Secular Society


We hear so much about diversity today and religious pluralism. People bend over backwards to make sure that they do not impose their religious values on anyone else. In schools, we no longer have Christmas break or Easter break. It is Winter break and Spring break. And woe unto the teacher who dares sing Christmas carols in school. We are relegated to singing “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” and whatever else passes for holiday fare. Each Christmas it gets more and more difficult to find Christmas cards that actually have anything remotely religious on them. I, for one, do not think that Santa or brightly colored bells quite convey the Christmas message like the Wise Men or the Nativity Scene does.

And what have we accomplished with all this religious sensitivity? Are we really any more tolerant than before? I think not. There are many places where you mention religion at your peril. Even among the religious, it seems that our fuses are short today.

Way back in my day, we blundered ahead with total religious insensitivity. We ate fish on Friday because, well, the Catholics in the school did not eat meat on Friday. No one thought to protest because we were forced to bend to the will of Rome. On Jewish holidays, we knew that several of our classmates would get an extra day off—lucky them. Again, we never thought to protest. I guess it evened out because they did not march around the school when we had Christmas break. They just took the days off with the rest of us. To be honest, I never knew a Muslim growing up but I have to believe that we would have accepted his or her holiday the same way that we did the others. It was simply part of who you were and you respected it. What was far more puzzling would be if someone did not have any faith.

Things certainly were not perfect then. Some Catholics thought that Protestants were headed on an express train to the nether parts and a lot of Protestants returned the favor. Some Baptists were sure that Methodists who baptized babies had committed the ultimate sin. And Jews were exotic and mysterious. We had them as friends but were not sure about all the stories we heard. But we had a rich interaction of faith backgrounds and histories that is lacking today. Today, we have managed to secularize our society so much that religion seems a foreign language and those who speak it appear to be foreigners. We are much the poorer for that. I think we have created a much more dangerous society because the rest of the world still speaks religion. If we cannot communicate, we will lose.