The War: Religion versus Secularism Not Worth Going To War

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I have gone through stages in my life, where I have been deeply religious, and then very secular (non-religious).

There have been times in my life where I have seen the need for order and discipline. That’s when I have been most inclined to support religion most strongly. With that has come a sensitivity to spiritual inspiration. I have had spiritual experiences that were miracles to me. In doing so, I have been so comfortable with religion that I have not seen any need for secular approaches in order to have a deeply meaningful life.

On the other hand I have tasted the freedom secularism brings. I am free to think and create as I please. I am completely accountable for myself. There is no space between me and the cliff. I feel fully human. My moments of happiness have rivaled and even surpassed those times of spiritual ecstasy. It’s a wonderful moment when you feel no pressure to curtail your thinking when pursuing truth, and especially the truth you are creating.

Harmonizing – No

Lately, I have started to think that it’s good to separate out the secular from the religious. It does not make a lot of sense to try and blend religion and secularism. They are materially different. I have read numerous books and articles, and listened to many lectures, and listened to clever sayings that attempt to suggest that there is no conflict between religion and secularism. (Secularism has other names like science and rationalism, or intellectualism, etc.) I have never been satisfied with any of these explanations. The main reason is that there IS a difference. To me they are not meant to be unified. They are stronger apart than together. They are stronger pushing up against each other.

I am impressed and entertained when Catholic theologians and intellectuals try to blend and harmonize religion and secularism. A simple question on evolution, for instance, may involve an answer that has these Catholic thinkers going through two thousand years of Catholic philosophy contemplating the answer to a question. It’s thoughtful, it’s honest, it’s fun, but it’s certainly not efficient, and definitely not comprehensible most of the time for the ordinary person. I get lost half way through most of the answers.

The simple answer to the question is NO, they don’t embrace evolution as a doctrine of truth when thinking of god’s creations. But, you wouldn’t know that by listening to their imaginative thought processes.

Keeping Them Separate – Yes

Ironically, evolution is by far secularism’s strongest discovery.

I have experienced both secularism and religion. I have had good experiences with each. I have experienced the short side of each as well. Religion can be oppressive and secularism can be sterile.

I don’t see any need to fight or have a personal crisis over which road to take. Take the one you need, when you need it.

I stopped trying to unite religion and secularism a long time ago. I’ve found that when you try to blend the two it’s like mating a horse with a donkey and coming out with a mule. A mule has its points, but it’s not a horse, and it’s not a donkey.

Religion – It’s Improving, It Has To

Do I believe one or the other is fading in influence worldwide. Yes. Organized religion is in a very weakened position. Why? We have spent far too much time protecting the image of our churches, instead of ministering to the intense needs of the poor and the suffering. Do I see a resolution to this? Yes. The mission of churches is changing. They are becoming more willing to work with their members and others in meeting their physical and spiritual needs.

Pope Francis is a break through religious leader. He’s not interested in fighting about the conflicts between religion and secularism. For example he doesn’t believe in abortion, but he doesn’t feel that is what his religion should be known for. Rather he believes the church should be humble, and spend its time drawing up the poor, the sick, the widows, the children, the suffering, the handicapped, the perplexed. The church is where you should be able to go when there is no place else to go.

I remember in my second year of college. I had a period of emotional deflation. I was a theatre arts major, and I had stumbled. I left school for a semester to get my bearings. Only, I had no place to go to get my bearings. I learned of my church’s institute of religion adjacent to the college campus. I went there and had private sessions with the institute director. I explored my doubts. He went with me as I probed my intellectual suspicions and emotional insecurities. It was a private retreat for me. Nothing was pushed onto me. From that point I gained the strength to face the world for the next 40 years.

It’s not the literality that has drawn me to religion. It’s the spirituality that attracts me. It’s been a pleasant personal experience for me. Although the paradox resides in the fact that more literalists are drawn to religion these days than those who embrace spirituality.

Secularism – A Pleasant Experience

What I enjoy most about secularism is the freedom and personal accountability. Freedom is not to be taken lightly, especially when you can use your time to create something you and others can benefit from. On the other hand, secularism is not very motivating if there is no appreciation for what it represents. It can lead to an existential crisis in one’s life if there is nothing more to living than living.

Is Each A Remedy For The Other? No

Is each a remedy for the other’s weakness?

I don’t know? It seems too facile an answer to say yes. I would prefer each playing in its own lane. Right now, I’m into everyone minding their own business. I’m not for invasion or intrusion of any kind. I draw a line when it comes to the tension between religion and secularism. Press up against each other, but do not cross the line and try to invade one another.

If secularism’s weakness is its sterility, permit it to solve its own problem. Don’t try to claim that religion replaces secularism because its solutions are better. In the end that’s replacing one set of challenges with another. Secularism’s sterility replaced with religion’s oppression.

Reasonable Answers To Reasonable Questions

At this point in my life, I’m at a good secular point. I enjoy the great luxury of putting square pegs in square holes. In religion I became bogged down with continuously putting square pegs in round holes. I decided that my life deserves reasonable answers to reasonable questions.

That does not mean I have abandoned religion. Far from it. I’m a lot of things, ungrateful, fortunately, is not one of them. Many of the best things that have happened to me I owe to my involvement in my religious community. And one of the great breakthroughs in my life came as a result of having deep spiritual experiences.

Leave Literalism

If there were only one problem that religion could fix about itself, what would that be? Move away from literality. People crave communal and spiritual renewal, not catechism that incessantly requires loyalty to literal interpretations of religious history. Most people suffer from insecurities, failures, setbacks, painful imperfections, loses. Religion has the power to help a wounded soul, not with rules, but with hope and help.

It’s Just Not Living To Live

And if there were just one problem that secularism could fix about itself, what would it be? Secularism should never forget where and why it was born. Not too long ago, the Renaissance (14th to 17th centuries) helped us to begin to enjoy art for its own sake, and not just for its power to propagandize. A beautiful red color on a canvas means just what it is – a beautiful color. The Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries) opened the door for science and reason. Science began the awesome task of discovery, observation, and the unlocking of the mysteries of life. Democracy (18th century) gave us our first opportunity to be free as individuals. Capitalism (18th and 19th centuries) showed us that wealth grows for everyone, just not a select few. With these origins how can anyone see secularism as merely living to live?

What Is It?

Secular versus religion? No.

Religion and secularism harmonized? No.

Religion and secularism? Yes.