AUTHOR:Uzair Saroya

Amidst the multifarious political and social philosophies that are in practice all around the world, secularism and liberalism stand out as the most fiercely advocated ones. They derive their legitimacy mainly from the fact that the nations which have adopted these ideas as their national policy have prospered and progressed, and those which have failed to do so are in ruins. We are here to examine the validity of these claims, and in the process know about the roots of these philosophies. The main purpose of this article is to make sense of these ideas from a perspective of an average man living in the south-east of Asia (where religion still holds sway over masses).

If we start from the beginning, as I mostly like to do, we find that there are two dominant narratives that can help us understand the present socio-political paradigms of our world. One is the narrative of Semitic Religions, and the other is the ‘modern scientific narrative’. These two are opposite and contradictory, but both of them have more or less equal explanatory power (depending on the preconceived notions of the observer/reader).

The three main Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) tell the story of humans to have begun from a single couple. That couple was endowed with an understanding of One God, to Whom they were answerable for everything. They were to obey Him in every matter, without any distinction of ‘religious’ and ‘secular’. Worship of One God not just meant the ritualistic worship, it also meant that the code of life would come from God alone. The law of God reigned supreme over humanity for as long as the offspring of the earliest couple remained near the sources of guidance.

With time, as the population kept increasing, humans dispersed over the planet and misguidance gradually crept in. God was not visible to human beings; but natural sources of harm and benefit were readily visible. Consequently, humans began ascribing the attributes of God to apparent sources of harm and benefit, and Monotheism slowly deteriorated into polytheism. The sun, moon, stars, fire, rain, fellow living beings and everything that harmed or benefited men were exaggerated in status. Circumstances were not the only factor to blame here, involvement of humans themselves acted as a catalyst. That human involvement is our main concern, everything else is a preamble.

Under the rule of One God, the authority of a human being over another is almost non-existent. Everyone enslaves himself/herself to God, and accepts the hierarchy made by God. In that hierarchy, though there are classes of rich & poor, powerful & weak, and a human may seemingly appear to obey other humans, but in reality he is only obeying the One Who has created the hierarchy. The limits of obedience, in other words, are set by God alone and nobody else can dictate them. This rather radical notion of equality in the eyes of God in spite of differences in worldly status is the distinguishing feature of Monotheistic systems. Moreover, because this system clearly states that all human beings have descended from the same parents, it further adds to the perception of equality in the eyes of God. As we know, there have always been people who wanted authority for themselves. Power has an overwhelming ability to corrupt humans. And that was the reason some human beings acted as ‘catalysts’ to deface this pure Monotheism. They wanted a share in the powers God had made exclusive for Himself. Mostly, they were those who had already held high positions in the hierarchy (aristocrats and/or intellectual elite); they relished power and wanted more of it. They simply took advantage of the superstitious mindset of humanity by amplifying and promoting it, making alterations in the “beliefs” in a way that would allow them to enjoy power and influence over the common man. The intellectual elite of the society (referring to priests/scholars) were in a perfectly strong position to distort pure Monotheism in association with aristocracy. It was a natural alliance.

As a result, a new ruling-elite which consisted of aristocrats and intellectual elite came into being. They grabbed their share from the powers of God, and managed to create for themselves a constant source of income and authority. The power-hungry intellectual elite assumed status of middlemen between God and the masses (by introducing the concept of intercession, and severing the direct link of God with His creation). It was an alliance like that of a Pope and a Caesar, but the distinction between secular and religious matters was still not there (which was logical, because it wasn’t needed at the time). The alliance exerted control over all spheres of human life (political, social and economic) by influencing the “beliefs” of the masses. (Numerous examples in history of god-kings, high priests connected to the royal courts and worship of one god/goddess of a whole city as a unit amply illustrate the truth of the point that political authority and religious authority have always been two faces of a same coin—and both rest on some kind of a belief, which is central to the system.)

