Secular religion [is] dominated by the central doctrine of pluralism, which D. A. Carson describes: “Any notion that a particular ideological or religious claim is intrinsically superior to another is necessarily wrong. The only absolute creed is the creed of pluralism. No religion has the right to pronounce itself right or true, and the others false, or even (in the majority view) relatively inferior.”6
As we Christians seek to live Christianly in the culture in which we find ourselves, it is important that we recognize how values contrary to God have infiltrated our culture so that we can respond appropriately. The naturalist and empiricist philosophies that emerged in western civilization as a result of the Enlightenment began quickly to spread, first among the elite intelligencia, and eventually to the public largely through culture. The ultimate result of these philosophical shifts was a fundamental change in worldview from metaphysical realism to nominalism, which denies transcendent reality and intrinsic meaning—ultimately reality exists in what can be experienced with the physical senses. Faulkner describes the worldview that dominates post-Enlightenment as “self-conscious”—indeed, he calls the Enlightenment “The Self-Conscious Revolution”1—and characterizes it as follows:
- It excels in detail, in providing reasonable answers to various specific elements of the complex mysteries of the universe.
- To do this, it insists on organization and efficiency.
- The primary satisfactions in offers to its adherents are a sense of freedom, initiative, and adventure.2
As Faulkner notes, each of these emphases have always been somewhat inherent in the world-conscious worldview of Christianity, but in healthy measure. However, “the appreciation of human individuality grew steadily stronger in the wake of Renaissance humanism. Among its many effects were a rise in the estimation of private, individual worship as over against cultic worship (which is always communal in spirit) and a corresponding slackening of the indispensable requirement for full participation in cultic events.”3 He further explains, “The cult places God at the absolute, unrivaled center of consciousness. When the consciousness of God as the center is dislodged by a focus on the human self as the center of interest and concern, then the cult is inevitably transformed.”4
This fundamental shift of worldview put Christians in an awkward position because many of their beliefs were not able to be proven through empirical evidence, leading many toward a rejection of God altogether. People in the eighteenth century did not throw away any conception of God immediately, of course. Changes in philosophy and culture, as quickly as they did occur during this period, do not happen overnight.