Fr. Richard's Sunday Homily, September 10, 2017
Sunday after the Nativity of the Mother of God

The Danger of Secularism


Epistle: Galatians 6:11-18  
Gospel: John 3:13-17  

I read an article several weeks ago, I believe it was in Discovery magazine. The article was about the brain and prayer, and what happens in the brain when people pray. These scientists wanted to find out which parts of the brain are more active when people are addressing the Almighty or their version of a Higher Power. They found that a certain area is more active when people pray. They also found these same areas of the brain are more active during prayer than they are when you’re not praying and that it did not matter whether you were Hindu or Catholic – your brains would respond the same way. It was very interesting the way the article was written and I got the distinct impression that the writer would like us to believe that prayer is simply a function of a certain part of our brain, no different in human activity than eating or working out a math problem, not something that involves people with Someone who is not a part of the material world. The scientists apparently had no interest in why people pray. More than that, if the same area of the brain is activated when a Jew or Muslim prays, it was stated in such a way as to suggest that even though Jews and Muslims are of very different beliefs, the fact that the same part of their brains is more active when they prayed showed that that there really was no difference between them. It’s all just brain activity working in different people in the same way. For me, this was just another example of secularism in a society that is becoming more and more secular. We’re just a function of our brain waves and chemistry.

Secularism—most people think it refers to rejecting God and religion in society. But I was reminded of some ideas from Father Alexander Schmemann, a famous Orthodox theologian who died in New York in 1983. He said that secularism is not the same as atheism. Most secularists will believe in God. They may also believe that God can perform miracles in this world, they may believe they have an immortal soul and that they will exist in some fashion after death. What makes secular-minded people different is that they see the world as if it contains its own meaning and its own principles of knowledge and action. A secular man may believe in God, but he lives as though the meaning and purpose of life is found, and can only be found, in this world. He rejects (or he does not care if) there is a cause for this world that is outside of this world. He believes there is no need to be thinking about a God Who is behind all that is, the source of all creation. A secularist believes in living life according to the terms of, and a good understanding of, the world he lives in.

Father Schmemann believed that secularism is, at the very heart of it, the refusal or denial of the need to worship. In worshipping God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we not only find our place and the point of our vocation as human beings, it is as people who worship that we become the most human of humans. In a way, secularists who may believe in God also believe that His place is up there somewhere, and this material world is the only reality we truly need to think about and understand. This world tells us pretty much what we need to know about our lives and how to live—and that’s why we have the Internet. It’s also why people think that science cannot adequately explain what truth is or how knowledge is created.

If you believe the stuff you need to know about and need to have, if you believe it’s all found within this world, then it follows that there is no need to worship God. If you do not worship God, it must follow that you believe you can live a good life in a world without God. Saying you believe in God, or that you are somehow spiritual does not make that different. Our deepest calling is to worship God, to come into communion with Him, to understand He is the ground of all that there is, and most importantly that He is the Giver of our Lives and we are not simply the result of egg and sperm meeting each other. Worship is the connection we make with God which speaks the truth about our relationship to Him. That’s why the Liturgy has us sing, “Come and let us worship and bow before Christ. O Son of God risen from the dead, save us who sing to You!” We may live as though we can save ourselves, day after day, but there is only One Who can truly save us, both in this world and in the life to come.

We are always in danger of falling towards secularist ideology because it’s so strong today. “Why worship if you don’t feel like it?” becomes the attitude rather than asking the real question, “Why worship at all?” And we’re always in danger of falling towards it because of our weakness, not our strength. What are reasons people give for not worshipping God? “I don’t get anything out of it—Liturgy is too long—it’s boring—I don’t see why I have to; I am still a good person.” And notice please, none of these excuses, and many more you can think of, have anything to do with God, or my relationship to God. They are all about me. That’s secularism: it’s all about me.

This world we live in, this life we live is much grander, more spectacular, more wonderful and lovingly granted to us that we can truly understand or appreciate, because it is all God’s gift. This world is the visible, tangible evidence of God’s love for us, even though it is a fallen world, sometimes marked by violent storms and earthquakes, it is still a sign of God’s love for us, and a reminder that He did not create us just for a brief life in this world. Even though bread and wine are subject to decay and corruption, God himself can come to us using bread and wine He transforms into His Body and Blood. He brings not decay and corruption but life everlasting. Secularism, with its lack of worship, can only point to this world and wish us good luck for as long as we’re in it.

But we who worship the living God are here to pay Him our deepest love and respect and honor (or at least as much as we can muster) even though He has no need of it. We have need of it, so that we may live as we were meant to live, love as we were meant to love, and understand as we are meant to understand, that Christ is our life—may our life be His.