Monday, February 9, 2015

The Secular Life

Last week David Brooks wrote a breathtakingly condescending op-Ed in the New York Times about the Sisyphean struggle we poor secularists have to face in order to find meaning and morality in the world. The Times published some responses from secularists, but they didn't publish the one I sent them, which you can read below.

When I was involved in secular activism I noticed a split. Those of us raised religion-free didn’t crave the comforts of faith, didn’t hunger for the community of a church, and were perfectly capable of finding meaning and making moral decisions without divine guidance. Those who had left religion, however, occasionally looked like David Brooks’ idea of a secular person – unmoored, seeking the community they’d lost, saddled with “unprecedented moral burdens.” Their lives as believers had stunted them and ill-prepared them to stand unaided by faith. For those of us not lucky enough to be raised fearing a vengeful god, this usually isn’t an issue.

Brooks is right that secularism can’t rest on rationalism alone. Fortunately, it is ably buttressed by humanism, another enlightenment value. We faithless have countless sources of morality and transcendence (most religions only have one.) Our scriptures are the stories humans tell, the ideas and histories we record, the art people make. All of these can inspire, warn, and provoke debate and reflection. The holy books are full of stories, too (written by men as well,) but the only reasons to exalt the questionable moral examples of prophets and patriarchs over the ideas, struggles, and choices of say, Sydney Carton, Mary Wollstonecraft, Huckleberry Finn, or Thomas Jefferson are faith, dogma, and the easy comfort of consensus.

1 comment:

  1. Amen to all the above, Natty. You have spoken truth ably and poetically, as you did when I first met you in Washington DC in 2007 at the AAI pow-wow (that gave birth to the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse). May you give to the art of dandyism the depth and meaning that you give to secularism. Je suis Dandy!