Life in a Secular Culture – Christian Worldview Living in a Secular World

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Rick Wade looks at the similarities and the differences between the views offered by our secular culture and a Christian, biblical worldview. Understanding the significant differences will help us choose to think biblically about situations we face in our secular society.

We get our cues about how to live from the society in which we live. Maybe I should say the societies in which we live since, in this day and age, we can find ourselves moving back and forth between very different worlds. Christians belong to the mini-societies of our churches which might extend beyond the walls of our church to define our friendships, our social lives. We also live and work and play in a secular society which is sending us messages constantly about how to live, how to talk, what to wear; in short, what is important in life.

Secular means that which is defined apart from anything religious. Peter Berger, a sociologist, put it this way: By secularization we mean the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols…. It affects the totality of cultural life and of ideation. In other words, secularism works its fingers into all of life, including the ideas we hold. Secularization also refers the consciousness of individuals who decreasingly view the world with a religious perspective. So the influence of religion declines in society and in us individually as we think about life with lessor with no reference to God. {1}

Without God shaping its vision, what does our society teach us about how to think and act? Think about it. How are we shaped by the culture in which we live? Just identifying a few things can be a start to combating the corrosive effects of secularism in our lives.

Here are a few things that come to mind.

My society tells me that my experience and my opinion are all-important (and it thinks of opinion as a purely subjective thing). No one else has the right to set the rules for me. And, if there’s a God (and most Americans believe there is), He (or She or It) pretty much leaves us to make our own choices. So I am supposed to refer first to my own tastes and desires when making choices. And that’s what really happens when I’m not thinking about it. Vocation, where I live, what music I listen to, what church I attend—it’s all up to me. Yes, I know that there are a number of legitimate reasons we make choices that are different from those others make. The point is, should our individual tastes and desires be our primary criteria?

I noted that my society tells me my own experience and opinion is all-important. It’s interesting, though, that it wants to decide what choices I can have! We’ll see that in some of the next examples.

My society tells me how to dress. We’re told that we should express ourselves, our own individuality, in how we dress. The result? People wearing spandex or spandex-tight clothes who have no business doing so; young men wearing their pants down around their thighs; young women showing us all the contours of their bodies. And we’re supposed to be expressing ourselves? Looks like a whole lot of conformity to me. Even worse, while we’re told to express ourselves, clothes designers and stores are the ones who decide what our choices are. I hear this most often from young women. Their choice in clothing is either sexy or dressing like mom.

My society tells me that I deserve good things, so I spend money on things I might not even want, much less really deserve. Gratitude for what we have isn’t high on the list of virtues these days. Gimme more . . . because I deserve it (and I’ll go into debt to get it)!

My society teaches me what is funny. The greatest influences on my sense of humor were Bill Cosby and Robin Williams. Who else remembers Cosby talking about smearing Jell-O on the floor of his house to protect him from the monster, or about having his tonsils removed? And when Mork and Mindy was all the rage in the 70s, I’d gather with my friends each week to get another dose of Williams’s crazy performances.

Now understand that I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong to model our humor on others, even on people who aren’t Christians. But what is the character of our humor today? The humor I see routinely on TV and movies is sarcastic put-downs. That’s become so much the norm that if anyone objects to it, they’re made fun of for being so touchy!

My society also tells me my religion isn’t all that important. It has its place, of course, but that place shouldn’t be public, at least not until there’s some horrible disaster and prayer becomes acceptable. So religion is to stay out of politics and social issues, but is permitted in tragedies such as the recent mine disaster in Utah. To whom we pray is irrelevant, of course. You have your God and I have mine.

One place where I see the insignificance of religion in our cultural attitude is on web sites that ask for information about me including my vocation. Religion isn’t typically an option (and I’m being generous in saying typically; I can’t remember any giving me that option). My only choice is Other. The result is that in public I tend to fall into line and keep my religious convictions out of the conversation. Even in our private lives religion should mind its manners. One shouldn’t be fanatical, you know.

Unfortunately, polls indicate that Christian beliefs are apparently insignificant to Christians as well with respect to how they live. The polls I read indicate that people claiming to be born-again don’t live any differently than their non-Christian neighbors. We’ve let the segmenters win. Keep your religion in your church, we’re told, and we do just that.

My society tells me that economics is all-important. I wonder if there’s anyone else out there who wishes that in a State of the Union address a president would say something like, Our economy is strong, but morally we’re in rough shape. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that! It’s the economy, stupid, was a phrase heard often in Bill Clinton’s campaign against President Bush in 92. Well, the economy is important, of course. But is it the most important thing in individual and social life? Is the U.S. doing just fine as along as the economy is strong?

My society tells us we’re free to do what we want in our sexual relationships, that we aren’t to be instructed by archaic religious notions. But then, of course, we’re told what is expected by society. We’ve been taught well that a kiss is followed immediately by a romp in the bed. How many times have you seen on TV or in the movies where a man and woman fall into that first embrace and don’t immediately fall onto the couch or bed or floor? I think of the scene in the movie While You Were Sleeping where a woman is astonished to hear that a man and woman have decided to wait till marriage to have sex. Yes, we’re free to do whatever we please (the church has nothing to say about such things—that is, as long as what we please doesn’t include abstaining and we don’t champion monogamy as loudly as homosexuals champion their, um, lifestyle.

My society tells me what constitutes success. Although you can often see stories through the media about the great things average people do, you also are kept up-to-date on the life and times of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and soccer star David Beckman. In minute detail. Day after day. Do I really care about the latest entry in Rosie O’Donnell’s blog? No disrespect intended, but I’m not sure why Ms. O’Donnell’s opinions and comings and goings are important enough to make the headlines. Success is doing one’s best to accomplish the tasks God has given or those clearly in keeping with the commands and wisdom of God.

My society tells me that objections to crudeness are puritanical; that manners are relics of a by-gone era (since life is all about me, while manners are about others).

It tells women that the notion of being under a man’s headship or devoting herself to her children above her own interests is a throw-back to oppressive days.

It tells parents that they need to let their children determine their own values.

I could go on and on. My point in all this isn’t mainly to bemoan the state of our society, but to consider how our secular society tells us how to live, and how much of its instruction we swallow and follow without even realizing it. We are definitely going to be shaped by our society, but that shaping shouldn’t be mindless.

A few decades ago Christian writers made much of the idea that there shouldn’t be a division between the sacred and the secular, that all of life should be infused with the sacred. Our society works against that. And quite frankly, I think the message has been lost to a significant extent in the church. We like our things, so without even thinking about it, we conform our notions of the sacred to the secular. We make Christianity relevant by adjusting it to our circumstances and desires.

Rather than seeing the secular world, the world we can see and touch, through a sacred lens, we’re more apt to look at the sacred through a secular lens. May God help us to see all of life—including our clothes, our humor, our entertainment, our vocation, our relationships, and all the rest—through the eyes of God, as belonging to Him, and give us the resolve to bring them under His lordship.

Note

1. Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1969), 107-108.

© 2007 Probe Ministries

Rick Wade

Rick Wade served as a Probe research associate for 17 years. He holds a B.A. in communications (radio broadcasting) from Moody Bible Institute, an M.A. in Christian Thought (theology/philosophy of religion) from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a Master of Humanities (emphasis in philosophy) from the University of Dallas. Rick's interests focus on apologetics, Christianity and culture, and the changing currents in Western thought. Before joining Probe Ministries, Rick worked in the ship repair industry in Norfolk, VA. He can be reached at rwade@pobox.com.

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