My secular, theistic, agnostic, antagonistic, futuristic and altogether fantastic friends,
I recently read the book, ‘Seculosity’ by David Zahl in which he asserts, I think rightly, that secularism is a religion complete with obligations, rituals and icons. The only difference between Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Secularists is that the first 4 acknowledge they live by faith, while Secularists (of which there are many in my circle of friends) don't, bristling at any suggestion otherwise. Zahl’s description of things is, in my experience, pretty accurate.
With that in mind I watched a pretty incredible TED talk on philanthropy yesterday, given by a very gifted and insightful woman who was described as a ‘futurist,’ which, I take to mean, ‘someone who can predict the future.’
I’m no futurist but I am a theology-nerd which means that I simply cannot keep myself from attempting to discern the faith (and corresponding liturgy and rituals) by which virtually every human being lives.
Three things jumped out at me as I listened to her speak. First, she knew more about philanthropy than I will ever forget. She was well spoken, incredibly insightful and practically helpful.
Second, the notion that someone can predict the future is, in my mind, pretty silly. I’ve seen way to many dire predictions end up on the proverbial ‘ash heap of history.’ Fool me once... Modernity is littered with false prophets, many of which, undoubtedly, were absolutely certain they’d gotten things right thanks to the wonders of modern scholarship, technology and psychology.
Thirdly, at the conclusion of the talk, the speaker became emotional when reflecting upon her philanthropic grand father and great grandfather, concluding with something akin to, ‘100 years from now, what will you be remembered for? What will be your legacy?’
It didn’t surprise me is that the talk made no reference to God. My impression is that TED talks, many of which are excellent, are essentially secular sermons/homilies rousing us to save ourselves by our own engineering and creativity. TED is the church that many of my Secularist friends attend to hear a prophetic or comforting word.
What did surprise me was the emotion this woman displayed about leaving a legacy. It suggested there was something more profound going on inside of her. She was clearly mourning something. I wondered: Is she mourning the fact that she has been given an impossibly difficult inter generational family legacy to live up to by her predecessors? Perhaps. Or: Might she be mourning the fact that, without any reference to God, all she could aspire to is to be remembered here on earth? After all, if there is no heaven, no afterlife, if there is no grace and forgiveness available, or need for a cross, if there is no prospect of salvation and eternal life, there is only the ever diminishing memory of our lives by an ever decreasing number of transient beings on a spinning planet whose future, we are told, is in peril.
If my speculation is sound (and that’s a big ‘if,’ I know), her mourning might afford her an opportunity to reconsider those assumptions. Perhaps she will ask herself, ‘If it’s true that all we can aspire to in this life is to become an ever-diminishing-memory in the lives of a few transient beings on a spinning planet, why am I so sad...so unsatisfied?’ She will either conclude that her sadness indicates a lack of courage to embrace reality. I, for one, hope that she concludes that her dissatisfaction indicates that her secular faith is not an embrace of reality, but a departure from it.
P.S. Men2Serve this Sunday, Nov 17th!
If you are interested, we will be gathering this Sunday, Nov 17th at 9:30 am at the Bookworm building to turn our faith and/or humanitarian concern, into a verb. We will gather for coffee and donuts, a brief reflection and will then go some painting at the Women's Shelter in Phoenixville, with others doing some yard work for an elderly couple who could use some help. Interested? Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you to all of you who serve or have served!