Reclaiming A Secular Society, One Student At A Time
Q&A with Dr. Anthony Bradley
An acclaimed scholar and popular commentator on economics, education, race, and popular culture, Dr. Anthony Bradley is associate professor of theology at The King’s College in New York City and a research fellow at the Acton Institute. His writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Detroit News, and World magazine, and he has appeared on NPR, CNN / Headline News, Fox News, and Court TV Morning Radio. He is the author of Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development and Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America.
You have written that "the real ‘opiate of the masses’ is not religion, but the lack of it." How does the erosion of religious values in America relate to the growth of government?
We are living in a context of religious, social, and moral pluralism that we have not experienced in this country – ever. For the first time, religious leaders are having to lead their congregations to think about their role as men and women of God in a culture that is increasingly godless.
When a society becomes increasingly secular, people look for something outside of themselves to help make the world make sense. In the West, we have cultural and social mores that have benefited from a commitment to God – and less reliance on institutions like government to define what is right and wrong and what constitutes human flourishing. Unfortunately, we have arrived at a point in our society where God has been replaced with the State. Now, what is moral is what is legal. Now, the state decides what constitutes a flourishing business and economy.
In some respects, it is simply an idol: we use government to define everything else. Government defines the family [and] the economy. Government tells churches what they can and cannot do. Government defines marriage [and] what we should eat and not eat. Government becomes the surrogate decision-maker for all the things free people used to do when they were grounded more securely in a personal faith that actually encouraged them to live out those virtues in public.
What do you say to your Christian students who feel helpless against that secular tide?
Change occurs from the aggregate work of lots of people doing little things, locally, in their particular context. We need young people in all levels of local, state, and federal government. We need [them] inside the public education system, inside the world of business, inside the world of music, inside Hollywood, inside journalism, inside banking, inside Wall Street, inside the church. They need to be everywhere.
You single-handedly aren’t going to change America – but an army of young people in multiple spaces, in multiple contexts, in this country and around the world, can make a massive, massive difference …and we have seen that historically.
That describes the guiding theme of Alliance Defending Freedom’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a program you’ve been actively involved with. What do you like about Blackstone?
Blackstone provides an opportunity to engage some of the brightest young law students in the country who "get it" and are looking for ways to assume their role in making things right. [It’s] a community of women and men who not only care about the issues of our day but about moral virtue. People come out of Blackstone with this powerful double-edged sword of being a person of integrity, but also understanding the principles and values that made America the most free and prosperous nation in recent world history.
We are living in a context of religious, social, and moral pluralism that we have not experienced in this country – ever. Dr. Anthony Bradley
The opportunity to have a small part in encouraging and inspiring these young people to go into spaces and places where I won’t get to go is a real delight. I look forward to seeing the fruit that will be born in generations to come from the hard work, vision, dedication, perseverance, and sense of mission that I find with those who participate in the Blackstone program.
It is also exciting for me to see the ways in which Blackstone alumni see themselves as partners with one another in a mission to make a difference. They recognize that we are in this together for the long haul. You can see their long-term commitment to encourage and support each other in this mission … to really begin to call our country to remember those things that made it great.
Beyond Blackstone, how do you see Alliance Defending Freedom impacting culture?
As someone who has, over the years, served on various nonprofit bo ards across the country, it has been particularly encouraging to see the work of Alliance Defending Freedom in supplying the types of support and counsel to organizations that often are completely overwhelmed by the opposition. In fact, I would argue that Alliance Defending Freedom is uniquely positioned to remind the entire nation that religious liberty is a value our nation was founded upon. We need organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom.