Does Secular Mean Being Neutral?

By September 12, 2016Public Blog, Uncategorized

secularThe term “secular” is used frequently in today’s culture.  If you ask people do they think society is secular, most people, if not all, would say it is.  The problem is that many Christians do not have a clear understanding of what the term actually means.  Far too often the term “secular” is thought of as something that is spiritually neutral and not actually against God or religion.  In fact if you were to look up the term “secular” in a dictionary, the most common definitions you would find would be like this.

of or relating to the world or temporal; not overtly or specifically religious; denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis; opposite of sacred.

When reading such definitions, it can lead one to think that there are a lot of areas of life that are not really spiritual.  Since we don’t think of some things as being specifically religious/spiritual in nature, i.e. some forms of music or art, we don’t see the term “secular” as being all that dangerous.  It is even thought of as simply being spiritually neutral and, therefore, it is just a fact of life – some things are spiritual and other things are secular.  This is a very dangerous position to hold.

I recently read an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Phil Zuckerman.  Dr. Zuckerman is professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College.  In his article he defines secular as simply being non-religious.  However, he points out that it is hard to define “religious life.”  Zukerman explains how people in his field describe religious life according to “3-Bs: belief, behavior, belonging.”  Religion involves one, two or all three of these characteristics.  There is a some belief concerning the supernatural such as God or gods, spirits, or even concepts like heaven and hell.  Behavior refers to such practices that are related to your beliefs.  These behaviors would include things like prayer, observing certain types of holidays or other “ritual performances.”  Belonging simply means that there is some type of identification with a “religious community or tradition.”

From this description of the religious side of life, Zuckerman concludes that to be secular means that 1) a person does not believe in supernatural beings, entities, or realms, 2) a person does not engage in religious behaviors, and 3) a person does not identify as religious and is not a member of a religious community.  He further explains that secular people believe in things like loving their family, taking care of the environment, etc.. In fact Zuckerman makes the claim that,

our lives are rife with beliefs – but none of them are beliefs in supernatural deities, creatures, or realms…To be secular is to maintain a naturalistic worldview in which belief in anything is always proportioned to the evidence available. 

When it comes to religious behavior, the author explained how many secular folks will attend some spiritual activities like taking part in yoga meditation or going to church on Christmas.  However, he makes the bold statement that,

when you’re secular, you tend to engage in a minimum amount of such religious activity, and you do so for reasons other than religious faith; you do it because you dig the food, or because it makes your partner happy, or your in-laws.

Secular people also have a sense of belonging, primarily belonging to the human race.  However, they may also belong to other groups like political parties, social movements, soccer teams, etc.  Even though being secular does not mean that you don’t belong to some type of group, secular people,

associate with a host of various social groups and organizations – but none that are religious in nature.

When I read this article, I saw how the term “secular” is presented in a way in which it doesn’t seem very threatening.  Secular people are portrayed as being very much like a spiritual person in so many ways.  However, this is far from neutrality.  At the core of the term “secular” is the denial of the existence of God and the supernatural.  A naturalistic worldview believes that nature is all that is or was or ever will be.

God makes it very clear in His Word that neutrality is not possible.  Consider these passages.Bible in Man's Hand

Whoever is not with me is against me.  Matthew 12:30 (NIV)

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  James 4:4 (NIV)

Unfortunately, many Christians have fallen prey to the concept that life can be divided up into two compartments: the secular and the sacred.  When this happens, we attempt to live the “sacred” part of our lives in line with a biblical worldview and the “secular” part of life according to a naturalistic worldview.  Of course, this leads to a fragmented existence where we have no unifying worldview that brings meaning to life.  As a result, we find ourselves in the condition that God describes in Revelation 3:15-16.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (NIV)

Anything that is considered secular cannot be neutral.  It denies God’s existence and, therefore, has no place in a Christian’s life.   Next week we will look at how secular thinking impacts our children and grandchildren.

Glen Schultz

Author Glen Schultz

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