This material may be a bit dry for some, but until I create more lively content it will serve as a starter.
This paper will respond to the question of meaning concerning our shared human existence. The querent is a secular humanist and has a secular view of the world. We will seek to evaluate their current worldview and determine the basis of their beliefs. We will, in review, summarize in sections on viabilities and inconsistencies of their views. The consideration of their viewpoint will receive comments from cited sources on the epistemology of meaning and purpose. We will seek to clarify their opinions based on sound reasoning and approach the topic while being mindful of their subjective viewpoint.
The secular view of the world is so ingrained in western culture it serves as a default point of view that goes unquestioned. Too often, people only question this default at a point of crisis in their life. In school, the workplace, and casual social interactions, the secular viewpoint rules in a way that calls into question any other worldview.
Religious people are often conflicted when dealing with the conventional morality that they confront. The post-modern worldview of subjective truth and righteousness leaves individuals and society in constant turmoil over the perception of reality and its effects on daily life. In the following paragraphs, we will compare subjective reality to a Christian-based objective worldview on meaning in life to satisfy inquires from an atheistic source.
Meaning in Worldview
The conflicting points of worldview in the secular and the religious offer a manifold and complex source of discussion. Which source should society use as an influence? In the western world, the material foundations for meaning or purpose in life are affected by pop culture, the media’s power, and post-modern reductionist scientific conclusions. The result on the religious side has been a return to extreme fundamentalism. The sociologist Peter Berger has recanted his earlier stance on secularization and described a new “religious resurgence” or desecularization in western society. The idea that religion is a fading influence on society cannot be taken lightly as a shift from the religious to the rational underestimates the steadfast endurance of religious organizations with political power.
The author Charles Taylor caught the world’s attention with the book A Secular Age by redefining the concepts and terms under consideration in the secular view. Our modern idea of our world is defined as “secularity 3,” which gives us a choice in belief, unbelief, and all states in between. But how can we discern our core values based on the arbitrary definitions of our society or subjective, emotionally based perspectives? If we want to live well, we must possess a meaning based on a transcendent set of virtues and attributes. As Christians, we point to the one God who is both eternal and transcendent. The defining characteristics of God are not dependent on anything in the universe and can even lead to a satisfying explanation of universal origins.
Since the beginning of the post-enlightenment period, the goal of secular humanism is one of reductionism. As proved by scientific observations, the mechanical and predictable cycles in the natural world gave way to dismissing the transcendent as illusory or not worthy of pursuit due to a lack of a framework for definition. The extant transcendentalists even went to claim like Thoreau that “the human need not be at the center of a meaning-filled existence.”
The telos of secular humanity targets a glorious, scientifically reasonable future for humankind seeking to produce Perfect Men under the loose definition of humanism. In the same work, Rhonda makes the prescient point that the “secular is inextricable from the religious and that secularity is not identical to atheism.” This alludes to Taylor’s “subtraction stories” that posit secularity is more than the absence of religion.
Today, the modern American still enjoys the vestigial remains of the past religious meaning in life. Loosely reflected in the American dream, the hope of a better life for one’s progeny and the ability to grow materially and spiritually are common life goals. The meaning of secularism can be thought of as not so much a negation of religion but individual autonomy. Baker and Smith, in American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems, opine that Americans have shifted in their worldview in their secular identity based on the patterns of family, politics, and sexual freedom. So while Americans and Westerners generally accept autonomy and freedom of choice, their worldview still reflects past religious-cultural components. It’s worth exploring these commonly held beliefs in both the secular and holy worldviews.
Identity as a Worldview
Our identities find their foundations in our worldview. Since so many factors can contribute to an individual’s sense of identity, it’s best to start discussing the secular-minded individual’s character. Do the individual’s actions accurately reflect their beliefs? Before beginning to present Christianity apologetically, we must obtain an overall sense of the individual’s state of mind. Using their presenting character, we need to evaluate if they are more conscientious in their methodology of thought or more open. If they are more relaxed, we can establish their current reference point in believing the transcendent exists.
The first question to the candidate to receive God’s world should be, “If Christianity were true, would you believe it?” (Frank Turek). This simple question isolates the emotional from the logical response and defines the source or locus of identity. If the answer is No, then the candidate needs to examine the basis of their emotional pain related to religion. To address the candidate with the emotional state of mind, we can refer them to the fact that the Christian worldview establishes itself as a root of identity since all humans are created in God’s image. Primarily, we must make them aware that the truth of Christianity is separate from their past trauma. Christians have been developing hypotheses about moral, spiritual, and character development longer than the science of psychology.
How does the individual find meaning in the secular world? In addition to their internal contrivances, we find meaning in how we relate to others. How can we connect to others in our modern world? If we look to secular opportunities for socialization, we find only edifices of capitalistic nature. Our society offers little to satisfy the corporate need to develop meaning. There are a few exceptions, such as parks and common areas found sparsely within suburban subdivisions. Our prevailing narrative and social contract with each other offers little interaction as it’s the individual’s right to be left alone. Is this the telos of human interaction? As Bailey says in Reimaging Apologetics, “In place of a shared story, we have a thousand micronarratives.” So how do we sort through the morass? Not by argumentative apologetic assaults on prevailing scientific opinions but by a reasoned heart-based approach. We must always practice witnessing with gentle understanding. Our goal is not to win an argument but to be a pointer to God. To purely focus on the physical is to remove the supernatural, the very thing we are required to communicate. A crucial factor we must be mindful of is to make the individual aware that their identity should find a basis in authority as opposed to an internal authenticity.
