It’s easy to forget sometimes but the seeds of modern secularism were sown by Jesus himself in the soil of occupied Judaea. ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,’ he said, ‘and to God the things that are God’s.’
Secularism can feel like one of the great bogeymen of the modern Christian imagination, but it’s ultimately a Christian concept, one that says Church and State have different claims on our public spaces and institutions, even on how we live and think: the Church must not act as though it is Caesar, and the State has no right to act as though it is God.
It’s worth keeping this in mind, especially when we fear to speak out in a public square or media landscape where too many – religious or otherwise – think secularism has to be against religion, has to be about silencing religious voices. On the contrary: understood rightly, secularism is one of Christ’s great gifts to the world, one we shouldn’t fear.
The problem is that it’s too easy to think that because Church and State should be separate, so too should faith and politics, as though our religious beliefs shouldn’t inform our values and how we think about the world. But who really thinks that even if William Wilberforce, Sophie Scholl, Martin Luther King, St Oscar Romero, or John Hume were driven by their faith to speak up for human dignity, they should have stayed silent and kept their religious ideas to themselves?
Coins may bear the image of Caesar, but every single one of us bears the image of God. We shouldn’t be shy about pointing this out.