The Contemporary Culture: A Case for Secular America

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If one looks around and take stock of the values, norms and individual behaviors, the contemporary sacred spaces are no longer the temples, churches and synagogues. At home, the family singing religious hymns or invoking God in prayers around the table are replaced by seductive images on television and songs in MTV or in iPods. In many instances, God is also being sold as a product in various forms and platforms. Many recognize this secularization as a form of religious decline and emerged as a result of modernization.

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Secularization has been at the core of America’s founding as a nation. Religion has been given a minor role and influence by the Founding Fathers based on the fundamental fact that it is against rational thinking and that it provides a less valid way of understanding reality, at least, in comparison with the humanist perspective, science, among other social institutions. According to Ostwalt (2003), this phenomenon gained traction sometime in the 1960s when the prevalent thought was religion as something that controls and manipulates and that freedom from it is an ideal way of life, a form of enlightenment for humanity (2). Morrison (1948) observed that the core liberalism in America emerged proposing a radical criticism of the Christian faith in light of modern culture instead of proposing a radical criticism of modern culture in the light of Christian faith (87). This came with his discourse that posited how Protestantism, the dominant religion in America, has embraced modern culture so that most of its components appeared to be sanctioned and ended up secularizing the American public life (Smith, 2003, 303).

Today, even with the aggressive initiatives on the part of religious authorities, to reverse or counter the influence of secularization, there is very little impact achieved. This can be attributed to several fundamental reasons. One of these is that argument that states how many forces of secularization are identified with the values of Romanticism, the Renaissance in addition to the Enlightenment and scientific revolutions, which have been encouraged by the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Church itself (Norman, 2007, 32). The idea is that, these phenomena and institutions created social constructs that established the platform and environment in which secularization took root, thrived and flourished.

Then, there is also the role of the media. Public rhetoric, which shapes public opinion, can only be conveyed through this platform today. Those who own this platform are biased in favor of secular ideas that is why the content of the messages delivered are secular, constantly reinforcing the public attitude. Walsh (2000) argued that media has the monopoly of opinion shapers who do not tend to be neutral observers but are actually secular conservatives that disabuse people with their belief of religion and their secular perspectives (74).

Secularization also underwrites the culture wars in the United States and perhaps elsewhere. Specifically for America, for instance, there is a growing debate that increasingly identifies religion with the conservatives or the Right and secularism identified with the liberal Left. In public policy debate and decision-making, this is very pronounced as the differing values impact social and economic policies. The public’s reception and support for these parties’ ideals and objectives suggest a trend leaning towards a preference for secular way of life.

There are those who argue that religion is experiencing resurgence in the modern world. However, this does not mean that secularization is abetted in some way or another. Or that there is a meaningful transformation happening. The case is that such resurgence is in name only. Barna (1992) lamented:

We desire experience more than knowledge. We prefer choices to absolutes. We embrace preferences rather than truths. We seek comfort rather that growth… We have enthroned ourselves as the final arbiters of righteousness, the ultimate rulers of our own experience and destiny. We are the Pharisees of the new millennium (69).

It is difficult to eradicate secularization especially from the position of religious authorities. As explained by this paper, it is an inevitable consequence of modernization. There is a well-established belief that it is necessary in order for the benefits of this phenomenon to be sustained. In addition, secularization has been the bed-rock of contemporary culture with its extremely liberal characteristics. Having to capitulate to the religious morality and shedding libertarian values is in opposition to the humanist values that pervade in contemporary culture. While people may find themselves making a proprietary comment about the excesses of secularization, that is merely a lip service. Very few would exchange their secular way of life for anything that would restrict some aspects of it.

Works Cited

Barna, George. The Barna Report 1992-1993. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1992.

Morrison, Charles. Can Protestantism Win America? New York: Harper, 1948.

Norman, Ernan. A Strategy for Reaching Secular People: The Intentional Church in a Post-Modern World. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007.

Ostwalt, Conrad. Secular steeples: popular culture and the religious imagination. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003.

Smith, Christian. The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Walsh, Andrew. Religion, Economics, and Public Policy: Ironies, Tragedies, and Absurdities of the Contemporary Culture Wars. Wetport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000.

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