The Rise of Religious Conflict
Christians seem to be in conflict with our society over a range of issues. Some are matters of life and death (e.g. euthanasia, abortion), others are of family structure (same-sex marriage, pre-marital sex, polygamy). But there are many other issues on which we seem to be out of step, such as: education (church schools and religious instruction in state schools); work practices (weekend holidays); hedonism (gambling, pornography) and censorship (accusations of hate speech and insistence on ‘inclusive’ language). Prior to the Coronavirus, the Federal Government was trying to legislate for some religious freedom because of the use or abuse of anti-discrimination legislation. But that is very difficult, not the least because of the meaning of ‘religion’.
‘Religion’ is a funny word which defies definition, especially in a multi-cultural setting. It speaks of a commitment to an ultimate reality which requires some ‘obligation’, ‘duty’ or ‘bond’. Some would emphasize the ‘ultimate’ nature of this reality in speaking of God, gods, spirits, spirituality or even moral absolutes such as being humane. Others would emphasise the bonded nature or their ‘bounden duty’ to behave in a certain way, making religion similar to ‘conscience’. Still others would speak of the character of these obligations in terms of their cultic rituals, sets of beliefs or ethical behaviour.
The European Enlightenment rejected God, elevated ’Man’ as the measure of all things and defined religion in terms of the rejection of the modern learning. Thus, creating the faux war between science and religion. It also created the need to impose upon colonial cultures the concept of ‘religion’, in order to understand them (e.g. Hinduism was the way of Indian life until Westerners identified it as a religion).
Today, ‘religion’ is often used to mean an irrational, if not unreasonable, commitment to unproven and unprovable ideas. These commitments involve cultic practices, institutional membership, behavioural ethics. But because atheists view religion as irrational by definition, discussion with their devotees is generally deemed by them as useless.
Differing religions, cultures or worldviews are not a problem in an individualistic or multicultural society. But two scenarios in particular create social tensions because of these differing worldviews. The first occurs when the society wants to operate as a whole or in a united fashion. Then differing commitments can create real conflict; especially when those commitments are greater than the commitment to the society (e.g. an Australian who happens to be Muslim is different to a Muslim who happens to be an Australian).
The second scenario occurs when somebody makes claims for truth that have universal implications. Such claims imply superiority, proselytizing and division, or worst still, the imposition of the claims of one group upon others, if not upon society as a whole. Thus Buddhism, Hinduism and Relativism are more tolerable world views as their truth claims are less absolute and their proselytising low key, at most. But Christianity and Islam are more difficult for their claims are more absolute, even if not imposed on a society.
Consequently, religion has become a running sore in our society. Christianity in particular has become hostage to its own historical significance in creating our society. For with multiculturalism the dominance of any one ‘religion’ is forbidden. So, we see conflict over the issues raised at the beginning of this article.
The New Religion
Yet, on many of the issues listed above, it is not with other so called ‘religions’ that Christians disagree but rather with the new religion of ‘Progressivism’; the inner-city elitist religion, propagated in our educational institutions and promoted in our public media, that brooks no dissent or discussion. ‘Progressivism’ as a word goes back to the Enlightenment and has been used by different naturalistic groups ever since. I do not use the word in contrast to conservative or even as a political slogan either positively or negatively. Rather it is a coverall word for the many and varied groups whose commitment to a variety of worldly social issues functions as a religion.
Progressivism is not a pastime like football or gardening. Progressivism is more like what we mean by the word ‘religion’. It’s not called a ‘religion’ and so is taught in our schools and universities. Yet it is a commitment to an ultimate reality which requires some ‘obligation’, ‘duty’ or ‘bond’. And in its pursuit, its devotees wish to impose their views on the behaviour, conduct and even speech on the whole of society.
It claims the Enlightenment heritage of evidence-based objectivity even though rejecting the possibility of moral objectivity. Its proponents use instances of moral repugnance (domestic violence, gay bashing, racism, police brutality) to recruit followers, redefine society and call for cultural change. From the high moral ground on these particular issues it brings people into a new morality and a commitment to humanist values and existentialist morality.
But moral absolutism is a strange beast in multicultural relativism. So, the English language is recast to make relativism absolute, by inventing a set of modern emotive shibboleths, that require unwavering commitment. Accusing ‘religion’ of being irrational, Progressivism shows itself to be irrationally religious. Any attempt to temper the movement with logical discussion is met by abusive shaming of the speaker and cancel culture. Like any good absolutist religion, heretics are dispatched with particular fervour – e.g. on transgenderism we have seen the ostracising of J. K. Rowling, Germaine Greer and Martina Navratilova.
The Evangelistic Response
How then are we going to evangelise the closed-minded Progressives, whose deception includes a deep-seated belief in their own open-minded rational commitment to relativism and universal morality? Even when we share the same moral repugnance and work with them as co-belligerents, we cannot become like them to win them any more than we can become a Hindu to reach the Hindus or a Buddhist to reach the Buddhists. For the Progressivists’ world-view and language is quite different to the Christian. We cannot express the gospel in their emotive memes or translate the word of God into their new-speak. So, the answer to how to evangelise remains the same as always – by prayerful dependence upon God, we declare Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as their servants for Jesus’ sake.