Religion In A Secular Society

IMG_73336421841746Over the past five decades, religion has been under attack in our society. Atheists, agnostics, and people who are just tired of religious arguments have by and large succeeded in marginalizing religion in American life with rants of “Separation of Church and State.”  The reality is that the constitution does not even use the words “separation of church and state.”  It actually  prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion.  In other words, it guarantees religious freedom while not setting up any religion as the official state religion. It does not forbid or restrain the free exercise of religion.

Anti-religious people have tried to get the courts to expunge religion from public life.  While I’m not arguing here for prayer in the schools, I don’t see any problem with public nativity scenes as long as other religions have equal right and access to set up their own displays during their holidays.

There are many other ways that I won’t go into here where religion has successfully been marginalized by people simply saying that religion is a private matter and it should be kept private.  The problem is, that in a secular society, where you shut out the voice of religion, from where do we derive our values?

Some people derive their values based upon legality.  If something is legal, they believe it is therefore moral.  The problem with this is that what is legal, and therefore moral, changes with each election.  The reality is that just because something is legal doesn’t mean its moral. Abortion is legal, but that doesn’t make it moral.  Marijuana is legal in some states, illegal in others.  Does that make it moral in some states but immoral in others?  Slavery used to be legal in the South.  Does that mean it was moral?  In short, we can not look to the legal system for what is moral.

When a society loses its moral compass, you can justify anything.  When the Nazi’s revoked the rights of its Jewish citizens and sent them to concentration camps, it was legal, but certainly not moral.

I had been watching the events of Civil war building up in Ukraine over the past few weeks.  Nationalist demonstrators wanting to be allied with the European Union, while the Government wanting to be allied with Russia.  They have had bloody, violent demonstrations erupting in Kiev.  I saw a powerful photo, which I’ve included in this post, of four priests holding a cross in the city square, standing between the demonstrators and the police.  It struck me that the picture was a graphic illustration of the role of religion in a secular society; not supported by the government, but standing in the midst of society, freely speaking into it, to give moral guidance and direction.  We have a right and responsibility to speak into our society about right and wrong.  You don’t need to be a “believer” to know that murder, stealing and violence is wrong. Being religious doesn’t mean we no longer have the right to speak our minds and viewpoints into a society that desperately needs to hear views other than those that lean toward “anything goes.”  How will people know what is good and just if we don’t speak up.  Its our right, and our responsibility. The often quoted statement of Edmund Burke is true; “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”   We need to be proactive in our speaking out for what we believe to be right, even if its unpopular.  Its our right and responsibility.  Our society needs it.

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11 thoughts on “Religion In A Secular Society

  1. The sad thing is that when the religious and moral voice is forced into silence, when people decide to “resurrect” it, often it’s a twisted version of itself, as in the oft repeated “separation of church and state” line that so many, even the highly educated, spout off. This has been perverted into what it was designed to protect against.

  2. Good to hear from you Dr. Schiffman. Those priests risking their lives standing between the two violent factions are unusual, as my grandparents told me that the clergy were the ones leading the pograms. Except for a fringe remnant, most of the religious world is as bad as its secular counterpart, and perhaps worse as they claim to be more moral and just do their deeds in darkness, rather than in the light.

    So, I believe the victory of the secular world over the religious one, and the resulting silencing of its voice and encroachment upon its freedom is judgement for its own sins of omission an commission, and evidence of a candlestick in removal.

  3. Pingback: Highly Recommended Commentary | Body Politic — Our Turbulent World

  4. Good comments above! I have asked many times, What makes it right that a girl age 17 can’t enter a bar and on her 18th birthday is legally accepted as a barroom stripper? Everything in the US that is “legal” including all things that corrupt the youthful mind and degrade society are legal and immoral. When a society turns it’s back upon God and becomes “legal” minded and immoral, it’s doom is sealed.

  5. Great post, Dr. Rabbi Michael… The situation in the Ukraine disturbs at so many levels.

    Upon reading Hannah Arendt on totalitarianism, I took up the subject as part of my study of the Holocaust, and I’ve always been attracted to this quote by C.S. Lewis as it raises questions about “the space between the lines,” so to speak, when discussing governmental human oppression; it makes you think about the other side of things, and just how sensitive and complex it is within society to promote morality, biblical or not, in the open marketplace of ideas. Especially within a democracy. It serves as a good ‘critical key’ toward inspiring discussion…

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” ~ C.S. Lewis, “God In The Dock”

    Some fodder for the discussion cannon…

    • I see religious leaders and followers in this astute quote of C.S. Lewis, and I see this behavior continually repeated right in front of me. They are worse than the government and liberals they so decry because they claim to know better and to be doing better, but they just hide their sin more skillfully.

      If anyone is considering joining the dominionist, take back America, return to biblical morality (as in when did they ever practice this?) think again before you follow the pied piper off the cliff.

  6. When considering the practicality of advancing biblical morality in an increasingly secular society, I’ve found it advantageous to be well-informed and civil in discussion, though claim no monopoly on achieving results. Lobbying in Sacramento, CA for Southern California Right To Life, I once discussed stem cell research (using stem cells from the lifeless bodies of babies who did not make it into the world) with a state senator in his office, who said he could not argue with my logic but would not vote against the legislation as he had to represent his constituency.

    On the other hand I participated in civil disobedience with Operation Rescue in Los Angeles, in a more “assertive” manner of promoting pro-life morality in the public marketplace and was spat upon and cursed. Roe v. Wade yet stands, despite every approach, be they diplomatic or on-the-ground barrier operations. But I don’t believe our efforts should only be measured by overturning legislation. The senator was impacted, I believe, to some degree and babies were saved, at least momentarily, by barricading the doors of abortion clinics. I’ve also seen young girls begin to consider the options of God’s way vs. humanity’s way as they were impacted by the determination of so many protesters risking arrest for the cause of life. If we behave in such a way to be represent the King as He should be represented, and the Kingdom is more greatly populated by our efforts, then we are “overturning” souls even if not overturning legislation. This makes the battlefields of the culture wars a prime opportunity, a good venue, to be good and faithful emissaries of the King of Heaven and populate His Kingdom

  7. I am taken by Mr. Hennessy’s comments about omnipotent moral busybodies. How true, how true!

    The problem to which you refer, Rabbi, has gotten to the point that some expressions of religious beliefs are ILLEGAL, as supposedly constituting “hate speech.” Look at Lev, 18:22, and consider taking that public. It’s a bomb just waiting to go off. I have already been directly threatened about it.

    • Jews have an advantage in that the torah is read in Hebrew. Even as a pastor in Sweden was arrested for preaching on some politically incorrect verses, and a Canadian was arrested for writing these verses on signs, I doubt government troops are going to burst into a synagogue during the reading of Vayikra (Leviticus) although there might be a problem with the following sermon in English.

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