reformers. This was quite interesting, as many of the quotes by the aforementioned people make clear that they did not have the secularism in mind when they wrote, but you can see how these contain the seeds of some ideas found in today's secularism. We are then lead into a discussion of the modern debate about "separation of church and state" and the original intent of the founding fathers. This in turn leads us into the rise and fall and rise of "fundamentalism" or evangelicalism in America and to our current situation today.
After the history of secularism in America, the author deals with some arguments against secularism. One argument that was quite interesting was the post modern argument against secularism. Basically, this says that there is no such thing as compromise or common ground because the common ground compromises one of the positions. Although we should always be weary of anything labeled "post modern", there seems to be some truth to this idea, as is evidenced by all the "compromise" and "common ground" we hear about in the abortion debate, which of course, is not common ground.
The last chapter brings the whole book together very nicely. It tells of a time in Alabama when a law professor made a biblical case for more government help for the poor in Alabama. Her argument was apparently very well-known, and was essentially the platform of a politician running for Governor (I believe). Yet there was never a cry of "separation of church and state" or "theocracy." It reminded me of how nowadays, people have no problem citing 16th century theological speculation to justify abortion (Aquinas says that life doesn't begin till quickening blah blah blah) and never call themselves out on separation of church and state. Anyway, this chapter summarized the position of the author quite well; that is, that everyone brings their arguments and ideas to the table and we discuss and critique these ideas not based on why we hold them or where they are from, but on the merits themselves.
All in all, this is a very good book that makes a strong case for a more rational form of political debate.
Baker's argument proceeds, it seems, along three general lines of thought that are woven together.
First, Baker examines the history of church-state relations and scrutinizes the emergence of secularism-which comes by way of deism-in late modernity. Baker's historical analysis culminates in a brief examination of the role of Christianity within the American experiment. Baker is at his best navigating the perils of interpreting America's founding documents, simultaneously arguing against the "Christian nation" and the "secularist" interpretations of America's birth. Baker argues forcefully that the Constitution provides no substantive guidance on questions of religion and politics, but instead is designed to give jurisdictional guidance. The question of religion, in other words, was to be left to the States. Baker's treatment of this question and of the Fourteenth Amendment are worth the price of the book by themselves.
Additionally, Baker examines the sociological component of secularism. While secularization has been identified with progress by thinkers like Rodney Stark and Peter Berger, the facts have, in fact, proved the opposite. But Baker goes one step further, pointing out that the social forces that have promoted secularism have failed in their attempts to create a neutral public square, as they claimed. Instead, a social elite has acted inhospitably to religious people who wanted to contribute their voices to civil discourse. Writes Baker:
"The early stalemate among religions in the immediate wake of secularization might seem refreshing, but it could also create resentment and a sense of unfair censorship over the nature of public and institutional expression and the types of education that have gained favor versus those that have lost favor. This is in fact what has happened."
The sociological character and ascendancy of secularism depends upon its philosophical foundations, which is why Baker goes to pains to demonstrate the falsity of the warefare analogy for the relationship between religion and science. Secularism is often aligned with an empirically bound notion of public reason wherein truth claims are determined strictly by their scientific verifiability (one thinks of the debate over stem cells). Baker argues in favor of science, but a science that is appropriately bounded.
But the heart of the book is the critique of the purported neutrality of the secular public square. In making his critique, Baker makes friends with a surprising thinker, the renowned post-modern theorist Stanley Fish. Fish argues that the political arena is fundamentally constituted around the exercise of power, and hence inevitably excludes those whom we are exercising power over. In such a system, there is no "neutral process for adjudicating claims between groups, institutions, and persons based on common ground." The secularist thesis is, in this way, nothing more than a shell game. Baker doesn't adopt Fish's anti-foundationalism, of course. At points he suggests that a natural law theory would be his preferred method of making political decisions. But Baker's use of Fish as an ally against secularism highlights, I think, the potential usefulness of (broadly) post-modern thought for Christians who are worried about the totalizing impulse behind secularism.
Baker doesn't stop with Fish, but moves on to address the work of John Rawls. Rawls, perhaps the foremost proponent of the purported neutrality of secular civic discourse, argued that public discourse should be kept free of comprehensive doctrines, including religion, about which there could be reasonable disagreement. Baker points out that Rawls' notion of public reason is too thin to actually be practical, and that it ignores the holistic approach of people's interaction in the public square. Writes Baker:
"[The comprehensive doctrines] are intertwined with the political system in such a way as to be at least partially inseverable. The reason persons bring their comprehensive views to bear upon the political process is that they have integrity. They are undivided persons. They agree to be bound by democratic outcomes but not by a system which would bind their participation in the way Rawls proposes."
Yet while Baker's use of Stanley Fish occupies a central role in his argument, I am worried that it give up too much. While I am sensitive to critiques of what people do not say, Baker is unclear about precisely how we can deploy Fish's criticism of public discourse as being fundamentally oriented around the pursuit of power without adopting his anti-foundationalism. Baker rejects theocracy and monism repeatedly, which are (ostensibly) grounded in the sort of foundationalism that Fish rejects. But he does not specify an alternative mode of discourse. He hints that he likes Robert George's notion of public reason, but does not say whether this too will be subject to Fish's critique, or how it would provide a better means of public discourse than the false neutrality of secularism.
But this may well be a critique of Baker's particularist approach to the relationship between Church and society. Writes Baker, "No elegant political philosophies or legal rules are needed to police the boundaries of religious and secular argumentation. The focus should be on the wisdom and justice of particular policies, not on the motives for the policies. An endless fascination with perfecting the way we form our reasons for policies, religious or otherwise, leads to absurdity and arbitrary decisions."
Baker's point happens in the context of legislation, and on this he might be right. But the particularities, for instance, of the Republican Presidential primaries raised a host of theoretical questions that were absolutely crucial to navigating a number of difficult political decisions for evangelical Christians. I wonder whether a strictly particularist approach to political reasoning can account for the election of officials to represent us, where representation demands some sort of identification between the people and the governor. Additionally, argumentation about the boundaries of religion and politics frequently happens in pre-political settings-society-on issues that are not necessarily tied to specific policy discussions, but rather are about the philosophical presuppositions that drive policy. Here it seems some criterion is needed for what is acceptable and not acceptable, unless the only goal is persuasion, wherein the only canon for public discourse would be what moves your audience to agree with you-a mildly depressing thought.
All this to say, if there is one thing about Hunter Baker's The End of Secularism that makes me sad, it is that it is (for now) incomplete-and consciously so. Baker is well aware of the limitations of his deconstructive project, even if he hints occasionally at a positive alternative. But I sincerely hope that now he has told us what we ought not think, he will at some point expand this positive viewpoint. Baker has no interest in a naked public square, but I am left wondering how it ought be clothed.
This should not, however, dissuade you from buying and reading Baker's vitally important book, and then buying a copy for your friends and pastors. Secularism as a mode of discourse has been given a free pass for far too long, and there is no better nor more comprehensive treatment of its history or troubles than The End of Secularism. It is necessary reading for Christians who wish to speak in public about their faith-which, I presume, is all of them.