Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Secular Fallacy: Part II

When I ended the first part of this discussion, I asked if my fallacy wasn't such a fallacy after all. Perhaps some people think all things are divine, but don't most people separate the holy from the non-holy, the good from the evil, or at least the religious from the non-religious? Church might be holy, but surely you wouldn't say that a pub is, right? Church is sacred; the pub is profane.

And I said, Of course my fallacy is a fallacy. I wouldn't be writing this if there wasn't more to it than that. If we look back you'll see that I defined the Secular Fallacy as saying that people divide their lives into the sacred and the profance. Even people who rigourously categorize things based on the sacred and profance do not divide their lives according to such things. Consider the Gnostics: they very certainly thought some things were sacred (ideas, the right books, fasting, Jesus, wisdom) and some things profane (food, sex, bodies, Earth, most people, the God of the Old Testament). Every decision they ever faced was made on this framework. If two courses of action came before them, they would ask only, "Which brings me closer to the world and which brings me closer to Sophia (their name for Wisdom)?" They would then choose the latter. It did not matter whether it was Sunday or Monday. It did not matter whether they were worshipping or working. It was always Sophia, never the world.

I'll give you an example of how this might look in a modern, Christian context. Let's say it's a Friday night. Staying up all night won't interfere with going to Church for a regular service, and it's not a holy day by my religion. My friends say to me, Let's go out to the pub, and so we do. There we talk about things, and I have the opportunity to bad-mouth someone. The bad-mouthing will make me more popular among my friends and they will be happier in general if I do. There are some folks who'd say that this decision is not a religious one at all. It has to do with everyday morality. It has to do with weighing the consequences of my actions.

I will from the outset agree that it has to do with weighing consequences. The scary thing is, those consequences are eternal ones. Our lives are a pilgrimage to the Divine. Each decision we make brings us further or closer, though often we don't understand how or why at the time. Those consequences are also world-shattering. Each day of our lives is a battle between evil itself and good itself.* We are both the battlefield and a combatant, and, if the truth be told, we fight for both sides. We are traitors to the good and to the bad; we are traitors to our allies; we are traitors to ourselves. Just because I am in a pub does not mean that there is no war going on. Just because we are not talking about God or religious-seeming things does not mean that I am not choosing between cowardice or heroism. The spiritual conflict is on all fronts. You cannot ignore half of them and hope to wn the war.

A different metaphor may here be suitable: Each decision we make is one between contributing to a war or contributing to peace. We can either fight for some piece of property, or we can try to make peace. If we fight, we might win, but each enemy we slay has a brother who will seek revenge. Eventually, we will die in this war. If we try to make peace, we will likely be killed, but in the event that we aren't killed, we have contributed to peace. If enough people contribute to peace, perhaps the war will end, and we won't all die. This decision is not just sociological (think of The Bomb), but also spiritual, and it literally inhabits every decision we make. We can fight for war, or we can work for peace.

How can whether or not I am sitting in a bar make the slightest bit of difference in such a situation?

If you look at this worldview, whether or not you believe it, you can see that I do not separate my life up into things that are religious and things that are not. Hopefully, you can also see that I cannot divide my life in this way. All decisions affect who we are, and who we are affects how we relate to the divine, and how we relate to the divine is all that matters. Sunday might be a holy day, but that doesn't mean I'm free to do whatever I like come Monday.

And yet the secular world expects me to divide my life like this. It wants me to live a double life. Well, it wants me to live a singular life--the one it offers--but if I won't do that, then I had better keep my religious life separate from my public one. For example, I shouldn't talk about my religion in public, or really even act "religiously" in public. When I write papers for university, I better not base my arguments on the existence of God, though I can base my answers on premises that presupposed the non-existence of the Divine because that's still secular. Universities will frown upon religiosity in papers, and I have learned to write 'closet-Christian' papers; these are essays which say something quiet and 'secular' if you don't read for religious things, but will grow into something much more significant once you add God as a premise. (For instance, I wrote a paper about rationalism as an origin theory for mathematics; I attempted to put that theory into such a position that it could only be 'saved' by the acceptance of some sort of God, even a Diest one.) People will criticize others for "being too Christian," and religious symbols are banned in some public places. The secular world believes that we, the religious, can live this double life, privately religious and publicly non-religious. In many cases we try, but in all things we must be secretly religious. Some of us have learned to be silent about our motives, but these motives must always be spiritual ones. (Others, of course, are not so silent. I sometimes have problems with their methods.)

The Secular Fallacy is not that we do separate our lives into the religious and the non-religious. It's not that we should separate the religious and the non-religious. The Secular Fallacy is that we can separate our lives into the everday and the divine. In truth, the everyday is divine.

So when Jon asks me to list the "infinite" times in my life, but to exclude the religious ones, I must say, "There are none." Properly seen, all things in my life are religious. If the academic world requires that I sort all of my ideas into 'religious' and 'secular' boxes, the secular box will be empty. Now, before you go any further, I fail at doing this. My life is full of the secular. I am terrible at remembering the consequences of my actions. I am always forgetting just how eternal we are. I do divide my life into religious and non-religious sections. The trick of it is, this division is accidental. I just forget sometimes. But forgetting doesn't change anything: my life is whole, whether I want it to be or not. Everything belongs to God. The key to life is to remember that.

Christianity is not the only faith that operates this way. Every religion I have ever studied operates this way. Atheism seems to operate this way--rational materialists seem to seek reason in all things. Religion is about the foundations of our beliefs, our worldviews, our decisions. How can we separate our lives from their foundations?

Bonhoeffer says about Christ's commandment not to look upon a woman in lust: "Jesus oes not impose intolerable restrictions on his disciples, he does not forbid them to look at anything, but bids them look on him. If they do that he knows that their gaze will always be pure, even when they look upon a woman."

The idea that we can make decisions outside of our religion is a fallacy. We can have a secular government, one which is not institutionally bound to organized religion; we can have secular schools, which do not compel us to believe a particular thing. But even in these 'secular' spheres our religions will always intrude, because institutions have members, and those members have religions. When citizens vote, what they believe about God will influence their choices. When students think, what they believe about God will influence their theories. This is true for Christians, atheists, formal agnostics, Muslims, Jews, Toaists, Buddhists, Confucians, Shintoists, practitioners of Vodoun, and Theistic Satanists. Society is built by our behaviours, and our behaviours are steered by belief. We can have a secular state, but we cannot have a secular society. We cannot have secular lives.


*I realize some people may be tired of or troubled by using war as an analogy. It is of course time-honoured, used by the Old Testament, by Paul, by C S Lewis, and others. Perhaps that's why it seems exhausted of meaning to some. Unfortunately, it seems perhaps like the best analogy we have. There isn't much room for Satan in diplomacy, and we can't quite leave him out of the picture.

1 comment:

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

A lot of great points here. Loved this quote in particular:

Just because I am in a pub does not mean that there is no war going on.

Also, thanks for your last comment at my place. Yeah. I do a lot of reading. (I would have emailed you but couldn't find and address.)

Again, great post!

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