Secularism has become the primary driver of social change, particularly in the societies of the so-called Western world. The title of this talk "The threat of secularism and religious persecution" focuses on the fact that this ideology is increasingly becoming the dominant worldview of our day.
The most common term used today to describe secularism is the word “woke”. This is an ideology, a complex system of beliefs and values that shape the way individuals perceive the world and interact with society. One can almost say it is a type of religion. Woke ideology has man, not God, at the centre. Ideas have consequences. As a consequence, it seeks to create a society that is fundamentally different from those that are based upon traditional, conservative values. These societies have been built over hundreds of years upon a worldview that has a core concept of God as Creator. This ultimately means that there is a universal absolute to whom every person will ultimately give an account.
Woke ideology does not deny the existence of a belief in God, but it sees this as a key element that stands in direct opposition to the new orthodoxy that it demands. The complete societal transformation it seeks requires complete adherence to its views and values. It is nothing less than a woke revolution because it cannot succeed unless it can overthrow the traditional views and values upon which our societies have been built. Over the past several decades, it has steadily and effectively captured all the major institutions of society and the State. Its goal is to disrupt, subvert, deconstruct, or overthrow the existing system to bring what it perceives to be “unjust power dynamics” to an end. As a consequence, it uses these captured levers of power to push back and suppress those whose worldview is in any way based upon a belief in God. Those who will not conform therefore face coercion, which is increasingly seen in the form of religious persecution that targets people of faith.
Like Marxism, woke ideology emphasises the concept of oppression and seeks to address societal inequalities. Woke ideology expands the traditional Marxist focus on class struggle between the bourgeois and the proletariat – the haves and the have-nots. Its ability to morph from its historic origin in economic class struggle to its current dominance as a secular ideology reflects its ability to adapt and resonate with the aspirations of marginalised groups seeking social change. It has achieved this by incorporating additional dimensions into the struggle, such as race, gender, and sexuality. Its power lies in its ability to provide a comprehensive framework for analysing and challenging societal structures, especially in the face of perceived injustice and inequality. Although one of the woke virtues is “tolerance, it is totally intolerant of any views other than its own. In fact, it has used tolerance as a weapon to establish its own views and to undermine traditional societal structures. These structures must be overturned before it can establish the “brave new world” that it envisages.
One example of this is the relentless attack on the traditional family unit of a man and a woman, whose union produces children they then raise in accordance with their views and beliefs. This unit and the transfer of values from one generation to another is the foundation and primary building block of every durable civilisation in human history. The fact that there are people who do not fit the norm does not invalidate the norm itself. Although there will always be exceptions that need to be reasonably accommodated and tolerated, this does not alter the essential truth of this proposition.
A good example of how this works is the protection given in section 9 of the South African Constitution, which is further given effect by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (commonly known as either PEPUDA or the Equality Act). Among other things, this prevents people from being unfairly discriminated against on the basis of their sex, gender and/or sexual orientation. To all intents and purposes, the LGBT community now has all the legal rights and privileges of any other group in our society and no one is arguing that they should lose any of these rights or protections. The challenge comes when it is no longer sufficient to tolerate and accommodate alternative sexual orientations and their expression but when there is an insistence that everyone confirms and celebrates them. This immediately conflicts with traditional, conservative and religious views and those who hold them.
Today there is a debate raging over a question, which ten years ago would have been considered a non-issue: “What is a woman?”. Transgenderism is the “T” in LGBT and its rise is another expression of woke ideology and the intersectional struggle that it produces. Transgenderism claims that there are not simply two sexes – men and women – but that you can choose your own gender across an infinite spectrum. Your individual perception of your gender supersedes the biological and genetic binary certainty of your sex.
For example, if I state that I am a woman, it is irrelevant that every single one of my chromosomes in every cell of my body is male, or that I have all the secondary sexual characteristics of a male – such as male genitalia, a beard, a deep voice, or greater bone and muscle mass. If I believe in my mind that I am a woman, then I must be treated as one in public. I am entitled to all the rights and privileges and opportunities that being a woman entails. Conversely, if you refuse to treat me as a woman in both speech and conduct then you are unfairly discriminating against me and being hateful because you are denigrating my human dignity.
Institutional capture leads to policy capture. Woke ideology is now entrenched in our institutions. One manifestation is the suppression of dissenting views and the creation of an environment where individuals fear expressing their opinions openly. FOR SA is currently working together with faith communities to contest the passing of the so-called “Hate Speech Bill”, which will criminalise any expression which causes “substantial emotional harm” to protected groups. One of these protected groups is “gender identity”. If this becomes law in its current drafting, the penalty will be up to eight years in jail. Since the very definition of hate speech is evidently highly subjective, it will be a significant deterrent to – and effectively censorship of – traditional religious views that the creation design is exclusively male and female, regardless of how men and women may express their individual sexuality.
Another, perhaps even more concerning manifestation is the push by State institutions to indoctrinate little children with this radical, liberal view of sex and gender. An example of this is the Early Childhood Education Toolkit. This has been produced by the Department of Basic Education, thanks to a R40 million grant from a Belgian institution. This “toolkit” trains pre-primary teachers and educators to “use pictures and stories to talk about gender roles and promote gender diversity and to display examples of gender non-conforming individuals. It encourages activities so that children will question gender roles and stereotypes and thereby promote gender equality. Little children must be told that “sex and gender exist across a continuum of possibilities” and that “we cannot assume someone’s gender identity just by looking at them”. Children are to be taught that if their family or community holds to traditional views on gender, these are “harmful” and will “hold them back in life”.
Clearly, this is a fundamental attack on parental rights, which are an integral part of the right to religious freedom. This right is recognised in our law, where the Department of Education’s own policy white paper states that parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children. They have “an inalienable right to choose the form of education which is best for their children, particularly in the early years of schooling”. This right to choose “includes the choice of the cultural or religious basis of the child's education”.
There is no doubt that we are in a battle for the next generation. The only way that woke ideology can transform society is by bringing a wedge between the generations. The power of the State, with the support of a secular media and academia, is being used to push this agenda actively and to repress traditional and religious views. If one generation is not able to pass on its view and values to its children, the effects will not be immediate. However, like poison in the water, these alternative values, based upon secular woke ideology, will increasingly take root and will inevitably bring societal change as this generation matures and takes up future positions of power and authority.
Conflict and persecution can already be seen in the laws that are in the process of being passed. It is also seen in the “cancel culture” which singles out and makes examples of those who stand against woke ideology, which tolerates no dissent. The only way to oppose this is to stand firm on our right to religious freedom and on our right as parents to raise our own children according to our own faith, values and traditions.
Freedom of Religion South Africa, known as FOR SA, works tirelessly to uphold and protect these rights by helping the faith communities to understand the key battlegrounds in the fight for faith and freedom and then use the law to push back against any attempts to erode them. These battle lines have been formed over the past few decades. It is therefore certain that there will be greater conflicts ahead that we will only overcome if we unite around our common cause in the fight for faith and freedom. For the sake of our children, we cannot afford to fail!
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is dedicated to protecting and preserving the freedoms and rights that the South African Constitution has granted to the faith community. If you have found this helpful, please consider supporting the work of FOR SA to protect our constitutional right to enjoy the freedom of religion by: