The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 2, “The Secular”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Say we grant the claim that secularism is, today, the enemy of Mormonism. What follows?

What follows is that secularism ought to be first in line for Mormon love and Mormon thinking. Secularism ought to be greeted fearlessly. No one should be thinking harder or better about secularism than Mormonism. And no one should be doing more to rethink truths from the secular position than Mormonism.

Now, again, a fearless extension of the truth to the secular position doesn’t amount to either an adoption or a rejection of that position. Rather, the work of thinking must transfigure that position.

It must proceed as an occupation that simultaneously transfigures all three elements involved: the enemy, Mormonism, and the truth. If our fearless thinking doesn’t transfigure all three, then, whatever else was managed, truth will fail.

More, let me emphasize that love’s extension of the truth, its refusal to treat the truth as narrow and proprietary, is not a gesture of appeasement. It is a form of resistance. It is a form of resistance that refuses to allow the enemy to be the enemy, that refuses to allow the enemy to be positioned as what must be excluded or opposed.

Animated by love, real thinking is a form of fearless resistance that begins by offering again and again that most counterintuitive (but most Christian) of all gestures: it turns the other cheek. Rather than facing down the enemy, real thinking turns its head to see what the enemy is seeing. This gesture of love embodies the deepest possible act of resistance: it contests the enemy’s right to be an enemy rather than a friend.

Secularism needs to be contested. But if it is contested in the wrong way—if it is met with aggression or capitulation—then our resistance risks only reinforcing the oppositions upon which secularism itself depends. For the sake of truth, we must contest the founding oppositions that define secularism as such.

Secularism defines itself in opposition to the not-secular. That is, it defines itself in opposition to religion.

To agree to this opposition, to agree that secularism and religion are enemies, is to have agreed in advance that secularism should be allowed to frame the debate.

Once this right is granted and its attendant opposition codified, truth has already been compromised. Ceding this opposition allows secularism to define—for both the secular person and the religious person—what religion is.

Religion never understood itself as the “not-secular” until secularism defined it that way. And if religion wants to be serious about contesting secularism, it shouldn’t start by granting that point. It shouldn’t start by ratifying secularism’s right to be the enemy. And it definitely shouldn’t start, as many conservatives and defenders of the faith seem to do, by taking a secular premise—that religion is, essentially, the not-secular—as the key to understanding religion itself. Transfiguring the secular will require that we steadfastly refuse to grant the premise that religion and secularism are enemies.

You’ve doubtless seen, on a thousand fronts, how this same sad fight plays out over and over between the secular and the religious under their “liberal” and “conservative” aliases.

The liberal and conservative pair is a secular pair. To accept their opposition as a frame for combatively appropriating rather than compassionately extending truths is, again, to have undercut truth right from the start. It doesn’t matter, here, that the conservative position is “opposed” to the secular position because the opposition is itself secular. In fact, it’s this very opposition that defines the legitimacy of secularism.

The resulting irony is pretty thick: loyal conservative opposition to liberal positions may goose some local tactical wins, but the astonishingly fierce loyalty of conservatives to the rules of this secular game guarantees, in the end, their strategic defeat.

Mutatis mutandis, the same is just as true for the liberal position.

Fearless Mormon thinking will refuse to play this game.

It will refuse to carve up the world into the secular versus the religious (or the liberal versus the conservative) and it will, instead, roam the whole world searching for truths, extending truths, transfiguring truths, and thinking through every manifestation of truth—always once more, always again—wherever those truths happen to show themselves.

Fearless Mormon thinking will undermine wholesale the validity of the distinctions upon which the secular project depends and it will construct a new space for thinking that won’t allow the secular to operate as religion’s governing opposition.

Then, having decommissioned secularism as a governing term in religious self-understanding, it will evaluate, absorb, and repurpose the best elements of secularism itself.

And, finally, in the process of transfiguring the secular, Mormonism will itself be transfigured by its love for the enemy.


  1. Jason K. says:

    Yet another thing to make me look forward to reading Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age over the summer. It seems like your conclusion is in conversation with his “secularity 3,” at least as I understand it not having yet read the book, “the conditions of experience of and search for the spiritual” that makes it possible to call our time secular. Robert Bellah explains here:

    My Mormon Lectionary Project entry on Gandhi touches on some similar themes to those in your post:

  2. Adam, I love your approach to responding, with love and serious thought, to secularism as an enemy of Mormonism/religion. But I am not quite willing to grant the premise that secularism IS the enemy of religion, Mormon or otherwise. Of course, this brings us back to basic definitions, but, as I define it, secularism is a political position that does not recognize religion as religion–and that, therefore, cannot employ the coercive apparatuses of the state either for or against any religious position, including unbelief.

