Contemporary culture is confusing. A lot of words suffer from almost daily redefinition. This post will look at the word morality, as it is shaped in the context of secular, atheist, and Christian thinking.
A secular thinker by definition does not believe in God. The very idea of spirituality is alien to secular thinking, which asserts that only the world of time and space, the world science can weigh and measure, exists. To a secular thinker material existence is the only reality, and death is like the snuffing of a lamp. The end.
Some people equate the word atheist with the word secularist because of the secular rejection of spirituality. To do so, however, is to attempt to express the whole meaning of secularism with the single aspect of the rejection of the idea of God. While the secular thinker does reject God, that rejection is only a single element of a great spectrum of principles by which the secularist lives. An atheist may simply feel inoculated against the infection of belief in God the way a person might feel safe entering the home of a mumps patient if he had been vaccinated against that disease. It is possible for someone to be an atheist without feeling the need to root out religion from the culture. It is not possible to be a secularist and feel the same way.
Secular disbelief in God translates directly into an assertive, increasingly aggressive attitude that belief in God is a threat to humanity. Without a belief in God, the secular thinker turns to the highest form of life for all the things people expect from God. The term highest is expressed in traits of intelligence and creativity, for example. Tool-making. Language. Perception of time. Speculative thinking. Charitable instincts. Christians readily observe that none of these traits address the concepts of guilt, sin, or morality, and they rightly observe that when secularists do speak of morality they are thinking in an entirely different frame of reference than Christians using the same term.
Christians believe that morality is grounded in the revelation of God and his personal attributes, a universal and absolute standard.
Secularists believe that morality is grounded in the evolving self-knowledge of human beings and their attributes, a diverse and mutable standard.
These two concepts could hardly be more different. These two standards cannot conceivably be reconciled to one another. It is not necessary that the relationship between people who hold these vastly different worldviews devolve into complete lack of respect, but increasingly, interaction between Christians and secularists is antagonistic and destructive.
Because each party sees that when the other party has the dominant influence, life becomes difficult. In a representative republic, the people who have the numbers, the votes, on their side have the power. They write the laws. They shape public policy. They decide who and what is taxed. They teach the children.
Some Christians and some secularists try to operate as if compromise between the two viewpoints is possible. Agreements that give each “side” something to hold on to can be crafted. They can be “agreed to” by majority vote. However, they never satisfy either “side” and they never finish the work each “side” believes must be done. Outside the agreement stand proponents for each “side” who will never be satisfied with partial success.
Why is the world this way? Why can the good never fully defeat the evil in this world? Why is it that no matter how many peace treaties are signed by no matter how many people of good will, there is no peace? Stomp out war in one place, and it breaks out somewhere else. Why?
Jesus explained how this works in his parable of the Wheat and the Tares. In this parable, despite the farmer’s great care in sowing good seed, he is ambushed by the devious work of his enemy who sows weeds in the field while the farmer sleeps. The farmer does not detect the presence of the bad seeds until they have sprouted alongside the growing wheat. Rather than lose the good crop altogether, the farmer defers destruction of the weeds till harvest time. Jesus said that this state of affairs exists in the world of time and space with good and evil growing side by side till the end of time. The moral of the story is, God wins. The lesson of the story is that good and evil, Christians and secularists, will always co-exist till the end of time.
Someone will take undoubtedly take umbrage at the implied equivalence between secularism and evil. Someone will say that he knows really good people who do not believe in God. Anybody can see that there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who do good in the world. There is an explanation of this apparent harsh judgment on atheists, but it is beyond the scope of this post. An upcoming post will answer the question: Why is anyone who is not a Christian depicted as evil in the parable of the wheat and the tares?