A recent trend I have noticed is that Americans are becoming more and more secular in their belief systems. It has made me wonder why and whether this is a good or a bad thing. I’d like to offer some opinions and thoughts regarding this phenomenon and hopefully elicit some intelligent discussion from those reading.
First of all, I am writing this from the perspective of follower of Christianity. Obviously, this means my perspective is going to be an anti-secularist one. But it isn’t quite that clearly defined for me as you might expect. I am an evangelical, but I tend be slightly more of a free-thinker than the stereotype would suggest. For example, while many, if not most, of my evangelical brothers and sisters tend to be unquestioning conservative Republicans, I vote Democrat or Independent more often than not. Do I agree with all of the Democratic platform? Not at all. But, when I compare it to the Republican alternative I find that it falls more in line with what I believe.
Setting aside all that, it is critical to understand that, as a Christian, there are certain beliefs that I can’t compromise. If I choose to believe in the God of the Christian bible, I am therefore required to accept that bible as inerrant and complete. Admittedly, many people do not view the bible in that light. Some reject it outright. Some view it as a good piece of literature. Others view it as a guide of sorts- good advice, good moral teaching etc, but not the inspired word of God. I take the fundamentalist view that the bible is our rulebook for life. The mistake many make with regard to the bible is that, if they read it at all, they read specific verses or parts of verses, with no consideration for the context or a given passage, whether it was written as history, poetry, metaphor, or whether the language used actually says what an English-speaking person might assume it means. I hear many refer to the many “contradictions” in the bible or to the bible’s incompatibility with modern scientific thought. Despite all these superficial claims, honest study shows this not to be the case. Nonetheless, my intent here is not to evangelize, but rather to establish what I believe and why.
The current move towards secularism, designer religions and even vehement anti-religious thought has, in my opinion, surfaced for a number of reasons. First, we as Americans really do not like being told what to do. Believing in God requires accountability and rules to one degree or another and most of us tend to resent that. I fell into that camp for most of my life. My thought was “If it doesn’t hurt anyone I should be allowed to do it” and I lived my life according to that philosophy. I saw belief in God as an end to that. This is a big reason, I believe, that so many reject belief in God. They like being able to do what they want to do and they view any suggestion that they shouldn’t do something they want to do as a serious threat to their freedom.
Another factor is that many in America view Christians as rigid, condescending, self-righteous, judgmental and hypocritical. In many cases they are right. But that does not invalidate what the bible teaches. In fact, it reinforces the bibles claims that the human race is a fallen one and, in fact, evil by default. We prove it every day. What presents the problem is that those of us who behave in such a way are the ones people remember when they visualize a Christian. People tend to remember the high-profile examples especially. The sordid tales of Swaggart, Bakker, and Haggard are where many get their perception of what it means to be a Christian. I can certainly understand why so many don’t trust Christians and, unfortunately, the rest of us are left with the task of undoing the damage.
A question I have heard and read many times is “Who are Christians to say _____ is wrong?” It assumes that Christians made these rules up and are using them to control others. The entire concept of right and wrong is called into question. Many secularists believe that if they behave in a moral way and are good people then all is well. While there is some wisdom in striving to be a good and moral person, it isn’t entirely the point. Despite the common perception that Christians are called to be perfect and that if they fall short of that they are hypocrites, we will all fall short of perfection no matter how hard we try. This is the whole premise of the plan of salvation- we all fall short and can not earn salvation. The only way to reconcile ourselves as imperfect beings with our Creator is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Whether a given individual chooses to believe that or not does not make it less than true. So, to expect perfection from someone simply because they are adherents of Christianity is not valid. Conversely, for a Christian to dare judge another person is wrong. We are commanded to love everyone, to pray for the lost and to share our faith. We are not commanded to berate or otherwise compel someone to believe what we believe either. If an individual Christian does so it should not be an indictment of the faith as a whole, just as seeing an atheist do something wrong should not be taken as an indication that all atheists are evil. The problem simply being a good and moral person is that there is no definition of what that means. It’s moral relativism. If the society you live in decides something is moral then it is. Why is murder wrong? A Christian will tell you because we are taught in the bible that it is wrong. A secularist will answer “It just is.” No act is inherently evil in and of itself by this rationale. It leads to a wealth of further hypocrisy. Anything can be acceptable as long as we decide it is. There are no consequences for evil, particularly eternal ones. For true morality to exist there needs to be a baseline for what defines it as such. The bible fills that role for Christians.
In my opinion, however, the single biggest roadblock to people believing in the Christian faith is a very common sense one. People do not want their faith to expect anything from them. This is the reason for so many “fad” belief systems. If a given religion doesn’t suit your needs, you simply reject it or modify until you are comfortable with it. This has given rise to the New Age religions and secular thought. These religions tend to emphasize personal happiness above all. They seek enlightenment through whatever means feels good or brings them happiness. As stated above, there is no guiding set of moral principles. It’s make it up as you go theology. Whatever is trendy at the moment is appealing to many people i.e. Scientology. If Tom, Nicole and Vinny Barbarino do it then it must be wise for the condition of your eternal soul.