At the point where the society as a whole became critically ill with all kind of depravities, God sent to them a Prophet who could morally uplift them and bring them back towards pure Monotheism. As discussed above, establishing pure Monotheism didn’t just consist of cleansing the places of worship from self-created deities, it also included cleansing of the corridors of power (because the nexus of the aristocrats and the priests had become a deity in itself, dictating laws and customs). The pathologies had to be reversed exactly the way they had set in. The prophets, therefore, had dual responsibility: political and spiritual. This story (narrated in last few paragraphs) cyclically repeats itself over and over again in the historical narrative given by Semitic religions. The example of Moosa (A.S) challenging not just the religion of Egyptians but the authority of Pharaoh, of Yusuf (A.S) assuming the rule of Egypt, and of Shuayb (A.S) imploring people to change their agreed-upon law of dishonest trading are just a few examples out of many that sufficiently prove that Monotheism has always been about complete worship of God that encompasses ALL spheres of human life, and political aspect is a very significant part of this system.

The modern scientific narrative, unlike the Semitic narrative, suggests human origin from non-human species by evolution. It theorizes that it was not Monotheism that changed into polytheism, rather polytheism evolved into Monotheism. It takes into account the same superstitious nature of early humanity and gives the same reasons for concentration of power within clergy and aristocracy of the societies throughout human history; but it excludes the mention of Monotheism as the starting point and hence refuses to accept the existence of Prophets sent by God.

After having summarized the two dominant narratives, one thing should be readily noticeable: the explanation of human history is nothing more than an explanation of struggle for power. The story is invariably about who took power and how he took it. We also conclude that in order to seize power and influence upon men, manipulation of their “beliefs” is instrumental, because it is the belief that makes people submit to any kind of authority (whether political or religious). This conclusion begs that we talk a bit about the nature of “beliefs” as well.

Whatever humans do, they have an underlying ‘motive’ for it. In other words, behavior/actions are an “effect”, while the “cause” lies inside the mind (whatever it may be). Belief is one of the prime motives for human behavior. If someone’s beliefs (provided they are “beliefs” in truest sense) are known, his behavior can be quite accurately predicted. And this, precisely, is what makes the manipulation of beliefs such a powerful weapon—it can be used to control human actions/behaviors. A simple example is of a person who “believes” that Friday the 13th is an ill-omened day; one can easily predict that he will delay/cancel his flights, avoid concluding important business and will prefer to keep a low profile. Now, some might think from this that the influence “beliefs” exercise over human behavior is mostly destructive. Nothing can be far from truth. Beliefs, in fact, put humans at a considerable ‘evolutionary advantage’. They determine how we act in various recurring situations without having us think about those situations every time they occur. What I am saying can be understood by a simple analogy of Pythagoras’ Theorem. Pythagoras mathematically determined that in a right angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Normally, every student doing Trigonometry calculates the length of the unknown side of a right angled triangle using the formula of Pythagoras. Imagine if everyone had to ‘determine’ the truth of the formula all over again every time before attempting any problem of Trigonometry, how dumb and time-consuming would that be? In the same sense, once a belief makes its way inside our brain, it determines how we would act to relevant situations every time they presented themselves. A person who “believes” that fire could hurt him would avoid going near it every time he sees it, as simple as that.

When we review the overall human history in the light of the above paragraph, we notice that people “believed” that God was Almighty and the Sole Lawgiver. They “believed” that He had no partners and all power belonged to Him alone. The only way certain humans could have their share in this power was to change the beliefs of other fellow humans. Hence they went on to inculcate the belief that the common folk needed the intercession of pious men to convey their prayers to God, and that is how the gates of polytheism were opened. All of this happened by altering and manipulating the already held “beliefs”. And the sole duty of Prophets was to fix these beliefs back to their original position—that would be enough to establish pure Monotheism once again. Whether you adopt the religious or scientific narrative to look at it, this explanation holds true for both the approaches.
The modern scientific narrative, unlike the Semitic narrative, suggests human origin from non-human species by evolution. It theorizes that it was not Monotheism that changed into polytheism, rather polytheism evolved into Monotheism. It takes into account the same superstitious nature of early humanity and gives the same reasons for concentration of power within clergy and aristocracy of the societies throughout human history; but it excludes the mention of Monotheism as the starting point and hence refuses to accept the existence of Prophets sent by God.

