Is Secularism Undermining Society?

When his country started facing difficult economic challenges, Edgar Lungu, the President of Zambia, declared a national day of prayer and fasting. In his speech, he proclaimed, “We are a nation of faith. We are a Christian nation.” The call to prayer, which included shutting down bars and sporting events, inspired the BBC to investigate the relationship between religion and politics in last week’s podcast. The main question asked within that podcast was, “Is religion in politics making a comeback?”

Upon hearing the analysis offered by the commentators, the appropriate answer seems to be that politics never quite abandoned religion. Western Europe, with its decentralizing of religious institutions in the public sphere, has proven to be the exception rather than the model for how civilizations develop.*

Caroline Wyatt points out (in that BBC podcast) that even though many Western nations may have abandoned organized religion, the majority of people do not abandon a sense of spirituality. In yesterday’s episode of The Briefing, Albert Mohler discusses this idea that spirituality is deeply ingrained within the human psyche. Generally, secularism ignores this fact, and such ignorance appears to undermine some of the essential pillars that enable a civilized society to function and flourish.

Mohler cites a Wall Street Journal opinion column that serves as a scathing critique of the secular society described by the BBC commentators. While I am not particularly qualified to opine about the state of European morality, a secular culture that ignores the importance of spirituality overlooks one of the pillars of human existence. People cannot shake this deeply felt desire to connect with some spiritual reality, which can be demonstrated by the resurgence of paganism in the extremely secular societies of Norway, Iceland, and Japan.

I would not be surprised if many of those who participated in these pagan rituals claimed, “I don’t really believe this stuff,” even as they were walking through the doors of the various temples or shrines. We ought to expect such a response given the dogmas of secularism that claim the absence of the supernatural. Yet, this sense of a supernatural reality has not be weakened, and when secularism disregards that idea, it cripples a person’s ability to discern whether or not the spiritual experiences they seek and encounter are true.

I want to emphasize the word true in that last sentence because, given the reign of relativism, few will disagree that a person’s spiritual experiences are genuine. In other words, no one doubts that these people are experiencing something. Modernity would argue the experiences to be illusory, but their persistence within modern, secular society, which should be disabused of this illusion, discredits this notion.

Secularism provides no instruction as to how to navigate these spiritual sensations. Without such instruction, people will yield to whatever experience tickles their fancy since they have no way to investigate the veracity behind the experience. Once a secular culture becomes wishy-washy in the realm of spirituality, that indecision will spill over into the social realm.

When the spiritual pillar starts to crumble, the foundations of society at large will soon follow.

*Commentary on this issue starts around 5:50 within the podcast.

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2 thoughts on “Is Secularism Undermining Society?

  1. Hey Brandon, your favorite person in the whole wide world here. Let me preface by saying that this is a really well written article. So, don’t take what I’m about to say as a criticism of your writing style, because it is fantastic. OK, so, I respectfully disagree with a lot of what you’re saying here. The first being that spirituality is “deeply ingrained in the human psyche.” I think that spirituality should be replaced with “a profound curiosity of the unknown.” Hear me out here. I believe that we, as humans, are (at least we should be) constantly questioning the world in which we live in. The biggest question is obviously addressing the inception of our known universe. We can confidently theorize beginning at 10^-43 seconds after the universe was born, but everything before that is speculation with, currently, no promising outlook on an objective answer. I bring this up because I believe humans are apt to create their own conclusions to puzzles regarding a question with such significant implications. We explore spirituality because it is an option that is presented to us as to why we’re here and what the meaning of it is. So yes, we do have sort of an inherent “but what does it all mean?” nature to us, but I wouldn’t be so quick to call it spirituality. Some of us just cannot make that conclusion. From the spectrum of human emotion, I think I see what you’re getting at. Our desire to love and be loved, maybe? To connect with something of a higher power? You call it spirituality, we call it a byproduct of millions of years of evolution. Spiritual and secular proponents seem to both think, arguably, the same *natural* thoughts, but derive different solutions. Who’s right? Does it really even matter?

    Referencing the “paganism rituals” and the fact that people “can’t shake it off.” Take a look at the “happiest countries in the world” list. The Nordic countries are consistently in the top of the top. Whether or not you agree with the Nordic economic and welfare model, you can’t deny that they experience long, happy lives. This is statistically backed. With this in mind, I don’t necessarily appreciate the notion that secularists cannot enjoy life because they are unable to identify and respond to their “spiritual experiences.” I take that to mean that because we are unable or unwilling to choose a path of spirituality, that we are simply just out of luck in life. The beauty of being an intelligent species is that we can make our own choices. If they make us happy and don’t inflict harm upon others, we continue making those choices. We are able to think rationally, love accordingly, and be functioning and responsible members of society….without spirituality. We provide no explanation about how to navigate spiritual experiences because, and it’s very quite simple, we do not believe that they are spiritual experiences.

