Secularism  

Secularism embodies a social philosophy and an ideology prevalent across liberalized nations that subscribe to peace, freedom, and civil society. The phenomenon and worldview takes many of its cues from theological principles. For example, multiculturalism which belongs in the domain of secularism, describes one aspect of the Roman Catholic Church's fabric. Theology informing public discourse can shape people's response, especially in times of humanitarian crisis.  New Zealand's G. Arbuckle (1990) serves as a Marist priest and writes in Earthing the Gospel, that multiculturalism builds upon an assumption that cultural intermingling brings richness to society. Canadian philosopher C. Taylor's essay, The Politics of Recognition, refers to multiculturalism saying,

          A dominant culture is asked to recognize the unique identity of individuals or groups, and their                distinctiveness from everyone else." The idea is that it is precisely this distinctness often ignored,            glossed over, or assimilated into a dominant or majority's identity. Assimilation is a "cardinal sin              against the ideal of authenticity. (p.38)

 

Professor of Religion, Steven Rockefeller, commenting on Taylor's essay, described the traditional liberal democratic problem with multiculturalism as follows:

          The democratic way conflicts with any rigid idea of, or absolute right to, cultural survival. The                    democratic way means respect for and openness to all cultures, but it also challenges all                          cultures to abandon those intellectual and moral values that are inconsistent with the ideals of              freedom, equality, and the ongoing cooperative experimental search for truth and well-being

          (p. 143)

 

Secularism and spirituality step to the fore when life's decisions involve families pulling up stakes to join or modify an existing society. COVID-19 identifies a clear opportunity again for secular and spiritual factions of society to promote the common good. Global pandemics on the scale of COVID-19, demands a universal response and access to all humankind's resources. Public health officials continually emphasize the point, when pronouncing the now infamous slogan, "We're all in this together." In a somewhat role reversal, leadership now turns to its constituents for solutions that might finally bring this exasperating pandemic under control. Any rallying cry for accompaniment is an appeal to humankind's higher moral ground.  In times of crisis, primordial fears that anchor identity, dignity, and security suffer increased compromise under systematic societal imbalances that often favors economics over compassion.  The aching for belonging that sacraments satisfies shouts loud from a wounded spirit, that is until economics' voices silence an inner audio. Biblical guidance from the First and New Testament draw upon relational features required when secularism and spirituality are plunged into a partnership to overcome global agony.

 

Localism protects the status-quo and often orients towards dismissing correlations between policy, science, and theology. Spiritualists, instead, identify synergy opportunities, advocating for a multidimensional approach to overcoming social ailment.[1] Various fields of endeavor, only need to look towards the influence ethnic communities exert on their respective societies to appreciate humankind's connectedness. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples have long served as havens in difficult times and none seem likely to vanish even after COVID-19 subsides.

Yahweh promised and delivered to Abraham and Sarah many descendants, which was an astonishing pledge, given that both husband and wife were advanced age, and Sarah reportedly barren. Abraham challenged the polytheistic culture of both his generation and occupation. Toiling as a shepherd, Abraham was undoubted, a fertility-aware individual, immersed in a pre-scientific age where nature-gods ruled. Still, the patriarch elected to abandon society's status-quo, opting to participate in a covenant, with the single almighty Deity.  Abraham's sacramental experience triggered a shift in mindset that gradually set people on a path from worshiping natural phenomena towards an exclusive agreement with the One, True Creator. A new secular arrangement, born in humankind's sacramental musings, gathered momentum, and ultimately shaped, how an entire nation self-identified. The God of Israel proved to be a 'hands-on' partner in secular affairs, even going so far as to occasionally send this distinct society into exile.  

 

Before Moses emerged, Abraham's descendants suffered centuries as unhappy refugees succumb to slavery in a foreign culture. Exodus brought the wandering people to a sacred mountain where God communicated a new social and legal structure, upon which to anchor their developing society. In exchange for renewed and exclusive allegiance, God promised a modest territory that the people could settle and galvanize their loosely affiliated tribes. The deal, however, was not an end to migration or suffering. These sojourning people now traveling under the label, Children of Abraham know a long history of suffering, pandemics, and displacement.

During the patriarchal age, important gatherings continued to enliven past experiences, while affirming social and spiritual identity. Sacrificial and memorial rituals ultimately intended to deepen people's sense of belonging, just they do today.[2] Seasonal and festive observances were also like 'time out' events that prudently slowed hasty decision-making and allowed for more prayerful deliberation. COVID-19 has launched modernity into another reflective period; a sabbatical calling on people to re-establish sacramental and Abrahamic covenant commitments. In modern society, the injection of COVID-19 could be considered like a church bell, barechu, or adhan, summoning believers nearer to God.[3] In all cases, prayer and worship demand more than a convenient recitation. To pray is to be present in a relationship, just as Jesus taught his disciples.

          It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His                    disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples."[4]

 

Humankind's reliance on memory, even if, for merely nostalgia purposes, taps into a crucial attribute necessary with preserving health and well-being. People suffering agony with memory degradation in Canadian long-term care homes, and migrants, share the common experience of disorientation.[5] Homesickness lingers long after departure, and some rediscover their churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples seeking sacramental treatment. The prophet Elijah arrived during one of those uncertain and stressful times in Jewish national development reminding people and delivering an ultimatum. A decision whether to include foreign gods into their societal arrangement or remain mutually exclusive to a single almighty Deity, became the ballot box question. This pivotal signpost marked a critical crossroads in the nation's resettlement project. Has COVID-19 brought this generation and nation to another prophetic juncture? Are climate change, techno-ethics, and previous pandemics, insufficient arousal to provoke social transformation?    

 

[1] Localism describes a more narrow form of secularism.

[2] The patriarchal age (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph) generally said to be around 2,000 BCE.

[3] Christians are familiar with the church bell call to worship and Judaism listens for the barechu and Islam, adhan.

[4] See Luke 11:1.

[5] Alzheimer’s disease associated with memory loss and cognitive reduction causes dementia. Homesickness does not necessarily imply the presence of long-term mental health disease but is a form of cognitive distress.