This is an article about why the secularization of the United States is going to be a good for the nation. The beneficiaries of secularization are atheists, secular humanists and non-theists; as well as the Christian church and the nation. This post also challenges and pushes back on an article that Tim Massaro wrote at a Christian blog. As a Christian I look forward to the secularization of the United States and believe it will do a lot of good on many fronts.
“How dismal it is to see present day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape.”
“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”
Sandra Day O’Conner
Classic scene from Lethal Weapon 4 just for fun.
This is a post that I have been sitting on for a while which I have wanted to write about. Before I continue I want to draw your attention to a recent report done by two psychologists at the University of Kentucky which concludes that the rates of atheism is much higher than previously thought. Will Gervais and Maxine Najle have concluded that the percentage of atheism in the United States population can be as high at 26%. You can read their paper here. To read the details of the study I will direct you to this Huffington Post article. To read more about it you read commentary here, here and here.
The United States is growing more secular. I believe that in time this nation will become more like Europe when it comes to the topic of religion. To understand the future of the United States I think we need to look at where France, Netherlands, and Great Britain are today. It will be an interesting time and I want to encourage you that as the United States grows more secular I believe there will be a lot of benefits to that secularization occurring. It will be helpful on three fronts of the United States – the atheist and secular humanist community, the Christian church, and the nation as a whole. Let me explain my thinking in this area.
The atheist and secular humanist community will benefit greatly from the secularization of the United States. For many people it will mean that discrimination will go down as the percentage of religious people decline. I have written more about Christian discrimination of atheists in “The Issue of Christian Discrimination Against Atheists.” More people will identify as “nones” and as time passes more people will come out of the closet in this area. I think that there are a lot more atheists around but that people are afraid to come forth given the culture we live in. The indicator that we are going more secular I believe is the changing demographics in the military. Just recently the Department of Defense recognized humanism. To read more I would encourage you to read “The United States Department of Defense Recognizes Humanism; How Long Before Humanist Chaplains can Finally Serve?” What occurs in the military tends to proceed society. For example the desegregation of military in 1948 happened before Brown vs Board of Education took place. Women having a greater role also proceeded what happened in society. So if history is correct than the same will develop in the military. So if I am an atheist or secular humanist then I would smile and look forward to that day. Your time is coming and it will be a good development that has long been in the making.
Now for the Christian church I think the secularization of culture is going to be good overall. The death of “Christian America” is long overdue and the death of the “church” as many see it in the public square will be good. The loudest people who will object to the secularization of the United States are those who have a faith system that is more of a “civil religion.” That is their faith is tied to who owns Congress, the White House and who is up to being appointed to the Supreme Court. They are the loudest individuals who cry quite a bit and who fully engage in the culture wars. That crowd is going to have a hard time with the secularization of the United States and they are going to be more marginalized and have a minor role as time passes by. I firmly believe the secularization of the country can be the finest hour for the church especially as the part of the church that is engaged in politics disappears and dies. The church can then focus on being the church and loving, serving and being itself. The church will also discover a new found freedom when they cease being involved in politics. In addition the church will have to change its modus operandi, learn to embrace science, and think differently. Some will be able to change, while others will not be able to change. But I think this can be a period that can be good for the church in the long course of time. The wheat will be separated from the chaff in the end and I am looking forward to this happening and seeing it in my lifetime.
Finally the nation as a whole will be better as society becomes more secularized. Science will be embraced more, and further research will be done against diseases, afflictions and problems as well. I believe that during this time we will more than likely find a vaccine for some diseases like HIV and others. But a society that embraces science will be good and better off in the end. I also think that government will be better off in the long run with the “civil religion” Christians losing their role. There will be a better functioning system that will have more of an even playing field. Arts, literature and more will thrive in new ways that will be discovered at that time. In short order I think the United States will have a brand new renaissance as it becomes more secularized.