After having summarized the two dominant narratives, one thing should be readily noticeable: the explanation of human history is nothing more than an explanation of struggle for power. The story is invariably about who took power and how he took it. We also conclude that in order to seize power and influence upon men, manipulation of their “beliefs” is instrumental, because it is the belief that makes people submit to any kind of authority (whether political or religious). This conclusion begs that we talk a bit about the nature of “beliefs” as well.

Whatever humans do, they have an underlying ‘motive’ for it. In other words, behavior/actions are an “effect”, while the “cause” lies inside the mind (whatever it may be). Belief is one of the prime motives for human behavior. If someone’s beliefs (provided they are “beliefs” in truest sense) are known, his behavior can be quite accurately predicted. And this, precisely, is what makes the manipulation of beliefs such a powerful weapon—it can be used to control human actions/behaviors. A simple example is of a person who “believes” that Friday the 13th is an ill-omened day; one can easily predict that he will delay/cancel his flights, avoid concluding important business and will prefer to keep a low profile. Now, some might think from this that the influence “beliefs” exercise over human behavior is mostly destructive. Nothing can be far from truth. Beliefs, in fact, put humans at a considerable ‘evolutionary advantage’. They determine how we act in various recurring situations without having us think about those situations every time they occur. What I am saying can be understood by a simple analogy of Pythagoras’ Theorem. Pythagoras mathematically determined that in a right angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Normally, every student doing Trigonometry calculates the length of the unknown side of a right angled triangle using the formula of Pythagoras. Imagine if everyone had to ‘determine’ the truth of the formula all over again every time before attempting any problem of Trigonometry, how dumb and time-consuming would that be? In the same sense, once a belief makes its way inside our brain, it determines how we would act to relevant situations every time they presented themselves. A person who “believes” that fire could hurt him would avoid going near it every time he sees it, as simple as that.

When we review the overall human history in the light of the above paragraph, we notice that people “believed” that God was Almighty and the Sole Lawgiver. They “believed” that He had no partners and all power belonged to Him alone. The only way certain humans could have their share in this power was to change the beliefs of other fellow humans. Hence they went on to inculcate the belief that the common folk needed the intercession of pious men to convey their prayers to God, and that is how the gates of polytheism were opened. All of this happened by altering and manipulating the already held “beliefs”. And the sole duty of Prophets was to fix these beliefs back to their original position—that would be enough to establish pure Monotheism once again. Whether you adopt the religious or scientific narrative to look at it, this explanation holds true for both the approaches.
Why am I wasting your time with all this? What does this have to do with the topic mentioned in the title? Well, it has a lot to do. Just as religion revolves around beliefs, all the “–isms” too have nothing more to them than that—they are mere beliefs! Secularism, humanism, liberalism, etc are various examples of beliefs; rather they are a complete belief-system aka religion in their own right. Secularism is a belief that religion should not interfere with the matters of state, liberalism is a belief that every human has a right to enjoy complete freedom (limits of ‘complete freedom’ differ from liberal to liberal), and humanism is a belief that human societies should be altogether human-oriented without any involvement of supernatural and irrational entities and concepts.

As we talked earlier, the Monotheistic religious system of humans in the not-too-distant past held this special kind of ‘universal’ outlook encompassing all aspects of their life—they submitted to it politically, socially, and economically etc. This belief possessing ‘universal outlook’ was substantiated by another even stronger belief that there most certainly existed a God, to Whom we must be obedient. If religious belief (which has an in-built code of life for humans) is substantiated by belief in God, what substantiates the beliefs mentioned above (secularism, liberalism, humanism etc; which also claim to give a full code of life)? This is a bugging question; we will try to find the answer to it as we go on. Beliefs can be important even without substantiation, but we are trying to talk sense here.

