Saturday, September 18, 2010

How Should a Hallowed Secularist Live: Like a Believer

9/18/2010—Last night I attended a Kol Nidre service at a messianic Jewish community. It struck me that their model might be an important piece of a secular future. The question for that future is, how am I to live? That question includes the sub-question, how am I to raise my children? So far, since I left Judaism, the answer to the question of how to live has been a void: I just don’t engage in religious activities. That life, as I suggested in the book, Hallowed Secularism, is empty and flat. There must be a better way.

I start with several assumptions that other secularists will not share. First, the religions of humankind are true—they contain the blueprint for how to live flourishing human lives. Second, humanism in all of its guises is basically false. Humanism is false in that there really is power in reality—you could say structures to avoid any theistic misunderstanding—to which human beings must accommodate themselves and which humans tend to resist through self-centeredness, hatred and indifference. Third, flourishing human life requires rhythm and prayer.
Fourth, flourishing human life requires stories. Fifth, of all the religious traditions, the one best suited to a secularist in the West, (for lots of reasons) is the Judeo-Christian tradition. Jesus, understood as a Jew, is the best example of how to live a human life.

Religious believers have the stuff of flourishing human lives. However, the secularist cannot actually join any of these religious traditions in good faith because the secularist rejects core values of all of them. So, what then is already available to the secularist?

There are two existing models, both great, but neither one for me. One is really liberal religion, such as the various Unitarian traditions. I talk about this in Hallowed Secularism, but here let me say that many Unitarian churches are open to all religious traditions except Christianity. It is hard to be Jesus centered in a Unitarian Church. The other is humanistic Judaism or other forms of humanism. The former excludes Jesus and the latter is insufficiently Judeo-Christian.

What we are left with is, ironically, the entire Bible, Jewish and Christian, reinterpreted along secular lines. Eventually, I could see a community forming around the Judeo-Christian calendar, including a Sabbath (Saturday? Sunday?). The Sabbath is absolutely necessary to resist voracious capitalist consumption as the only goal of human life—today’s secular heresy.

One more thing. Secular life also requires a secular Mishna—the original form of Jewish law. Secular life requires continuous reflection on how people should live. People are not free to live as they choose. If they think they are free, they will likely end up as slaveholders or destroyers of nature and think they have done nothing wrong as their world deteriorates.


  1. “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.”

    Albert Camus

  2. No estб seguro de que esto es verdad:), pero gracias a un cargo.


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  4. I like that quote from Camus. It is a variation of Pascal's wager. Although if there is no God then when you die you're not going to find out anything. I personally hope, as Neil Young sings it, "there's more to the picture than meets the eye."

  5. I agree with the need for a secular framework commensurate with the ethical and moral framework offered by religion at its most sublime. In that regard, after reading a few extracts from Cardinal Newman's sermons, I was struck by the call to what seemes to me a kind of heroism at the heart of his exhortations. Here's a small sample from a a sermon given in 1831 entitled "Christian Manhood". (The complete sermon can be found at )

    It is very common for Christians to make much of what are but petty services; first to place the very substance of religious obedience in a few meagre observances, or particular moral precepts which are easily complied with, and which they think fit to call giving up the world; and then to make a great vaunting about their having done what, in truth, every one who is not a mere child in Christ ought to be able to do, to congratulate themselves upon their success, ostentatiously to return thanks for it, to condemn others who do not happen to move exactly along the very same line of minute practices in detail which they have adopted, and in consequence to forget that, after all, by such poor obedience, right though it be, still they have not approached even to a distant view of that point in their Christian course, at which they may consider themselves, in St. Paul's words, to have "attained" a sure hope of salvation; just as little children, when they first have strength to move their limbs, triumph in every exertion of their newly-acquired power, as in some great victory. To put off idle hopes of earthly good, to be sick of flattery and the world's praise, to see the emptiness of temporal greatness, and to be watchful against self-indulgence,—these are but the beginnings of religion; these are but the preparation of heart, which religious earnestness implies; without a good share of them, how can a Christian move a step?

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