Secularism and Our Christian Hope
Words cannot adequately describe the race to irrationality that characterizes the Western world today. Absurdity attacks from every side. Foolishness is daily fodder; the abnormal has become the norm.
A couple of obvious examples: Many of us now live in a world where certain theories of science, such as evolution, are taken as bedrock, unassailable truth. The evidence, we’re told, is clear and unrelenting.
But then we’re told by the same secularists that when it comes to something as obvious as a person’s gender, science is silenced and gender identity is determined by how we feel. When it comes to gender, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.”
Or when the world is exposed to the dismemberment and sale of fetal baby parts, science isn’t even invited to the discussion. As long as the horror of such a practice is transferred from the brightly illuminated isle of cold, hard facts to the murky, generic bin of “women’s health,” we’re supposed to be convinced that it was all just a false alarm.
“Facts are stubborn things,” John Adams famously quipped. But their stubbornness pales into insignificance compared to the vice-grip tenacity of a secular mindset. When the spectacles of secularism see the facts, they can adjust their vision accordingly. If the facts threaten those secular commitments, they can change the focus so that they become blurry beyond recognition. If they happen to see something that fits their ideology, they’ll gaze intently, and quickly point it out to the blurry-eyed among us.
Secularism is marching forward — quickly and with heavy artillery. The only option it gives is to join the army or be counted as collateral damage. It marches with passion, with unprecedented purpose, and with single-minded resolve: “Those who are not with us are against us.”
But this resolute regiment has a serious rationale problem. If it ever broaches the question of its own existence, it comes up short every time. For example, Richard Dawkins, the noted and notorious atheist, in River Out of Eden, encourages us all to remember that DNA (and by that he means “people”) cares nothing about anything; DNA simply is, according to him. So, he says, our reaction to the multitude of troubles and events around us should be one of “pitiless indifference.” The problem, however, is that no one is indifferent, not even Dawkins.
Why tout such “indifference” when there seem to be no signs of it anywhere? It might help if we sit back for a minute to try to get some perspective. We need to see the big picture that secularism and atheism want us all to hang on our walls and admire.
The first thing they want us to see in their picture is the sheer purposeless and meaningless accident of our existence. The only reason we happen to be here, they say, is because we happen to be here. There is no purpose, no design, nothing meaningful about our presence in this world. The natural world is all there is, and that world just happened to bring you into existence. In their picture of reality, you are not created; you evolved. And your evolution was nothing more than a random collection of matter and chance circumstances.
Dawkins is anything but indifferent when it comes to this accident of evolution. According to him, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” Does this sound like a man who is indifferent to those who don’t hold his views?
Let’s think of it this way: If you and I are, as Dawkins would have us believe, a chance collection of random molecules, why would it matter if we believed his view or not? Wouldn’t an affirmation of Dawkins’ view be as random and “accidental” as a denial of it? If my belief that we were created by God is nothing more than a material function of my DNA, why does it matter? Specifically, why does it matter so much to Dawkins?
It is not too difficult to begin to see that secularism, with all of its attendant irritants and irrationalities, is a house of cards. One puff can raze it. Its own theories seep into its core like a brain-eating virus and render it useless.
The reason the secular mindset cannot live with its own theory is that if the theory is lived out, nothing is left. If Dawkins were taken seriously, then a secularist who really lives like one would be so committed to “pitiless indifference” that the only serious question left, as Albert Camus pointed out decades ago, would be suicide. And that, too, would be a choice of indifference.
But there is something else we can see in the distorted picture if we look closely enough. Even though secularism has no reason to exist, it continues to shoot in the dark, hoping, aimlessly and accidentally, to hit some kind of target somewhere. As vacuous and vapid as secularism is, it continues to propagate itself on the pretense of such immaterial and intentional virtues as “purpose” and “hope” and “meaning.” Screaming “nothing but DNA” from the rooftops, secularists try to sneak in various lofty ideas through the back door, hoping we won’t see. Why would they do this?
I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “I’ve given up hope and I feel much better.” It was meant to be humorous, of course. But it occurred to me that here we have an honest secularist. Here is a statement that recognizes that virtues such as hope are artificially imported into a secular mindset. If matter is all there is, if we’re just an accidental collection of DNA, then things like “hope” are empty and completely devoid of content. For a secularist, hope is nothing more than hope in hope, which is no hope at all. Hope, for secularism, has no place to lay its head. There is no room for hope in the secularist inn.
The reason secularists try to mix artificial ingredients such as hope into their distasteful recipe is because, as creatures made in the image of God, they know, deep down, that this world is not all that there is. In fact, they know the God they continue to shun (Rom. 1:18–21).
As God’s image bearers, who in fact know the God they are meant to image, they inevitably import foreign elements into their thinking. They speak and argue with passion, not indifference. They believe in universal truth (such as, everyone should think as they do). They continue, in the face of their own myopic commitments, to pretend that things like purpose, love, meaning, and hope are somehow included in their DNA. But no such things can be found in our DNA, no matter how powerful the microscope. If all is matter, then nothing really matters. This is why the Apostle Paul describes those who are separated from Christ as having no hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12).
All of this is actually good news for the Christian. The onslaught of unbridled secularism in our culture can threaten to move us to despair. But if we despair, we remove our spiritual spectacles and replace them with the darkly tinted spectacles of unbelief. Instead, we should see that the stark and empty landscape of secularism is a perfect backdrop that allows the reality of Christian hope to shine in bold relief.
One of the passages in Scripture with the most concentrated teaching on the Christian hope is 1 Corinthians 15. Paul’s conclusion explains what Christian hope should look like on the ground: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v. 58). What motivates this harbinger of hope is the central focus of Paul’s argument in this chapter. That focus is Christ’s resurrection. There are three things to highlight in Paul’s argument.
First, when Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19), the most important words in that statement are “in Christ.” Paul’s point is not that hope in this life only is a pitiful hope, though it is. Instead, what is pitiful about a this-life-only hope is that those who are “in Christ” have put their trust in one who is dead. To trust in one who is dead is to extinguish hope. Because Christ lives, we live, and it is that life alone that can have and give hope.
Second, it is the resurrection of Christ that is the alone guarantee of our own bodily resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vv. 22–23). Our hope of new and eternal life is certain because we are “in Christ” and Christ has been raised.
Third, Christian hope requires the destruction of the “last enemy,” which is death itself. That enemy is still active; it still slays its victims. But its days are numbered. “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (vv. 54–55).
For those who are in Christ, because He has been raised, the final and fearful enemy will be slain, forever. When death is finally put to death, then we who are in Christ will live with Him, in the new heaven and the new earth, and hope will be no more. In the new heaven and new earth, with our imperishable bodies, hope will have served its noble task, and the dwelling of God will be with His people (Rev. 21:3). We will, for the first time and for eternity, see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
By faith, we are united to Christ. By hope, we live in Him. In eternity, when death and its consequences are no more, we will, forever, abide in His love (John 15:9). So, for now, and for those who are in Christ, “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2; 12:12; cf. Col. 1:27).