Another very important reason why I took so much space for summarizing the overall historical narratives is that these narratives can adequately explain the ‘need’ and ‘origins’ of the “–isms” we will be discussing in the article. The need to create a distinction between secular and religious matters (i.e. secularism) was felt for the same reasons as the need to introduce the middlemen between God and the masses was felt. It has always been about power and authority. The need to promote individual-oriented culture (liberalism) was felt because it was the ideology most suited to produce humans who would be happier in a materialistic world (the “economic reasons” are among of the most important for the promotion of liberal ideology). Who felt this need? Same as always: the alliance of men holding wealth & authority, and the intellectual elite (here, the intellectual elite means scientists and philosophers, unlike past where it were priests/clergymen). What was the modus operandi this time? Interestingly, the same as it had always been: altering the already held beliefs to one’s own advantage. The cliched expression of history always repeating itself isn’t too overrated after all. But how can we possibly derive secularism and liberalism from religion itself? And how did this transition from religious to secular take place?

When the church was in the last phase of its heyday, Western intellectual elite were attempting to make a joint front against its authority. The reason was obvious: church was extremely anti-reason, it had closed all avenues of ‘thinking’ and its reaction to any kind of ideology opposing its doctrine was absolutely violent. The church/clergy had grabbed their share of power from the powers of God just by the same pattern as described earlier for all the Monotheistic systems throughout history. Now they were to be replaced because they couldn’t keep up with times (I wouldn’t go into the details of it, article is getting too lengthy). The intelligentsia had become disillusioned with Christianity and hated the God of church (because of church’s persecution of their brethren); they gave rise to new belief-systems to replace the religious setup—that is how the various “–isms” came into being. These systems were independent of the Monotheistic God. But the problem was the masses—they had not yet been disillusioned, they still liked the concept of God. How could they replace religious system with their newly-created belief-systems while the masses were not ready to hate the God like they did?

There were two ways for them to do what they wanted: (i) somehow make the masses hate the God as well, (ii) alter the religious belief itself to make it accommodate the new “–isms” (just as the ancestors used to do throughout human history). The latter was more feasible, so it found better success. The thing was simple: some beliefs within the Christian doctrine were to “amplified” and others to be trivialized/discarded—in accordance with the historical practice of belief alteration and acquiring authority. Liberalism is basically an ideology that each individual must be given certain freedoms—the freedom of expression, religion, and free trade etc. It advocates that individual is the center of human civilization, and not the society as a whole. Furthermore, in light of the Enlightenment ideals, it also advocates shedding of superstitions and adopting a scientific and objective approach to interpret everything (including scripture). It encourages a democratic form of government where the empowered, free individual could exercise his freedom by governing himself through his vote. When we amplify the concept of people being “god’s children”, glorify the life and ethics taught by Jesus, discard the miraculous nature of Christ’s person (and every other supernatural thing present in the scripture) we get the liberal ethics tethered to Christianity! Secularism automatically makes its way into the system when we elaborate the concept of ‘freedom of religion’ inside this mentioned framework of liberalism. Furthermore, when we implement Enlightenment vision to interpret scripture, we can successfully reduce the status of God; God is snatched away and “nature” is put inside people’s heads in His place, without them even realizing it (naturalism is the word for this). This is just like putting milk and bananas in the machine together to get a milkshake. Milk loses itself in the bananas; bananas lose themselves in the milk. Christianity lost its essence (it was just a travesty of Monotheism already) and a new drama called “Liberal Christianity” was born. The church had to cooperate during all this, that was the only way it could survive. It made peace with the intelligentsia and accommodated their secular liberal ideas within its doctrine in exchange for survival.

