The default position of America is secular protestantism.
I say this is the default position and mean by it – that without effort and care – we all find ourselves thinking and acting out of a secular protestant mindset. Of course, I need to offer a definition for my terms. By secular protestantism (and I mean no insult to Protestants by the term) I mean a generalized belief in God – but a God who is removed from the world (hence the term secular). Secularism is not the belief that there is no God – but the belief that God belongs to a religious sphere and the rest of the world is neutral in some independent sense. I add the term “protestantism” to it, because, generally, our culture gives lip-service to protestant foundations, and because Protestant Churches generally understand themselves as relatively human organizations, the true Church being something in the mind of God. (I will grant exceptions to my definition and understanding).
With such a mindset, of course, whatever religious sense one has is generally a matter of effort, organization, control, marketing – in short – religious life is no different from every other aspect of life. It is separated and defined only by its purpose. Such religion is, of course, not Christianity at all, even though it may strive to do good secular work for Christ. True Christianity is a life lived in union with Christ and all that we do that has value is what we do in union with Him.
It is in reflecting on this that I ponder many conversations I hear (or overhear). Many times I hear myself or others expressing dismay or anxiety over a situation, or plotting to achieve one goal or another. The frightening dynamic in many of these conversations – let alone the actions that flow from them – is the dynamic of secularism. We live as though there were no God, or as if the God Who Exists is not able to act within our world. Having decided what is in God’s best interest, or the interest of the faith, we design our efforts (perhaps even thinking to please Him).
But God does not seek to be pleased by actions taken in separation from Him. It is union with God that saves us (and this alone). Neither can we undertake any activity that has a saving character except that activity be taken in union with Christ.
Why should we love our enemies and pray for them? Because there is little else you can do for them that is in union with Christ. You cannot seek vengeance in union with Christ. You cannot even seek to “fix” other people in union with Christ. The action of Christ is always respectful of our freedom and always acts in love. Action in union with Christ cannot have some other character.
Actions such as kindness and mercy, patience and love are easily lived in union with Christ. But our secular mindset rarely sees such actions as useful.
I read the following statement in the counsels of the contemporary Elder, Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia:
Our love in Christ must reach all places, even to the hippies in Matala [in Crete]. I very much wanted to go there, not to preach to them or to condemn them, but to live with them, without sin of course, and leave the love of Christ to speak of itself, which transfigures life (from Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit).
Such a statement is a world away from our secular mindset. The Church is either the Mystical Body of Christ or it is nothing at all. And if it is the Mystical Body of Christ in this world, then its life will be lived and governed in no way different from the life of Christ considered in any other manner. Thus, the way of the Cross is always the way of life. Laying down our lives for one another and for the world is simply how we are to live. It is not an extraordinary act – it is a normative act.
Doubtless our culture and its mindset will be what they are. But in its midst we should live “without sin” and let the love of Christ speak of itself (if the love of Christ isn’t speaking of itself, then our own words about the love of Christ will be hollow and meaningless) – and this transfigures life. This is not a plan or a roadmap for the transformation of our culture. God alone knows such things. But it is a roadmap for obeying the admonition of the Apostle:
“…be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).