Secularism in Academia

The secularism of American higher education often leads students to New Atheism or a rejection of all religious worldviews. The reality is, every human society ever has had a religious component. Even modern secular societies define their culture in terms of their relationship to religion. In Europe, secular elements might advocate for freedom from religion. In the U.S., we have freedom of religion.

Religion is an inherent part of what it means to be a human being. The best theology addresses supra-individual concerns. No one asked to be alive. No matter how moral or immoral we are, we all die. These existential and cosmological uncertainties haunt all of us commonly. We are incapable of expressing these complicated questions and ideas to each other without the use of cultural metaphor and apocryphal narratives.

Often times, people reject all religion if they have a negative relationship to their own faith. Statistically in America, their own faith is a sect of Christianity. Essentially, the argument I have heard from many former Christians, now Atheists, is that because they cannot believe in the God they were presented at Church, there is no possible way that any other religion or conception of God can be true.

There are pantheistic and monistic faiths with complex conceptions of God rooted in philosophical proofs. Other religions, like Hinduism, are much more cultures revolving around philosophy then they are “religions” in the Protestant Christian sense.

In the United States today, the word “religion” essentially means any system of thought that is either Protestant Christianity or something someone cannot believe in if they are a Protestant Christian.

Maimonides said to “teach thy tongue to say ‘I do not know’ and thou shalt progress.” If you do not understand the inherent religiosity of human experience, I think that means that you have allowed our social culture to dictate all that is. Our culture of nihilistic consumption and materialism cannot provide a meaningful and worthwhile life without the temperance of careful and earnest questioning. If we never ask ourselves “how do I live a good life?” or “how should I treat other people?”, then we will only ever perform the answers of others and can never live our lives on our own terms.

Even the term God is the translation of hundreds of names for deities, energies and our cosmos from around the entire planet. Just because some conceptions of God are absurd does not mean they all are.

In the United States today many have jobs, access to education, healthcare and technology. Yet despite these comforts and abundance, substance abuse, depression and dissatisfaction lead people to violence and suicide. For those without these comforts, these problems are even more difficult.

I am not saying that mental health problems can be cured with religion, but people like to say that there is no place for religion in the modern world. I am pointing out that the cosmic and existential dread does not go away just because we have super-computers.

Religion as we know it is unbelievably broad and inherently Eurocentric. I urge everyone to learn about other cosmologies than your own.

While at one point I considered myself an atheist, since reading the works of Baruch Spinoza and Martin Buber, I have come to believe in a monistic God that endows every person with a perfectly imperfect conscience that is made in the image of the one total God. I don’t think my (Pan)theism is uncomplicated or faith based. There is an odd circumstance in our modern academic culture where anyone who believes in any form of a God is treated like they are beginning with false premises. I think that uncertainty in science teaches us a lesson in this.

While my Religious Studies major might impugn my science credentials to some, I do understand that 96% of our universe is unperceivable dark matter. Our understanding of our universe and its inner machinations in a scientific sense are uncertain. In other words, we know how well we do not know them.

As Lawrentians, we are incredibly lucky to have access to nearly the entire wealth of recorded human thought and expression. Once we acknowledge what we do not know, only then can we go to the font of knowledge and ask “why?” and in the Maimonidean sense, progress.

 

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