    By sheer coincidence, this was the subject of the last post I wrote for the secular blog world, before jumping ship and joining BCC two months ago:

    Again, I know that I am working with a different definition of “secularism” than you are, but I do think that defining the term is a crucial part of the very engaging project that you propose here in your post. How do you define the “secularism” that, for the purposes of discussion, we should define as an enemy to be lovingly and fearlessly engaged?

  3. charlene says:

    This chills me with it’s resonance, “It doesn’t matter, here, that the conservative position is “opposed” to the secular position because the opposition is itself secular. In fact, it’s this very opposition that defines the legitimacy of secularism.”

    Or, as I phrase it, it’s not that one side is right and the other wrong, contention itself is wrong. Three cheers for rational, or fearless-thinking, communication.

  4. I’m all for the fearlessness. I think it would be useful for us Mormons to identify some non-Mormon models of the kind of thinking you’re after here. Our thinking won’t track theirs entirely, of course; it will be Mormon. But I think having some models will provide inspiration for the possibility of the kind of fearless thinking you’re inviting, and it might offer some examples of how to use something like the abstract frame you’ve provided here to see anew particular realities on the ground.

    The first model that comes to mind for me is Marilynne Robinson. Her most recent novel, Lila, offers a provocative and moving portrait of how an already deep Christian faith might be further deepened by a transforming encounter with a seemingly non-religious perspective. And many of her essays hint at how this kind of encounter has shaped her and her faith.

    Another model might be James Wood. A number of his essays reveal the way his fearless but generous engagement with religious thought and practice shape him as an atheist. In one such essay, he invites atheists to do something like you’re inviting Mormons to do here. He calls for the kind of atheism that can “give a brother’s account of belief, rather than treat it as some unwanted impoverished relative.”

  5. You lost me a little with the word “resistance” in the 5th – 7th paragraphs, “Love’s extension of the truth… is a form of resistance.” Couldn’t it be equally (and perhaps even more precisely) framed as the opposite of resistance? – an offering in the form of surrender or liberation (not to be confused with capitulation/acquiescence, but more like eschewing)? Refusing to call an enemy an enemy looks more (to me) like being open, receiving, fearless welcoming, letting go of defensiveness – it’s love & truth overwhelming the enemy from a place the enemy never suspects.

    The word resistance seems defensive, small & closed, agenda-driven — a self-concerned reaction to what is presented (implying some concession to the collusion the enemy wishes to draw us into). Love, otoh, seems receptive, open, large-hearted, peaceful, transcending whatever war the enemy presents.

    I’m just not seeing how an offering of love (a love inextricably bound to truth) can rightly be called resistant. [I suppose turning the other cheek could be narrowly defined as a form of resistance (if one is resisting the whole package called ‘war’), but it seems to be a resistance only by virtue of its non-resistance. I think that word shrinks, even belittles, the wide open-hearted and expansive gesture called love.]

    It’s most likely the case that you are leagues ahead of me and I’m just misreading or misunderstanding your point. Thanks for stretching my brain. I love your writing.

  6. I love Marilynne Robinson’s Lila as a model of what I understand the OP is discussing. And I love what I think the OP is saying. It is hard to imagine on an institutional level, which thing is in itself significant. I like so much of what Adam Miller has to say. I sincerely wish it seemed more related to what I actually hear from The Church.

  7. Michael Austin,

    I am not Adam, but my reading of this post and his last is that he is precisely saying that we shouldn’t *ultimately* consider secularism an enemy. But this post is an exploration that, *if* we grant that secularism is an enemy, then fearless thinking in love (what we are ultimately called to do) cannot help but take supposed “enemies” and transfigure us and them so that we are not such.

    Maybe it would be better if we didn’t have to take the long route to get here, and it would certain be better if we didn’t remain in fear (and thus remain as enemies, untransfigured, with an incomplete/insufficent truth), but i see the argument as more that mormonism will vanquish all “enemies” not by like…destroying those enemies…but by vanquishing our ability to perceive others as even being enemies in the first place.

