If there is anything that distinguishes the contemporary world from past ages, it is our secularism, that is, our belief that society should exclude religion as much as possible from public life. We see this in our own country in the “separation of Church and State.” This used to mean that the government officially endorses no single denomination to the exclusion of others; today, it seems to mean that no religion (especially Christianity) may be expressed in our public life. According to the Popes, this degeneration is completely predictable. A society that fails to make the Faith essential to its social and public life inevitably marginalizes and oppresses it.
We may divide the world into a multitude of beliefs and ideologies, but the Faith divides all societies neatly into two. As Pope Leo XIII explained, “This twofold kingdom St. Augustine keenly discerned and described after the manner of two cities, contrary in their laws because striving for contrary objects; and with a subtle brevity he expressed the cause of each in these words: ‘Two loves formed two cities: the love of self, reaching even to contempt of God, an earthly city; and the love of God, reaching to contempt of self, a heavenly one’” (Humanum Genus, no.2). However flawed a Christian society may be in its members, one still can distinguish a society with God as the principal of its laws and customs from a society that excludes the Faith.
Pope Leo’s analysis allows us to see that when a society removes the Faith from its center, it does not, as it were, stay “neutral” with regard to religion. Where there is not the contempt of self for God, there is only the contempt of God for self. It is not unlike the state of the individual soul. There is not a neutral state between sanctifying grace and the burden of original and personal sin.
As St. Thomas explains, the soul that rejects the law of God is then subject to the “law of the members” of which St. Paul speaks in Romans 7.23; that is, the compulsion of sensuality that wars against his reason (Summa Theol, IaIIae, Q.91, a.6). If we do not follow the law of God, we fall under the law of sin.
Hence, a society deprived of God’s grace is at the mercy of the collective concupiscence of its sinful members. Why should God assist a society that, as a society, makes no effort to implore his assistance? Pope Leo cuttingly remarks “To have in public matters no care for religion, and in the arrangement and administration of civil affairs to have no more regard for God than if He did not exist, is a rashness unknown to the very pagans; for in their heart and soul the notion of a divinity and the need of public religion were so firmly fixed that they would have thought it easier to have city without foundation than a city without God” (HG, no.24).
The notion that society can remain “neutral” on religion loses its credibility every day in this country, not only as the government removes religion from public life (especially through court decisions), but even Christians themselves voluntarily treat Sunday as another day for work and business, send their children to anti-religious schools without a qualm, and frequent blasphemous and obscene entertainments in movies and television. We are seeing what the Sovereign Pontiffs have predicted; if a society does not worship God in its laws and public life, it will slowly but surely rebel against Him.