The Secular Man and the Christian Man

The Secular Man has been the great threat to the Christian faith over the past two or more centuries. Disguised as the person is only only doing the “normal thing,” he lives in a godless world, where others can be tempted to live as though there were no God. Earlier I quoted Berdyaev, “If God does not exist, then man does not exist.” I would add to that that the God Who Exists must be everywhere present and filling all things, or He is no God and a false god. Let us renounce the “soft atheism” of the secular man and live always and everywhere for God. 

Many Orthodox writers have spoken about the nature of the secular world, the defining form of modernity. I take here an opportunity to make a small comparison between the secular man and the Christian.

The secular man may believe that there is a God, but he also believes that the situation and outcome of the world are dependent upon the actions of human beings.

The Christian man believes that there is a God, and that all things are in His hands.

The secular man believes in Progress. Life changes, and with good human direction, it changes for the better. Every new discovery stands on the shoulders of every previous discovery. In this way, life improves and always improves for the better.

The Christian man believes that whatever man does may change his circumstances, but does not change man. A modern man is in no way superior to those who came before him. Goodness is not a result of progress.

The secular man believes in the power of human beings. Reason, applied reasonably to any situation, will yield a better outcome.

The Christian man believes in God, but he doubts the goodness of man. Human solutions are always questionable and capable of failure.

The secular man believes, ultimately, in the smooth path of progress. Even though there may be set-backs along the way, he believes that pursuing the path of progress will ultimately yield a better world – even a near perfect world.

Because the Christian man believes in God, he trusts that the outcome of history belongs to God and not to man. Thus, even the good things done by man are judged by a good God whose goal for us is always beyond anything we could ask or think.

The secular man, despite various failures, always believes that the next good is only another plan away. Compromise, negotiation, and a willingness to change will finally solve all problems.

The Christian understands the sinfulness of humanity. He knows that without God things will always fail and dissipate. Only through trust and obedience to God can the human situation improve – and such improvement always comes as a miracle from God.

The secular man does not believe in his own fallibility. He does not learn from history, but yearns repeatedly for a success where none has come before. What success he has known (in medical treatment of disease, etc.) is quickly translated into political terms. What is wrong politically can be eradicated as easily as malaria.

The Christian man knows that problems do not lie so much in the world as within himself. Unless man is changed by a good God, there will be a very limited goodness in the world. The secular man knows how to cure malaria, but he cannot manage to actually share that goodness with the world. The world (the third world) dies as it has always died. The secular man is powerless because he lacks true goodness.

The Christian man is largely marginalized in our modern world. He is considered an artifact of the past. However he is not a religious artifact – the truth he knows is eternal and is as applicable to the ills of the world as any part of the truth of God.

It is for this generation to understand what it means to be a Christian man and not to compromise with the secular man. God is good and wills good for all people. He is not a utilitarian, wishing the greatest good for the greatest number, but willing good for each and every soul.

May Christians be visible everywhere, and everywhere loyal to the Kingdom of God.

Comments

  1. Henry says

    I work with a quite a few “secular men.” While they certainly believe that logic, properly applied, will produce better performance in a ship subsystem, they have very little confidence in a better future or in the basic goodness of man. It seems that a belief in that kind of “progress” disappeared in the minds of the thoughtful sometime before 1950. Those doubts seem to be creeping down into the general population of educated people, at least the ones who work with me. Of course, as long as we have politicians and religious leaders on television, dreams of utopia will be born, live, and die in the human heart, but I believe the secular man of 1850, those children of the enlightment, have become an endangered species. –just some thoughts from your old friend the pragmatic American Protestant

    • says

      Henry,
      I certainly think the naivete of the mid nineteenth century has suffered greatly. However, our political rhetoric, scientific rhetoric, and much of the social speech of our time is still quite mired in this philosophy – more deeply in some respects – and people still have a viscerally positive response to much of it. We are a utilitarian practical people, who still imagine, “Yes, we can!” We have a sobering knowledge that we can destroy ourselves – but at present – that knowledge does not seem to be met with an existential crisis – just more toys and movies.

  2. says

    Fr. Stephen, I appreciate this. Thank you! It clarifies my thinking in the sense that I know this at my gut level, but not how to express it. I will share this with others.

