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By the sacred, I mean certain places: like churches, certain times: high feasts, certain actions: saying the Mass, in which the divine or the holy is present.
As against these, other places, times, actions count as profane.
People vigorously debate the question, whether religion is “retreating”. But two impressions seeem to have gained wide currency: (1) that our North Atlantic world is and will continue to be more secular and neutral in its public life, that is, that the public sphere is and will have to be more and more “neutral”, and religion more and more a “private” affair; and (2) that this world is marked by a more and more pronounced individualism, in all spheres, including the religious; so that large, structured churches will lose members.
To live in such a society was to live in one where God was present, not at all in the way that belonged to the enchanted world, through the sacred, but because we were following His design. We see ourselves, to quote a famous phrase, as “one people under God”.
This can be filled in with an idea of moral order which is seen as established by God, in the way invoked, for instance, in the American Declaration of Independence: Men have been created equal, and have been endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.
The idea of moral order which is expressed in this Declaration, and which has since become dominant in our world is quite different from the orders which preceded it, because it starts from individuals, and doesn’t see these as set a priori within a hierarchical order, outside of which they wouldn’t be fully human agents.
The rightness of these laws, for both Deists and Theists, was grounded in their being part of the Providential Design.
What the activism of the American Revolutionaries added to this was a view of history as the theatre in which this Design was to be progressively realized, and of their own society as the place where this realization was to be consummated – what Lincoln will later refer to as “the last best hope on earth”.