Generally held to be the last of the great Princeton theologians J Grecham Machen led the fight for orthodoxy against the liberal takeover of the church in the early 20th century. Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism, originally an address given on 3rd November 1921 and later expanded into a book. In it he argued that evangelical Christianity and liberalism were, in effect, two very different religions.
He could have gone further and argued that any form of orthodox Christianity and liberalism differed in everything other than the spelling of the actual words used, their meanings often being entirely different. What was then termed ‘liberal’ Christianity and today ‘progressive’ Christianity guts the foundational doctrines of Christianity and substitutes for them a vague concept of Christianity as ‘a way of life’.
The important difference between the situation Machen faced and today’s is that the struggle has expanded. Then the struggle was within the church between two differing version of what Christianity meant. Today the struggle is between orthodox Christianity and secular humanism itself, a humanism which has co-opted a major sector of the church. Progressive Christianity functions as the ecclesiastical branch of secularism. As Kipling wrote, ‘ They’re like as a row of pins – For the Colonel’s Lady an’ Judy O’Grady Are sisters under their skins!’
The clash played out today is between orthodox Christianity and those who are religiously committed to secular progressivism. On both sides we find those who are deeply and sincerely committed to their own worldviews and doctrines. That the secular progressive does not believe in God or gods does not mean that he does not hold his views with religious passion and faith.
Since the French Revolution with its secular religion in the idolatrous worship of reason the term religion has assumed the additional connotation of being dedicated to abstract principles or ideals rather than a personal being. Thus today we have the term ’evangelical’ used whenever a politician is passionate about his or her beliefs.
William James observed in The Varieties of Religious Experience that it is not necessary to ‘positively assume a God’ in order to have a religion. James insisted that ‘godless or quasi-godless creeds’ also can qualify as religions, which, given its devout belief system and the fervor of its adherents, clearly would include today’s environmentalism.
Paul Tillich similarly defined religion as a comprehensive belief system that seeks to answer questions of ‘ultimate concern’ to human existence. For Tillich, it was characteristic of our time that ‘the most important religious movements are developing outside of (official) religion’.
In the UK on 3rd Nov 2009, Justice Michael Burton sitting in an employment case found that a litigant’s belief in man-made climate were so deeply held that it was entitled to the same protection as religious convictions, and ruled that an employment tribunal should hear his claim that he was sacked because of his beliefs.
We are all deeply committed to our own worldview and presuppositions. Absolute value neutrality is an impossibility. Our ideological divides are unlikely to be overcome without intellectual struggle. I know that of which I write. Once upon a time I was a progressive, and held to that position with religious fervour. I realised much of my position was wrong, but was unable to consider the alternative. People who did not share the Liberal/Left/Progressive viewpoint were either unthinking drones or racist, sexist, evil and uncaring, heartless monsters about to fall into step with the Nazis. This was a religious verity held with true faith.
In environmentalism we find canonical scriptures, irrefutable dogma, martyrs, priests and rituals, parochial congregations and even an eschatology. Joel Garreau, a former Washington Post editor, wrote in 2010, ‘faith-based environmentalism increasingly sports saints, sins, prophets, predictions, heretics, sacraments and rituals’.
Modern secular progressivism has its own fiercely propounded dogmas. Reason will overcome the obscurantism of religious superstition and science will eventually find the answers to all of humanity’s problems, physical and moral. It even has its own eschatology; perfectibility, if not just around the corner, can occasionally be glimpsed on the horizon. Likewise no one does apocalyptic quite as well as an environmentalist.
The high priests and priestesses of this religion are the public intellectuals who present progressive values in the public square. Their parishes are to be found in abortion rights groups, Stonewall, UAF, and the like. Increasingly they are to be found amongst those given to environmental activism. Such congregations supply a sense of cohesion and camaraderie for the progressive.
The sins of secular progressivism are many, they manage to make the Puritans seem lax. The list includes ‘sexism,’ ‘homophobia,’ ‘Islamophobia,’ and every possible ‘phobia’ other than an actual phobia. However, chief amongst modern sins are those of an environmental nature, some environmentalists even claiming ‘humanity is a cancer on the body of the world’.
Satan continues to quote Scripture. Christ’s instruction to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s has become a cornerstone in the drive for secularist supremacy. According to the secularist gospel this means that there must be an absolute separation of church and state and Christian belief is something to be practiced in private and must never intrude into the public square. The new religion cannot cede space to the old religion, especially when the new religion is the established faith.