James K.A. Smith defined secularism as such: “neutral, unbiased, objective, and capital R – rational, and because of that, areligious”. He went on to describe a secularist society, or culture, as having the basic same attributes. Neutral, unbiased, objective, Rational, and areligious. I personally believe that this doesn’t quite capture what the term secular is, and what a secular culture looks like. To me, a secular society is driven by science, focused on the happiness of those who live there, striving towards enlightenment and acceptance of ALL people and their individual beliefs. It does not exclude, or legislate religious beliefs, and does not suffer long those who seek to impose their views on others.
Tennessee is a good example of those living in a buffered world. It is perfectly acceptable to assume everyone you meet is a Christian. In fact, it’s almost expected that everyone you meet is a Christian. I admit that when I left the church, I was haunted by what I left behind. Although I knew I made the right decision, I felt a longing for…something. It was the ceremony of it all. The rituals, few though they may be in today’s churches, were something I had just come to love. The people, the fellowship, I missed it. Because I had a new outlook on life that didn’t include all of the things about Christianity that made me feel guilty all the time, I grew angry at my past life. I was liberated by my future, but angry that it took me so long to get there. I gave up so much happiness due to guilt by a God I no longer believed in. I set out to squirrel myself away from all Christians. Shockingly this was very hard to do while living in the heart of Tennessee with a Christian wife and children.
I soon took a job at the local hospital working in IT. My supervisor was a devout Christian and literally, and I believe involuntarily, curled his lip the moment he found out that I was an atheist. I have no doubt in my mind that had he known, he would have never hired me. By this time I was getting over my anger and was beginning to see things a bit more clearly. I viewed the Christians around me as putting up barriers to protect themselves against non-believers, and I didn’t realize that I was putting up my own barriers to protect me from them.
It wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that cracks started forming in the grand fortress I had built up around myself. In 2015 I became a Buddhist. In Buddhism, we don’t worship anyone or anything. Our journey is an internal one. We strive to continually live in each moment, and hope to be better versions of ourselves with each passing second. We accomplish this different ways, but one of the pillars of the work is meditation. So I meditated often. I still do. During meditation, your brain can really give you some insight into problems you didn’t realize you had. So a couple of years ago, working a different job, I came into contact with a person experiencing a severe mental crisis. He wanted to kill himself. No one could convince him of his worth. That night, I meditated and this young man’s image came to mind. I said to myself, “I just cannot understand why he sees no value in himself.” My brain, the sarcastic brute that it is, responded, “Kind of like how you don’t see any value in people who are Christians.” Ouch.
That experience started me on the path I’m on today. I am determined to see the value in all people. I will not insulate myself any longer. Although I’m very introverted, I will be as social as I can be with whomever is willing. I will not only see their value, I will value their value. There will no longer be a buffer between my heart and theirs. I will live as authentically as possible, and seek the authenticity in everyone else. I don’t necessarily agree with those who insist that how we believe is tied directly to how we identify. I believe what I believe and have no use in identifying as anything at all. If I do so, it’s to help someone else classify me, if they must, in their own brain. For Christianity, it’s different. In some ways, Christians are called to identify.
This inevitably leads to confusion between actual beliefs and beliefs that they believe they should hold. That is your crisis of faith. That’s your falling away. It’s because in this society, we’re not supposed to be authentic. I reject the implication that if you’re authentic and that compels you to look, act, or believe differently, that somehow you’re wrong. The real problem is that we’ve stopped seeing ourselves and others as humans. We see ourselves as Buddhists, Christians, Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, other. None of those things are true. They just aren’t. A true secular society isn’t scary. It’s what we should strive for. You’re free to be authentic. So if you disagree with your pastor, say so. If you disagree with how you identify, change it.