Dealing with secularity


We live in a highly secularized culture. Generally this draws one of three reactions from Christians struggling to live out faith in this context:

First, a growing number of Christians of all denominations see secularity more as an enemy of faith and the churches than as an ally. In their view, secularity is a threat to religion and morality and is, in the name of freedom and open-mindedness, slowly suffocating Christian freedom. For them, secularity contains within itself a certain tyranny of relativism which can aptly be labeled "post-Christian" and "a culture of death".

A second group simply accommodates itself to the culture without a lot of critical reflection either way. They adjust the faith to the culture and the culture to the faith as suits their situation. For them, faith becomes largely a cultural heritage, an ethos more than a religion, though this is not as much of a blind sell-out as it first appears. Deeper struggles go on beneath, prompted not just by the soul's perennial questions but also by the Judeo-Christian genes inside the DNA of both the culture and the individual. So these individuals selectively take values from both the Judeo-Christian tradition and the secular culture and blend them into a new marriage, seemingly without a lot of religious anxiety.

A third group has a more nuanced approach: Persons such as Charles Taylor, Louis Dupre, Kathleen Norris, and, a generation earlier, Karl Rahner, see secularity as a mixed bag, a culture of both life and death, a culture that in some ways is a progression in and a purification of moral and religious values, even as it is losing ground morally and religiously in other ways. Of major importance in this view is the idea that secular culture, secularity, is the child of Judaism and Christianity. Judeo-Christianity, at least for the most part, gave birth to Rene Descartes, the principles of the Enlightenment, the French revolution, the Scottish revolution, the America revolution, and thus to democracy, the separation of church and state, and the principle that so much undergirds secularity, namely, that we agree to organize public life on the principle of rational consensus rather than on the basis of divine authority (allowing, of course, for divine authority to influence rational consensus).

Where do I stand? Mostly with this third group and its belief that secularity is not our enemy but our child and that it carries inside itself both highly generative streams of life and asphyxiating rivulets of death.

- Ron Rolheiser

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