The Lie of Religious vs. Secular

The secular is the religious, and it’s a religion that opposes Jesus.

If you asked an ancient Roman what his religion was, he would have no idea how to answer or what you were talking about. He made no distinction between religious and secular. The meat he ate was sacrificed to his gods, the emperor he served was his lord, his hearth was adorned with the gods of his ancestors. When he planted and when he harvested, the product depended on religious ritual. There was no aspect of his life that was not religious, so to ask about religion as if it were merely a set of beliefs or merely one part of his life, this was meaningless.

The modern mind has been cursed with believing in the false distinction between religious and secular. And it is a false distinction. There is no such thing as secular. Every aspect of life is shaped by religion. This is why Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”  It’s why Luther defines a god (and therefore a religion) as whatever you fear, love, and trust the most. And what else does Jesus mean when he says, “Take up your cross and follow me?” Or what else does St. Paul mean when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always?” A religion that does not consume all aspects of life is not worth talking about. A god who demands half the heart is a figment of man’s imagination. The ancients were honest about this. We have not been. We’ve acted like we can have two lives, one religious and one secular. But it won’t work.

An excellent example is that of the public school. Christians have sent their children to public schools as a matter of routine, as the thing a secular citizen does, as if there were no religious implications involved. Public schools claim to teach no religion, only secular subjects, by which they mean only neutral subjects.  But their secular subjects are clearly not neutral. They are religious. In fact, the headmaster of our Lutheran school recently refused federal money because it required the funds to be used for purely “secular, neutral, and non-ideological” curricula. As if a Christian school could teach “secular” curricula! What, after all, does “secular” mean? It means teaching evolution, that matter has always existed, that we evolved randomly from slime, that we are highly developed organic machines. These are ridiculously religious claims! They have to do with the origins of man, with the existence of the soul, with the purpose of life! These are questions religion asks, that must be received by faith, the answers to which determine the worth and value of humanity, and yet they are called “secular!” What else is secular? That boys and girls should seek careers instead of fatherhood and motherhood. That making money is the purpose of education. That sex outside marriage is inevitable. That homosexuality is a virtue. That man can become woman and woman man. These are all religious claims. No one can seriously deny this. And, in fact, they didn’t even try to deny it until recently.

Every Christian should be familiar with the name of John Dewey. He is the father of modern education. He is the mastermind behind the structure and goal of government schools. And he made no bones about his goals being “religious.” He called himself a “religious humanist.” He stated it as his goal to replace the outdated Christian religion with a religion modern man could actually believe and carry out. He signed the first Humanist Manifesto, where his all-encompassing “religious” agenda was laid out, an agenda of socialism and the remaking of America according to atheistic and evolutionary principles. And again, he openly called his agenda and his goals religious. In fact, the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 agrees completely with us that there can be no distinction between religious and secular: “[Religion] includes labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation—all that is in its degree expressive of intelligently satisfying human living. The distinction between the sacred and the secular can no longer be maintained” (Humanist Manifesto, seventh). The man who was behind the philosophy of education in our country signed this manifesto! What people today call “secular” he called “religious.” And we have seen the results of this secular religion, taught now for generations in our government schools. They are devastating.

It is almost comical that this all sounds like conspiracy theory, as if this couldn’t possibly have happened in our country. But it’s no conspiracy theory. It was a straightforward conspiracy, and it worked. It worked because we believed the lie that we could send our children to government schools and act like they wouldn’t be indoctrinated in a religion diametrically opposed to our religion. It worked because we thought religion could be lived on Sunday and then we could go on with our “secular” life. It is time that we expose this lie openly and face the obvious consequences of the fact that there is no such thing as “secular.” Everything is religious. What is taught to children in public schools is religion, no matter the subject.

So this is the real choice facing us. Will I send my child to be taught the true religion or the false? There is no neutral alternative. And the answer for us Christians, for us Lutherans, is not only to strive to send our children to Lutheran schools or educate them at home as Lutherans, but to make sure that our Lutheran schools and homes are the best, that they openly fight against the secular religion and never allow it into their curricula, and that they have our vocal support to fight the good fight. Above all we have to rid ourselves of the idea of the “secular” as some neutral category. It doesn’t exist. It’s a lie. The secular is the religious, and it’s a religion that opposes Jesus. Whether in schools, in TV, in social media, in any aspect of life, beware of the secular! Love Jesus instead. The religion that gives true hope, meaning, and purpose is the religion bought by Jesus’ blood and spoken from His lips, the religion written down by His apostles, the religion of reconciliation with our Creator by the cross of His Son, the religion we are convinced of by His Spirit, and this is the religion that is worthy of our entire lives, our eternal life.

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Christian Preus

Rev. Dr. Christian Preus is Senior Pastor at Mount Hope Lutheran Church in Casper, WY and holds a PhD in Classics.

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