What is the source of our reason? Reason, logic, and mathematics are all fundamental to the physical world. Even though these concepts are intangible, they exist. Reason and logic are immaterial. To convince the querent of the characteristics of God, we must receive their concession that ephemera exists external to materialistic or naturalistic observable phenomenon. By first asking these initial probing questions, we obtain their view of their reality’s epistemology and the genuine source of their identity.
Meaning Found in Christianity
Humans define meaning in their lives through the myriad interpretation of their telos in life and what they believe about the future. We build our narrative by organizing “the sequential individual sensations and life experiences into a particular story.” Taylor points out that human “meanings” always entail evaluations in our “moral space” from which we orient our understanding of ourselves and our socially defined hierarchal place. We must emphasize the root of Christian identity. Not only are we created in the image of God, but we also live according to the two commands given to us by Jesus, to love both God and neighbor.
When we consider the all-accepting inclusive God in the context of Christian belief and practice, we find the removal of secular limitations placed on us. Our modern public and social prejudices against marginalized citizens based on race, opinions, or past behaviors find forgiveness. An excellent example is in E.B.Du Bois’s publications, in which the author considers that religious rhetoric and rationale could be helpful to fighting for justice. At the same time, Du Bois did find both religion and government destructive, his concession to the logic and truth of Christian epistemology to be valuable. In religious life, one’s social standing or perceived limitations in society transcend said limits by the love of Christ. Christianity indeed finds a home in the American motto of the Statue of Liberty, bring me your tired, huddled masses yearning to be free. A reminder that Chrisitan’s perspectives on fundamental human rights find realization. These ideals we share in common in the secular life contribute to our identity as shared objectives. By finding a source of common belief with our querent, we can begin the conversation.
A life spent in which the individual’s sense of meaning finds itself rooted in the whims of the secular world is to live in a state where one would fall for anything. Any explanation of life that sources a subjective definition of reality finds no basis in objective truth. By being created in the image of God, we also gain the attributes of the almighty. We gain a reference point for our morality, our logic and reason, as well as the presence of the Holy Spirit. Although you could argue that the Holy Spirit is subjective to the individual, it finds its source in the immutable trinary God.
Can we trust our source of self-understanding if it finds genesis in the transient? Most reasonably intelligent persons would agree that a more significant basis of ontological knowledge will provide stronger roots for the mind to grasp. It is the distinction of personal, fallible authenticity vs. authority found in the transcendent to which we continue to appeal—a logical focus on self and the transcendent while combining but not conflating our terms. By these standard terms, along with our discernment, we can best give a reason for our joy.
Despite the contestability of conclusions present in modern times, a definitive objective explanation for reality and humanity’s place in it exists. It is found in the direct personal relationship established with God. The genuinely open-minded person will accordingly modify their sense of identity and self when presented with sufficient cause. Taylor favors the definition of being religious as service to others. “The believer renounces their flourishing in the service of a transcendent good.” Once we renounce our self-interest in life and submit to God’s will, we receive abundance since God wills human fullness. A life of meaning and a certain sense of identity based on Christ’s commands lead to a desirable fate. All things material or immaterial will fall or disappoint us in life. God designed us to have a place in our heart for him; if anything else is there, we will experience significant loss.
While we consider our candidate, whether an individual or group, we need to be mindful of our spiritual skills. Brain DeVries notes importantly that “our gifts should be distinguished from the Gift of the Spirit.” Although this gift of the spirit will follow with unique individual proclivities to testify to God’s word. In addition, DeVries clarifies that no matter how strong the individual’s gift, it has no bearing on personal soteriology. It is essential to use our discernment in accessing our talents to focus on our strengths in communicating scripture. Now is the time to go forward and be fishers of men (and women).
Baker, Joseph O., and Smith, Buster G. American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems. New York: New York University Press, 2015.
Bailey, Justin Ariel. Reimagining Apologetics: The Beauty of Faith in a Secular Age. Westmont: InterVarsity Press, 2020.
Colorado, Carlos, and Justin D. Klassen. Aspiring to Fullness in a Secular Age: Essays on Religion and Theology in the Work of Charles Taylor. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014.
DeVries, Brian. “Spiritual gifts for biblical church growth” In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi [Online], Volume 50 Number 1 (29 July 2016)
Johnson, Eric L., et al. Psychology and Christianity: Five Views. Intervarsity Press, 2010 (Secular Source)
Keller, Timothy, Making Sense of God, (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2016)
Levy, Jacob, Maclure, Jocelyn, and Weinstock, Daniel M., eds. Interpreting Modernity: Essays on the Work of Charles Taylor. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020.
Rectenwald, Michael, Almeida, Rochelle, and Levine, George, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age. Boston: De Gruyter, Inc., 2015.
Ronda, Bruce A. The Fate of Transcendentalism: Secularity, Materiality, and Human Flourishing. ATHENS: University of Georgia Press, 2017. Turner, C. Secularization (1st ed.). Routledge. 2019. https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.4324/9781315754864
 Charles Taylor, Secularization (1st ed.). Routledge, 2019 https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.4324/9781315754864
 William Schweiker, “Humanism and the Question of Fullness,” in Aspiring to Fullness in a Secular Age: Essays on Religion and Theology in the Work of Charles Taylor.Colorado, Carlos, and Justin D. Klassen. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014. page 128.
 William Schweiker, “Humanism and the Question of Fullness,” in Aspiring to Fullness in a Secular Age: Essays on Religion and Theology in the Work of Charles Taylor.Colorado, Carlos, and Justin D. Klassen. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014. page 136.