What is the role of faith in public debate about values, morals, and the good life? This is a question any participant, candidate, commentator, or elected official ought to have an answer for as they seek to partake in our democratic tradition. Should faith have a role at all? If so, what faith?
Here in the UK, we live in a liberal democracy with a representative system of government marked by a separation of powers and an emphasis on the rights of individuals emerging from classical liberal thought. In practice, this system has settled for a private/public divide on matters of faith and assured us that questions of values, morals, and the good life can be settled by the system.
Yet liberal democracy has connotations and meaning beyond simply the functional aspects of this system of government. Liberal democracy evokes powerful sentiments; that this is something we must protect, uphold and promote but what does this system stand for? What are its beliefs? Can it be trusted to settle matters of values and morals for the nation?
Theo Hobson begins his book, ‘God Created Humanism’, outlining the need to understand the principles on which we have built our society, principles which underpin, but are not intrinsic to, liberal democracy. He defines this worldview as...
"the belief that all human lives matter and should flourish, and that part of such flourishing is the freedom to express one’s core beliefs… I think we must call this ideology ‘secular humanism’".
Secular humanism, though a misleading term with a tendency to irk people of many a philosophical persuasion, he argues is simply the notion that this worldview...
"expresses itself in non-religious terms, which doesn’t mean it’s anti-religious but that it seeks to include those of all faiths and none."
Hobson correctly identifies the flawed thinking on matters of faith within our liberal democracy when he says ...
"the moral-political tradition we inhabit is paradoxical: it is post-religious, yet incoherent when separated from its religious roots… Humanitarian ideals are not natural, nor are they rationally deducible, they are complex cultural traditions, brewed over centuries."
Rather than this public/private divide between faith, particularly Christianity, and the public square Hobson instead advocates for a measured embrace of both. He writes;
"Christianity should affirm secular humanism as a public ideology but also say that it is inadequate, it is limited to the practical public sphere, the surface of life; it has no strong account of life’s meaning and purpose, but gravitates to an evasive shrug."
Embarking on a journey of political philosophy that traces the conception, birth, and growth of secular humanism as the dominant worldview within the West it becomes clear Christianity had a crucial role in its development. Notable amongst his claims is the notion that...
"to espouse any sort of values in any serious way is to have some form of faith, rooted in some form of mythology – and for us Westerners it will probably have a strong basis in Christianity."
Outlining the sacred value now placed on equality and charting its basis through various ideologies he comes to share Barnes’ conclusion that "we live broadly according to the tenets of a religion we no longer believe in", that being the Christian faith.
A further critique of the vacuous secularist ideology is to be found later. Hobson contends...
"secular ethics unhelpfully assumes the obviousness of the goal of universal human flourishing; it blithely skips over the question of why we should pursue this morally demanding vision."
Building on the work of German thinker Max Weber, Hobson alludes to the disenchantment this new worldview generates, for without religion society lacks a united meaning and therefore "must construct that meaning for ourselves". Anyone need only take a moment to look at the identity politics of 21st Century Britain to see the truth and danger of this new reality.
Nonetheless, Hobson espouses that the shared belief in human flourishing and equality of value ought to be upheld. He, however, necessitates a deeper foundation to this belief turning to the Christian faith which first enshrined individual liberty in law and in whose
"teaching alone gives full meaning to the demands of human rights and liberty because it alone gives worth and dignity to human personality."
Hobson concludes his work calling on his readers to recognise the religious roots of the dominant political ideology of secular humanism and urging his religious readers to affirm this ideology as the necessary universalisation of their own creed. Whilst acknowledging its inadequacies, it presents a practical vision of human flourishing those of all faiths and none can unite behind and so those of faith ought to take ownership.
Hobson’s work is far from evangelical. Indeed there is much in there that should alarm those of us who affirm the orthodox creeds of the Christian faith and the infallibility of Scripture. Nevertheless, Hobson’s book helpfully denigrates the faith placed by the West in liberal democracy outlining its flawed and contradictory nature.
Unhelpfully, his use of the terms ‘secular humanism’ will cause more confusion and concern than is necessary. Far from seeking to eradicate the space for the Christian faith in the public square, Hobson seeks to persuade his secular audience of the good values brought forth by Christianity and his religious audience of the practical uses of a secular ethic built upon such values. The two must necessarily come together, however, for a Christian ethic alone society would not ascribe to, nor can a universal secular ethic last without a valid foundation.
As an evangelical, one will abstain from plenty of what is said in this book. Yet, whilst we might not agree with either his conclusion, or his workings, we can take great confidence from the fact that Christianity brings an intrinsic value to the political sphere. To defend this truth and resurrect the debate on human flourishing for the good of society around us is surely then the call for evangelicals in the public square.
 Theo Hobson, ‘God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values’ (2018), p.1.
 Theo Hobson, ‘God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values’ (2018), Chapter 2 through to Chapter 6, pp.10-167.
 Julian Barnes, ‘Nothing to be Frightened of’ (2008), p.118, quoted in Theo Hobson, ‘God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values’ (2018), p.26. For reference to equality please see Theo Hobson, ‘God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values’ (2018), pp.11-26.
 Theo Hobson, ‘God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values’ (2018), p.109.
 Theo Hobson, ‘God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values’ (2018), p.114 and Samuel Moyn, ‘The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (2010), p.54 quoted in Theo Hobson, ‘God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values’ (2018), p.115.
 Theo Hobson, ‘God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values’ (2018), p.167.
 Theo Hobson, ‘God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values’ (2018), pp.167-170.