Moral Totalitarianism: The Irony of Moral Imperatives in a Secular Culture

church and stateThis is a guest post written by Rich Hoyer, director of The Reveal Conference

There is an irony afoot that many people don’t recognize.  It is the incongruence of the moral “truths” that our secular society is foisting upon the populace and the lack of a basis for those “truths.”

We live in a secular society in the US and Canada.  In many ways, it’s post-Christian, one which has been and is shedding traditional Judeo-Christian values.  Secularism started out as the belief that religion shouldn’t be controlling government.  The church and state should be separate.  One religious group should not be running government to the exclusion of others.  Yet today, secularism has morphed into a full-fledged worldview that has, even unwittingly, taken up religious status among its adherents.

Secularism is now a practical atheistic belief system that, while it may allow for spirituality of some kind, certainly views all religion as akin to being folklore.  There is no such thing as religious “truth.”  Religious claims are matters of preference.  Moral claims are matters of pragmatic necessity in that they keep society functioning.

Not too long ago it was postmodernism that seemed to dominate the political landscape with its rejection that any one worldview, philosophy, or religion could claim to be the right and true one.  Postmodernism’s kissing cousin, moral relativism, asked indignantly, “Who are you to judge another’s lifestyle?”  Moral truths, we were told, were nothing more than statements of preference or opinion.  “Christianity and traditional morality might be true for you, but not for me,” was a familiar claim.

Yet we seem to be transitioning into a new age in which one worldview and one moral code is being declared “objectively true” for you and me.  In 2017 western civilization, secularism seems to have overpowered the postmodern claim that no one worldview can claim to be right and true—deeming itself the right and true one.  Likewise, a new moral code is taking up “transcendent” status in the US—one that I’ll unimaginatively call “The 21st Century Secular Moral Code.”

This Secular Moral Code seems to place five core values:

  1. There is no one RIGHT and TRUE religion.
  2. No religious statement or idea should be allowed to influence public policy.
  3. We ought to have total sexual freedom.
  4. “Tolerance” and “Human rights” must be upheld at all costs. (These, of course, being redefined in light of total sexual freedom to guarantee freedom from criticism of any sexual preference or lifestyle).
  5. There must be absolute freedom from being offended.

The implementation of these five values does not have to be, and often times is not, consistent.  For instance, secularism itself has taken on religious status in the minds of many.  Likewise, tolerance and the freedom from being offended are often afforded only to those who agree with The New 21st Century Secular Moral Code.  D.A. Carson details how this problem has affected Europe, writing,

The rising number of Muslims in England has prompted subtle (and not-so-subtle) eviction of pigs and their stories.  In some schools, the story of the three little pigs is now banned, as Muslim school children might be offended by stories about unclean animals.  The trend reached its silliest moment when the Council of Dudley, Worcestershire (West Midlands), banned all images or representations of pigs from its benefits department, on the grounds that Muslims coming for benefits might be offended.  Calendars with pigs, porcelain porcine figurines, even pig-shaped stress relievers (spongy things you squeeze in your hand to relieve stress), all had to go, including a tissue box depicting Winnie the Pooh and Piglet—all this in a part of the country that traditionally has grown a lot of pigs.  When pressed as to why pigs have to go, Mahbubur Rahman, a Muslim Councillor in West Midlands, explained, ‘It’s a tolerance of people’s beliefs.’  Stunning doublespeak!  What about tolerance of those who think differently about pigs? In the name of tolerance toward the beliefs of Muslims, intolerance is imposed.[1]

If it wasn’t for the pain involved, the illogic of implementing some of these core values would be comical.

Secularism and The New 21st Century Moral Code is being declared “objectively true” for you and for me.  There is even a disturbing trend in which those who fail to fall into lock-step are being punished for their failure to adhere to this new morality.  Examples abound, but I want to point out three rather well-known examples to show how enforcement of the new standard is playing out.

The first is found in Canada in which “Canada’s Ontario province has passed legislation that allows the government to seize children from families that refuse to accept their child’s chosen ‘gender identity’ or ‘gender expression.’  The so-called Canadian Flag, or Bill 89, was approved by a vote of 63 to 23, according to The Christian Times.  It requires child protection, foster, adoption service providers, and judges to take into account and respect a child’s ‘race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.’”  The bill seeks to define failure to support a child’s decision to identify his/her gender with his/her biological sex as child abuse.  Minister of Child and Family Services, Michael Coteau, who introduced the bill, said, “I would consider that a form of abuse, when a child identifies one way and a caregiver is saying no, you need to do this differently. If it’s abuse, and if it’s within the definition, a child can be removed from that environment and placed into protection where the abuse stops.”[2]   In other words, you will agree with The New 21st Century Moral Code or you will be punished by losing your children.

