Another Glimpse of Extreme Secularism

Last week on the blog we discussed the rise of vocal, extreme secularism, as exemplified by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (here). Extreme secularism is not merely a worldly attitude devoid of God, it is a position that actively denies that faith, prayer, and/or religious expression play a role worthy of recognition. Militant secularists go further, seeking to remove any religious practice or mention of God from the public square.

This past week we saw another example of this extreme secularism in remarks made by Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City. Asked why state/city COVID-19 protocols have been almost completely ignored and unenforced during recent protests in NYC (and across the nation), Catholic News Agency reports:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that ongoing protests in the city merit exceptions to coronavirus regulations, while religious services do not. The mayor’s remarks have drawn criticism from New York’s archdiocese.

“When you see a nation, an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services,” de Blasio said at a June 2nd press conference, while defending his policy of allowing mass protests while continuing to restrict religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

… New York has been under a strict stay-at-home order starting March 22nd, and it is only in the early stages of reopening public spaces. New Yorkers are being instructed to “wear a mask and maintain 6 feet distance in public.”

Back on March 27 the Mayor warned that if the religious services continued, he said, “our enforcement agents” would shut them down, and he threatened fines and even permanent closure of houses of worship for further disobedience of the order. He threatened future religious gatherings with mass arrests.

Meanwhile, protesters have gathered nightly by the thousands across the city to demonstrate against racism and police brutality following the May 25th death of George Floyd in police custody.

… On Thursday, the mayor announced that restaurants in the city will shortly be allowed to serve patrons outdoors.

“New York’s restaurants are part of what make us the greatest city in the world. They’ve taken a hit in our fight against COVID-19and there’s no recovery without them,” de Blasio stated. Churches are not slated to fully reopen until stage four of the state’s reopening program, along with schools, theaters, and entertainment venues [CNA June 4th 2020].

So, here is the situation: Protesters get waivers, but those who want to attend religious services are told to wait, even if we state that we will follow the state/city guidelines on social distancing, disinfection of surfaces, etc. This raises several questions and brings me to make a few observations.

If protesters are permitted to violate state/city regulations that just a week ago were called essential for public health during an emergency unprecedented in our lifetimes, were those guidelines really that critical after all? How does this engender respect for the seriousness of emergency measures?

This is especially the case for New York City, which has been an epicenter for the virus. They had even stricter guidelines there than we have here in Washington, D.C. One would think that Mayor de Blasio would be particularly adamant about enforcing these critical measures. We were told that hundreds of thousands of additional deaths would occur if we did not observe the state/city regulations. Are we to conclude, from a health perspective, that the restrictions were not really that necessary and that health experts and/or government officials knew this? How else can the abandonment of the regulations be explained?

I believe that the Mayor is correct in stating that the cancer of racism has existed for 400 years (in fact, I think longer). However, this feeds off a deeper wound going back much farther: Original Sin. This grievous wound has left behind in us a tendency toward sin; toward selfishness, hostility, unchastity, and greed. Racism emerges from this cauldron of simmering sin. Religious teaching, the sacraments, and prayer are focused on healing the wound of original sin and its effects. Peaceful protest has its place, but so does prayer. It is shortsighted to think we can heal a visible wound like racism while ignoring its underlying causes. We do not simply have a lapse of justice in racism; we have deep, festering wounds that require prayer and repentance.

I would ask Mayor de Blasio to consider how much more fierce, angry, unjust, and unkind our world has become since we have denigrated prayer, marginalized God, and banished biblical teaching from the public square. No age is perfect, but we are clearly in one of the darkest periods in a long, long time.

In a display of further shortsightedness—and, I would argue, to heap further contempt on religious practice—Mayor de Blasio then waxed eloquent on the need to reopen the restaurants of New York very soon. He said, “New York’s restaurants are part of what make us the greatest city in the world. They’ve taken a hit in our fight against COVID-19—and there’s no recovery without them.”

Churches, on the other hand, are not slated to fully reopen until the final phase of the state’s reopening plan, along with schools, theaters, and entertainment venues. In New York State churches will reopen sooner, but not, it seems in the City.

This is how he views religious people. We are not what makes NYC great, nor are we essential to its recovery—but restaurants are. We are lumped in with entertainment, theater, and perhaps a little education.

So, welcome to the world of extreme secularism. The Church is irrelevant. Protests—even if they bring along those who loot, burn, and destroy—are an essential element of the secular world, so important that they override the health norms we were told one week ago would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands if ignored. Yet religious gatherings, even following strict guidelines, are both dangerous and irrelevant at the same time.

The masks are off. There is no mincing of words, just a dismissal of and contempt for all things religious.

Not all public officials have succumbed to this mentality, do not take my critique here to be a critique of all public officials, but there is an extreme secularism growing that has no room for religious practice of any sort and ascribes no value to it.

We have been here before. In the Office of Readings for Friday’s Feast of St. Boniface there is an exhortation from a man who endured the fury of unbelieving leaders in his day:

The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out our duty: Clement, Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christ’s ship—or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labors and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.

… Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified. … Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God’s strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations ….

Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.

Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season, as Saint Gregory writes in his book of Pastoral Instruction (From a letter by Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr (Ep. 78: MGH, Epistolae, 3, 352-354).


19 Replies to “Another Glimpse of Extreme Secularism”

  1. As the church goes so goes the world Archbishop Dolans has failed as a shepherd in New York to be sure. The political corruption you mentioned I believe are fruit of there Catholic Archbishop marching in gay pride parades. We have our own problems here in Washington DC where our own Archbishop made us a promise to restore our trust yet keeps our churches closed and publicly berates the pro life president. If we continue to hold up the Veil around his actions
    “nothing to see here” like “silent on lookers” or “dogs that wont bark” , partial birth abortions and many other evils are up coming.
    As the church goes goes the world

  2. We have a battle between the Church & state on one side led by Archbishop Gregory and Catholic peasants and Trump on the other.

    1. It is interesting that Pres Trump connects with the ordinary working person and the Left has become elitist in many ways. The working class used to be the core of the Dem. Party and Trump has engaged them. Outside the bubble of WDC nearly 50% of Americans like the President and/or his policies. All the political lines have shifted.

  3. Perhaps de Blasio is secretly hoping that the protesters will get the coronavirus and die while he pretends to support their activities, sort of like Ginsburg’s comment about “the people we don’t want there to be too many of.”

    I certainly hope the priests going out to protest don’t get sick and die because of it.

    1. Not so sure di Blas wants them to die. We’ll see if things spike or not. I predict not since I think the contagion of CV 19 is exaggerated.

  4. So sad, but predictable, situation. Secularists have lost the center of everything, the heart of the matter, the answer to “life, the universe, and everything!” (That’s a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, BTW.)

    I know how bad it is – I used to be an atheist!

    Catholics, WE MUST EVANGELIZE! Among friends & family, at work, with acquaintances, with strangers, and on the streets. Learn how to evangelize, use a gentle, loving, winning approach (see the book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, by Greg Koukl – a Protestant book but a great method), and through the Holy Spirit begin to reach people! Let’s set a goal: every Catholic should be evangelizing AT LEAST 5 people a month as a start.

  5. When the USCCB accepted state-mandated closures of churches without the slightest push-back, that told me how little THEY value the holy sacrifice of the Mass, Confession, Baptism, etc.

    I don’t hold it against Securalists for being worldly-minded. I DO hold it against the Church’s weak-willed hierarchy. What a disgrace!

  6. Dear Monsignor, I love your blog. Your writings are among my favorite! I live in CO in a bi-racial family of which I am the white mom, with my black husband and 8 kids. When my oldest was 12 I devoured the teachings of the Church, came back to Confession, began teaching my children about their sacraments and in 2009 my husband made his 1st Communion and was confirmed. So a few years ago my 2 youngest boys and I began to go to sporadic Masses in the dirt lot across from PLanned Parenthood. I only recommend this if the kids have confirmed. This article made me think, “If their masks are off, take your gloves off.” I’m pretty sure a local priest can find a semi-safe, semi-legal area for a 25 minute Mass offered for the souls of dead slaves

    1. Actually we did just this two years ago in a series of special masses for the slaves buried in unmarked graves in our local cemetery. A marker was placed By Cardinal Wuerl commemorating their presence there.

  7. Did the Archdioces of Washington D.C. protest the secular restrictions placed on churches due to COVID 19 while they protested racial injustice today in front of the White House. They risked their lives and others by ignoring the secular enforced restrictions against religious gatherings and worship according to deBlsio and Coumo. Hmm. The devil’s in the details as are missed opportunities. Onward Christian soldiers. At least we have a president that took that opprtunity. Sin is a double edge sword for bishops and politicians in their thoughts, words, in what they do and what they fail to do.

  8. When the whole thing started with that 8:46 min video. I spent the next few days trying to find good words from my ‘favorite’ priests and bishops in the media. For the first days, there was nothing that really looked at the video and analyze what was happening. But then when they started blogging they were talking about protestors and violence. That’s when a huge truth hit me. There were not moved by the horrific video to post, but they were moved by the violence that followed it. Even today, I haven’t seen an article that actually meditate on that video, yet, I am sure that’s where many useful healing things are to be found. It seems to me like an clear indifference and it is very sad. Like when a doctor keep trying to treat the symptoms instead of trying to find the root cause. Playing with the symptoms is like playing with the devil. It is always that case of ‘text out of context is a pretext’.

    You generalize protesters and make them the ‘other’ and synonymous to rioters. As if there were not peaceful protesters from the very beginning or even consistently. It does not sound like you are even one of the protestors as it there was nothing to protest.

