This is an exercise I have used with 15 to 18 year old students. Hopefully it contains a few things to provoke thought.
Assumptions and Beliefs of Secularism
Throughout your schooling and throughout everyday life and in the media, you are immersed in a secular culture. Because of that you will hear and read and see many things you take for granted and do not question but in fact they shape the way you see and understand your world perhaps without your really being aware.
Do you recognise the following beliefs/assumptions that are common in our society? Which do you think are provable and which are based on unprovable beliefs? (Interesting questions – why is proving things true important to us, and how can we prove things are true?)
Are there any statements below that you think are unfair or exaggerated? Why do you think that?
1. What we can see, touch, hear, taste or smell is all there is. Nothing else exists or is real. (e.g. Religious beliefs are not based on reality; Myths and legends are artificial constructs; Concepts like love, faithfulness and self sacrifice have value only where they support the survival of the human species).
2. Human beings are not specially created. They are not essentially different from other animals apart from their ability to think and verbalise their thoughts. They are products of an evolutionary process which has no guiding higher power.
3. Human civilization has advanced through the ages to the point where we are more sophisticated and developed than our ancestors. Ancient people were primitive and less intelligent than modern people. Human intelligence and knowledge is constantly expanding and reaching new frontiers. Humans can do anything they set their minds to.
4. Ancient wisdom is not valued. ‘Old fashioned’ is used as a term of derision. The actions and attitudes of previous generations are demonised by history (e.g. people in the Middle Ages were superstitious and stupid. The first white settlers in Australia were racist and cruel. Bob Brown describes people opposed to gay marriage as belonging to last century).
5. Values and traditions are artificially constructed in that they are products of human culture. They have no lasting significance. There is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ apart from what humans decide from time to time.
6. Youth is valued more than age (Many people do not know how to grow old gracefully. They strive to stay young).
7. Immortality or the search for a longer life is a recurring theme. (People are encouraged to live as if they will never die, and then they die as if they have never lived. – What is the alternative?).
8. Scientific advances and human convenience cause us to reconsider what is acceptable ethically. (IVF, prenatal testing, cloning and stem cell research, abortion, euthanasia).
9. Death is a tragedy rather than a natural part of life. It is best to avoid mentioning it.
10. The individual is paramount. Families and communities are not as important as individuals are. (The ‘Me’ generation. Human Rights come before personal obligations and responsibilities).
11. Science and technology are capable of finding answers to all questions. Science is the supreme test of the value of anything. Anything not scientific is ultimately of no value or is just superstition.
12. Science has allowed us to move beyond old beliefs and superstitions (especially religion).
13. The existence of the universe is due entirely to random chance. There is no ultimate meaning to the universe and hence there is no ultimate meaning to human lives. Evolutionary theory provides the only real answers to human origins and purpose.
14. Religious beliefs have no place in public or political life. If they are held they should be kept private (as opposed to anti religious beliefs which are acceptable in public).
15. Spirituality is tolerated as long as it makes no serious claims against the supremacy of science (Astrology; UFOs, Card Readings; Numerology).
Christian Assumptions and Beliefs
Do you recognise the essential differences from secular beliefs? Are any of the following provable? (Some of them are not held by all Christians).
1. There is more to reality than just what we can measure. God is and always will be a complete mystery to humans unless he chooses to reveal himself to them. Humans are not capable of discovering or studying or proving anything about God through science or any other method. Reality has a spiritual dimension as well as a physical dimension. Concepts like love, faithfulness and self sacrifice have a deep and lasting meaning in themselves.
2. Human beings are created by God and are therefore special creatures. They are not products of blind chance, but have a value and a purpose. Humans are not supreme beings in themselves. They are dependent on God’s grace.
3. God is the supreme being and has created the universe and everything in it. The universe therefore has purpose even though humans may not understand that purpose.
4. Ancient wisdom (e.g. the Bible) is valued because it comes from God. We can learn from history but we are not necessarily better than our ancestors were at being good people.
5. Values such as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ come from God who is our creator and therefore are not changeable. God’s truth is timeless. Right and wrong are given to us by God and are not changed by human decisions.
6. Old people are just as important as young people because all people are God’s creatures.
7. Eternal life is a concept Christians believe in but no one really understands what it means. It certainly doesn’t mean remaining eternally young, playing extreme sports and going to parties for ever.
8. Ethics are independent of, and superior to, scientific advances or human convenience.
9. Death is not something to be feared but is rather a natural part of life. Christians believe death is merely a transition to another form of existence so that we can be with God.
10. The individual is not paramount. God is paramount. Focusing on personal wants and desires is sinful and destructive. We are made for relationships with others. Human rights are important but only to the extent that they are part of God’s plan.
11. God is all powerful and wise. He is mysterious except for what he chooses to reveal to us through the Bible. We can not hope to understand his decisions or his actions. Science has no jurisdiction in spiritual matters. Even in the physical world science is limited by its assumption that God does not exist. Some things in the natural world will always be a mystery to us and mysterious things (miracles?) will always continue to happen.
12. Humans have a tendency to delude themselves that they are masters of the universe. They are not. Science has blinded us to God’s greatness and power. We are deluded if we think science has any ultimate answers about God’s existence or the significance of our lives.
13. There is underlying and ultimate meaning to the universe. God has created the universe and everything that exists and they work together in a way that is beyond human understanding.
14. All beliefs and opinions have a place in public life. It is just that some are correct and some are wrong. However even when we disagree with people we should respect them.
Where are you most comfortable? With the Secular or the Religious, or a combination of both?