Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Mob: The Ethics of the Secular Religion


With the actual six statements of the Secular Creed now covered, I desire to explore a bit further the concept of secularism. Particularly in this post, my aim is to discuss how secularism is not the irreligious framework that it thinks it is; instead, secularism is a religion. More specifically, it is the dominate orthodoxy of our day. Next week, I hope to conclude this series by addressing how Christians should respond all that we have seen.

THE GREAT AWOKENING

A new religious awakening is afoot. Like the Great Awakening in the 1700s, today’s religious zeal centers upon being awakened to the depths of one’s sins. Black Lives Matter woke people up to the sins of systemic racism and white privilege. #MeToo woke us up to the prevalence of misogyny, particularly in the entertainment industry. Kids in cages woke us up to sins of immigration policies. Greta Thunberg woke us up to the sins of contributing to climate change. #LoveWins after Obergefell woke us up to the sin of homophobia. The Trump presidency woke us up to the sin of forsaking kindness. It should be no wonder then that converts to this religion speak of their awakening to these sins as being “woke.”

Indeed, in many ways the creed that we have been studying is a confessional denouncement of such sins. We should expect nothing less. The Apostles’ Creed affirmed the Trinity and the resurrection of the body against the heresy of Gnosticism. Likewise, the Nicene Creed affirmed the divinity of Christ against the heresy of Arianism. Sins and heresies give need for clarifying orthodoxy. The Secular Creed is no different. Racism, sexism, closed borders, science-denialism, homophobia, transphobia, and refusing to affirm are today’s heresies and transgressions, and the religion of secularism is attempting to rally itself against them.

Although secularism sets itself pointedly against or, more accurately, above religion, it simply cannot escape the pull to become one itself. God fashioned the human heart to glorify and enjoy Him forever. We are made for worship and even the denial of worship cannot stop us from worshiping. Of course, I am not suggesting that all secularists are irreligious; however, to be a secularist means valuing secularism over religion. Indeed, secularism asserts itself as the arbiter of religious pluralism, since all religions can happily coexist with one another as long as they all agree to a secular public arena. Religion is a private matter; what happens in public is secular territory. Of course, such a stance is, nevertheless, religious, only with secularism acting as a kind of super-religion that hovers over all the others. Secularism is very much a religion, and if the sexual revolution that began in the sixties was its equivalent of the Reformation, then we are presently living through its Great Awokening.

Unfortunately, this Great Awokening differs from the Great Awakening in how it handles the guilt and condemnation of sin. Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, was what many historians call the beginning of the awakening, and as its title suggests, hellfire and brimstone imagery were not withheld from Edwards’ audience. However, the sermon was not wholly upon the condemnation of sin; he also presented redemption:

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.[1]

When reading the sermon, Edwards’ words of happiness, love, hope, and joy are drink of cold, clear water after his vivid descriptions of impending judgment. He did not leave people to wallow in the misery of their sins; instead, he offered them the unsearchable riches of Christ, our Lord who washes away all of our sins with His very blood. One historian notes of Edwards: “His sermons were not exceptionally emotive, although they did underscore the need for an experience of conviction of sin and of divine forgiveness.”[2] During the Great Awakening, people did not simply wake up to the conviction of their sins; they also had their eyes opened to the wonders of God’s grace and forgiveness.

The Great Awokening, on the other hand, has generally relished in the conviction of sin (yet without the Holy Spirit to bring out such conviction, social media has certainly stepped up the plate). But secularism has no stable ground for offering forgiveness. Mob rule reigns, both in physical riots and within social and mainstream media. Cancelation, de-platforming, and doxing[3] are fast becoming the modern rendition of the ancient tune, “burn the heretic.” And sadly, recantations and public displays of penance rarely calm the mob’s rage.

This is, of course, what should be expected. Without a notion of divine forgiveness, human forgiveness becomes a lot less likely. After all, we are still the same human race who built colosseums in order to watch fellow humans get eaten by wild animals for our entertainment. In fact, the genocides of the past hundred years prove that we have not fundamentally changed (or maybe just specifically the present-day atrocities of secular, communist China against the Uyghurs). Only God stepping into human history in order to forgive us and demand that we forgive others is able to change our thirst for blood, which throughout history is the default rather than an anomaly.

