Book Review: The End of Secularism

I was recently approached to review a book for one of my professors at HBU, Dr. Hunter Baker. I was flattered by the opportunity to put my name among others who have reviewed the book, such as Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute, and David Dockery, President of Union University – though in no way does this place me among their esteemed ranks. The book is titled, The End of Secularism. Read below for my review, or go to Amazon.com and see what others are saying. Either way, I highly recommend it.

Wesley Gant’s review of The End of Secularism, by Hunter Baker (224 p.)

For the pragmatic atheists and religious zealots alike, The End of Secularism will test beliefs and sharpen understanding. In his recent contribution, Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D., takes on an ambitious challenge to correct the false ideas that have been injected into modern thought surrounding the role of religious influence in the public square and the supposed objectivity of the secular position. Through a detailed examination of history and the bringing together of notable thinkers spanning the centuries, Baker lays out an impenetrable case against an increasingly tolerated but insufficiently vetted point of view that favors the secularization of society as a means of peace and progress.  With every step, readers are drawn to the central premise – that secularism, despite its persistent application as a supposed neutral arbiter of conflicting public interests, is in fact an aggressive interest all its own, and furthermore, that failure to recognize this truth poses a great threat to the free expression of valid public concerns and ideas through the marginalization and privatization of religious conviction.

A good portion of The End of Secularism is devoted to defining the terms and clarifying the contexts surrounding his thesis. Responding to fundamental questions pertaining to the nature and purpose of government and the proper role of church authority, Baker navigates two thousand years of church and state relationships, examining the mechanisms and motivating forces behind the tensions of convoluted powers. Widely understood as a period of unrest and religious warring, this era has become an easy target for advocates of privatized faith, but pivotal details are often omitted for the sake of a strategic narrative. Baker reveals that the source of strife was not the presence of religious interests, but a failure to construct the proper systems for multiple interests to enter into peaceful discourse and reconciliation. He argues that a just system of public debate should consider far less whether a faction is of a religious or secular nature, and more on the weight and value of its input, ensuring that all concerns are considered valid. “Bracketing off religion does not solve the problem of toleration,” Baker argues, “It just disadvantages one set of orthodoxies from interacting with the many secular orthodoxies roaming free in a liberal society.” He points out that through the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, our young nation sought not to remove religion from the table, but to ensure it full and unhindered participation, and protect the rights of men whose values and civic engagement were shaped by internal convictions.

This is not, however, to be taken as a free license to theocratic government. In fact, Baker asserts, “Whether coercion is religious, philosophical or even based on a radically different reading of the available facts, the harm is the harm is the harm.” The tyrant is not religion or lack thereof; it is the coercive nature of the marriage of interest and power. It is essential in a free society, and inherent in our claim to equality, that all voices are heard, and that the power to silence is given to no one.

Baker confronts the peacemaking claim of secularism, destroying myths that have been crafted by its advocates. He deconstructs the false story of the war between religion and science, and shows how peace on the basis of empirical reasoning alone is an unreachable and illogical notion that has failed at every test. Peaceful solutions are possible when peaceful solutions are the aim of all parties – and in no way does the absence of religion provide a better support for such an objective.

I found particularly interesting Baker’s assessment of the anti-Christian nature of the French Revolution and the subsequent secularization of Europe. He posits that unlike the American colonies, which saw a significantly more independent church, the European model overlapped religious and secular authority to such a degree that a weary populace of eighteenth-century revolutionaries disposed of church leaders and institutions with the same swiftness and fury as state leaders. Europe has since been reluctant to embrace a Christianity that is viewed by many as a partner in tyranny.

Baker also addresses the constitutionality of the separation argument. A school of thought that has pervaded the courts for decades insists that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment purges from all governmental functions any reference to, or involvement with religious speech or symbols, claiming that this constitutes an “endorsement” of a religion. It seems that very few people have asked the question of whether it was endorsement or coercion that our Founders were attempting to prevent in the first place, for it is clear that the text refers to a legislative act of Congress. Baker puts forth this important distinction with clarity and authority.

I tended to agree with the entirety of Dr. Baker’s thesis. It is difficult to refute such well-presented points. I’ll be the first to admit that I am no theologian, and I am unfamiliar with a number of the scholarly texts that are brought into the discussion, but the author makes no attempts to hide his research. Full blocks of referenced text are supplied with unreserved abundance, allowing the reader a greater sense of understanding about the works that contributed to this polemic. In the process of observing Dr. Baker’s personal insights, I became more familiar with influential contributors of years past, from Aquinas to Luther; from Weber to Rousseau.

To the interested reader, I would suggest a highlighter, a pen and a great deal of unhindered isolation. The End of Secularism, with its depth and breadth of subject matter and detail, is a valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion of religion and politics that demands its place on the shelf of leading academics and aspiring preachers and politicos worldwide. For anyone who has ever asked whether it is appropriate to invoke religious convictions into business decisions or the formulating of a political stance, this book should serve as a conclusive answer. I look forward to future work from Dr. Baker, whom I believe is among a new generation of Christian intellectuals that will help rebuild the causeway between unwavering faith and uncompromised reason.

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