Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Secular Mindset and Christian Faith

SOMEONE (or is it a collective?) has opened the closet in our country again. Now its occupants are out. I seek pardon from all closets but I compare the culture of death to one of them. I assume a number of so called “churchy” people—which include clerics and many lay Catholics who take their faith seriously—would have noticed not only the seemingly endless rains and flooding (and been alarmed, too, by them, naturally) visiting us these days in the Philippines with cruel regularity.

They would have also noticed how in the heat of the on-going national debate on the RH Bill, some vociferous groups have begun efforts to introduce divorce to congressional legislation and others have even gone further by performing same-sex marriages in Baguio City or elsewhere. To me the force of Mother Nature only indicates the presence of another force slowly flooding up our shores. To be sure, it’s actually been there for a long time.

I call it the secular mindset. We know a growing number of Filipinos today would insist on being Catholic Christian through and through but also on being firm advocates of the RH Bill, divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage and even some qualified form of euthanasia. Indeed, truth could be stranger than fiction. If they were to ask me what I mean by “secular mindset”, I would say, “Do you remember the anecdote of a small fish asking another fish what an ocean is and is answered, ‘You are swimming in it’? Well, you ask me what a secular mindset is. Let me say the same thing: ‘You are swimming in it’.”

One of the things from our Latin classes in the seminary that has stuck with me to this day is the word ‘secular’ being rooted in the Latin ‘saeculum’ which means world. I find it startling how the ancient Scriptures are so revealing of our contemporary situation in the meanings it unwraps of the term ‘world’. In the first place, world can mean the dwelling place of man where his human existence unfolds (Jn 1:9; 16:21). Secondly, it can mean human beings taken separately from other creatures as subject of redemption, as in, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that those who believe in him may not perish but may have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). It is this world that God has willed to reconcile with himself through the cross of his Son Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:19) who abolishes its sin (Jn 1:29).

But, the current secular mindset is relevant when we turn to the third meaning of ‘world’. The evangelist John also speaks of ‘world’ which means the present state of creation in which human beings are organized without regard for God or his values and, in fact, could be at enmity with him because it is dominated by the “prince of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The impact of this meaning came to me one evening when I watched a replay of a televised debate between pro- and anti-RH Bill advocates. A pro-RH Bill lawyer could no longer contain her exasperation with the seemingly solid wall type of argumentation from the other side, especially the ones quoting Scriptures. She said point-blank that religion has no business in legislation. Religion should not interfere in the making of laws. How easy it is to forget that religion originated human laws: e.g. outlawing murder and adultery.

I marvel at how uncannily accurate the insight of Scriptures on the two ‘worlds’ existing side by side then and, especially, now here in the Philippines and throughout the whole earth: a ‘world’ which opens itself to the Redeemer and a ‘world’ that is both closed and/or hostile to him. The trickery of the prince of this world is so sophisticated that it has convinced promoters of ‘world’ as organized humanity without or against God to be themselves bona-fide members of the ‘world’ as theater of God’s redemption in Christ. How else could we explain Catholics promoting with dogged determination contraception, divorce, legalized abortion, same-sex marriages, euthanasia etc. and believe they are still Catholics? Can a circle call itself a square? Can the color black convincingly be declared white?

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has been warning Catholics and all Christians about this kind of ‘world’ in the secularism so pervasive in many societies and cultures of the contemporary setting. And he has done this for the longest time. Apparently in the Philippines the warning has been hardly heard. Or the louder voices of various hostile ideological groups have tuned it out.

Again John the evangelist utters eye-opening words: “The light came into the world, but men preferred the dark to the light” and “He was in the world and through him the world was made, yet the world did not know who he was” (Jn 1:10).
But there are three things that should make us take heart.

One, Jesus the Redeemer has already conquered the ‘world’ (Jn 17:33).
Two, the hatred of the ‘world’ is a sign of salvation because the ‘world’ hates what it does not have (Jn 15:19).

Three, those who are begotten by God conquer this ‘world’ and “the victory that conquers the world is our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).

But what is this faith that conquers? I suggest to all parties of the debates to ponder the teachings of the Scriptures. And Scriptures not only recommend faith but also describe the faith that conquers and saves.

One, it is the faith that listens to the Word of the Lord. “My sheep listen to my voice” (Jn 10:27).

Two, it is the faith that gives its assent to the Word. Here our model is Mary the Mother of God’s Son, our foremost model of faith: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Three, it is the faith that commits one’s whole self to the Lord and completely relies on his Word. Here our model is the centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But only say the word and my servant will be healed” (Mt 8:8).

Four, it is the faith that involves a sharing of life with the Redeemer, having a personal relationship with him. The faithful believing community manifests this. “I know my sheep and mine know me” (Jn 10::14, 27).

Five, it is the faith that obeys the Word. “My sheep follow me” (Jn 10:27). That is to say, true faith is shown in our obedience to the Lord, not to the world. A Christian having a secular mindset? John’s answer is a description of the Christian: in the world but not of the world (Jn 15:19).