Treacherous Ground

The religion of secularism is not a good place to stand.

The Religion of Secularism (7)

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end
is the way of death. Proverbs 14.12

A failed faith
Secular religion, with its twin deities of the self and happiness, and its meaner gods of experience, possessions, and position, has not proven to be a source of great hope and joy. As a generation, we are not achieving the righteousness, peace, or joy we consider ourselves entitled to in a secular and material age.

The use of anxiety-reducing drugs is on the rise. Consumer debt has become as American as apple pie. Relationships are frailer than ever. Our society seems more divided than ever. The bottom can drop out of our economy at any moment, and then everything we’ve hoped for and trusted in evaporates into thin air.

In short, very few of those who have chosen the religion of secularism over that of the Bible seem to be experiencing the promise of happiness. What seems so right to them is proving to be a dead-end of disappointment. The religion of secularism is a failed faith.

Not that devotees of the religion of secularism don’t realize moments or seasons of happiness. They do. But the overarching mood of our day is one of angst, anger, discontent, escapism, blame-laying, entitlement, crudity, coarseness, incivility, and uncertainty. Not exactly the kind of neighborhood in which one might hope to flourish.

Just what we’d expect
But this is simply what we might expect. While the way of secular religion seems right to many people, those beliefs, and the daily devotion they inspire, derive from and hinge on nothing more than the authority of the individual self. How reliable can any finite self actually be? How much power can any self wield in the pursuit of happiness, especially given the chaotic, competitive, dog-eat-dog times in which we live? After all, every human being is finite, limited to a particular place, time, and set of experiences, resources, and skills. It’s hard to see how that qualifies anyone to set himself up as something to be worshiped and served.

Further, the individual self is fallible; it makes mistakes, lots of them. And not even the meaner god of position can eradicate the feelings of guilt, shame, and failure that stack up in the soul’s basement like so many moldy containers of unwanted memories.

So how can we rely on the opinion of our own fallible selves in making decisions that may have eternal consequences? After all, we’ve been wrong about a good many minor and mundane things in the course of our lives. Is it reasonable to rely on such a fallible source for the really big questions in life? And we’ve proven largely unable to obtain the elusive vision of the good life we think will bring us the lasting happiness we seek.

The self is also fickle, as changeable as this year’s fashions. What seems so important to us today can be easily set aside tomorrow, when something promising more happiness comes along, and after we’ve squandered precious resources and time. We change jobs, relationships, fashions, and our minds as easily we do our clothes. And yet this waffling and changeable self is what we rely on for the big decisions about life?

Sands, bogs, quagmires, and mine fields
The fact is that relying on our own selves – catering to our best ideas, following our latest whims, or even pursuing our most passionately self-serving dreams and desires – can be treacherous ground on which to take one’s stand in life. The religion of secularism is a landscape of shifting sands, unseen bogs and quagmires, mine fields, and box canyons. And still, millions of people choose to devote themselves by acts of sheer faith to realizing the happiness of self through experiences, possessions, and position or status.

And they complain that the Christian faith doesn’t make sense?

Which only goes to prove, I think, that those who exchange the truth about God for the false hopes of the exalted self, are not only finite, fallible, and fickle. They’re simply fools. They deceive themselves and others that they know what’s best for them, and they can manage their experiences, stuff, and relationships to ensure maximum personal happiness and fulfillment. The evidence of our ennui-plagued generation points, I think, to another conclusion.

But they are fools who deserve, not our scorn, but our attention, compassion, love, and witness.

The Christian, who knows the truth of God in Jesus Christ, has a responsibility to help his secular neighbors and friends face up to the reality of their chosen religion, and give an intelligible account for why they believe the religion of secularism to be a better way than what the Bible teaches and millions have proved out, in all kinds of cultural settings, for nearly 2,000 years.

The religion of self, which is the religion of secularism, is treacherous ground, and if we truly love our neighbors as ourselves, we’ll do our very best to help them see that.

For reflection
1.  “Fool” is how the Bible refers to those who choose to believe in themselves rather than God. Why is this an appropriate term? We wouldn’t use this in talking with our unbelieving friends, but is it important we understand why God considers this so?

2.  Why is secularism as much a religious way of life as that of the Christian faith?

3.  Why is it important that Christians understand the secular religion of their unbelieving friends?

Next steps – Preparation: Suppose you wanted to engage an unbelieving friend or co-worker in a conversation about their religion, not yours. What are some questions you might use to initiate and conduct that conversation?

T. M. Moore

For a free PDF of this week’s study, click here.

For a more complete study of the book of Ecclesiastes, download our Scriptorium series on Ecclesiastes by clicking here. Ecclesiastes is an excellent book to share with an unbelieving friend, as it confronts all the idols and vain hopes of unbelief, exposing their folly and holding out the hope of life in God alone. We’ve prepared a verse translation of Ecclesiastes which is suitable for sharing with believers and unbelievers alike. Order your copy of Comparatio, by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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