This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Secularism and the invention of religion

Without anticipating what we will have to say in a later section devoted exclusively to the relationship between Church and State, we cannot avoid mentioning that subject here because it is central to Liberal theory. Here we will cite Cortés:

As regards the Liberal school, I will merely say of it, that in its profound ignorance it despises theology, and not because it is not theological in its way, but because, though it is, it does not know it. This school has not yet comprehended, and probably will never comprehend, the close link that unites divine and human things, the great relationship which political things have with social and religious questions, and the dependence which all problems relative to government have on those others which refer to God, the Supreme Legislator of all human associations.[1]

As the natural-supernatural dichotomy became prevalent, so also did the notion that religious life could be separated from so-called “ordinary life.” As difficult as it is for us to understand, being educated from the cradle in the mold of Liberalism, the concept of religion as we understand it had at a certain point to be invented.

In previous ages, there was simply life, and life had its intermingling degrees including a mundane material aspect as well as a transcendent or spiritual aspect. The religious dimension was mysterious but omnipresent and it has experiential weight. It was not some superadded belief of which a person became convinced, a kind of philosophical afterthought, but was a premise that ran through everything else as the superstructure of reality: all questions were in some way religious questions. If you followed any line of thought far enough, it terminated in the divine. There was no purely economic life, for every craft had its own patron saint. There was a theology of work through which every industrious activity from saddle-making to glassblowing could be seen as an expression of the true, and on that basis could be judged as either good or bad, human or inhuman.

Liberalism, having attempted to rationalize and naturalize itself, severed this tie and from that moment on the sacred became excluded from all areas of life beyond that which was officially labeled religious, and this religious partition was inevitably very small in proportion to that claimed by ‘ordinary life’, and which fell conveniently under the purview of the secular authorities of the new nation-states.

But as Cortés observed above, the exclusion of the sacred from public life proved impossible even for those who willed it. Rather than accept banishment, the impulse to worship simply migrated to secular arenas and secular objects, and these became the temples and idols of the pseudo-religion of the Liberal state.

It could not happen overnight. The foundations of a new mythology with a new pantheon had to be laid out, replacing Abraham with Thomas Jefferson, St. Paul with Galileo. Then a new set of rigid ideologies were brought forward to catechize the people in this new way of life. Ideologies like democracy, capitalism, socialism, nationalism, etc. Their sacraments are the vote and the pledge of allegiance. These all promoted new ‘doctrines’ with new rituals, new dogmas, and new answers to the perennial problems of life, no less demanding than the old, only less satisfying to the pilgrim.

[1] Juan Donoso Cortés, Essays, 60.

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