The great dream at the heart of modern American secularism

“The great dream at the heart of modern American secularism has always been that religion would slowly wither away, giving way, as it did so, to reason, to a morality rooted not in a fear of God or the hope of heaven but in reflection, a sense of kinship, and a belief in the common good.”  Peter Marin, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1994

But why just American secularism? Haven’t the secularists of all times and all countries always had that dream? I know that is my dream, and my hope, that the true believers, still today bringing suffering and death on all peoples, especially their own, will disappear.

But this is still a dream. Marin is right about that. For when you wake up in the morning, go out into the world, wherever you are, and if you encounter a prevalent morality, any morality at all, it probably stems from a fear of the unknown, a fear of God, from religion, and not from one’s mostly underused powers of reason.

This, of course, is the ultimate irony, because it’s not religion, but science, the fruit of those who do make great use of their ingrained powers of reason, that has made even the poorest among us wealthier that the tyrants, monarchs and popes of the past.

And if life is to get better for all of us it will depend most of all on the secularists, not the believers, among us. It will depend on those in possession of, as Marin says, a “morality rooted in reflection, a sense of kinship, and a belief in the common good.”

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