And that leads me to the most important point of all this. It matters not what I think or what you think in the end. Someone has to be on the right track, but it can only be one track. If God does not exist and I’m kidding myself then that makes the atheists very insightful and privy to something that the rest of us aren’t. If Christians are right then everyone else is in deep poop, so to speak. The point is that we need to think in terms of eternity and not just being right or wrong to win a debate. It is a fact that each and every one of knows that there is something greater than us, whether we believe it is God, Allah, Shiva, or Mother Nature. We may deny it, but it is a part of us to question our existence and the purpose of it.
Secular thought has always been a part of human history and will always be I have no doubt, but the danger is in the effect it is having on our society. While many claim it as progress and enlightened thinking, it is nothing short of moral and societal decay. In the name of personal freedom we allow unborn children to be killed. We allow those who disagree with our faith to make feel ashamed of it or compromise it in the interest of not hurting anyone’s feelings. We devalue physical intimacy between human beings by taking the emotional and spiritual components out of the equation in allowing it be solely a physical activity like any other. We have allowed organizations such as the ACLU to bastardize our legal system to the point where it has become laughable. Where I differ with the party line among Christians regarding these issues is that I don’t think legislation is the key to changing anything. The change needs to be more fundamental than that. It needs to stem from people’s desire to have a culture that is rooted, if not expressly in Christianity, at least in the moral center that Christianity provides. I do not advocate establishing Christianity or any other religion as a state religion, but I would love to see less hypersensitivity to someone expressing their religious beliefs in a public way. Some elementary displaying a nativity scene on their lawn isn’t causing harm to anyone else, whether of another faith or none at all. I have never walked by a menorah displayed in a person’s window and felt like my Christian faith was being threatened. We have become a nation of whiners. Taking any mention of God out of every aspect of our lives is ludicrous. Despite the rantings to the contrary, this is predominantly (and overwhelmingly so), a nation of Christians, whether practicing or lapsed or any number of degrees in between. And of the remainder, most are not offended or threatened by representations of that in our culture. The problem is that the minority who are radically and vocally anti-religion are very influential. The ACLU is one example of the divisive, malevolent organizations who are ruining our culture. For some reason unknown to me, secularists are brilliant organizationally and financially. They have been very successful recently in implementing their agenda and seem to be gaining steam with each passing day.
In fact, by way of an example, this week here in Indiana the ACLU filed a suit against the state bureau of motor vehicles because it now offers an optional license plate with “In God We Trust” prominently displayed on it. It is one of dozens of “specialty” plates available here. The issue seems to be that the state does not charge a premium for this plate as it would for most other specialty plates, such as those with colleges or other organizations on them. Apparently this is offensive because it implies endorsement of religion. It does not specify “In ‘Christian’ God We Trust” or “In ‘Jewish’ God We Trust.” If there were a large enough demand I suppose a Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or atheist plate could conceivably be offered. Who is compelling anyone to buy this plate if they are offended by the word “God?” Why expend the time, energy and cash to combat such an inconsequential thing? I assure you that if I saw a car with an ACLU license plate on it the thought of suing the state because of it would never cross my mind. Do I dislike the organization? Yes of course I do. Do I think they have a right to their own plate? Yes. Here’s what I would do… Hold on to your hat, this is groundbreaking stuff here… I would first cluck my tongue loudly, shake my head from side to side, maybe roll my eyes. Then I would turn my head and forget about it. My life would go on and I assure you I would not suffer from emotional trauma because of it. The whole mentality of the overly-sensitive, hyper-litigious society we have become is absurd.
If you have an issue with Christianity or any other religion, then by all means feel free to pursue another belief system, or none at all. It’s your right. Wear a t-shirt saying so in a clever manner. Talk to people. explain to them why what you believe is right. If it is and you make a convincing enough case to that effect then you will accomplish what you want to and you won’t have to look like a fool while doing it. This is what I propose. Let the system of beliefs you adhere to speak for itself. Don’t shove it down everyone else’s throat or sue them into submission. Be a grown-up and talk about it and afford everyone the opportunity to dissent. In a perfect world I would, of course, love it if everyone accepted God’s plan of salvation. It would be wonderful if we all made that decision from my perspective. But I am also honest enough to know that isn’t going to happen. Secularists need to know that trying to remove any hint of God’s presence from American culture is not going to make Him disappear and certainly won’t convince Hid followers to switch teams because they can’t put their Jesus-fish in a public place. Self-proclaimed intellectuals should be able to arrive at that conclusion on their own, yet the lawsuits and demonstrations continue. There is no intelligent discourse- only venom and condescension.
Human beings are a flawed race without a doubt, but I am confident we have the capacity to rise above the current state of our culture. We just need the motivation and a game plan to see it come to fruition. I challenge all of us to find a counter to the downward slope we find ourselves on.