Say we grant the claim that secularism is, today, the enemy of Mormonism. What follows?
What follows is that secularism ought to be first in line for Mormon love and Mormon thinking. Secularism ought to be greeted fearlessly. No one should be thinking harder or better about secularism than Mormonism. And no one should be doing more to rethink truths from the secular position than Mormonism.
Now, again, a fearless extension of the truth to the secular position doesn’t amount to either an adoption or a rejection of that position. Rather, the work of thinking must transfigure that position.
It must proceed as an occupation that simultaneously transfigures all three elements involved: the enemy, Mormonism, and the truth. If our fearless thinking doesn’t transfigure all three, then, whatever else was managed, truth will fail.
More, let me emphasize that love’s extension of the truth, its refusal to treat the truth as narrow and proprietary, is not a gesture of appeasement. It is a form of resistance. It is a form of resistance that refuses to allow the enemy to be the enemy, that refuses to allow the enemy to be positioned as what must be excluded or opposed.
Animated by love, real thinking is a form of fearless resistance that begins by offering again and again that most counterintuitive (but most Christian) of all gestures: it turns the other cheek. Rather than facing down the enemy, real thinking turns its head to see what the enemy is seeing. This gesture of love embodies the deepest possible act of resistance: it contests the enemy’s right to be an enemy rather than a friend.
Secularism needs to be contested. But if it is contested in the wrong way—if it is met with aggression or capitulation—then our resistance risks only reinforcing the oppositions upon which secularism itself depends. For the sake of truth, we must contest the founding oppositions that define secularism as such.
Secularism defines itself in opposition to the not-secular. That is, it defines itself in opposition to religion.
To agree to this opposition, to agree that secularism and religion are enemies, is to have agreed in advance that secularism should be allowed to frame the debate.
Once this right is granted and its attendant opposition codified, truth has already been compromised. Ceding this opposition allows secularism to define—for both the secular person and the religious person—what religion is.
Religion never understood itself as the “not-secular” until secularism defined it that way. And if religion wants to be serious about contesting secularism, it shouldn’t start by granting that point. It shouldn’t start by ratifying secularism’s right to be the enemy. And it definitely shouldn’t start, as many conservatives and defenders of the faith seem to do, by taking a secular premise—that religion is, essentially, the not-secular—as the key to understanding religion itself. Transfiguring the secular will require that we steadfastly refuse to grant the premise that religion and secularism are enemies.
You’ve doubtless seen, on a thousand fronts, how this same sad fight plays out over and over between the secular and the religious under their “liberal” and “conservative” aliases.
The liberal and conservative pair is a secular pair. To accept their opposition as a frame for combatively appropriating rather than compassionately extending truths is, again, to have undercut truth right from the start. It doesn’t matter, here, that the conservative position is “opposed” to the secular position because the opposition is itself secular. In fact, it’s this very opposition that defines the legitimacy of secularism.
The resulting irony is pretty thick: loyal conservative opposition to liberal positions may goose some local tactical wins, but the astonishingly fierce loyalty of conservatives to the rules of this secular game guarantees, in the end, their strategic defeat.
Mutatis mutandis, the same is just as true for the liberal position.
Fearless Mormon thinking will refuse to play this game.
It will refuse to carve up the world into the secular versus the religious (or the liberal versus the conservative) and it will, instead, roam the whole world searching for truths, extending truths, transfiguring truths, and thinking through every manifestation of truth—always once more, always again—wherever those truths happen to show themselves.
Fearless Mormon thinking will undermine wholesale the validity of the distinctions upon which the secular project depends and it will construct a new space for thinking that won’t allow the secular to operate as religion’s governing opposition.
Then, having decommissioned secularism as a governing term in religious self-understanding, it will evaluate, absorb, and repurpose the best elements of secularism itself.
And, finally, in the process of transfiguring the secular, Mormonism will itself be transfigured by its love for the enemy.