    I will adhere to the idea not every secularist is completely reasonable. Sure, there are adamant atheists who dismiss thoughts of spirituality immediately. As I mentioned earlier, to us, spirituality is merely an option. There are certainly some who do not entertain it. But, I would wager to say that the majority of secularists do. After entertaining it, we conclude that is illogical and attribute our “spiritual” thoughts to something else. On a personal note, I really do wish that this option was more sensical (it’s giving me a grammar error, but I’m pretty sure this is a word?). However, I have never been able to make sense of religion despite my heightened efforts. Because of this, by your logic, I shouldn’t be able to function properly in modern society simply because I don’t insist on remaining hung up on a concept that really just does not make a whole lot of sense to me. That, by the way, is how societies fail. I think that being “wishy-washy” in the spiritual realm has no bearing on one’s ability to function in, or govern, a society appropriately.

    I sincerely hope that you don’t take any of this personally. I think this is an interesting article, and I wanted to chance to offer a differing point of view. Plus, I need to practice my writing, too.

    You’re the man.

    1. First, apparently nonsensical is a word while sensical is not according to dictionary.com. Also, I never take criticism of one of my arguments personally.

      One of the shortcomings of my article is that I did not really define spirituality, though the absence of the definition was somewhat purposeful. I think that humanity does, in general, have “a profound curiosity of the unknown,” and I do think that that certainly plays into the concept of spirituality. People constantly ask the question, “what does it all mean?” Another way to pose the question is, “why is there something rather than nothing?” That question, at its core, is an unscientific question in the sense that science is not equipped to answer such a question. Several atheistic scientists and philosophers, therefore, write the question off as nonsensical and meaningless. The why question is a philosophical one, and many (probably the majority of) people utilize some sense of spirituality to answer the question.

      At the end of your first paragraph, I have an idea of what you mean by thinking “the same *natural* thoughts,” but I don’t want to make a comment based off my assumptions as to what you mean. Yet, your last question, I think, is an extremely important one: “Who’s right? Does it really even matter?” This question gets at the very core of my commentary. From there, you start talking about happiness, and happiness, then, becomes the focal point of your response. At this point, you started to infer something that I never meant to imply. I never stated that a secular individual or society cannot be happy. On the contrary secularists do tend to be extremely happy people quite precisely because of the absence of any sort of dread that something besides personal happiness serves as the ultimate purpose in human existence.

      Happiness, however, should not be the primary measure of these matters. At least, that’s what I would argue. You have heard the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” And ignorance certainly can be bliss until you have missed something crucial to survival and vitality. Though an extreme example, the person who consistently drives home from a bar or party inebriated may be quite content, but he or she may eventually get pulled over for drunk driving, or worse, suffer a terrible automobile accident.

      The implicit claim in my article here is that a secular person or society can proceed happily in life, but that he, she, or it does so in a fashion similar to that of a drunk driver. The capacities that keep an intoxicated person safe while driving derive from skills learned while the individual was sober. If the level of intoxication reaches a certain point, those skills will be impaired to the point that the person’s journey will come to an untimely end.

      Most secular societies have developed in the West and most of those became secular after many generations of Christian moral instruction. For a time, those societies function rather well because the Christian values seem natural and obvious. But once the “Christian” is taken out of those Christian values, the society that was once so strong because of them will eventually crumble. They will have forsaken the foundation of those values and eventually forget the importance of Christian charity, of “loving one’s neighbor as oneself.”

      You mentioned the Nordic countries as being some of the happiest nations in the world. The irony is that it is in those nations where paganism and superstition have started to creep back into the equation while Christianity more or less remains forsaken. What is the moral state of those countries? Aside from the handful of articles that the original post links to, I have no great insight that enables me to answer that question. But the fact that ancient religions and superstition have been resuscitated is at the very least an intriguing element within the discussion about the efficacy of secularism.

      In order to rebut the assertions of my argument, you would need to defend the position that Christianity has no monopoly on morality and that it is natural to humanity on the basis of millions of years of evolution. I have heard much interesting discussion about the first point. On the second point, most attempts to describe evolution as the originator of morality result in relativism.

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