I write all that for an introduction to an article that appeared last March at the blog CCC Discover. They had a post about the secularization of the United States that I read with interest. The article is called “4 Reasons You Should Care about Secularization” and it is written by Timothy W. Massaro. Tim has written for the White Horse Inn and has a brief biography published at CCC Discover, where he has published 85 articles. I have a lot to say about Tim’s article and my comments below will be in red.
While America founded its political and institutional culture around the separation of church and state, it continues to be one of the most religious countries in the West. Today, that religious core seems to be changing. This trend is consistent in most modernized societies. We describe this process as “secularization.”
Secularization occurs when a culture moves from being religious to nonreligious. As societies modernize, they become less religious. This is not to be confused with “secularism,” which is an ideology. Secularization is a very important process in our culture that we should seek to understand. Here are four aspects of secularization you need to know:
1. Secularization doesn’t mean spirituality disappears.
Everyone today has heard of people being “spiritual but not religious.” The spiritual category seems to be on the rise, while religion is on the decline. How does this jive with secularization? Well, secularization does not mean that spirituality will disappear, but rather that spirituality and religion will take on a more subjective role that is relegated to personal choice. Faith itself will be less of a public institution or force upon daily decisions.
One characteristic of secularization is treating our daily spirituality like a buffet line, picking and choosing what feels right. This change can be seen even with those who believe in Christ. Religion is becoming privatized socially and practically. Faith is becoming more experiential without any external, objective basis. Secularization means that religion will fade from the public square while also changing those traditional religions to meet public demands.
One of the things I find really fascinating is the number of conversations I have had in person, through email or more with people are identify as atheist, secular humanist, “none” or more. I had a good conversation with a pan-theist recently which was quite interesting as well. I keep learning that there is much to learn.And as time passes by I realize how little I know. But as I keep learning there are a number of people who don’t practice faith who can be spiritual in many forms. Some deeply enjoy religious discussion or exploring the problems of religion. So spirituality becomes what a person wants to make of it in their own unique way, and you know that is fine for many people.
One point that I would like to push back on is the concept of a “buffet line.” If Tim Massaro is honest then he can also say that many Christian traditions operate like a “buffet line” in how they function. After all you have Calvinist, and Non-Calvinist. You have theological movements who have different views on end times theology. You have churches that have different views on different theology topics. And I will also say that one of this issues that Tim and the Christian church needs to be honest about is how morality is defined. Morality I would suggest is grounded more in the nation’s culture at the time then scripture. Today the topic is gay marriage, but let us stop and remember how slavery was once viewed in the United States before the Civil War. You had two sides of the church that used scripture to justify their positions. Another example is that of inter-racial dating and marriage. In the 1960’s in Virginia that was viewed as sin. The “morality” of that topic came from cultural perspectives and less from scripture. This is an issue that many Christians need to discuss and admit has happened. I am not trying to be difficult instead I am trying to be honest.
2. Secularization means that religion no longer makes sense.
With secularization beliefs and practices once considered normal are now considered embarrassing or even dangerous. It is increasingly difficult to mentor young people in the faith, since it doesn’t make sense to them. The social and moral conditions that made the faith plausible for so many generations have shifted and slowly eroded. The “ecosystem” for faith is radically different from previous generations. What is good, true, and beautiful is viewed differently today. For instance, many millennials believe it is unthinkable that one can love one’s neighbor and yet stand for traditional marriage.
The traditional, historic Christian faith itself has been challenged because the social conditions of life have been radically altered. When religion becomes socially incoherent, children no longer accept their family’s faith because it fails to make sense of their reality. What feels real to them determines reality. Religion then fails to make public, objective claims upon us, and religion becomes increasingly privatized. How does this secularization of faith happen?
