Wednesday, May 20, 2009

S is for Secularism

Man, this post was a chore.

In my first attempt I probably wrote over a 1,000 words of rambling, confusing pap. There was no flow to my piece, no coherence about my ideas. When I had a friend proofread my piece, she said that she read it three times and still didn't know what I was talking about.

Yeah, it was that bad.

I was trying to write about secularism without relying too heavily on my religious beliefs. I was searching for a way to discuss the dangers of a secular mindset, without preaching the values of Christianity. And I failed miserably.

Maybe I should have taken a clue from the basic definition of secularism, which calls it the movement to remove all aspects of religion from public and political life. If you can't even define a word without mentioning religion, then it's going to be impossible to discuss the problems with it without talking about faith.

So, let's begin.

Everybody knows black people and church go together like biscuits and sorghum molasses.(Don't know what that is, google it and then buy it. It will change your life. Also, I saw somebody actually argue that KFC biscuits are better than Popeyes biscuits. I wanted to stab through the computer. Sorry to digress.)

Black folks in America have had a torrid love affair with religion, particularly Christianity, since our ancestors too those ill-fated pleasure cruises from the West African coast. Sure, the religion may have been forced down our throats in an attempt to keep us docile and breeding, but that doesn't mean it hasn't done some good.

The "church" has been a grounding force in black community. It has informed our worldviews, it's provided us with financial and emotional support, plus it's a great place to meet potential mates. While some would argue that the church has been a magnet for predatory preachers and their hate-filled harangues, I personally think it has a pretty strong track record.

Make that, it HAD a pretty strong track record.

Back in the day, seems like going to church meant a little more. I meant you had to make some sacrifices, it meant you had to put up with some stuff to meet God. But, now, it seems like church is designed to make everybody feel comfortable. I'm not saying that there wasn't a problem with sin and secularism among black church folk, but I don't think it was considered normal and acceptable.

Seems like churches today are designed around the concept of making everybody feel as good as possible. The prevailing idea is that whatever it takes to get people in the doors, do it, and then worry about keeping them later. Black folks, their churches and their homes, haven't been immune to this. This weakening of standards has had a detrimental effect on our community because it blurs the line between what is proper and what is not.

There has also been a move in the black community and the world at large to separate religion and religious values from our political process. I find this laughable. The concepts of justice, hospitality and love that are the bedrock of most major faiths are the same values that are lacking in politics.

Yes, some folks have hijacked the political process for their own gains, yes they are attempting to force everyone to live their lives as they see fit, and yes this is wrong. But, these few misguided souls do not represent the mass of believers.

Instead of trying to legislate religion out of the public domain we need to be having honest conversations about how religion can benefit all of us, even non-believers. Instead of black folks turning away from faith-based traditions and standards, we need to be running towards them in an attempt to find some sort of guiding light and moral compass to help us right our sinking ship.

Even more troubling is that so many churches seem to be adopting the methods of the world to attract new members. Whether it hip billboards incorporating rap slogans or slang, or relaxed dress codes that allow sagging jeans and gym shorts, it's almost like going to church has become just another activity. There is nothing special, nothing holy or different about going to worship. It's just another place to meet up with the fellows, here some good music and catch a quick nap.

Preachers, politicians and parents seem to be content with sparing folks the hard truths they need to truly examine their lives and make changes. Instead, they pretend that everything is everything, that whatever feels good or right must also be good and right.

There is nothing wrong with being set apart, with being separate. There is nothing wrong with establishing a sacred place where certain behavior will never be tolerated. There is nothing wrong with telling folks that if they want to be involved in church they need to come to God on his terms, not their own.

I know I promised to offer solutions in this series but it's hard for me to move beyond the most basic solutions for the problem of secularism. It seems obvious that there needs to a be a separation in the black community, a conscious decision to establish standards and make safe havens where those standards are upheld. Instead of co-opting the values of other groups in an attempt to assimilate or seem progressive, we need to concentrate on what works for us, what makes our community strong.

While not all of our faith traditions benefited us, it's clear that many of them gave our community a solid and trustworthy foundation. It's obvious that as we've lost sight of these beliefs, as we've invited in outside influences, we've seen our communities disintegrate around us.

