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Sacred is the New Secular

October 21, 2008

A few weeks ago I came across a Blogger who was whining like a little girl about the hostilities of the “secular” world towards Christians. He proceeded to rail against the bogeyman of secular culture, especially corporate America, for apparently making him so miserable and uncomfortable with its lack of ethics, values and moral backbone.

My reaction was: “Here’s a lollipop to suck on. Now, go back to your church pew and take a nap.”

I didn’t publicly comment with those words, exactly, but I was a little put off by this Blogger’s protectionist attitude. What was it that annoyed me so much? Well, first of all, I like the “secular” culture (GASP!). I guess we are defining secular culture as everything in the world that we are living and working in that is outside of a religious framework, right? Well, I enjoy many, many aspects of our 21st century culture. I like Starbucks, and the secular technology that led to my secular i-pod with it’s 3,000 (mostly secular) songs loaded in there. And who can argue against Hi-def TV? I like shopping for food at those secular grocery stores. I like the secular suburb that I live in, my neighborhood community, and the museums, art galleries, and fantastic restaurants that are available to me. My kids go to some of the best “secular” schools in the area. I enjoy reading interesting and thoughtful books – I am in the middle of Charles Handy’s The Age of Paradox, and Brian Green’s The Elegant Universe (Secular. Secular.) I just took the family to see “Legally Blonde” on Broadway (OMG, Secular!). This past summer I went to a number of concerts, including REM (indie-rock-liberal-smacking secular!), Coldplay (British secular!), and Feist (Canadian secular!). They were all great. You get the picture. I could go on and on.

And let’s talk about business. I like business and capitalism and strategy. I like the hustle, the challenge, the organizational dynamics, the competition, the performance goals, and even the political challenges. And most of all, I like the people I have worked with. By and large, I have found that there are plenty of quality, smart, talented men and women of high character that make up the landscape of American business these days. Whether they are Christian or non, I don’t know and honestly, I don’t care. That’s God’s business. I gave up on qualifying people based on their religious beliefs a long time ago. All I know is how I’m supposed to behave – which is in a way that reveals God’s love.

I’ve worked for a wide variety of companies over the past 20 years, both regional and national – and worked with literally hundreds of organizations as a consultant. Yet, I never, ever felt that I was alien, foreign, attacked, or had to compromise my Christian faith.

For sure, someone right now is about to go ballistic pointing fingers at the insatiable greed of the Wall Street power-mongers that contributed to the current financial market meltdown, and ask “See that? Are you living in a bubble? Corporate America is filled with secular people of low character!” My answer is, well, where were you? Why didn’t you go get the international finance degree and claw your way up the ladder in the investment banking firms so that there could be some small beacon of light in the board rooms of the credit markets calling out for reason and ethics and caution? Why aren’t there more Christians at the top of the heap, balancing out the never-ending temptation for bending the rules slightly to get a bit more margin? There will always be plenty of bad behavior to go around, regardless of the circles you travel, but there are apparently not enough leaders of character willing to step up to the plate to offset. Financial markets are not secular, nor are they sacred. They just are. It’s the Spirit of those making decisions that has the influence.

The whining Blogger’s comments made me realize how comfortable I am in the “secular” world. So, I wonder then, does God have a problem with this? Am I so comfortably integrated in the big bad world that I have wandered over to the other side of the Christian tracks? Have I unwittingly stepped to the outskirts of mainline Christianity?

Here’s my situation as I see it: I am living squarely in the vortex of suburban American culture: consumerism, media, fashion, ambition, and competition are all clinging to me like gum stuck on my shoe. It doesn’t come off. I can not pretend to escape their messy complications by snapping my Christian fingers to make them go away. To be very honest with you, the “in the world but not of it” cliché means very little to me any more, as I find it inconsequential to even attempt to distinguish between the two.

I believe that by segregating our world view into “sacred” and “secular,” we are limiting opportunities for God’s great work in our midst. It presents a danger of labeling and judging just about everything around us into categories of diminishing God-worthiness. Including, especially, our work. If God is in everything, if all that I do and live through every day is under His domain, if I have surrendered it all to Him, then there is very little difference in what I perceive as secular vs. sacred.

What do you think?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2008 9:52 am


    There is certainly a balance — we need to be in the wold, but not of it.

    I cannot complain that world is acting worldly — for it knows no differently.

    However, i cannot conform to the world, because I have a different nature now. I need to be set apart. I need to be different. That’s what salt and light does.

    Nice post!


  2. October 28, 2008 10:10 am

    I agree with David that we need to be in but not of, but I do think we’re often so barely in that it doesn’t really count as in. We’re more inclined to err on being dualistic, putting spiritual values on cultural items and ending up writing off too many good things as if they were completely evil. Material/cultural = bad; spiritual/heavenly = good.

    For example, I grew up in a youth group that encouraged smashing secularly-labeled cds (except classical music, of course). Yet, we put NO discernment toward music from Christian labels. The thought was, if it says “Christian” it must be the gospel truth.

    This dualism feels egocentric to me. It says, “Hey, God, we know you said your Creation was good, but we’re so bad that we actually out-badded your good.” Does God then reply, “Shoot. You got me again. I’ll have to figure out another way to beat you, you crafty humans”?

  3. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 29, 2008 6:11 pm

    Gents – Thanks for your thoughtful feedback! The in/not of discussion could probably go on forever with varying interpretations of what exactly we mean by that. I’m just saying there’s some really cool stuff in the “in” part. I guess the “of” side would be more obvious if we just categorized “of” as sin and evil. Or, your interpretation of sin and evil!

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