    Jen K,

    I read Adam’s use of “resistance” in the way you describe in your next to last paragraph — resistance is meant in the sense of like “if one is resisting the whole package called ‘war'”. I think that Adam uses words like “resistance” precisely to counter against a common assumption that these sorts of behavior and activities are “weak”…or as Adam says, a form of “appeasement.”

    Like, from one perspective, turning the other cheek seems “weak”. But from a different perspective, turning the other cheek is actually a very strong effort…in a world of value systems where the strong are almost ubiquitously valued and the weak are not, and where turning the other cheek is coded as “weak,” then to go against that world and go against those value systems does seem subversive, counterintuitive, rebellious, and *resistant*.

    So yeah, when the “enemy” wants you to go to war, and you react with the very things you said: “receptiveness, openness, large-heartedness, peace”…a transcendence of the war the “enemy” presents and even a refusal to engage on enemy-ally values…that is resistant.

    I mean, it certainly will feel resistant a lot of times, since our (at least, my…) first reaction is to fight back! To take their terms and play that game.

  8. I almost couldn’t read past the first sentence. If only the Church saw secularism as its most significant enemy! But it seems the main enemies the church acknowledges are gay marriage, pornography, and immodesty.

    I agree that a definition of secularism would be useful. To me it’s closely synonymous with materialism, the position that God/religion are just not relevant. I suspect that churches, not just Mormonism, lose believers to secularism at a greater rate than in previous generations, and that looking at life respectfully and lovingly from the position of secularism is essential for understanding why people leave, and for transforming religion into a thing that is more true and relevant.

  9. Martin James says:

    I don’t think the secular define themselves as the not-religious. They just don’t experience religion as non-secular.

    Do you think that being loving requires explaining beliefs according to a common framework, so that the offered reasons people for why people believe true things and false things do not depend on the truth or falsity of what they believe?

    I don’t know if this is secular or not, but it doesn’t seem to me to be loving to say “I believe something is true because God gave me a witness but you believe something to be true for some other reason.

    Shorter version: love is impossible.

  10. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    OK. You start off thus (my emphasis): “Say we grant the claim that secularism is, TODAY, the enemy of Mormonism.” But what if we recall that originally the “enemy of Mormonism” was not secularism but (other forms of) religion — all those creeds that, according to the first vision, were “an abomination in [God’s] sight” and against which Mormonism defined itself?

    Much later there was a shift from the original inter-religious opposition to today’s religious-secular opposition, and pardon my cynicism but I don’t think that shift was politically innocent. To put it bluntly: the Catholic Church couldn’t be an ally in the post-1960s Culture Wars as long as it was the Church of the Devil.

    Why bring this up? Maybe because I’m too much of a historical materialist to believe that “Fearless Mormon thinking” is going to “undermine wholesale the validity of the distinctions upon which the secular project depends,” or “decommission[] secularism as a governing term in religious self-understanding” — much less give everyone a transfigured pony. The actual record suggests that these changes in basic framing are motivated not by lofty and “fearless” thinking but by mundane history and politics, and what they wind up giving us is the usual mixed results.

  11. Clark Goble says:

    Martin, is secularism materialism? I’m not sure that’s fair. I think we discount secularism too much. But let’s be honest. For most things there’s not much of a divide between the secular and the religious. Further while I’m in the secular I can sneak in the religious in my heart and no one cares. Where the religious and the secular clash isn’t over doctrines. Religions clash with each other at least as much as they secularism. The New Atheists, for instance, are taking cues from the Evangelicals and living up to their model. So what do we mean by the secular? Is it merely being non-religious? Honestly I think this is frequently more than a little unfair to the secular who frankly often don’t think about the religious nearly as much as the religious think they do. But of course the secularists are, like the religionists, a plurality. For every evangelical New Atheist “fighting the good fight” there are several more who just don’t care and want to be left alone.

    So can we or ought we define the secular in opposition to the religious? It seems to me blurry at best as the near positivist yet somehow evangelical New Atheists attest. Yet we can also find lots of people who treat Being in near religious terms despite self-identifying as atheists. And of course it’s not hard to find liberal religionists who might say they are Episcopalian, Catholic or Lutheran but who in practice have far more in common with agnostics. And don’t get me started on how to treat the Zen Buddhists!

    Even looking at Mormonism with our rejection of creation ex nihlo we find ourselves with eternal matter, an eternal universe, all uncreated by God which seems to put us much more in the ontological secularist camp than the Evangelicals, Catholics, or so forth.