From this assertion, nobody should conclude that the conceivers of these “–isms” were thinking to implement their visions in this particular way (i.e. side by side with religion). They wanted outright abolishment of religion from all spheres (public and private), but they were unable to do so because God couldn’t be removed from the human minds that easily. This type of implementation, where the bedrock/substantiating principle of religious belief-system (which is God) was not replaced but its exterior was replaced, was nothing more than a temporary expediency. Religion could be taken out from the public/political sphere before it could be taken out from the private lives of citizens, and it happened exactly like that.

One may object to the point I have been trying to raise—my demonstration of the basic difference, or rather incompatibility, of religion with these new “–isms” might look exaggerated to some. If Christianity has assimilated liberalism, it might be a “proof” for some that the two are in fact somehow compatible. I dedicated a major part of this article just to demonstrate this single fact: Monotheistic systems have a universal outlook and they encompass all spheres of human life. Anything that detaches any sphere of human life from the Monotheistic system is incompatible and directly in conflict with it. If assimilation into Monotheistic belief of foreign concepts appears to be a proof of compatibility to some, than they might as well label polytheism compatible with Monotheism. A Christian theologian J.G. Machen, in his famous critique of Liberal Christianity, writes:-Why am I wasting your time with all this? What does this have to do with the topic mentioned in the title? Well, it has a lot to do. Just as religion revolves around beliefs, all the “–isms” too have nothing more to them than that—they are mere beliefs! Secularism, humanism, liberalism, etc are various examples of beliefs; rather they are a complete belief-system aka religion in their own right. Secularism is a belief that religion should not interfere with the matters of state, liberalism is a belief that every human has a right to enjoy complete freedom (limits of ‘complete freedom’ differ from liberal to liberal), and humanism is a belief that human societies should be altogether human-oriented without any involvement of supernatural and irrational entities and concepts.

As we talked earlier, the Monotheistic religious system of humans in the not-too-distant past held this special kind of ‘universal’ outlook encompassing all aspects of their life—they submitted to it politically, socially, and economically etc. This belief possessing ‘universal outlook’ was substantiated by another even stronger belief that there most certainly existed a God, to Whom we must be obedient. If religious belief (which has an in-built code of life for humans) is substantiated by belief in God, what substantiates the beliefs mentioned above (secularism, liberalism, humanism etc; which also claim to give a full code of life)? This is a bugging question; we will try to find the answer to it as we go on. Beliefs can be important even without substantiation, but we are trying to talk sense here.

Another very important reason why I took so much space for summarizing the overall historical narratives is that these narratives can adequately explain the ‘need’ and ‘origins’ of the “–isms” we will be discussing in the article. The need to create a distinction between secular and religious matters (i.e. secularism) was felt for the same reasons as the need to introduce the middlemen between God and the masses was felt. It has always been about power and authority. The need to promote individual-oriented culture (liberalism) was felt because it was the ideology most suited to produce humans who would be happier in a materialistic world (the “economic reasons” are among of the most important for the promotion of liberal ideology). Who felt this need? Same as always: the alliance of men holding wealth & authority, and the intellectual elite (here, the intellectual elite means scientists and philosophers, unlike past where it were priests/clergymen). What was the modus operandi this time? Interestingly, the same as it had always been: altering the already held beliefs to one’s own advantage. The cliched expression of history always repeating itself isn’t too overrated after all. But how can we possibly derive secularism and liberalism from religion itself? And how did this transition from religious to secular take place?

When the church was in the last phase of its heyday, Western intellectual elite were attempting to make a joint front against its authority. The reason was obvious: church was extremely anti-reason, it had closed all avenues of ‘thinking’ and its reaction to any kind of ideology opposing its doctrine was absolutely violent. The church/clergy had grabbed their share of power from the powers of God just by the same pattern as described earlier for all the Monotheistic systems throughout history. Now they were to be replaced because they couldn’t keep up with times (I wouldn’t go into the details of it, article is getting too lengthy). The intelligentsia had become disillusioned with Christianity and hated the God of church (because of church’s persecution of their brethren); they gave rise to new belief-systems to replace the religious setup—that is how the various “–isms” came into being. These systems were independent of the Monotheistic God. But the problem was the masses—they had not yet been disillusioned, they still liked the concept of God. How could they replace religious system with their newly-created belief-systems while the masses were not ready to hate the God like they did?

