Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Looking For God in a Secular World

Fifth Avenue at 51st St, Manhattan; St. Patrick's Cathedral on the left and Rockefeller Center on the right

Tomorrow night, my friend Colleen and I are going to the last class in a series called Looking For God In Washington, DC: A Priest and A Rabbi Search Together.  Co-taught by the Very Reverend Gary Hall, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, and Rabbi Zemel of Temple Micah, a Reform synagogue in town,  the earlier classes discussed the foundational God in each religion's traditions through an examination of biblical texts, the theology of the respective worship traditions, and the challenges that modernity has forced these two faiths to confront.

Those all sound fascinating; with my academic background in (and, now, amateur study of) the history of religion and theology, I could delve into all of those topics with objective gusto.  Unfortunately, though, we missed those classes, and tomorrow night's topic is a little more personal.

"In this session," the website says, "we will begin to address the many challenges of being a person of faith in a secular world."

I don't generally think my spirituality and my secularism come into conflict.  But then, though I do identify as Jewish, my idea of a divine power most closely follows this quip attributed to both Rousseau and George Bernard Shaw: God created man in his own image and, being a gentleman, man returned the favor.  Because of that, I think that my faith is shaped by the world around me just as much as the world around me is shaped by my faith and the faith of those more zealous than I.

So, given the flexibility - for lack of a better word - of my religious convictions, I suspect I'll stay silent for most of this class.  After all, I really don't feel that the secular world in which I live questions my faith too often.  Sometimes, though, I do wonder if that's a bad thing.  Story after story in both the Old and New Testaments teach that faith must be tested to be proved true.  Mine isn't, much.  What would happen if it were?

I'm nervous, as one probably should be before a class like this, but I'm really looking forward to grappling with these questions.  I hope that, by the end of the evening, the discussion will have provoked me to define and defend my beliefs more strongly.


  1. I guess you'd call my religious convictions "flexible" as well. I was raised Presbyterian, and while I do have faith, I've never particularly ever felt the need to grapple with it. Perhaps this is because I am a bit fast and loose with religious doctrines, but I also personally ascribe to a more "Clockmaker" esque idea of a deity. Sam, on the other hand, is a stone-cold atheist. However, he really likes going to CoE services because he likes the songs and finds it relaxing. So....

  2. First of all, I love that you share about this and continually seem to keep learning and growing. It's easy to stop doing that after college :)

    I definitely feel like my faith and my secularism come into conflict. I see it every single day. I agree that our faith is often shaped by the world, and in some ways that's okay and necessary. I feel like my view of faith changed during college and after as I left my parents and started deciding for me what I believed and why. But I think there's a fine line in terms of how much the world should shape our faith. Not to go into it here, but there are a lot of issues that generate a ton of debate even among people of faith (to name the big ones, race, homosexuality, and abortion, etc), and personally I think it's dangerous if we let the world influence us too much. The pillars of faith stand firm. God doesn't change. And so as we continue on, some of those need to stay the same in our own lives as well. It's too easy to get tossed about if you aren't careful. (Not YOU, but just general people you.) Hope you enjoy the class!

  3. I am one to keep my faith very closely guarded and private so at times I think it stays very uninfluenced as I do not discuss it with anyone but I do know that moving countries has made an impact on how I view big picture faith related things which I am very glad about. I also think that my limited Swedish has in some ways stunted my continuing growth as attending a service in a language you struggle with becomes more about understanding the words than digesting and growing spiritually I have found.


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