Many scholars speak of the “Post Christian” world and ask how “religion” and “faith” should fit into this world. I think that these designations reveal the prejudices of such scholars. As a Christian myself, I think it much less provincial, and much more vital, to ask “what place does Christianity have in a Post Religious culture?” For the last century-and-a-half, culture has chosen to ignore religion in general. It is not the first time in human history that the gods have been thus ignored. Nor do I think that it is attributable to any doctrine besides that of the Fall. The more humanity gains knowledge of evil, the more it is aware of its own nakedness in a sea of threats. So, as in Genesis 3, it becomes afraid and it hides from God.
This “hiding from God” is what most characterizes the present circumstances. It is not, as far as I can tell, that humanity is any more optimistic about its fate. If that were the case, the argument could be made (and some sociologists do maintain this argument), that humanity has “progressed” or “advanced” beyond its need for reliance on the uncertain spiritual myths of ages past. This bland answer fails to take into account the extreme angst of the two world wars, the nuclear age, the digital age and the socio-economic unrest of the last 100 years. It does not seem that humanity has any reason to be more optimistic than she was just prior to the beginning of the 1914. In fact, hindsight being 20/20, it is a wonder that she has any optimism left at all.
I do not think that we can blame this “flight from God,” this fugo Dei, on mere secularism. Mere secularism has always been around. There has always been an element of culture and society that has looked at God, religion and prayer as a waste of time. Quite often, it has been a large element. It has always been a rich and influential element. Many of the aristocrats of the late middle ages & early Enlightenment were just as “worldly” as the present day upper-lower-middle class first-worlder. The difference, I believe, lies not in what a secularist believes (or claims not to believe), but rather in how a secularist lives. It is the lived-contradiction of the old aristocrats that makes them different from the contemporary secularist. The old secularist still gave lip service to God, faith and the like, even if they were an utter Philistine behind closed doors. Contemporary secularists is of a much less duplicitous mind. They will proudly proclaim their agnosticism. They go out of their way to make it clear that they could are less about the existence of an Eternal Truth.
The new skeptics cannot forgot about God, but desperately desire to seem like the whole question of His existence is somehow “beneath” them. Here, I believe is the significant point of departure between the Old and New secularist and what makes the new secularist truly “post religious.” The new secularists are determined
to remain undetermined. If told they had to reveal their naked conscience, they would rather walk through the streets naked (and most explicitly choose this latter option…at least, they do here in New Orleans). Their logic: in order to “do business” in this society, they must be perceived as a tolerant, open-minded, quasi-educated 21st century person. Religious conviction of any sort gets in the way this goal. Therefore, they pretend not to care about truth, faith and the question of God’s existence. Their posture, or pose, allows the secularist to meet with the least social friction as possible. It is “cool” to be a slightly sympathetic agnostic skeptic. It gives you access to the most wealth and opportunity with the least resistance.
The funny thing about this state of affairs is that these new secularists do NOT disavow sin. They are just as keen on “social justice” as ever, even if they ignore Divine Mercy. They might act as if Heaven is empty, but they still seem quite frightened at the prospect of Hell. This is why it is best to refer to this period, not simply as “post Christian” but “post religious.” It lacks that most vital quality of any religion: hope. The secularists of this age know quite well that the world might be going to Hell in a hand basket. They can be just as scathing a social critic as any Christian preacher or Jewish prophet ever was, and have just as dire predictions about the fate of humanity. The difference between the secularist and the believer, however, is that the believer still looks to heaven on the horizon.
All this to say, there seems to me no need to be intimidated by the dreams of the contemporary secularist attitude. It is a ghastly depressing thing that says that humanity’s greatest hope revolves around comfort and convenience. They imagine we live in a paradise of spas and smartphones…and nothing more. It is their despair that should shock us and move us, not to fear, but to a strong and persistent pity. Therefore we must, as Pope Francis has said, be the field hospital. We must make hope our banner. Yes, these are depressing times, but not for the Christian or religious person. Rather, the post religious period is most depressing for the secularist. Their hope has been extinguished and they pray not for dawn. Its a good thing, then, that we are the light of the world…