James Kalb asks the important question “How Long Will Secular Liberalism Endure?” That is a good question. Secular Liberalism does indeed seem to be taking over here in America. In terms of mainstream cultural institutions; mass media, public schools, government policy; it certainly seems like Secular Liberalism is taking over and becoming more aggressive and hostile towards those holding to traditional morality. At the same time looking at statistical social indicators people’s functioning in their family life appears to be deteriorating much more slowly today than was the case before the recent ascendancy of Secular Liberalism.
Atheism took off starting in 1991. Support for “gay marriage” has been climbing steadily since 1986 (the first year I’ve seen a poll taken on the subject); but the rise in support for so called “gay marriage” has been constant and relatively rapid since 2004, the crossover point where more supported “gay marriage” than opposed it apparently being in 2011. Atheism and “gay marriage” to me seem like hallmarks of more aggressive cultural revolution and Secular Liberalism. Denying God (in the sense of denying an external order above man) is pretty hard core; claiming that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality is also pretty hard core. These are extreme positions historically.
It is quite amazing how atheistic the Democratic Party is becoming. There is also a libertarian strand among the Republicans that is growing that I would characterize as atheistic. Atheism and support for “gay marriage” is particularly strong among the young and the libertarian form of Republicanism is strong among young Republicans. At the same time however it should be pointed out that radical social conservatism is also particularly strong among the young, that the fast growing Christian Complementarian or Christian Patriarchy churches (mostly Protestant and often Calvinist) are mostly made up of a young demographic.
What is interesting however is that the big rapid deterioration in family indicators happened from 1960 to 1995. More extreme liberal beliefs in the mainstream do not appear to be corresponding with continuing or accelerating decline in social indicators as one might expect.
The most important part of Secular Liberalism is the “Secular” part; the most important element of the rising political order is the rejection of God imposed moral rules or moral obligations. There is this idea that the human community as a whole is free to invent any kind of social system that it wants; that human beings collectively as an act of will can create for themselves whatever social system seems best or fairest or most conducive to human happiness. Just as a hypothetical, let’s pretend that human beings collectively can invent themselves and design whatever social system they desire to live in and that whatever social system they come up with will work. What would be the ideal society under such circumstances? How about a place where everybody is treated fairly and everybody is facilitated in getting what they want? What could be wrong with that? What is good is the individual getting what they want; this being true axiomatically. The goodness of society then can be thought of as the agglomeration of the individual goods of all of the different individuals in society all added up together. So the best achievable society then is the society that maximizes the ability of each individual to get what they desire; then the individual desires satisfied all added up together will be at their maximum and the ideal social system will have been achieved. It actually makes perfect sense.
This is essentially what Secular Liberalism is in its cultural manifestation. The premise of Secular Liberalism is wrong but under the assumption that the premise of Secular Liberalism is true then all of the policies and attitudes of Secular Liberalism make sense. A social conservative then is irrational as they support social restrictions that make no sense (given the rudimentary not very sophisticated moral system of the Secular Liberal); indeed the fact that the social conservative appeals to religion to justify their support for social restrictions proves that the social conservative and the social restrictions the social conservative supports are irrational since religion itself is nothing but an elaborate system of self-delusion and irrationality. Furthermore since reason is on the side of the Secular Liberal, Secular Liberalism itself being nothing but pure reason at its core, support for social conservatism has to be motivated by something besides reason; something like animus for the “other” or an arrogant sense of ones own superiority or a desire to put others down to elevate oneself or simply a desire to control others for ones own advantage. Religion of course is the central organizing force and justification for all of these nefarious base human desires whose manifestation is the social conservative world view.
Secular Liberalism is the derivative conclusion that logically follows from the starting premise that there is no God, that there is nothing above the human being or more precisely nothing above the collective organization of human beings known as government. This idea is manifestly delusional but it is the foundational belief, one might say faith, that Secular Liberalism rests upon.
So there is a conundrum going on. Why is it that family breakdown suddenly slows in 1995 but atheism starts its recent rapid rise in 1991 continuing to today while support for “gay marriage” has been steadily growing since 1986 and has been growing particularly fast since 2004? There appears to be an acceleration in support for more extreme culturally liberal positions going on while at the same time there has been a sharp slowdown in the speed of deterioration of family indicators. It is like the political situation is getting worse simultaneously with the family situation getting better.
Can people become more dysfunctional in their beliefs and less dysfunctional in their behaviors at the same time? That appears to be what’s going on overall at the national level everybody being averaged together. There does appear to be a bifurcation going on; extreme social liberalism becoming more popular and extreme social conservatism also growing at the same time. However the extreme social liberal side in a political sense seems much bigger than the extreme social conservative side. Looking at family indicators revulsion against the dysfunctional family behaviors associated with Secular Liberalism seems widespread; widespread enough to almost stop the deterioration in many important family indicators completely.
There’s a conflict going on between how people think and how people behave. People are intellectually embracing more radical freedom and rejection of social constraints while at the same time placing more constraints upon themselves in their own personal lives.
In this battle between belief and personal behavior I think that people’s beliefs will come to conform to their behaviors and in this way support for social conservatism intellectually and politically will grow. Changing ones beliefs is harder than changing ones behavior; this is why change in behavior is being seen first. People can choose “as a matter of personal preference” to adopt a more conservative lifestyle without having to radically alter their world view first so this is what people are doing. In order for more functional behavior to be maintained or to be improved further a change in belief in a conservative direction will prove necessary. This is what will motivate the next step of people intellectually adopting conservative principles on a large scale.