The manner in which we live our lives ultimately reflects our understanding of our existence, reflects our world view. Undeniably, we exist and ergo a truth or reality must underlie that existence. Whether or not we consciously examine that perspective or seek the nature of that truth, our actions, our values, and our understanding of right and wrong reveal our life-directing world view. Unreasonably (given that we are reasoning beings), much of the time we do not consider or have not actively considered our evident “chosen” existential framework. None the less, our actions reflect the conscious or unconscious choice we have made.
The secular society in which we live manifestly is based in an atheistic understanding of our existence. Discussions concerning morality and societal ethics do not presuppose the reality of eternal and absolute principles of right and wrong. Rather, right and wrong are considered from the perspective of human progress. Truth and morality evolve and “progress” as our human society “progresses” toward a human conceived and ever progressing vision of human perfection or human utopia. Our secular society does not promote differentiating right from wrong, or good from evil, but rather extols the concept of tolerance. By establishing the supremacy of tolerance, good as absolute does not exist. Claiming the equal goodness or (politically) correctness of all beliefs and beliefs system precludes objective or absolute good. Illogically in this framework, goodness does not exist independently but rather only in the concept of tolerance itself.
The current attack on traditional marriage and family structure epitomizes both the origins and the implications of secular morality. Progressive ethics instructs us that “good” family structure is not limited to 1 mother and 1 father taking responsibility for the caring and teaching of their children but also includes any “loving” couple, trio, or village. The movement to legalize homosexual marriage does not simply intend to prevent discrimination against homosexuals but rather goes much further by equating the “goodness” of homosexual family structure to that of the traditional i.e. for as long as human society has existed, family structure. Accusing those who oppose homosexual marriage of hatefulness and bigotry fails to understand the difference between persecuting homosexuals, and judging homosexuality as unnatural and harmful to individuals and society. That difference is expressed in the Augustinian maxim “to love the sinner and hate the sin”.
Secular morality has encouraged sexual promiscuity by policies of safe sex education, adolescent access to birth control without parental knowledge or approval, and abortion rights. American society now glamorizes and celebrates sexual freedom. It asserts that consensual sexual activity among adults or even adolescents with the appropriate safeguards is not harmful but rather natural and fulfilling. Yet societal rates of divorce, juvenile crime, single parent household, dysfunctional household, abortions (occurring on the magnitude of more than a million unborn children per year), and anxiety and depression belie that proposition. Further, at some level of our being, most of us innately understand that much of what modern sexual morality deems allowable, is in fact not OK. Proclaiming something right and good does not make it so.
This moral deterioration has had devastating consequences on the structure and stability of families. Traditional American society believed, or at least publicly professed as normative morality, the appropriateness of sex only within the sanctity of marriage, not because it was prudish or ‘unenlightened’, but because sexual relations were thereby intrinsically connected to responsibility, fidelity, and “till death do us part” commitment. In contrast, contemporary secular sexual morality is instead based on self. Not only has this normalized sex outside of marriage but has further made maintenance of marriage contingent on each of the individual’s ongoing happiness and satisfaction with the marriage. This “desacralization” of marriage and consequent comfort with divorce has logically led to the next level of devaluing traditional marriage.
Further, modern sexual “liberty” exemplifies a broader failure of the secular existential world view to understand passion more generally. Like all material wants and desires, once the want becomes satisfied and that moment passes, it is practically forgotten and almost immediately followed by another desire that when fulfilled generates another want – a never ending cycle without lasting satisfaction or meaning. The futility of such a reality has spawned the secular utopian mission. To give meaning to life on Earth, the secularists have idealized (idolized) a human conceived vision of perfect humanity. This mission to create “meaning” in their Godless world justifies their abridgment of individual’s freedoms, imposition of evolving morality on society, and intolerance of Judeo-Christian morality, and its professed absolute nature. Yet in denying absolute goodness and truth, a secular utopia has no solid foundation, is ever changing, and ultimately is arbitrary.
Ironically, secularists argue that religion is a human construct to give meaning to life and comfort in death. Yet, our Christian faith and belief is not blind but rather a product of revelation in our lives and of reason. As such, we should continually challenge the validity of our Christian faith. We must look for truth wherever our reason and hearts lead us. Critically examining the life, wonder, beauty, and obvious order of the Universe all around us, suggests or even proclaims an underlying Divine Reason and Design. It doesn’t seem “reasonable” to attribute it all to a random cosmic accident.