    It’s all very confusing. The question of what exactly divides the secularist from the religionist; what is the barrier between them; this apparently unseen and unsayable chasm that somehow seems to frequently scurry away just when we need it most. And why do we need it again? What is at risk in this strife between the religious and secular again?

  12. Martin James says:


    1. God talk.
    2. Church going.

    Being secular means you don’t do them.

  13. It seems like a lot hinges on the definition of “secularism.” Could it be that “secularism” is more than just something that defines itself in opposition to religion? Does the Latin “saecularis,” meaning “pertaining to a generation or age,” add anything to our perception of “the enemy”?

  14. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    Yes — so much depends on a red wh I mean the definition of secularism. What if it means the “religiously-neutral civil grounding that characterizes modern liberal societies”? You know, “secularism” as government indifference to religion? In what sense then is secularism religion’s “enemy”? It would be the enemy not of religion, but of religious exclusivity and theocracy — not of Mormonism, though perhaps of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

    Then again, secularism just might be religion’s enemy in another sense. I’m thinking here of secularism as part of the larger complex of liberalism, individualism, consumerism, and the like that make up modernity. I’m thinking in particular of Joseph’s first vision as consumerist, in fact as an early example of religious consumerism: confronted with a bewildering array of competing religious brands, like a shopper in the cereal aisle, Joseph turns to God, who serves him as a sort of divine Consumer Reports. Even though he ultimately decides to become a producer rather than a consumer of religion, can we say that Joseph is experiencing a historically novel relationship to religion, one made possible by secularism as defined above?

    In this view, secularism would be the “enemy” of religion not by directly oppressing it, and not even by depriving it of government support, but by liberating believers into a previously unthinkable religious marketplace.

    Is it significant that freedom of religion and freedom of speech are bundled together in the same constitutional amendment? Does this suggest a parallel between the marketplace of ideas and this newly emerging thing, the religious marketplace, in which Joseph had his epiphany? I guess the point would be that such a “consumerized” religion, freely chosen in such a marketplace, might be a very different thing than a religion that, as in premodern societies, is a core part of one’s being from birth birth because it suffuses one’s entire society.

  15. Martin James says:

    Isn’t this rethinking of secularism what correlation did? That is, isn’t adopting secular practices of bureaucracy, standardization, cost accounting, corporate ownership, lobbying, the process that made secularism not the enemy of mormonism? Isn’t this work already done?

  16. The secularity of the state — or state secularism — is absolutely essential to our freedom of religion. This is particularly recognized in Western European democracies that have state churches — though they are state churches, they are embedded in systems with robust, recognized constitutional protections of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and protection of minority rights. These are systems built explicitly to protect diversity and pluralism. Beware of people who argue that the latter two are our enemy.

  17. Maybe it would be better if we didn’t have to take the long route to get here, and it would certain be better if we didn’t remain in fear (and thus remain as enemies, untransfigured, with an incomplete/insufficent truth), but i see the argument as more that mormonism will vanquish all “enemies” not by like…destroying those enemies…but by vanquishing our ability to perceive others as even being enemies in the first place.

    Great insight with that, Andrew S. We are failing miserably at that to the extent that we join in with false friends in the current, very temporally and geographically specific American political culture wars.

  18. I guess the point would be that such a “consumerized” religion, freely chosen in such a marketplace, might be a very different thing than a religion that, as in premodern societies, is a core part of one’s being from birth because it suffuses one’s entire society.

    Our lifeblood as a Church, to paraphrase a twentieth century nugget of wisdom from Church leaders, is the Mormon convert. As such, our very existence depends on the marketplace of religious ideas that benefitted Joseph Smith and that has allowed those who are Catholic, Protestant, or others as part of the core of their being from birth and which suffuses their entire societies to which we send our missionaries to proselytize, to break free from that “core part of [their] being” in order to join us, an infinitesimally small religious minority, or rather NRM (“new religious movement”) compared to the long existence of the traditional, conservative churches from which we draw our converts.

    In other words, our existence depends on our ability to leverage the secularity of the state in order to protect us as we pry people away from the traditional religions into which they are born and that are therefore a core part of their being. We are the uncouth irreligious influence pulling people away from their conservative, traditional faiths in the eyes of the faiths from whom we are pulling our converts. Don’t we as a people see that?

    To see some Mormons attempting to move us up to the front lines of a war against the “secularism” on which we depend for our lifeblood of religious converts is both amusing and frightening. A true lack of understanding.

