Early modern social actors made a distinction between spiritual institutions and temporal institutions. The distinction was crucial for tolerance rhetoric—philosophers like John Locke argued that spiritual institutions were properly outside the jurisdiction of temporal institutions, such as the state.
Such a distinction makes sense only if we assume a supernaturalist ontology, according to which there are inter-human relations, and then there are relations with God, “the divine,” “the sacred” or something like that. The argument is homologous to the following contemporary slogan:
If we assume a materialist ontology, however, “temporal” institutions are all we have. On such a view, the distinction between spiritual and temporal institutions lacks all analytical usefulness.
If that’s the case, is a materialist theory of secularism (or its opposite: the claim that “religion” persists) even possible?