“Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes, which I am commanding you today.” Deut. 8:11
I was reading an article this past week which tied in very succinctly with some of my recent preaching, teaching, and thoughts. The topic was related to the rise of secularism in our society and the waning of religious literacy, church involvement and community participation. The article was printed in the Harvard Divinity School 2012 Spring newsletter. It’s author was the newly announced Dean of Harvard Divinity School, David Hempton, who was offering a number of thoughts upon his appointment to this prestigious post. In the first two points of his address, Dr. Hempton spoke about internal concerns regarding the Divinity School itself and its relationship to the larger University. However, it was in his third point regarding the school’s relationship with the wider world that I found a significant observation which was most compelling. In this third point, Hempton quotes Peter Berger, a well known sociologist specializing in the field of religion who offered the following observation about secularization. He states that it is, “far from being an inexorable product of modernity throughout the world, is more or less confined to Western and Central Europe and what he calls an international cultural elite.” In this quote, both Hempton and Berger are suggesting that the rise of secularism is much more of a Western phenomena which is largely embraced by those who consider themselves smarter and above those who think differently than they. In fact, Hempton goes on to say that outside of Western academia and society, “in the rest of the world, vibrant religious cultures are the default position, not the exception.” Hempton goes on to say that he sees this distance between the Western secular position and that of global religious traditions “as potentially one of the most dangerous things in our world.”
Now I have taken aim before at the rise of what many call, “the new atheism.” But I could not help but reflect on the wider truth which this article highlights. The very simple fact is that the vast majority of the world operates out of those rich, vibrant religious traditions which provide meaning for human life and a context for human experience. So too has it historically been for us as Christians and in our culture. The traditions of our faith provided the bedrock of our nation and constituted the very foundation of our society. We erode such foundations to our collective detriment. It is only in the most recent generation that the practice of the faith of our forebears seems like something which can be cast aside because it is no longer convenient for the pace of modern life and interests. It is as though many have thought that freedom of religion has become freedom from religion. And in the adoption of that philosophy, we reject the freedom from sin and death that God offers to us in the sacrifice of Christ.
The question of where such an attitude and approach to life comes from is an honest one. I am convinced that the movement away from religious practice is rooted in two different attributes I refer to as the two “A’s”; arrogance and apathy. First off, I would like to suggest that arrogance is one of the driving forces behind the “new atheism.” Those who consider themselves to be intellectual elites often struggle with the notion that they should be beholden to any moral authority above themselves. They reject the centuries old wisdom which has guided humanity for generations and replace it with the subjective authority of the individual. Their desire is to be free of what they see as the undue moral encumbrances dictated by the tenets of Christian doctrine and practice. This allows the adherents of atheism to do as they please, when they please, and how they please. It is narcissism formalised into a form of religion, or rather, the absence of it. For proponents of this path, they have not forgotten the Lord God, they have replaced Him with the idol of themselves.
This is not the only threat to the life of faith in our age however. Perhaps the greatest and most insidious threat to faith in modern secular society is that of apathy. The truth is that many in our society just simply don’t care enough to do anything about religious practice or education. The spiritual traditions which sustained those who came before us and struggled to forge the world in which we now live are no longer seen to be necessary. For many in our current generation, guarding and continuing “the faith once delivered” is not a responsibility they feel is theirs. And so, they continue on in life assuming that someone, somewhere is keeping things going...but they can’t be bothered. To hold such a view though, is to not care whether our traditions or faith continue on into the future. If we do not carry the torch, then who will?
I believe that the time has come to reverse the tide of secularism in our society. It needs to be proclaimed that the default position for most of humanity is one of faith and religious observance. We need to struggle against the “spiritual amnesia” that afflicts so many in our society and listen to the wisdom in the Book of Deuteronomy that exhorts us to “take care that you do not forget the Lord your God.” We must promote living according to God’s commandments and teachings so that we can reclaim a way of life which is rooted in reverence and faithfulness, and then pass that on to the generation that follows. This is what it means to “not forget the Lord your God.” Lance+