It's time to get set apart on our own terms.



Thordaddy said...

lil' man,

So in short, the black church needs to take the liberal out of their liberal Christianity?

older_not_wiser said...

In my experience and observation religion thrives in the face of adversity. It is often the core around which the oppressed or persecuted gather. This is especially true of Christianity, with its concepts of salvation and reward in an afterlife.

In this context, the fading of the church's centrality in black American culture can be taken as an indicator of the progress we as a nation have made in allowing black people to have a real stake in the larger society, and the progress blacks have made in purging themselves of the pathology of the American Apartheid, and claiming that stake.

It may also be a manifestation of the allure of non-religious culture. In this case, black people are not alone. Recent polls indicate Americans are identifying themselves less as religiously affiliated, or even religious at all. Some of this is likely the consequence of the long period of economic growth that has just ended and hearkens back to my first point.

Given the likely slow recovery from this recession, you may get your wish for a religious renaissance.

older_not_wiser said...

lil' manThordaddy, the owner of this blog uses the nom de plume of "Big Man." Please have the simple courtesy to use it. Your corrupted form is insulting and disrespectful, and isn't nearly as clever as you might think. It makes you sound like one of those ignorant and vicious white bigots who can't seem pass up an opportunity to belittle black people, especially black men.

And you're not one of those, are you?

Deacon Blue said...

I'll admit that my current church is kind of "Christianity light" and doesn't spend nearly enough time on some of the thornier topics, but it's the most welcoming place that my wife and I, as a mixed-race couple, have found so far. And they do great at the fellowship part of things. But there is no doubt it trends very much toward the liberal end.

It's a tough line to walk, because churches do need to be open to all sorts of people and genuinely be welcoming of them, as Jesus would have done and expects of us...and yet how do you do that and also make clear that what those people may do with their lives is counter to what that church stands for.

Anonymous said...

i'm an atheist; i'm not sure why you need to appeal to religion or a "higher power" to create a strong community. people can choose to coelesce around values but i'm not into dogma.

Mr. Noface said...

@ anonymous

There is dogma in everything, even atheism(It is up to us whether we induldge in it).

@ all

To some (I boldly/foolishly assume its from the outside looking in) religion is a crutch clung to by the weak and oppressed. To others religion (assuming again: from the inside looking in) is a/the foundation upon which they can build their lives.

I don't believe that it is as simple as people holding on to religion because they have sarce else to lay their hands on (there are those among the rich and powerful who believe in and fear God). From my personal experience, my religion (the more appropriate term would be my Chrisitian Faith) was a catalyst to a better life down here (much less the promises of the life in the hereafter).

As for churches (specifically black churches) becoming more lax in instruction and reproof, in an effort to be more hip and relevant; wellthe Good Book said there'd be days like this. I'm not saying that I am against the come as you are outlook adopted by many churches. My beef is with the stay as you are mentality meant to keep as many behinds in the pues as possible

Thordaddy said...


Your nom de plume fits like a glove.

But please refrain from patronizing blacks as someone like me treats people the way they deserve to be treated.

lil' man is such because he refuses to retract three falsehoods and when he does he'll be "Big" again.

But even more to the point, maybe lil' man will think twice before provoking another with his unsolicited opinion. You see, lil' man came at me and now that I haven't folded like a liberal white boy, he is at a loss as to what to do other than play silent treatment.

Of course, that doesn't mean he doesn't know of the falsehoods he's spread and why that earned him the title lil' man.

older_not_wiser said...

I see.

Well, thanks for setting me straight. I don't know about the Big Man, but I'm certainly thinking twice about provoking you with any opinions. It's clear to me that you have all you'll ever need.

You're carrying quite a burden there, Thordaddy. Don't let it twist you up too much.

Big Man said...


Don't feed the troll.

Thordaddy said...

lil' man asserts,

-Barack Obama is a "Christian" abortion advocate.

-Capitalism caused the financial mess.

-Blacks don't target whites for a vengeful death.

I'd rather be a troll than a charlatan and liar.

Big Man said...


Raving Black Lunatic