WHERE ETHICS BEGINS

This brings us, once again, to the fundamental problem with the Secular Creed and with secularism as a worldview and religion: it is not sufficient. As we have noted in each teaching, there is an element of truth behind each statement of the creed. Racism, sexism, and the others should be rightly identified as sin, and repentance should follow when needed. Yet the only true answer to sin’s corruption is new birth in Christ. Everything else falls short of the mark. Thus, while these things appear to be godly, it is truly only an appearance, for God Himself has been excluded. The secular ethical system is doomed to fail for just this reason.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, instead, places ethics in their proper place:

Those who wish even to focus on the problem of a Christian ethic are faced with an outrageous demand—from the outset they must give up, as inappropriate to this topic, the very two questions that led them to deal with the ethical problem: “How can I be good?” and “How can I do something good?” Instead they must ask the wholly other, completely different question: what is the will of God?[4]

He goes on to explain why this is the fundamental question of ethics, saying:

This demand is radical precisely because it presupposes a decision about ultimate reality, that is, a decision of faith. When the ethical problem presents itself essentially as the question of my own being good and doing good, the decision has already been made that the self and the world are the ultimate realities. All ethical reflection then has the goal that I be good, and that the world—by my action—becomes good. If it turns out, however, that these realities, myself and the world, are themselves embedded in a wholly other ultimate reality, namely, the reality of God the Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer, then the ethical problem takes on a whole new aspect. Of ultimate importance, then, is not that I become good, but that the reality of God show itself everywhere to be the ultimate reality.[5]

The ethics of secularism and of Christianity stem from radically different visions of reality. Without a notion of either God or eternity, secularism is necessarily bound to both the self and the world as the basis of reality, and, as Bonhoeffer noted, the questions of ethical goodness necessarily follow. However, if God the Creator of heaven and earth truly exists, then reality is fundamentally rooted in His very nature, and the question of ethics begins with knowing God’s will, since He alone defines the meaning of good.

Rooted in self and the world as ultimate realities, secularism has no such stable definition of good and, therefore, no solid ground for morality. Goodness, in secularism, is an ever-shifting ideal with most of its present stability owing to the lingering legacy from when Christianity dominated society. As Tom Holland argues in his book Dominion, secular values such as human rights, love, and kindness are fundamentally Christian, even when the modern world pretends that they are not.[6] In other words, the ethics of secularism are mostly built upon a Christian foundation, which is why they appear godly. Yet without God and His revelation through Scripture, the basis of secular morality is nothing more than a house built on sand. It is somewhat standing for the moment, but in time, as the winds and rains pour down, it will collapse. A godliness without God simply cannot endure.

Of course, because secularism has in many ways bound itself, I believe, inevitably to Marxism, the destabilization of all things, including of language and morality, is seen as their chief tool for building a perfectly equitable world without classes or distinctions.[7] They welcome the shifting sands, calling it the march of progress. They believe that the ability to deconstruct all of society, even down to the reality of truth itself, will ultimately serve their building a utopia on earth. Indeed, the aim of cultural Marxism is to apply the economic principles of Marxism, namely, the destruction of all classes, onto culture itself. This only means that instead of building a house upon the sand; they are erecting a new Tower of Babel. But a larger building only means a larger collapse when it comes.

And it will come. We must hold with deeper conviction the solid rock of Jesus Christ, so that we may not be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). For both the premise and promise of secularism are crafty schemes devised by human cunning, and they will fall. In that day, let us be found in obedience to the Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”


[1] Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (jonathan-edwards.org)

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Vol. II, 288.

[3] This is when a cultural offenders private information, such as home address, is made public, so that the social media outrage can bleed over into real life.  

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 1.

[5] Ibid.

[6] I would also add that our present culture of victimhood is nothing more than a secular distortion of the Beatitudes, but perhaps we can explore that particular thought further another day.

[7] Here again, we could go down the rabbit hole of showing how the dominance of secularism and the rise of paganism are intertwined, but alas, we’ll save it for another day as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s