Thursday, October 10, 2013

How One Christian Philosopher Sees Secularism

Secularism  defined briefly is the denial of the supernatural; our  greatest value is the  world we can experience. With these words a high school principal and professor of philosophy, a priest, begins  his article in the Kyeongyang Magazine headlined: Is this  world everything?

Secularism, he says, has entered the cultural life of society, changing our traditional ways of thinking, both consciously and unconsciously. The transcendent, the spiritual and holy, has been pushed to the periphery, out of our daily concerns.

What is left, he says, is a world centered on the Ego, the 'I'  becoming all important. Reason, our traditional guide to right behavior, is being overturned by a reliance on personal feelings of what is right. From a God-centered world we are moving to a human-centered world, discarding our supernatural measuring sticks, content to behave in accordance with an intuitive judgement of ourselves.

Many philosophers, he said, helped to spread this emphasis on the individual's right to determine his own behavior without regard for any other governing authority, mentioning in particular the pre-eminent German individualist anarchist Max Stirner (1806-1856). By emptying our minds of the transcendent, the supernatural, and relying solely on the personal desires of the individual to determine our behavior, we end up, the priest says, with absurdity and, very likely, using others as means in pursuing our own desires.

Enlightenment brought the ideas of individuality, rationalism, empiricism, and psychology to the culture. Mankind was now in a position, with the new knowledge and technology, to control nature. By getting rid of God and deifying both the "I ' and science, he says we have effectively diminished the relevance of everything else.

During the 18th century, secularism put on another face; it was accepted as an essential component of all scholarly work, especially in physics, history, natural science, law and art. Theology and metaphysics were dropped. There was no longer any desire to acquaint scholars with the principles handed down from the past. Reason, he says, was taken away from faith, and virtue was removed from religion, which was pushed to the periphery of the scholarly world. Repentance, grace, salvation and similar concepts were considered meaningless, as being outside the legitimate boundary of what can be known.  

A new group of philosophers, in the 19th century, with the appearance of atheism as a school of thought, made man into a God. Our knowledge became more specialized and individualistic, but when metaphysics, the root of our philosophical knowledge, was discarded, he maintains that it is now impossible to rid ourselves of conflict, and the result is a secularism without a center. We have lost, he says, our identity and have become skeptical and  disillusioned.
Nobody denies, he points out, that knowledge and technology have brought a great deal of material comfort into our lives. But knowledge and technology alone cannot solve all our problems. To solve our problems, he believes we must take on the secularist culture with a contrary and corrective culture. Not an easy task but that, he says, is the project of religion.

For a Christian, Jesus is the object of our faith. He is the source of our hope and the way we can overcome the crisis of our civilization. When Jesus is the foundation of our efforts, humanity, our neighbor, nature and natural law become the means by which we can overcome individualism and materialism, and begin to make real a civilization of love--because the God we believe in is a God of love.

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