February 6, 2015

The Better Secularist

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:30 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

In his editorial column of February 3, “Making a Better Secularist”, David Brooks has made three terrible mistakes.  In responding to Phil Zukerman’s vision of secularists, Brooks has overlooked reality.

First, he accepts Zukerman’s idea that “religion” is equivalent to conventional Christianity or Judaism. He makes this clear in his second-to-last paragraph when he gives only Jewish and Christian examples when speaking of a need to “exalt the passions in pursuit of moral action.”  In reality, religion is rich and complex, offering many responses to the realities of human existence.  To assume there is but one alternative to so-called secularism is to overlook the glorious abundance of religious diversity, including non-theistic forms.  My religious tradition is part of this diversity but is not part of Brook’s article.

Secondly, David Brooks has accepted the illusion that all so-called ‘secularists’ are purely atheistic individualists.  In reality, Zukerman’s Secularism is one current in the mighty river of humanism.  Humanism centers morality, like Brook’s secularists, on “individual reason, individual choice and individual responsibility”.  Humanism appears within religious traditions and outside of them.  But most importantly, humanists have long understood that each person makes moral choices within a network of relationships, shaped by human culture, and as a small, linked, strand in the infinite, interconnected, web of being.

Finally, Brooks accepts the false idea that, as he puts it “You either believe in God or you don’t”.  Beyond the fact that there are many understandings of ‘God’, there is another option.  We place moral purpose and spiritual experience at our communal center.  In my congregation, both non-theists and theists (and even atheists) together, shape the meaning of life, find shared identity, and choose common purpose. The “better secularist” that Brooks imagines has long existed and thrived in such communities.

At the end of his article, Brooks invokes an “enchanted secularism, one that puts emotional relations first and autonomy second.”  He imagines “secularism” becoming  “less content with mere benevolence, and more responsive to the spiritual urge in each of us, the drive for purity, self-transcendence and sanctification.”  The better secularists that he imagines have existed in our congregations for a long time now.

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November 26, 2008

The Wrong Kind of Christian

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 11:59 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

To follow up on my Pailin post for Thanksgiving I am tempted to talk about the silly practice of “pardoning” turkeys (as if they committed some crime, as if that makes up for the millions killed…) and the tricksy news camera man who set her up.  Instead I want to draw more attention to the sermon that was preached by visiting preacher Thomas Muthee at the Wasilla Assembly of God. 

Pailin was chosen for her merging of political and religious views and I assume that his views match hers.  His basic orientaion was that righetousness is the absence of evil and corruption.  He spoke nothing about “doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.” 

His sermon focused on the need for “believers” to take control of society.  He enumerated several areas in which he felt true Christian believers needed to be in charge, including Finances, Education, Media, the Courts and Governement.  The odd thing was his ‘why.’ For example, Chrisitans needed to take over financial institutions.  Why?  Because then there would not be all this corruption and mismanagment.  Nieve does not begin to describe this opinion.  Christians must take over Education.  Why? Is it because an educated mind is essential for a healthy person, is it because an educated citizenry is essential for a well functioning democracy, is it because critical thinking skills, an understanding of the scientific method, and a familiarity with history will help people make better, wiser decisions?  No, its becuase if we have Christians in education then there won’t be any controversy about prayer in schools, just as if there are Christians in the courts no one will be trying to get rid of the Ten Commandments. 

This is from a man who’s ministry has become famous for identifying and rebuking witches. He actually named a woman in Wasilla who was causing car accidents.  I am sure he understands what goodness is, in and of itself.  The problem is that he is leading people to primarily live by a negative definition of goodness and to create a negative politics of witch-hunts, finger pointing and judgement of others without any real self-criticism and tempering doubt.  This is the worst kind of politics and religion.  It nurtures fear above hope.  It is good to point out what is wrong in the world and in our actions, but the solution should be doing good things and cooperation, not casting out demons and blaming others.