U.S. Attorney General William Barr raised concerns about the increase in secularism in society in a speech on Oct. 11, speaking about how that has contributed to a number of social issues plaguing communities across the nation.
Barr, who delivered his remarks to students at the University of Notre Dame’s law school, drew attention to the comprehensive effort to drive away religion and traditional moral systems in society and to push secularism in their place.
“We see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism,” Barr said.
He said that the forces of secularism are using mass media and popular culture, the promotion of greater reliance on government intervention for social problems, and the use of legal and judicial institutions to eliminate traditional moral norms.
Barr explored several of the consequences of “this moral upheaval,” highlighting its effect on all parts of society.
“Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic,” he said.
“Over 70,000 people die a year from drug overdoses,” he said. “But I won’t dwell on the bitter results of the new secular age. Suffice it to say that the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has coincided, and, as I believe, has brought with it, immense suffering and misery.”
Barr said religion has come under increasing attack over the past 50 years, underscoring how secularists are using society’s institutions to systematically destroy religion and stifle opposing views.
“Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values. These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy but also to drown out and silence opposing voices,” he said.
He said that people are moving away from “micro-morality” observed by Christians, a system of morality that seeks to transform the world by focusing on their own personal morality and transformation. Instead, he said the modern secularists are pushing a “macro-morality,” which focuses on political causes and collective actions to address social problems.
“In the past, when societies are threatened by moral chaos, the overall social costs of licentiousness and irresponsible personal conduct become so high that society ultimately recoils and reevaluates the path it is on,” Barr said.
“But today, in the face of all the increasing pathologies, instead of addressing the underlying cause, we have cast the state in the role as the alleviator of bad consequences. We call on the state to mitigate the social costs of personal conduct and irresponsibility. So the reaction to growing illegitimacy is not sexual responsibility but abortion; the reaction to drug addiction is safe injection sites.”
“The call comes for more and more social programs to deal with this wreckage, and while we think we are resolving problems, we [actually] are underwriting them.”
He also pointed out how the law has been used to “break down traditional moral values and establish moral relativism as the new orthodoxy,” giving the example of how laws have been used to aggressively force religious people and entities to subscribe to practices and policies that are antithetical to their faith.
“The forces of secularism have been continually seeking to eliminate the laws that reflect traditional moral norms,” he said.
Barr also highlighted the role of religion in society, saying it promotes moral discipline while it influences people’s conduct.
“Religion also helps promote moral discipline in society. We’re all fallen. We don’t automatically conform our conduct to moral rules, even when we know that they’re good for us. But religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what’s good,” he said.
“It doesn’t do this primarily by formal laws—that is, by coercive power—it does this through moral education and by framing society’s informal rules—the customs and traditions which reflect the wisdom and experience of the ages. In other words, religion helps frame a moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.”