The second example comes from the confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s choice for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.  Senator Bernie Sander’s interrogated Mr. Vought over his written statements as a Christian that Muslims are condemned in God’s eyes because they have rejected Jesus Christ as the world’s Savior.  Mr. Sanders implied that Russell Vought was an Islamophobe for believing the historic Christian belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 3:17-19; 14:6; Acts 4:12).  Senator Sanders went on to conclude his questioning by saying, “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”[3] He then went on to vote “no” on the nomination because of Mr. Vought’s Christian faith.  After receiving criticism from Christian groups for these statements, Senator Sanders released a statement saying, “In a democratic society, founded on the principle of religious freedom, we can all disagree over issues, but racism and bigotry—condemning an entire group of people because of their faith—cannot be part of any public policy.”[4] In other words, if you do not accept the values of The New 21st Century Moral Code you will be punished by being branded a “racist” and a “bigot” and disqualified from public office.

Finally, Google recently fired employee James Damore for daring to question its policy on gender equality, stating, “Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety. . . . This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed. The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.”[5] He then backed his claim by suggesting that (gasp!) men and women are biologically different and that “distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”[6] As the document continues, Damore recommends “concrete suggestions” that will lead to a truer diversity and a greater flourishing of employees in the workplace.  Maybe he’s right; maybe he’s not.  But apparently, it’s an unforgivable sin to question the sacred cow of authoritatively defined diversity policies.  After all, this employee dared to offend some even if his thesis turns out to be right.  Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, issued a statement, saying that “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”[7]

The irony of terminating an employee in the name of diversity was noted by Sumantra Maitra: “In a note to the employees, Pichai wrote, ‘Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry…each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting.’ The irony is Sophoclean. Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, once said during Google’s repeated clash with China that Google’s founding values was ‘freedom of expression.’ Evidently.”[8] What James Damore failed to understand is the fifth unassailable moral value of The New 21st Century Moral Code:  everyone should have the freedom from being offended.

Yet the irony doesn’t end here.  To brand your opponent’s behavior as morally wrong or “evil” implies that there is some transcendent moral standard that everyone should follow.  The problem is that secularists don’t believe that a transcendent moral code exists because they have rejected either the existence of God or that anyone can know (if God does exist) what He wants from his creatures.  Without God, all moral statements are simply statements of either personal opinion or cultural convention.  Yet, secularists don’t act as if their moral imperatives are merely opinion.  They advocate for universal acceptance of their moral pronouncements as if they are appealing to a higher law.  But they don’t believe a higher law exists.  Thus they are like people who, as Greg Koukl puts it, “have their feet firmly planted in mid-air.”  They have no foundation for their moral pronouncements, which are incoherent because their conclusions don’t follow from their foundational secular beliefs.  And yet they seek to impose these beliefs on the rest of society.  And if you fail to obey their moral demands, you will be labeled as evil and punished.  This is none other than totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism seeks to gain power and then enforce the rules of those in power upon the populace.  Their moral rules end up being “just so” statements.  In other words, their morality is true simply because they say so.  In a totalitarian society, you don’t have the freedom to disagree.  That’s where we are headed in the US and Canada and other parts of the Western world.

BibleIn times such as these, how shall Christians respond? We must stand firm in our faith and resist the urge to compromise our biblical Christianity.  The Apostle Paul wrote these timely words in Colossians 2:6-7:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority (ESV).

To thrive in such a culture as ours we must know what we believe and why. If not, we may end up compromising our faith and adopting secular assumptions and values.  Christians must also continue to speak the truth to a world mired in sin.  Salvation is still found only in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

We must also not care what names we are called. Another irony of secularism is that it seeks to redefine terms (marriage, gender, human rights, tolerance, religious freedom, etc.) and yet secularists want us to care that we are called pejorative names (bigot, racist, etc.)  If words have no set meaning in a postmodern-influenced secular culture, then let’s not care what meaning they attribute to words like “bigot” and “racist.”  We know that our faith does not make us these things.  We also know that anyone, regardless of race or religion, can come to Jesus Christ for salvation.  The Lord God Almighty is not a “bigot” or “racist” and neither are we.  In the end, it is God’s approval that we ought to care about (cf. Galatians 1:10).

Lastly, we must be willing to suffer for our faith in Christ and still love those who persecute us.  Jesus set for us this example (1 Peter 2:21-23).  He suffered for what was right and true and still loved those who mistreated him.  In a culture that does not hold logic in high regard and doesn’t seem to care about the inconsistencies of its worldview (but exalts feelings to the level of arbiter of truth), loving and serving those who mistreat you may very well be a powerful apologetic in the presence of truth.

Rich Hoyer

Lyndon Christian Church

Reveal Conference (www.reveal-truth.com)

Louisville, KY

August 2017

[1] D.A. Carson, “The Intolerance of Tolerance,” pp. 24-25

[2] http://www.christianpost.com/news/ontario-passes-law-government-seize-children-parents-oppose-gender-transition-186332/

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW6CTlpxUb8

[4] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2017/06/08/bernie-sanders-to-traditional-christians-your-beliefs-are-indefensibly-hateful-and-insulting-and-not-what-this-country-is-supposed-to-be-about/

[5] https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586/Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.pdf

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.blog.google/topics/diversity/note-employees-ceo-sundar-pichai/

[8] http://thefederalist.com/2017/08/09/google-firing-employee-diversity-discussion-frighteningly-authoritarian/

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