Secularism is on the decline
Demographers tell us the twenty-first century will be less secular than the twentieth. There have been seismic shifts toward Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa and China while evangelicalism and Pentecostalism have grown exponentially in Latin America. Even in the United States the growth of the “nones” has been mainly among those who had been more nominal in their relationship to faith while the devoutly religious in the United States and Europe are growing. P. 10-11
Are you longing for something that does not exist?
If this life is all there is, why do we long so deeply for something that doesn’t exist and never did? Why are there so many experiences that point beyond the world picture of secularism, even by those who do not welcome such perceptions? And if this life is all there is, what will you do with these desires that have no fulfillment within the closed secular frame? P. 22
Secularism is based on faith
The Christian believer is using reason and faith to get to her beliefs just as her secular neighbor is using reason and faith to get to hers. They are both looking at the same realities in nature and human life, and both are seeking a way to make the best sense of them through a process that is rational, personal, intuitive, and social. Reason does not and cannot operate alone. Contemporary secularity, then, is not the absence of faith, but is instead based on a whole set of beliefs, including a number of highly contestable assumptions about the nature of proof and rationality itself. P. 41
Secularism does not lead to love
However, if we are just a decaying piece of matter in a decaying universe and nothing more significant than that, how does it follow that we should live a life of love towards others? It doesn’t. Why shouldn’t we live as selfishly as we can get away with? How do beliefs in individual freedom, human rights, and equality arise from or align with the idea that human beings came to be what they are through the survival of the fittest? They don’t, really. P. 42
Where did the values of Western culture come from?
Where, then, did the moral values of Western, liberal, secular culture come from, including the importance of the individual, equality, rights, love, and concern for the poor, and the necessity of improving material conditions for everyone? Many scholars have made a strong historical case that they came down to us from Jewish and Christian thought. P. 46
Is meaning in life possible without God?
So is meaning in life without God practically possible? Public discourse is filled with loud religious voices insisting that life without God is inevitably pointless, bleak and unworkable. Other the other side there are plenty of secular people who insist that they not only have satisfying meaning in life but also have a kind of freedom that religious people do not. Who is right? Can we have meaning in life without any belief in God at all? To be fair to all, I would argue that the answer is both yes and no.
I say yes because both by our definition and by lived experience secular people can certainly know meaning in life. We define “meaning” as having both a purpose and the assurance that you are serving some good beyond yourself. If you decide that the meaning of your life is to be a good parent, or to serve a crucial political cause, or to tutor underprivileged youth, or to enjoy and promote great literature-then you have, by definition, a meaning in life. Plenty of secular people live like this without being tortured and gloomy in the manner of Camus. It is quite possible to find great purpose in the ordinary tasks of life, apart from knowing answers to the Big Questions About Existence.
But I also say no. Secular people are often unwilling to recognize the significant difference between what have been called “inherent” and “assigned” meanings. Traditional belief in God was the basis for discovered, objective meaning-meaning that is there, apart from your inner feelings or interpretations. If we were made by God for certain purposes, than there are inherent meanings that we must accept.
The meanings that secular people have are not discovered but rather created. They are not objectively “there.” They are subjective and wholly dependent on our feelings. You may determine to live for political change or the establishment of a happy family, and these can definitely serve as energizing goals. However, I want to argue that such created meanings are much more fragile and thin than discovered meanings. Specifically, discovered meaning is more rational, communal, and durable than created meaning. P. 64-65
Secular people and the big picture in life
When secular people seek to lead a meaningful life, they must have discipline to not think so much about the big picture. P. 67
The dread that comes from a lack of meaning in life
If you believe that there is no discovered meaning in life, only created meaning, then if you really start to think globally-about the fact that nothing you do is going to make any difference in the end-you are going to begin to experience the dread of nausea of the modernists. And, of course, you don’t have to think like this-you can put it out of mind-and that is certainly how most people in the secular culture live today. But that is my first point. That is not a very rational way to have meaning in life. Created meaning is a less rational way to live life than doing so with discovered meaning. P. 69
We distract ourselves from the emptiness of our lives
James Wood refers to the pursuit of “jobs, family, sex, and so on-the usual distractions” by which we hide from ourselves the emptiness of our lives.” P. 83
Where does our discontentment come from?
The ultimate disordered love, however-and the ultimate source of our discontent-is failure to love the first thing first, the failure to love God supremely. P. 90
Where does contentment come from?
Here, then, is the message. Don’t love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction. You won’t overprotect them, you won’t overexpect things from them. You won’t be constantly furious with them for not being what you hoped. Don’t stifle passionate love for anything; rather, redirect your greatest love toward God by loving him with your whole heart and loving him for himself, and not just for what he can give you. Then, and only then, does the contentment start to come. P. 94
David Foster Wallace, the postmodern novelist, puts it like this:
In the day to day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as…not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough…Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…Worship power – you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. P. 111
True view of ourselves is powerful
(Miroslav) Volf answers: “No one can be in the presence of the God of the Crucified Messiah for long…without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous humanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness.” P. 146
Christianity is the only true world wide religion
One of the unique things about Christianity is that it is the only truly worldwide religion. Over 90% of Muslims live in a band from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Northern Africa. Over 95% of all Hindus and in India and immediate environs. Some 88 percent of Buddhists are in East Asia. However, about 25 percent of Christians live in Europe, 25 percent in Central and South America, 22 percent in Africa, 15 percent (and growing fast) in Asia, and 12 percent in North America. Professor Richard Bauckham writes, “Almost certainly Christianity exhibits more cultural diversity than any other religion, and that must say something about it.” As we have seen, Christianity has been growing explosively in Asia and Africa for over a century now. It is no longer a Western religion (nor was it originally). It is truly a world religion. P. 148
Death makes our lives better
All death can now do to Christians is to make their lives infinitely better. P. 166
The best way to think about moral truth
Yes, of course, believing in universal moral truths can be used to oppress others. But what if that absolute truth is a man who died for his enemies, who did not respond in violence with violence but forgave them? How could that story, if it is the center of your life, lead you to take up power and dominate others? Remarkably, then, we can conclude that a professed Christian who is not committed to a life of generosity and justice toward the poor and marginalized is, at the very least, a living contradiction of the Gospel of Christ, the Son of God, whose Father “executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry” (Psalm 146:7). Bauckham says, “Distortion of the biblical story into a theology of oppression has to suppress the biblical meaning of the cross.” All of these characteristics of the biblical story make it “uniquely unsuited to be being an instrument of oppression.” P. 210
Greater percentage of the world is Christian than ever before
Today a greater percentage of the world’s population than ever before is Christian, and Christianity adds to its ranks over fifty thousand persons a day, or just under nineteen million new people a year. P. 229
Nothing compares to Jesus
Particularly impressive to readers over the centuries has been what one writer has called “an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” That is, in him we see qualities and virtues we would ordinarily consider incompatible in the same person. We would never think they could be combined but, because they are, they are strikingly beautiful. Jesus combines high majesty with the greatest humility, he joins the strongest commitment to justice with astonishing mercy and grace, and he reveals a transcendent self-sufficiency and yet entire trust and reliance upon his heavenly Father. We are surprised to see tenderness without any weakness, boldness without harshness, humility without any uncertainty, indeed, accompanied by a towering confidence. Readers can discover for themselves his unbending convictions but complete approachability, his insistence on truth but always bathed in love, his power without insensitivity, integrity without rigidity, passion without prejudice. P. 233