[box]RVWD is my abbreviation for Religious Vocabulary Word of the Day. (You can read my introduction to the RVWD series here.) I do not intend for these word investigations to be exhaustive, but I hope they stimulate some thinking about assumptions. Possibly they will help with honest evaluations about what is truth and what is unnecessary baggage in life. [/box]
Our current use of the word secular is the result of the struggle for power between those men who would govern other men. The Latin beginnings of the word, as found in multiple dictionaries, are saeculum, which means ‘relating to an age or period.’ This implies a reference to concerns of this physical world, as opposed to matters in another realm. The word is not found in the Bible, but is used by Christians and non-Christians alike to discuss perceptions of behavior and priorities of living.
Modern dictionaries primarily define secular as referring to things that have no religious or spiritual basis. It is important to note that this is simply a reflection of how the word is used, not whether or not anything can actually be devoid of a spiritual basis, spiritual being another term encompassing the idea of the meaning of life. Other interesting definitions of secular from multiple dictionaries include:
- not being subject to religious rule or vow
- being ruled by a government
- excluding belief in God
- happening only once in a generation
- happening for an entire generation
- long term time frame of at least 10 years (in terms of stock market investments)
As discussed in my article about how to know which religion you believe, everyone has a religion, or world view, of some sort. All decisions in life are made based on a individual’s world view. There have to be reasons why things are done a certain way, whether it is brushing our teeth or paying our bills. The choices may not all be equally critical in any given moment, but if there is no meaning to life, the choices are pointless. Because meaning of life is inherently an abstract concept, aside from physical evidence that sways conclusions about said meaning, it falls under the heading of spiritual. Thus, the two supposedly separate aspects of life are irrevocably connected.
Therein lies the root of the dilemma about secular versus religious. No one individual can be without religion, but no one wants to be ruled by another individual’s religious priorities. Those who say they will not follow the God of Christians, do not want to be subject to interpretations of Biblical law. In fact, many Christians do not agree with imposing purportedly Christian moral codes on all of society. Likewise, many people are unhappy with having the religions of certain environmental concerns or redistribution of money forced on them. It is all a matter of perspective, i.e. world view or religious ideas, about what actions people should and shouldn’t be allowed to participate in.
From a Biblical perspective, one could think the idea of secular is addressed when Jesus is asked about paying taxes to Caesar. The funny thing is that he doesn’t really answer the question. The tax being asked about is apparently simply a tax for existing. Jesus does not concede that the government is due such a tax, but rather indicates that the government is in charge of the money being used, so it is already theirs. On the other hand, Jesus wants to make the stronger point (helping them out with their line of thinking because they were distracted … ) that the Pharisees’ attitude toward God is what they really should be thinking about instead of trying to trick Him. There is no statement, direct or indirect, that says spiritual beliefs can be separate from day to day living.
Since no one individual is without their own set of rules about how life should be run, that is, their own religion, there is no one capable of running a so-called secular government, in terms of the most widely understood definition. The only solution for keeping ‘religion’ out of government is to have people be free to make their own decisions, with little or no ‘government’ imposed by others.
Secularization is an opposite sort of concern among those who are worried about ‘wordly’ influences in religious rituals. Based on what has already been discussed here about this difference between secular and religious being made up, there is no real problem. What they are really concerned about is that their cultural norms and comfortable traditions are changing. There is nothing wrong with either of those things. They are the things memories are made of. However, let’s not get confused and attribute spiritual value to them that they don’t have.
In summary, if we are not trying to force our own choices on others, all the concerns about being secular or religious fade into the background.