July 25, 2001
-- Martin E. Marty
Who and what are responsible for "secularization" in the West, including the United States? Many charge that a "secular humanist conspiracy" and "governmental acts" -- especially Supreme Court decisions -- force God and godliness from the public spheres of life and leave the spiritual landscape barren.
There are "secular humanists" out there; up to nine percent of the people tell poll-takers they do not believe in God. As for a "conspiracy?" We seldom find two humanists of our acquaintance agreeing with each other or ready to conspire. (Just kidding: academic, entertainment, intellectual, and media elites do include people of power who are tone-deaf to religion and opposed to its faces in public -- or even private -- life.)
The Supreme Court? A Creators Syndicate cartoon in the Washington Times (June 21) shows two panels. One is Wittenberg, 1517, with Martin Luther nailing 95 theses to the church door. The second shows Justice Clarence Thomas nailing a notice, "Religious Club Meeting Here After School," to a school door marked "U.S.A. 2001." Gaping at the margin is Americans United leader Barry Lynn, with a sign: "Separation of Church and State." The cartoonist sees even one decision is epochal.
Again, who and what are responsible for "secularization?" We all know the anti-god records of Communism and radical socialisms in the past century. Posed over against them by cheerleaders for alternatives is "capitalism," touted as product of and promoter of godliness. But we wonder. Perhaps rather than secular humanist conspiracies or an antireligious government, it is capitalism, free enterprise, "the market" which contributes to many disappearances of God and the godly from public life.
We have space today for only one illustration. C. S. Lewis was the greatest English-language apologist for the Christian faith in the century past. Christian themes also pervade his fiction, his fantasies, his children's literature. Now everyone from columnist Father Andrew Greeley on the Catholic front to World magazine on the evangelical right have properly scored HarperCollins for its plans to reissue the Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series with all Christian traces purged.
Some Lewis estate interests are conspiring with the publisher to cause or let this happen. A Harper memo: "We will have to give emphatic assurances that no attempt will be made to correlate the stories to Christian imagery/theology." In other words, the market -- capitalist free enterprise at work -- tells us the series will do better if we neuter it, even in effect paganize it.
One such illustration does not make a whole case, but Sightings urges increasing attention to the economic factor in secularization and all that goes with it. Caveat emptor!