  3. says

    I really enjoyed this, especially the second to last line. It can be hard at times to act as a Christian and stay true to what we believe in. So I pray for God’s clarifying light during confusing times. :)

  4. Karen says

    Henry, very good point I think. Even having come of age in the late 70’s, I can really relate to that more than the utopian optimism Fr. Stephen describes. Likely, that is a more common version of secularism today. The new secular man is a pessimist, and perhaps doomsday prognosticators (like the man who predicted judgment day and the end of the world for today!) and those who live for little beyond their own immediate comfort fit in this category. I guess the alternative to Fr. Stephen’s version would then be the secular man who does not expect any permanent progress or good to come from his efforts, but still believes that he is ultimately responsible for and the author of his own destiny and whatever goodness he may be able to experience and effect in that little part of the world he touches. He’s the guy who says with his life, “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” I think the temptation for secular-minded Christians would be to fall into despair or live with their minds fixed wholly on some future good (the next life). Either way they fail to engage their own hearts and the world fully with the gospel in the present because they are just waiting for Jesus to come back and rescue them from a world that they have accepted is just headed for destruction.

  5. Despina says

    When the AntiChist comes
    Many people will believe his Christ
    And go to hell but when he comes the world will end and Christ will come and judge us.
    So remember if theres a man who comes and claims his Christ dont believe him for he will take you the wrong way. And be prepared cause Christ comes when we die so he can judge us if we are good to go to heaven

  6. Henry says

    Scientists and engineers are continuously improving weapons, medical procedures, and even cell phones. However, unlike their predecessors, they are no longer claiming that they can improve the human heart. As you observe, we are still subject to running off to our own destruction following leaders who say, “Yes we can.” This however is common to all men everywhere. Just look at the Arab spring. It has nothing to do with the Enlightenment, but the participants believe in social progress and even social perfection.

    Our culture is already deeply enmeshed in an existential crisis. A condition I believe can only get worse. Our search for more toys and movies is only one manifestation of our disease. The old gods are dying. People in the West no longer believe traditional Christianity can answer their questions. We Americans no longer believe that Davy Crockett slew 10,000 Mexicans with the butt of his rifle. People are looking for answers. It seems like more than half of the educated women I know outside of the Church are experimenting with new beliefs, the New Age, Eastern mystical practices, and the like. In this country, Christianity itself is mutating into unexpected forms. We are actively seeking new gods because we no longer believe in the old gods.

    Culturally we are at a tipping point, pretending that we can continue to eat, drink, and be merry in the American way, but knowing in our hearts that it is over, economically and metaphysically.

    Now I think I will try and go back to sleep

  7. John says

    I think Henry’s cultural generalizations are too sweeping. For every secular pessimist, one can find an optimist. For example, many, many today believe we can “improve the human heart”! The psychological drug manufacturers who sell that very idea make billons. After all, if the secular materialist premise is true, that the heart is merely matter to be manipulated, why not “improve” it? Thus we also have the push for various forms of the new eugenics: embryonic stem cell research, selective abortions, etc. But, whether we refer to the secular optimist or the pessimist, the essential idea of Fr. Freeman’s post remains true: secular man looks to himself for either salvation or damnation.

    I think Henry is right about there being an existential crisis. It’s also true that people are looking for answers. I wouldn’t say that Christianity is “mutating into unexpected forms”, though. Perhaps some heresies are mutating; I don’t know. But, the Church remains what it has always been: the Pillar and Ground of Truth. It’s the answer to whatever existential crisis exists. Just as it always has been.

  8. Henry says

    John

    I was quite concerned my generalizations were too sweeping. It is hard to be very nuanced in 200 words or less. The decline of our culture is a subject that I have been passionate about for many years.

    Again, I know psychotropic drugs really help. I believe that we are in the process of discovering most mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and are amenable to drug therapies. This does not mean that the majority of the scientists who believe their work in this area can benefit mankind also believe that they can improve the human heart. I contend the sun of the Enlightenment that energized the West for several centuries is rapidly sinking towards the horizon.

    I have considered the role secular pessimist in this crisis. Certainly some of my coworkers would fall into that category. My conclusion is that while a lack of belief is an individual option, it can not become the basis for a society. While a culture can pass through a period of despair or unbelief, we will ultimately be defined by what we believe, not by what we do not believe.

    Henry

  9. Amy Koegel-Gibbs says

    As I read this today it made me think of an old hymn in the United Methodist Church hymnals, “Trust and Obey”…thank you Father.

  10. Alex says

    “The Christian man believes in God, but he doubts the goodness of man. Human solutions are always questionable and capable of failure.”

    I wonder if it’s not the other way around? Certainly it’s the Christian man who insists that man is inherently good.