Feature stories in this issue show how some public-school teachers and administrators are hostile toward biblical understanding and values but open to whacky proposals. The same tendency is evident among many academic and media leaders, and the obvious question is: why?
For years I've minimized any talk of conspiracies and emphasized the importance of the battle of ideas. But now along comes a book, The Secular Revolution, edited by University of North Carolina professor Christian Smith and surprisingly published this year by the liberal University of California Press, that shows a whole lot of plotting going on.
The Secular Revolution is difficult reading because most of its chapters display the academic dislike of plain English. But it is worth reading for its specific detail on how anti-Christian intellectual leaders substituted for biblical hope "their own visions of secular progress," and became famous and rich in the process.
As Mr. Smith puts it, "Intellectuals are not any more 'above' the pursuit of status, power, and wealth than others." Bribes-often thinly disguised as university chairs and foundation grants-can be as effective among intellectuals as among others. A relatively small group of people who control the mechanisms of laud and lucre can have a tremendous influence on ambitious academics.
The Secular Revolution shows how key influencers pushed universities to teach that the perfection of social mechanisms will deliver us from evil, including the evil of that primitive human invention known as religion. Other chapters show how, starting in the 19th century, the National Education Association and interest groups of secularizing scientists appropriated for themselves the sole franchise for defining the public good in education and research.
The Secular Revolution includes a fascinating case study of the destruction of moral reform politics in Boston through ridicule and sarcasm. A chapter on a once-influential magazine, The Christian Century, shows how fashionable psychological theories undercut faith that objective truth exists. A chapter on those who sold the concept that law is socially constructed (rather than natural) provides good background for understanding how the Supreme Court came to assert its supremacy over clear constitutional intent.
I need to report that Richard Flory's chapter on journalism takes me to task. I've avoided conspiracy talk in the books I've written about journalism: Biola sociology professor Mr. Flory accurately reports that "for Olasky, the secularization of the press was the result of a conflict of ideas in which secular ideas, promoted by powerful journalists and publishers, each of whom subscribed to some form of a materialist world view, simply won out over religious ideas." Mr. Flory then does a good job of providing "a different story . . . key persons within journalism (especially publishers and editors, and also journalism professionalizers from the ranks of the universities and the active press) actively sought to minimize and ultimately to undermine traditional religion."
That's a valuable insight about why secular revolutionaries succeeded in journalism as in other fields. They turned science from a pursuit that supported theism into one that viewed Christianity as a barrier to true knowledge. They turned colleges from sites where faith and knowledge would be integrated into fortresses of bias against faith. Editor Smith repeatedly shows that secularization was not "the natural and inevitable by-product of 'modernization' [but] was in fact something much more like a contested revolutionary struggle than a natural evolutionary progression."
Christian Smith's bottom line: "The secularization of the institutions of American public life did not happen by accident or happenstance. . . . [It was] an achievement of specific groups of people, many of whom intended to marginalize religion. The people at the core of these secularizing movements, at least, knew what they were doing, and they wanted to do it."
Schools, universities, media fortresses. They change because of cultural pressures but also because some people promote their friends, buy off in various ways their enemies, and purge those who cannot be seduced. I'm not about to minimize the battle of ideas and become a conspiracy theorist. But just as a president's personal values are crucial in the development of public policy, so the ambitions and arrogance of people who claim to be unbiased experts and public servants are important as well-and intellectual peacocks of a feather flock together.
The Secular Revolution, with all its stories of Christian defeat, is actually a hopeful book, because if conscious activity moved American society one way in the past, a new type of activity can, with God's grace, move it another way in the future.