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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Secular and Sacred

The Pope's resignation cast attention on one of his missions shared by so many of the religious righteous: confronting the growth in "secularization."

Leaders of church, synagogue, mosque, and temple lament the fact that many, especially youth, in more liberal cultures are rejecting affiliation with organized religion. These youth are accepting a scientific method that rejects supernatural entities and institutions. They are advancing a libertarian approach to artistic expression, sexual orientation, and personal morality.

Some religious leaders, acting in their own and their organizations' interests, consider this a marketing crisis and opportunity; and they search for forms of language, music, and other arts to translate their own doctrines and traditions into popular culture. This seems to work for many of the mega-churches. Others retreat into advancing among the urban lonely and rural fearful a place of confident and predictable certainty in personal salvation apart from the masses of unsaved. This seems to work for many of the traditional or old-time churches.

Even in my very "liberal" congregation, some of us in a "theological inquiry group" expressed the importance to retreat at moments to a sacred time and place in order to recall and remind ourselves for our social justice action in the world. Other progressive humanist, new age, ethical, skeptical, agnostic, and/or atheist societies argue that sacralization, religion itself, is the problem.

The problem, in my way of integrity ethics thinking, is not secularization or even religion but the separation of the secular from the sacred or vice versa in both conservative and progressive circles. This may be due to a misunderstanding or even misuse of both secular and sacred, or as I would prefer to put it more philosophically, between human existence and human transcendence. (And this is due to a fundamental built-in fallacy in human thought and behavior: the confusion between the expressing and the expressed which I have dealt with at length elsewhere.)

There is a legitimate concern that the Pope and religious leaders, progressive and conservative, are pointing to: the loss of transcendence in human being and acting in the world.  It was expressed as "one-dimensionality" by the Marxist thinker Herbert Marcuse in a world dominated by consumerism. Science thinker David Deusch calls it the "rejection of infinity" in a world dominated by fear of the unknown. But I find almost all religious, philosophical, and scientific traditions wrestling to deal with transcendence in human being and action--even those who reject it or put it outside somewhere.

"Immerse yourself in matter," said Teilhard de Chardin. There is where spirit is found--consciousness, transcendence. Not out there somewhere, not in some other time and place. It is the religion and philosophy and science and culture which separate the secular from the sacred that are leading to their own demise into the "secularization" they deplore.

I know that the 30-40 thousand people, most of them young, with whom I marched yesterday around the White House for action on limiting carbon emissions and protecting the earth were in touch with the sacred whether they were affiliated with a religious congregation (many of us were) or not. I also experienced it in the devoted, yet critical, organization to elect President Obama but not let him off the hook. I certainly see my own congregation called All Souls Church as a small part of that universal convening or ecclesia.

Finally.  Yes, we do need free time to rest up from daily labors; and we need leisure to withdraw into the fine art of thinking. But this is NOT to say that social action in the world is secular and that prayer, meditation, worship, thinking in church or nature is sacred. There is a continuity of daily life and social action punctuated by moments of deeper thought and experience.  But we are always and everywhere in and of the secular.  It is only there that we are in touch with our own transcendence.

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