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Joe Cannon: 20th-century secularization: War and the sexual revolution

Published: Sunday, June 14 2009 12:32 a.m. MDT

With no sense of irony, Christopher Hitchens includes a chapter in his atheist screed, "God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything," titled "Religion Kills." He cobbles together five or six examples of wars and killings supposedly inspired by religious zealots. He begins the chapter with a quote from his two-millennia-old fellow militant atheist, Lucretius, "To such heights of evil are men drawn by religion."

Now, there is no question that evil men under the guise of religion have committed atrocities. I neither justify nor excuse such behavior. However, all the evil acts committed in the name of religion in human history do not compare with the depredations of power-hungry men from recorded history until today. And nowhere is this more true than those atrocities committed in the 20th century by men and regimes that were and are built upon godless, totalitarian, materialistic and secular philosophies.

Paul Johnson provides an indispensable chronicle of the evils wrought by men in the 20th century. In his magisterial "Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties," Johnson notes, "For many millions, especially in the advanced nations, religion ceased to play much or any part in their lives, the ways in which the vacuum thus lost was filled, by fascism, Nazism and communism, by attempts at humanist utopianism, by the ideologies of sexual liberation, form much of the substance of the history of our century." Indeed, he notes the significant influences on this, the bloodiest of all centuries, of, among others, Darwin, Marx and Freud. "Darwin's notion of the survival of the fittest was a key element both in the Marxist concept of class warfare and of the racial philosophies which shaped Hitlerism. Indeed, the political and social consequences of Darwinian ideas have yet to work themselves out."

So that the record is clear on the scale of the bloody barbarism of the 20th century, researchers estimate the number of deaths range from between 140 million to 170 million. This includes tens of millions of deaths directly at the hands of communist, Nazi and fascist regimes. Of course, the human suffering and deprivation of rights that accompanied these deaths is not calculable.

Not only can none of this suffering be laid at the feet of religion, it is explicitly the absence of any religious or godly impulse that opened the floodgates of this blood and horror of the 20th century.

Yet another of the seeds of secularization sown in the 19th century that bloomed and bore much bitter fruit in the 20th century was the war waged by the sexual revolution against appropriate God-ordained sexual relations within the sanctity of marriage. Quite simply, our culture has reduced the exalted idea of procreation — that is, co-creation with God — to the very base and simple idea of sex as recreation. The principle weapon of the sexual revolution — indeed, the symbol of that revolution from the mid-'60s — has been the pill or other means of artificial contraception.

Many observers date the beginning of the sexual revolution to the U. S. Supreme Court decision, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). This landmark Supreme Court case struck down a Connecticut law that prohibited the sale of contraceptives. Importantly it is in this case the Supreme Court, after much searching, found the "right of privacy" embedded in supposed "penumbras" and "emanations" of various constitutional provisions. It was Griswold that became the foundation for later Supreme Court decisions striking down state abortion laws (Roe v. Wade) and sodomy statutes (Lawrence v. Texas). Some blame the sexual revolution on the Supreme Court. A better reading is that the Supreme Court, as it almost always has, follows the culture not leads it.

What is absolutely clear, however, is the enormous suffering that is the consequence of this interference in the divine institution of marriage. Since the 1960s there has been staggering deterioration in all relevant social indicators, such as abortions, out-of-wedlock births, divorce, spouse abuse, birth rates, premarital and extramarital sexual activity.

In her defense of Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, Mary Eberstadt notes, "Just about everyone in possession of the evidence acknowledges that the sexual revolution has weakened family ties, and that family ties (the presence of a biologically related mother and father in the home) have turned out to be important indicators of child well-being — and more that the broken home is not just a problem for individuals but also for society."

Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News.

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