Saturday, October 24, 2009

Culture: Secular or Pluralistic?

I just returned home from a science and faith conference held in Fort Worth, TX.
At the end of the first day, my friends and I were able to spend some time with one of the speakers, Stephen Meyer.

I respect Dr. Meyer. He is a man who is passionate about his particular field (intelligent design, namely biological information), but who invests time in the work of others. He delights in answering questions, and refrains from blustering or bullying those who disagree with him.

He seems like he has nothing to hide.

One of the statements he made in our conversation really stood out to me. I wasn’t sure if I agreed with it or not, but I thought that it was very important to understand.

Here’s what he said:

“We are not living in a pluralistic society, we are living in a secular society.”
A pluralistic society is one in which a variety of traditions and ideologies are able to coexist. This word can also mean that varieties of ideologies are all equally valid.

A secular society is one which pushes a naturalistic worldview. This is often seen not only in what said society propagates but in what it attempts to disallow to propagate.

Why does Meyer’s statement matter?

Is it accurate?

I think that Meyer’s remark is pertinent to the discussion of religion and state today. Even if found to be not entirely accurate, the words of this seasoned cultural observer reflect at least a shift in American worldview.

As a religious studies major, I encounter a lot of thought directed against my position of the exclusivity of Christ. Professors teach the values of other religions from the standpoint that all religions are equally valuable. Students who disagree are misinformed at best.

One would suppose that this is a product of extreme pluralism in the classroom, which is probably very true. But I think that Meyer’s words carry gravity even in my comparative religions class. We are taught to evaluate religion through a post-modern lens of relative truth (meaning and truth are separate from facts).

This sounds very much like pluralism, but there may be a naturalistic heart keeping this teaching alive. We are taught not to esteem one religious tradition above another because we are all just people reaching above to Ultimate Reality, but this supposition, even though it acknowledges the supernatural, is effectively established upon secular principles.

This is so because some pluralistic camps of thought encourage us to assent to the idea that the supernatural has its hands tied behind its back (so to speak). It does not reach out to us in such a way that we can definitively know it, which means that our religions are symbols, compasses pointing toward magnetic north at best.
Pluralism is certainly not dead in America, but I think it owes much of its success to naturalistic thought.

Thus, when Meyer’s says that we are living in a secular society as opposed to a pluralistic one, I think he is right insofar as secular ideologies are permeating culture even to the religious sphere. (This phenomenon may be much more noticeable in spheres outside of religious studies, like the sciences.)

The strange relationship between secular and pluralistic ideologies hinted at by Meyer’s comment is sure to change in the future.

I do not know if religious pluralism will replace naturalistic secularism or vice versa. Perhaps these will coexist in a merged form or be divided into a Schaefferian two story dichotomy.

Granted, these are not the only worldviews in the fray. My own Christian faith is still to be counted.

And if both religious pluralism and secular thought are mistaken, the Christian God is still to be counted as well.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Passion of the Christ

I just watched the Passion of the Christ.

I've seen it before, but not like this. Just me and two other friends.

We talked while it was playing. "What does this mean?" "If Jesus was God's Son, why would He let Him die?" "That part's not in the Bible."

The Passion. That's a good adjective for Jesus' work. He was passionate.

During the opening scene Jesus prays "not My will but Yours be done." I've heard that before, thought a lot about it, been encouraged to do the hard, right thing because of it. But there it was in graphic display: "I will die if You want Me to. I don't want to. If there is any other way then do that. But if it's Your will, let me be killed."

Christ lost His life literally. Can I part with public praise? acceptance? desires of my heart?

He did. He died.

Then He rose.

His obedience resulted in the greatest exaltation imaginable (see Philippians 2:5-11). He left all and got more. If I leave those little things I cling too, I will get more as well.

I have seen this proven true in my life.

So it was good to be reminded of that and of the gospel, it’s incredulous but real and perfect.

We talked about sura 4:157-158 while we watched it. That Qur’anic verse depicts the traditionally held Muslim belief that Jesus was never crucified, but that Judas was made to look like Jesus and crucified while God took Jesus into paradise.

“If Jesus was God’s Son, why did God let Him die?” That is the question arising from the aforementioned ideology.

In the Bible, it actually says that it pleased God to crush Him. It pleases God to exterminate sin and save people. On the cross Jesus “became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21)” so that we could have Jesus’ righteousness accredited to us after He took our punishment.

God punished sin and was pleased. God enabled us to come to Him and was pleased.

Jesus dying was not against God’s will, it was why He came.

He chose to die.

His passion to glorify God in obedience and thereby extend eternal salvation to the world would let Him do nothing else.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


We have been talking a lot about beauty in my English class lately.

Because the class is about textual arguments, we dissect ad campaigns offering airbrushed icons of femininity and counter campaigns that attempt to expand the definition of beauty to make it more accessible to women.

A few of the articles we have read draw on the work of evolutionary psychologists to explain that the paradigm of beauty (or attractiveness) is hard-wired into us by natural selection’s shaping of our faculties to hold an affinity for members of the opposite sex whose features happen to coincide with a high fertility rate.

One author suggested that this means the unattainable standard of beauty will remain such – it’s in our genes – and that by striving for it we can develop a better quality of life.

I think that cognitive psychologists would tend to disagree. Certainly they may yield to the assertion that we are influenced by our genes, but they would assert that we have a say over what we value through our cognitive processes.

I have been trying to think about beauty through a biblical lens. Not necessarily is some poignant, philosophical ponders on aesthetics, but just, “what does the Bible say about beauty?”

In the Bible, beauty is neither good nor bad. Beauty is just a noun and beautiful just an adjective.

Some righteous women are called beautiful, as are some evil women.

Physical beauty is not a goal to strive for (which doesn’t mean don’t take care of yourself, there are lots of exhortations to avoid laziness, etc.). Finding worth in our appearance is understood to be the wrong source of joy (the correct source is Jesus).

There is one beauty that is extolled: inner beauty. You can find this in passages of scripture like 1 Peter 3.

Proverbs 31:30 says “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

Finding value in obedience to God is the remedy for our shallow, super-model exalting perspective.

It would help girls overcome eating disorders, etc., to know that to be loved does not mean to look like a celebrity.