Consider further, when we do or even contemplate doing wrong such as taking advantage of another person, injuring another bodily or with our words, stealing, lusting, lying, etc., we intrinsically understand such action to be wrong. Admittedly, those pangs of conscience may be nearly imperceptible by habitual wrong doing, yet most of us would admit to having that sense of right and wrong in the depth of our being. Secularists might argue those feelings of guilt have been conditioned in us by our parents and society. But reason and experience tell us such feelings are more essential to our nature than a simple learned response. (As a father despite my best efforts, I failed to condition my children to keep their rooms neat. I doubt I taught them deep seated feelings of guilt.) The universality of this moral awareness is consistent with our sense of the absolute nature of right and wrong. The Judeo-Christian worldview understands this intrinsic morality as God’s law written on the hearts of all mankind, all of whom have been made in the image of God.
And then there is Love – the love of a parent for their child, a husband for his wife, between friends; the love manifested by those who care for the elderly, sick, starving, those devastated by natural disaster; the love intrinsically evident in the exchange of a friendly look or a few kind words among strangers. Does reason allow that love was “naturally selected” in the “survival of the fittest” by the process of evolution? Would the evolutionary mechanism that promoted strength, speed, and intelligence also likely sifted out sacrificial love? (As a brief aside, I don’t discount some form of evolution as a possible mechanism of God’s creation. The Adam and Eve account reveals certain truths about our nature and our relationship to God. Conversely, God disclosing evolution to His people 4000 years ago may not have been so helpful for them to understand that relationship.)
Our experience and reason suggest to us that love and morality, unlike the physical laws of the universe, are somehow beyond this world. In the Christian worldview, God is Love is the central truth of our existence. Yet God’s Love transcends love of family, love of friend, and even love demonstrated by charity to those in need – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” God manifested His Love by emptying Himself of His divinity, taking on our humanity, and giving Himself to be tortured and killed for the sake of those who love Him and those who hate Him, for sinners and saints, for the believers and non-believers. The selfless Love of God defies human reason and capacity, and yet we innately understand such love as the absolute and eternal Good that we could strive for in our humanity. Such is the love aspired for in Christian marriage, sanctified in God’s eternal and unconditional Love; in contradistinction, to the secular understanding of marriage dependent on “being in love”.
The Christian life does not demand we all renounce the world and become monks and nuns, but rather renouncing an understanding of this world without God as its source and as the principle of life. This life is a gift and it is good but only if recognized as such. Remembering always, as much as we are able, that we have been given life by our loving Creator and offering back by following His commandments.
A few words about God’s commandments: They are not arbitrary rules but rather the means to a relevant, meaningful, and joyful life. God’s commandments are not to be followed so that God will love us; rather they are instruction for us, the beloved of God, to live our true vocation, life in communion with God. They are not formal duties, but are a guide for a life of joy and blessedness, and to live a life with the expectation of God’s Kingdom to come. Sin is not so much doing evil but rather failing to do the good we can. Every moment of our lives, we make decisions, and at that moment we can be faithful or not, we can manifest God’s Love or not. Ἁμαρτίας (amartia – missing the mark), the Greek word for sin, does not simply mean doing wrong, but rather falling short of the most loving or most good action the moment requires. Obviously, only the perfect man, Jesus, could live up to this standard and the rest of us fall short frequently. As struggling Christians we can only aspire to that absolute Love and Faithfulness; but to do so, we must acknowledge there is a “mark”, and must understand the “mark”, as God’s instruction as Truth and Way to joy and blessing, is eternal and unchanging.
This humble written effort is not so much prove the truthfulness of the Christian worldview as to encourag asking the question – what is the reality of my life? Seek that truth. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) Faith does not grow from blind and unquestioning belief but from reason and revelation. With a questioning mind and an open heart, we little by little perceive God’s presence in the majesty and beauty of the world around us, in our loving relationships, and in our efforts of prayer, reading scripture, and worship. Faith too always has and must have a component of doubt. There can be no absolute knowledge of our origin but actively questioning, actively seeking the truth, and having a heart open to revelation will allow a reasoned assessment. Do Reason and Love underlie that existence or does a cascade of events from a random cosmic accident?
Ultimately, we all choose, consciously or not, to live our lives at some level understanding our existence as gift from our Loving God or understanding our existence as a result of a random occurrence. Those who choose to accept this gift will in this life know a foretaste of the Joy and Love that will only be fully manifested in the Kingdom to come. The alternative choice is a futile existence with only one conclusion.
In the end, there exist two types of people – those who crucify and those who are crucified, those who oppress and those who are oppressed, those who hate and [those who love], those who inflict suffering and those who endure suffering, [those who strive to fulfill all their egocentric desires, and those who believe in denying self and sacrificing for the other], those who persecute and those who endure persecution. No explanation is needed to emphasize whose side Christians should be on. Nikolla Berdayev
Nicholas Pandelidis Lent 2011