  19. (Sorry, Adam, I realize your post stipulated at the outset that, for the sake of argument, we agree that “secularism” is the enemy. These comments were more responses to other commenters, not directly to your post, which I think Andrew S. has correctly understood and responded to.)

  20. As to those Mormon pundits and commentators in venues like the Deseret News, Meridian, or on blogs who are furthering this supposedly “conservative” perspective of secularism as the enemy based on their own political preferences and priors (i.e. putting the Gospel to the service of their political priors in these venues), one recurring theme is using the much maligned 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence as a straw man type foil.

    For example, one such pundit has been known to quote the following sentence from Lawrence, which Justice Kennedy was actually quoting from the 1992 Casey decision, in these types of arguments:

    At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State. (Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 574 (U.S. 2003) (quoting Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 851 (1992)).)

    This statement has been paraded as the epitome of moral relativism — that is, of secular society destroying religion and morality — not only in the last couple of years by Mormon pundits in Meridian and elsewhere but by pundits of the American religious right in general since 1992. Although it would be perfectly consistent with Mormon doctrine and beliefs to view this quote as emblematic of our own perspective vis-à-vis the role that government ought to be allowed to play in the personal lives and consciences of citizens, these pundits prioritize a different political preference and so this quote — and the holding in Lawrence* — is pushed forward as utterly opposed to the defining authority that pundits propose ought to be wielded by traditional religious institutions and legislated through their adherents against people who think or believe differently. They call this “conservative” politics and they believe that religion’s primary usefulness is in its ability to support this perspective. Believing in this “liberty” of individuals is cast as moral relativism.

    But the concept expressed in this quote is essential for us as Mormons. As expressed in a comment above, we Mormons depend on individuals’ ability to decide for themselves what the meaning of their life is and who they are (so that they can leave their traditional faiths and join our Church as converts when contacted by our members or missionaries). And yet pundits would have you believe that the perspective expressed in the quote is emblematic of the “secularism” that they would like to cast as our enemy.

    * Don’t be afraid to read Lawrence for yourselves — rather than relying on the political uses to which the pundits referred to above have put it. I strongly feel that you will agree with both its reasoning and its outcome even if you believe that, according to the Bible, homosexual sexual intercourse is a sin. The question of its sinfulness is separate from whether the secular State ought to be able to intrude into its citizens most intimate aspects of their private lives, beliefs, and personhood through legislation targeting the consensual, private commitment of such acts. Key language from the holding is as follows, language that easily could be characterized as deeply Mormon if it weren’t currently being used by Mormon pundits as the epitome of the evils of secularism:

    Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions. . . . The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. (Lawrence, pp. 562 & 578.)

  21. Scott Roskelley says:

    With these words Adam Miller is still not wrestling with hard issues like abiogenesis, the science of autism epigenetics, or lamanite DNA. He’s saying we should be unafraid, and love our enemies, but Prophets and Apostles speak of 7 great heresies, and all of last year we studied Joseph Fielding Smith’s manual who was 100% against evolutionary science, and this year Ezra Taft Benson the honorable writer of the introduction to the “Black Hammer”. My son is in fifth grade and learned last marking period about australopithecus africanus, homo erectus, and that most of us carry 2% neanderthal dna. For Elder Holland the former president of a university with >30,000 students to say, “I do not know the details of what happened on this planet before [4,000 BC]” or to say that there was no “human death” or “human family” before [4000 BC], is to ignore life itself, to place creation, fall, and atonement into a mythical, virtual reality room, to laugh at the geology, astronomy, and biology departments, and to spit in the face of anyone seeking aletheia “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come”. Yes, prophets can ignore, and claim “to not know about” the big five and continuing biotic crisis events, but the net result is a SLC valley with an inversion layer pollution as bad as Beijing, China. That’s not visionary seer-filled, oracular leadership – it’s drag along murmuring.

  22. Clark Goble says:

    Just out of curiosity Scott, did any of those views make it into the PH manual? Any of Pres. Benson’s john birch writings? I think that’s significant, no?

  23. “Prophets and Apostles speak of 7 great heresies”

    I’m pretty sure only McConkie did so, and he was privately rebuked by the standing president of the Church. You’re painting with a very broad brush.

  24. Martin James says:

    Trond, well put. A secularism that isn’t morally relativist is a huge problem. Nobody cares too much about other people’s liberty. At least for Mormons the religious liberty of others is an article of faith. What happened?!?

    Clark, so anonymously bowdlerized manuals are a good thing?

