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 study 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 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 -- are 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 book also includes a fascinating case study of the destruction of moral reform politics in Boston through ridicule and sarcasm. 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 to clear Constitutional intent.
Similarly, a chapter on journalism shows how "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 accelerated journalism's slide from a sometimes erratic mix of truth-telling and cultural conservatism toward a leftist ideological tilt so profound that CBS and Dan Rather ignored elementary principles of verification in their irrational exuberance over "getting the goods" on President Bush.
"The Secular Revolution" provides many valuable insights into 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.
Smith repeatedly shows that secularization was not "the natural and inevitable byproduct of 'modernization' (but) was in fact something much more like a contested revolutionary struggle than a natural evolutionary progression."
His 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."
The battle of ideas is also a battle for power. We should not overlook the ambitions and arrogance of people who claim to be unbiased experts and public servants, especially since intellectual peacocks of a feather flock together.
"The Secular Revolution," with all its stories of Christian and conservative defeat, is actually a hopeful book. 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.