Why Religion Won’t Go Away

We are witnessing a shift away from the secularization (the diminishing influence of religion) of the 19th and 20th century. The 21st century is shaping up to be postsecular. As Jacobsen and Jacobsen say in their book, The American University in a Postsecular Age: “religion will likely exercise a significant role in human affairs for a long time to come. If secularization means that the world is getting a little less religious every day, then we live in a postsecular world.” (p.10)

Why won’t religion go away? Why, even as atheists such as Voltaire, Nietzsche, Dawkins and company proclaim the death of God, is God on a comeback? The Christian vision of reality offers a plausible explanation:

(1) Reality is, at rock bottom, spiritual.

The first five words in the Bible set the stage for all that comes after: “In the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1). And what did God create? The answer is—all reality distinct from Himself. Everything that exists distinct from God owes its existence to God: God is Creator, everything else is creature. Thus, God is sovereign and (as theologians like to say) transcendent—everything depends on God and God doesn’t depend on anything. Further, we learn in Scripture that this Creator God is not absent from the world; rather his presence fills the universe. We live in a God-bathed universe (that is, God is immanent). As Paul proclaims in Acts, “For in him we live and move and having our being” (Acts 17:28).

This means that the most fundamental distinction in all of reality is that of Creator-creature. Everything that is, everything that exists owes its existence to God. And God is spirit. Thus, the most fundamental fact about reality, the fact that conditions all other facts, is spiritual in nature. We can’t scrub out our spirituality like we scrub out grease in a pan. This leads to a second reason:

(2) Man is inherently religious.

We have been created by God to respond to him, to love him, to worship him, to delight in him and to enjoy him. Thus, at its core, human life is inherently religious. All of human life is lived in response to God—either in communion or rebellion. In fact, as we read the great thinkers of the western world—from Homer to Plato, from Epictetus to Calvin—what we find is that man is inherently religious and must work really hard to be talked out of belief in God. Spirituality is the default position, not atheism.

(3) God is always at work in the world.

The Bible (from Genesis 12 to Revelation 20) reveals a God on a rescue mission to redeem that which is fallen, to save that which is lost. God has not abandoned his creation—He is at work. In fact, we can see this providential care and concern even in the creation event itself: Ask yourself, why did God create in the first place? Prior to creation, God existed in perfect delight and harmony in a triune dance of love and joy between the three members of the Godhead. God did not need anything. So, why did God create? The answer is not to get but to spread—his glory, his delight. And the fall of man does not change that. The gospel story can be likened to a three part play—tragedy, comedy, and fairy story—the tragedy is man’s sin, the divine comedy—the unexpected turn—is God sending his Son to pay for our sin, and the fairy story ending is that heaven and earth will one day we redeemed and restored as all of creation radiates with the glory and delight of God.

Secularism is a non-starter—it always existed parasitically on its host—theism. Secularism is only against something—religion—but it is not FOR anything, thus it cannot survive. Yes, there will be pockets of secularism, but the reality of God at work in the world ensures that God gets the last word.

______________

This article first appeared on the blog of Paul Gould, assistant professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him on Twitter at @paulmgould.