"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

Secularism Isn’t Real (and other bluntness)

Posted in Theological by matt on Saturday, February 13, 2010

My computer’s dictionary defines the word ‘secular’ this way: “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.”

The problem with this definition is that there are no such “attitudes, activities, or other things.” I don’t think the concept ‘secular’ (as defined above) is bad, per se, it just isn’t real.

It’s like glow-in-the-dark elephants. I can imagine that they exist (and I do!). And, if they existed, they’d immediately become my favorite animal, but that doesn’t mean they exist (except in that one trippy dream Dumbo had).

Everything in life has a religious or spiritual basis. God (Spirit) is related-to spiritually, and everything exists by and is held together by God (Col 1:15-20). That means that this physical reality we see is grounded in and held together by a spiritual one we don’t see.

So whether you’re eating a burrito, talking, on a date, driving, praying, cutting toe-nails – even sleeping! They all have spiritual implications. None of those are ‘secular’ activities.

In short, there is no part of our world that is spiritually exempt, because there is no part of our the world from which God is exempt.

But most Christians (and many of other faiths) can go with that. It’s abstract, but it sounds really good, so it merits a head-nod or even a hearty, old-fashioned “Amen!”

And, honestly, who doesn’t want a perfectly good, freedom-giving, life-loving God to be a part of every aspect of their day-to-day? It’s all beautiful rhetoric, but do we believe it in a way that informs our life?

Let’s keep going, then, and move from abstract to a couple concrete examples.

1) Take music.

No such thing as secular means that a ‘secular artist’ is just as capable of singing something that’s True as a ‘Christian artist’ is – regardless of what record label they’re with. Christians may know the Truth, but that doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on it. Artists like Coldplay or Richie Spice may or may not know Christ (I hope they do/come to), but their music has shifted my focus heavenward on quite a few occasions (not to mention they’re really talented).

2) Or conversations/lectures/sermons.

God has used strung-out homeless guys to speak convicting Truth into my life that literally changed me forever. On the flipside, I’ve listened to sermons by health-n-wealth bums in suits and makeup that were nauseatingly unbiblical. Who was secular, who was spiritual? I don’t think it’s as simple as we try to make it.

3) Or how ’bout books?

A few years back I had a good friend tell me I was wasting precious time by reading classic novels and obscure philosophy when I could be reading ‘theological books.’ How sad! Many of the books that God has used most in my life were old school fiction; Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, The Trial by Kafka and many others have helped me understand my own need for God and His outrageous love and grace in a way that plain words just couldn’t.

And this goes for magazines, universities, movies, and many other things we try to segregate into secular vs. spiritual. Truth can’t be copyrighted; it either is truth, or it isn’t. Is there any Truth that isn’t God’s Truth? Is there such a thing as ‘secular Truth’?

Inevitable preface: We need the Spirit’s guidance and Scripture as our standard, or everything I’ve said up to this point unravels and we end up in heresy-land, but you get what I mean: Truth is Truth, regardless of context.

So give me some feedback. Do you agree? Disagree? Is this unsettling to you or normal? What are some evidences of Truth in a ‘secular’ context in your own life?

7 Responses

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  1. Beverly said, on Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Matt, I do not know if you remember me or not but I am the crazy lady from Seymour and I would go to camp with the kids and also volunteer at Chapparal. Your dad preached an amazing service at our church today. Katy Slaggle was home from college and heard him also. He shared with me what God has done and is doing in your life as well as your bride. What an amazing experience you are having. I knew then, back during your lifeguard days when the 8th grade girls were chasing you, that God had some major things in store for you. Be like Paul, continue to persevere and run the race. May God continue to bless Cayla and you as you are obediant to Him.

    In Christ
    Beverly Kinnibrugh

    • matt said, on Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 5:58 am

      Hey Bev! I definitely remember you! It’s great to hear from a friend from camp – I miss Camp Chap and all the great people I met there.

      And I really appreciate the encouragement. Perseverance is what we need right now since we’re just a few months away from being Stateside. I can’t wait! Take care.

  2. Lori said, on Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Good word, thanks for that.

  3. Da said, on Friday, February 26, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    I agree with that beautiful, lovely astute Lori!

    On a less spiritual note, do you think “Curling” is a sport? Secular Sport? Sacred Sport?

    I love your writing!!!!


    • matt said, on Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      Yes, curling is the ultimate sport for the elderly. You guys should TiVo it and start practicing now!

  4. Chris W said, on Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 6:31 am

    Interesting—clearly God’s hand is in everything—Would you just prefer to use the term “non-religious” when referring to things that intentionally avoid religious connotations, or come from a point of view that tries to minimize the significance of a god?

    • matt said, on Friday, March 5, 2010 at 12:37 am

      No, I’d just prefer to minimize religious connotations and to see/describe things as holistically-spiritual as possible.

      Of course, then you can go to the other extreme and start slipping into pantheism or universalism or some other heresy, so you have to be careful about it.

      But what would you say are some examples of needing terms for things that “intentionally avoid religious connotations?” Listening…

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