Notes Towards a Post-Secular Society

Nicholas Beale 20 July, 1998 (revised 5 Dec 98).  Hosted by the Star Course

20 years ago it seemed to many inevitable that communism and socialism would take over the world. Their rise seemed un-stoppable. Where are they now - collapsed under their own contradictions. In this collapse five people played the pivotal roles: Regan, Thatcher, Woitya, Gorbachev and Walesa: 80% of these were Christians (and there are rumours about Gorbachev).

Now to many in 'the West' the rising tide of secularism seems inevitable. The media have swallowed the 'Urban Myth' so heavily popularised by Richard Dawkins and others that "scientific evolution inevitably implies there is no God", head-teachers in the UK are voting for an end to Christian assemblies, and in the US there are threats to use the army to enforce the 'constitutional right' of activists to prevent prayer in public buildings. Even more perniciously, a philosophical climate has grown up, largely unchallenged until recently, which does not so much deny the existence of God as ignore it as a non-issue, unworthy of serious consideration.

Yet some of the most perceptive thinkers are beginning to realise that a fundamental change is taking place in 'Western thought'. Charles Handy, arguably the world's most respected management thinker, wrote in 1997 a book called "The Hungry Spirit" whose argument "is that in our hearts, we would all like to find a purpose bigger than ourselves because that will raise us to heights we have not dreamed of." Patrick Glynn, Associate Director of the immensely influential Institute for Communitarian Development at George Washington University, which is at the hub of new thinking for both the US and UK Governments, wrote a book called God: The Evidence and sub-titled The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular World. Reviewing John Polkinghorne's Belief in God in an Age of Science Dr Glynn writes "The West is entering a new chapter in its intellectual history, and John Polkinghorne is one of a handful of scientists who have already, so to speak, managed to read several pages ahead in the text.... John Polkinghorne's intermarriage of scientific and theological insight may well presage a new ``post-secular'' stage in Western thought".

I would define post-secular society is one that has stopped pretending that spirituality is an epiphenomenon. It seems to me that the key ingredients are:

There is a very interesting book Post-Secular Philosophy : Between Philosophy and Theology Edited by Phillip Blond Routledge; ISBN: 0415097789 which I am just reading, published in 1997. I'm not sure how much I agree with it in detail (but who cares?!!). I've put some information up about it here - I Strongly Urge you to look at this!. Phillip Blond argues that "it is only an account of matter’s absolute and utter dependence upon God that can overcome the dreadful vacuity and despair that this age has fallen into." and with a stellar array of collaborators demonstrates the failure of the attempts of the modern project to provide adequate foundations for its atheistic worldview.

Some other interesting comments

The post-secular age poses the greatest challenge that art has ever encountered. Lost between the modern and what-is-to-come, art has the full responsibility of developing new modes of consciousness. "The term post-secular refers to the direction that new consciousness, art and world culture as a whole, is attempting to move towards."

(Dean Robin -

John McClure's "Post-Secular Culture" -- is it an omen that it, too, makes use of Potocka's thought? -- surveys the breakdown of secularization narratives and the granting of at least possible viability to religion in postmodern critical theory and novelistic practice. Such novelists as Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Michael Ondaatje, and Don DeLillo -- whose The Names receives detailed analysis -- are among those who have been empowered "by the success of postmodern theory in undermining the foundations of secular certainty, to cast off literary realism's disenchanted construction of reality and the self." Though I suspect that the practitioners of art led the developers of literary theory and not, as McClure states it, the other way around, one thing becomes clear: in contemporary culture the aesthetic increasingly centers on the possibilities of spiritual rebirth. Those who want further evidence can find it in "Hope for the Millennium," as Umberto Eco and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini search for a definition of hope that believers and unbelievers might share.


Patrick Glynn had an interesting article called “Beyond The Death of God” National Review (May 6, 1996), which is posted here.