I have to push back here. If parents can’t raise their children in a particular religious tradition then I think the faith of Tim Massaro is way too shallow. As for the moral conditions please reference what I wrote above about how morals have always been subject to change and are defined in society more so than the Christian faith. In reading this point from Tim I think this reveals someone who is insecure at best. His comments are alarmist especially when it comes to traditional marriage. The other point I would suggest is that Tim is viewing the “historic Christian faith” through the lens of someone living in the comfort of the United States. If you were to run this paragraph past Christians who have seen the kind of change that is written about in the context of other issues, what would they say? What would Christians in India, Pakistan, Lebanon, China, Russia, all say? I look at this and wonder how Tim Massaro would survive in the days of Rome as a Christian?
3. Secularization removes God from our social habits and customs.
Our culture is convinced that a relationship to God is an immediate experience that no one can determine, except us. This creed has had corrosive effects on our faith. When God is not part of our daily patterns, rituals, and liturgies, he practically doesn’t exist. Children growing up in these environments never really have a faith to hold onto because nothing ever makes a demand of them.
Through social media, digital technology, and modernization of society, we easily go through life without thinking about God or some higher being. Our convenient lifestyles simply do not need God. That is what is unique about our day—we live in a world that gives the illusion that people can get on in life without God.
We live as if God and religion have no real public claim on our lives. We live as if God is dead. We do so mainly because our social world, our habits, and character are being formed and shaped by practices that are no longer tied to the belief that communion with God is the goal of human existence. Secularization happens, then, not just by people leaving religion or the church, but by assimilating the culture’s vision of life and adopting its methods. Religion is transformed into a private, subjective experience. The most important point to remember is that God uses means. He uses material reality to commune with us. When those realities are no longer present, their power over our hearts is weakened. Religion becomes unimaginable.
This part by Tim Massaro is just awful. I mean man this is just awful. In reading Tim’s comments about social media and the internet, well I remember when many evangelicals were all giddy about social media and the internet as they could hasten the coming of the Lord in evangelizing the world. That was until people started writing about problems and many different religious and non-religious websites started popping up. Plus I will just say this, Tim if you believe in God just do so, and say so. Why do you need someone else’s affirmation? But remember that life for many people can and does go on without God. Do people need God to do their job, or pick up their kids from school or more? No they do not. Here is another aspect that I want to challenge Tim on…why does the practice of the Christian faith need to be so public and open to the world? Didn’t Jesus command people to not pray in public but do so in private? Does Tim Massaro have a problem with the scriptures?
4. Secularization must be opposed by the church and family.
While claiming to be religiously neutral, secular society always makes claims about what ultimately matters in life. Secular societies always enforce a certain vision or dream of happiness. People continually reach out to the good life society promises. Cultures have certain practices and creeds that determine what is publicly acceptable and forms all of us in our imaginations. For most people identity, beliefs, and ethics are determined by the larger culture. Churches and families need to discern that vision of life to shape us according to God’s grace.
Our worship, liturgies, churches, and families must graciously point to the goodness of God, his beauty, and truth for which we were made. Worship should point with wonder to what God has done in the world, so we can see his good providence and grace in our daily lives.
We must ask, therefore, whether our practices are assimilations of the wider culture, or if they are forming us according to the gospel of Christ. If worship is little more than baptized methods from the culture, it will do little to help revitalize and strengthen belief in a transcendent God who meets us in Christ. Young people must have the worship practices and education that show God at work in their daily lives to counter this process of secularization. We use these tools, trusting God to work as he has promised, knowing he has overcome this present evil age.
When I read this article, but especially this last section I think Tim is going to fall into the category of those who are going to struggle to adjust as the country becomes more secular. The way he looks at faith is very much in the open and celebrated publicly. That I think is in sharp contrast to the message of the Bible. The more the church tries to be so public about its faith the more ugly it can become. The fact of the matter is that if Tim believes in God than whatever happens he should be comfortable and at peace regardless of what happens. His post is alarmist and is part of the crowd that is crying in disbelief. In my view I welcome the secularization of the United States. Its going to be a good thing for the country and I will sharply disagree with Tim, and say that it will be good for the church. This is my take and you are free to agree or disagree. Either way lets have this important discussion on this topic. Love you guys!