If you consider politics and religion the third rails of sociability -- touch them and the conversation dies -- you might want to reconsider asking Bruce Ledewitz to your next party. The Duquesne University law professor is a secular Jew and anti-death-penalty activist whose recent book American Religious Democracy: Coming to Terms with the End of Secular Politics (Praeger Publishers) announces that the wall between church and state has crumbled -- but also that a religious component of politics is good for us. As he writes, "Millions of Americans absolutely deny ... that it is legitimate for the voters to attempt to legislate God's will." But this form of secularism, he argues, was bound to crumble -- partly because it requires transcendent values of its own.
Ledewitz is on sabbatical to write (and seek a publisher or agent for) his planned follow-up book. Its working title is Hallowed Secularism: A Guide for the Nonbeliever, and you can follow its progress at Ledewitz's blog, www.hallowedsecularism.org.
What's Hallowed Secularism about?
[T]he big question is, what is [secularism], exactly? Right now, it's scientists who say that people who don't believe in evolution are stupid. And [that's] true -- but that's not a philosophy to live by. This book argues that secularism has to be religious. It has to be grounded in the same kind of insights and worldview that religious people have, just not the details. Not the dogma, not the doctrine. There's no God, there's no being outside time and space who has a plan -- nothing that violates the laws of science.
But then what? How do you live your life? Jesus says that he who would save his life would lose it. There's something to that. If your concern is yourself, and keeping your stuff, and owning the people around you, you will lose your life. He's right! And only by giving your life up, to something greater -- and what's greater than loving your neighbor? I think we'd all be better off reading the New Testament and trying to live like that. We [secularists] just don't think that Jesus is the son of God.
When did you start to think of yourself as secular?
Really it was the result of writing [American Religious Democracy] that I had to admit that I am in fact a secularist. I'm writing about myself.
A lot of Jews don't believe in God. But I finally began to see that if I can't be honest about myself, how can I expect to talk to other people?
And you contend secularism is spreading?
The longer-term trends are not really in dispute. We are much more secular today, and young people are much more secular today, than 50 years ago. Pushing that agenda, in 1947, was just too early. Religious people have a right to have an American religious democracy right now. They're the majority. But they're not going to remain the majority forever.