    Well, an engineer can never build a bridge with Pi = 3.14 in his formula. That value is for basic students because it allow negligible errors/evils and is just on paper. An engineer knows that negligible values are like devils for the real thing. He know that real life has no tolerance for imperfections. Even though he may look like a secular godless engineer, he works with God everyday, respecting his command to be perfect. Otherwise, he knows that God would not cooperate and not bridge would ever stand.

    Priests are even on a higher lever that a regular construction engineer. They are the very ministers of Truth. The same standard of perfection applies to them but for even more critical things such us human souls and lives. That’s why the good book says not to add or remove anything from the great little book of Truth. So generalization such us protesters do great harm to poor soul who are seating conformably at home, while doing great injustice to the good Samaritans who are actually trying to do something on the street, like Jesus would have been. If you had found something worth protesting about and taking risks for, you would have also been on street, with your own group, your own posters, expressing your heart about what you are protesting. Perhaps a violent soul could have been inspired like the good thief was inspired by Jesus, on the cross, together on Golgotha. And you would not be considering protesters as they/other.

    These times have tough me that secularism or religiousness are
    human language thing. They don’t exist in God’s language, for him, there is simply those who pick up their cross and follow him, those who dress him when he is naked, etc.. the good Samaritan was secular while the religious passed by.

    Secularism is a measure of how priests hide God from people. That’s one more thing I learned in these times. One catholic proposed helping his priest to hide Jesus in a bunker when violent protesters come by the church. I suddenly thought of the tabernacle and a revelation came to me: why the tabernacle became a curse word in Quebec. I had always wondered about that, but the moment I read what that Catholic was saying, I suddenly understood. I think. We all know of that friend who only show up in times of peace, but disappear in times of need. What do you make of the god who disappear in times of need and conveniently show up when the storm clears to tell you how much you need him or how much he loves you? That’s what priests do sometimes. They are the ministers of the holy presence of God in people.

    Still, thankfully, God can use the Samaritans when priests are busy with apparently other things, and the suffering get comforted and also get to understand who his real neighbor is.

    I hope you will eventually find it worth dedicating something to those 8.46 min. If a priest doesn’t find a preachable moment in it, what a shame. Talk about extreme secularism. Why would anyone follow a god who does not appear particularly disturbed by such a thing. When I saw the Amish on the streets, I seriously considered what could they possibly have that Catholic don’t have.

    Holy Mass, is not about priests or even the people, it is about God.

    1. A lot of sed contra here! Fine by me. It don’t think I over-generalize and am willing to distinguish between rioters and protesters. But the fact remains what they do is seen as more essential that Holy Mass by the mayor et al. This is a sea change and shows how far secularism has gone.

  9. I know the most essential act is freedom to attend daily Mass. Good shepherds would have DEMANDED that from the very beginning of restrictions in mid March.

  10. Thank you for this post and especially your June 5th article in the National Catholic Register. I took a few days off from Catholic and secular news because I couldn’t bear to read or hear any more political correctness regarding George Floyd and the ensuing riots. The Truth is the truth. Praise God you are bold enough to speak it!

  11. Hmm; I’d say that Mr Cuomo (“a professing Catholic”) is rather a Deist: for he believes in (a) God – or so he claims –, but not in Godly foresight (Divine providence) and caretaking – in other words: he doesn’t believe in the One True and Living God who is active within His creation.

    I used to be somewhat Deist-minded myself, and it remains a constant temptation for me – “What’s the use of prayer except to cultivate a devout mentality?…” etc.

    1. “I used to be somewhat Deist-minded myself…” – or perhaps not really. For even ‘then’ I used to believe in the possibility of Godly intervention – but have considered that rare, a rarity: “It’s possible, but most natural things/phenomenons mostly happen… naturally (‘clockwork’ causes and effects); for example, if it rains, it’s almost always only because of the laws of physics and chemistry, though sometimes also because of direct or indirect human intervention; and so forth.” So I thought.

      Anyway, only think about what I’ve typed here, without approving the comments.

      By the way, why really does it rain whenever it rains, what provokes the things that provoke the other things that provoke the rainfall? (As far as I know, meteorology is still not an exact science, but more like guesswork.) And how many Catholic Christians pray for rain or sunshine these days? 🙂

      You surely know this, Sgr Charles Pope:

      Theism: “God is an active participant within creation and history.”
      Deism: “God is only a spectator. Only we humans, alone and together, make our ‘fates’. The biblical stories about His interventions (e.g., the plagues sent to the Egyptians during the time of Moses) are to be interpreted as merely figures of speech or moralizing stories.”

  12. I live in NYC and consider myself and my husband devout Catholics. I do not see anything offensive about waiting to open up our Catholic parishes. I can pray, read the Liturgy of the Hours, the Bible, say the Rosary and make spiritual Communions, and donate to charitable causes and remain close to God. I was also concerned about spread of the virus during the protests, but I also understand that without going out into the streets and seizing the moment the tragic death of Mr. Floyd may have been just one more soon forgotten death like so many others. I didn’t vote for this mayor but I think he shouldn’t be accused of extreme secularism.

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