This week's question to the On Faith Panelists: Time for secular studies? AC Grayling, philosopher and author of The Good Book, a humanist bible, is launching a new university with some of the world's most prominent atheist thinkers This school year will also bring the world's first academic journal "dedicated to the exploration of secularism and nonreligion." After millennia of religious studies, is it time for universities also embrace secular studies?
Among the responses:
- AC Grayling: Rational thinking and religious belief
Other responses range from the thought that secular studies will help Christianity, held by John Mark Reynolds, Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. His thought is that a little competition does more good than harm, using the capitalistic model of thought.
When religious issues are discussed, the church, if it is what it claims to be, can only benefit. When religion is “private” or not discussed, then the church faces irrelevance as a church, no matter how powerful she seems. Christians exist to serve Jesus and that service is most easily seen in reaching out to others in love.
Any rise in “secular studies” in colleges and universities will aid the church. The lazy secular assumptions of many departments, sometimes badly argued, will be sharpened by co-workers dedicated to presenting the best possible secular case. Any attempt by Christian intellectuals to present shoddy arguments will face the withering fire of these departments.
On the other hand, Susan K. Smith feels God fills a void that secularism cannot. She is senior pastor at Advent United Church of Christ in Ohio. She doesn't feel there is anything wrong with secular studies per se, however, if one is not careful, secular studies can draw one away from God:
I had to stop for a moment, though, as I read how the stories I had grown to love, stories like the virgin birth of Jesus, Moses parting the Sea of Reeds, and so many others …were in fact not original. As I read, I learned how those motifs were ancient, in existence long before my beloved Christianity came to be.
That experience had a profound effect on me. Was my religion real? Was it of value? Could I trust it? Was there a God or not? What good was or is a religion that is based on myth? Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth, states that “the ancient myths were designed to harmonize the mind and the body. The mind can ramble off in strange ways and want things that the body does not want. The myths and rites were means of putting the mind in accord with the body and the way of life in accord with the way that nature dictates.” (pp. 78-79)
I hadn’t heard of Campbell, though, when I was Yale. All I knew was that my religion didn’t seem to be what I had always thought it to be.
While that experience was jarring, it was good; the delving into knowledge does or can unearth one from a comfortable berth, which is probably why in the Biblical account of the creation of human beings, they were advised not to eat of the Tree of Life [...]
And, seeing as how everyone needs balance in order to be sane, then I say that the secularists and atheists ought to “have at it.” They ought to reach the people who need to be reached in that way. That would be what free will would demand.
What about the notion of religion as we know it being built largely upon myth? Well, I know that to be the case but it doesn’t bother me. At the end of my day, I choose God and not secularism. That decision is brings my soul, body and spirit into balance.
For the rest of the panel discussion, visit the Washington Post "On Faith" discussion.