  25. it's a series of tubes says:

    the net result is a SLC valley with an inversion layer pollution as bad as Beijing

    Now the LDS church leadership is responsible for the inversion. Awesome to know! And here all along we have been duped into believing it was caused by specific geographic and meteorological conditions, coupled with certain types of internal combustion emissions and similar industrial output.

    I feel so liberated to know I can blame BKP for all those hazy, crummy winter days I endured!

  26. tubes, I don’t think it’s debatable that there’s seriousy interplay between local industry, local politics, and the Church in Utah. I don’t think the Church produced the inversion, but it is a heavy hitter in Utah politics and to the extent this is an outcome of political decision-making, it plays a role.

    That said, Scott seems to be a troll.

  27. Martin James says:

    I like the project that you have set out. Here is an approach that builds on the tower of Babel Story. I’m not a knowledgeable about religion but in my limited knowledge the curse of confounded languages isn’t repealed in general. This means that we should be very skeptical about the meaning of words. We need to love everyone because we can’t reliably know who are friends are versus our enemies in terms of words because our words are confounded and so we can’t ever know what other people mean. Arguments and agreements are equally pointless.

  28. Scott Roskelley says:

    Steve – not a troll just posting a secular sounding test comment to see how it was received. Many secularists will carve out the history of a prophet into a list of mistakes, shortcomings, and backward thinking, and fail to see the inspirational moments, flashes of light, or progression and change, or even repentance exhibited over time. For example with Benson we have a heck of a lot of communism bashing in talk after talk in the 60’s and then big changes as he grew older and became prophet. A quick search on things “secular”‘ on the corpus database lists 335 hits. With a huge surge in the 1960’s. A quote from Lowell Bennion, “I dislike very much to see a wedge driven between faith and reason, between secular learning and religious living.” Spencer Kimball, “We shall need all of the accumulated secular knowledge in order to create worlds and to furnish them,” More recently Walter Gonzalez “Once we have some experience in navigating this celestial web, we will discern the truth, even when reading secular history or other topics.” I felt like with Holland’s talk after bemoaning “our increasingly secular society” and how historical adam and eve has fallen out of fashion, that he did little to advance us from McConkie’s view that it is “both false and devilish [to] . . . say that revealed religion and organic evolution can be harmonized” For a former university president to say “I do not know the details”, strongly implies that huge fields of truth are an unnecessary investment of time, resources, and capital. Are [these details] not worthy, necessary to learn, or perhaps even distracting, or suspicious witch craft? Are various careers in science and technology fields and the work of harmonization with your religious faith, “obsessing over second- or third- or fourth-level pieces of that whole?”

  29. Clark Goble says:

    Martin, for some reason my post yesterday didn’t go through. Regarding your two claims (God talk and Church going) I don’t think that works. For one you have a lot of secularists who still enjoy going to Church. Arguably a large percentage of regular church goers in Europe are atheists or near agnostic but just like church. In the US you have the unitarian church. So for instance some people who rejected Mormon truth claims and went fully secular are unitarians. (The economist Miles Kimball is an example of that)

    For God talk it’s the same thing. You have in philosophy the theological move in continental philosophy where many atheist philosopher talk about philosophy (typically being or the fulness of experience) in very theological ways. Even those not part of that move in the 90’s often were fairly religious while being atheist. Heidegger and Derrida being two examples. Even beyond that you have deists who are fully secular yet talk about either the source of the universe or the universe itself as God. Spinoza is the classic example but that describes others who frequently talk about God like Einstein (and arguably quite a few founding fathers as well) Even outside of that if it’s just talking about God, well the New Atheists seem fixated on talking nearly nothing but God. It’s in a negative fashion of course.

    Finally you have the problem of most eastern religions. Some have mythic or metaphysical trappings (including quite a few forms of Buddhism) but it’s fairly common to take these as just useful fictions or at least not care about them as in Zen Buddhism. Whether these people are religious or secular seems a difficult question.

  30. Martin James says:


    I’m maintaining that the people you cite are not secular. Atheist and secular do not mean the same thing. Secular is much more areligious than atheist.

    The reason that people want to use the term secular the you are using it, is because they want to make a distinction between believers and church going but I don’t think that is the meaning of secular.

    Sometimes I describe myself as a non-practicing atheist, but I am not secular. People who are spiritual but not religious are not secular according to the most common definition.

    I have never before heard anyone describe the Unitarian church as a secular space.

    To me defining secularism the way you do is an attempt to turn secularism into religious neutrality

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