There were two ways for them to do what they wanted: (i) somehow make the masses hate the God as well, (ii) alter the religious belief itself to make it accommodate the new “–isms” (just as the ancestors used to do throughout human history). The latter was more feasible, so it found better success. The thing was simple: some beliefs within the Christian doctrine were to “amplified” and others to be trivialized/discarded—in accordance with the historical practice of belief alteration and acquiring authority. Liberalism is basically an ideology that each individual must be given certain freedoms—the freedom of expression, religion, and free trade etc. It advocates that individual is the center of human civilization, and not the society as a whole. Furthermore, in light of the Enlightenment ideals, it also advocates shedding of superstitions and adopting a scientific and objective approach to interpret everything (including scripture). It encourages a democratic form of government where the empowered, free individual could exercise his freedom by governing himself through his vote. When we amplify the concept of people being “god’s children”, glorify the life and ethics taught by Jesus, discard the miraculous nature of Christ’s person (and every other supernatural thing present in the scripture) we get the liberal ethics tethered to Christianity! Secularism automatically makes its way into the system when we elaborate the concept of ‘freedom of religion’ inside this mentioned framework of liberalism. Furthermore, when we implement Enlightenment vision to interpret scripture, we can successfully reduce the status of God; God is snatched away and “nature” is put inside people’s heads in His place, without them even realizing it (naturalism is the word for this). This is just like putting milk and bananas in the machine together to get a milkshake. Milk loses itself in the bananas; bananas lose themselves in the milk. Christianity lost its essence (it was just a travesty of Monotheism already) and a new drama called “Liberal Christianity” was born. The church had to cooperate during all this, that was the only way it could survive. It made peace with the intelligentsia and accommodated their secular liberal ideas within its doctrine in exchange for survival.

From this assertion, nobody should conclude that the conceivers of these “–isms” were thinking to implement their visions in this particular way (i.e. side by side with religion). They wanted outright abolishment of religion from all spheres (public and private), but they were unable to do so because God couldn’t be removed from the human minds that easily. This type of implementation, where the bedrock/substantiating principle of religious belief-system (which is God) was not replaced but its exterior was replaced, was nothing more than a temporary expediency. Religion could be taken out from the public/political sphere before it could be taken out from the private lives of citizens, and it happened exactly like that.

One may object to the point I have been trying to raise—my demonstration of the basic difference, or rather incompatibility, of religion with these new “–isms” might look exaggerated to some. If Christianity has assimilated liberalism, it might be a “proof” for some that the two are in fact somehow compatible. I dedicated a major part of this article just to demonstrate this single fact: Monotheistic systems have a universal outlook and they encompass all spheres of human life. Anything that detaches any sphere of human life from the Monotheistic system is incompatible and directly in conflict with it. If assimilation into Monotheistic belief of foreign concepts appears to be a proof of compatibility to some, than they might as well label polytheism compatible with Monotheism. A Christian theologian J.G. Machen, in his famous critique of Liberal Christianity, writes:-

The great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” The many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism—that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity. What the liberal Christian theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category. Our principal concern just now is to show that the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity, so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came upon the scene. If a condition could be conceived in which all the preaching of the Church should be controlled by the liberalism which in many quarters has already become preponderant, then, we believe, Christianity would at last have perished from the earth and the gospel would have sounded forth for the last time.

THE END.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is reproduced from The Critic’s Den blog;

https://criticmagazine.blogspot.com/2014/04/dissecting-secular-liberalism.html?m=1