Is There Space for Religion in Secular Societies? Is Secularism the True Reason for Misguidance?

Recently, I attended a religious-conference and one of the speakers stated that one should stay away from secular philosophy. Additionally, the speaker continued by saying that secular philosophy can cause an individual to become misguided in their faith. As I listened to this attack on philosophy, I kept an open-mind and continued listening. The speaker warranted this claim by one example in which a religious-man turned away from his religion due to the secular philosophy he was reading in his leisure-time. In this warrant on why we, the listeners, should turn away from such secular-studies, many within the audience nodded their heads in affirmation that secular philosophy was the “end-all-be-all” to misguidance. Now I can’t give a reason for this man’s decision in leaving this former-religion, but why is secularism the scapegoat for a person’s lack-of practicing of religion?

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.”― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

In studying Heschel briefly in one of my past philosophy courses, I agree that we can’t always blame secular science or secular philosophy for a person’s disinterest in religion. In my past experiences, I’ve had people push a very legalistic form of Islam upon me. For some time, I would live in a way that was sterile, without meaning and lifeless. I felt drained by this legalistic form of practicing. There wasn’t any splendor. There wasn’t anything keeping me grateful for the religion I had embraced. I never left Islam, but I was beginning to lose touch with its beauty. However, I would soon run across others like myself that were seeking the beauty, splendor and ease of Islam. In being around these individuals like myself, I found the religion becoming a way of life for me. I felt certain that Islam most certainly made sense to me. I understood that I needed to strike a balance between being Muslim and living within the world. I took what I had learned of the Prophet Muhammad’s life (peace be upon him) and began implementing his teachings into my life. One example that brings a smile to my face is when two companions of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) talked among themselves stating how they would enjoy the worldly life, but in the presence of the prophet they would remember the hereafter. In feeling guilty for enjoying worldly endeavors, they went to seek out the advice of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In approaching the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) about their concern, he told the two men that they were human-beings and that as human-beings they had to strike a balance. They had to understand that they weren’t created to be in constant worship like the angels and if they engaged in constant worship like the angels than the angels would shake hands with them. In hearing this, the two men were reassured that it was quite okay to enjoy themselves as Muslims as long as they maintained their religious-obligations. So, In learning about this story within the Islamic-tradition I wept. I finally understood that being an adherent of Islam wasn’t hard. I mustn’t think that I couldn’t live my life.

In addition, we have to realize that one has to seek meaning within their own lives and to stop placing secular philosophy or studies as the scapegoat for people leaving religion. If anything, I’ve found more people leaving religion due to the ‘religious-police’ which plagues all religious-affiliations. If someone criticizes secular science and secular philosophy because of the questions that are often raised and brought to the table then I would rethink this criticism. The purpose of attending an educational-institution is to expand one’s knowledge-base. In my personal-experience, I’ve found myself disagreeing on many occasions to the things that were being taught in the classroom. On the other hand, I’ve found myself in total agreement with what was being taught. So, I believe a person will have to keep in mind why they are seeking out education. I don’t believe education, especially at the collegiate-level should be about making everyone feel comfortable. I believe questions should be raised that will make people think and question. If secular science and secular philosophy causes individuals to think about themselves and the world around them then I am all for it. I believe it’s vital for any person to do this. However, if a person happens to become disengaged from their religion then this is a decision that they have made. We can’t always blame education. Why do we encourage education if we can’t accept the simple notion that our knowledge-bases will be questioned and analyzed? What exactly do we expect out of educational-institutions? As a seeker of all forms of education, I welcome the various discussions that take place within the classroom-setting. In many ways, I feel that individuals usually leave their religion because they aren’t finding truth and purpose in it. So, how can you blame a person’s choice in leaving their religion on education? If an individual doesn’t find purpose in their religion then education isn’t the problem. The problem lies within that individual’s heart.

So, I believe that secular education isn’t truly the problem to a person’s choice in leaving religion. I believe it lies in an individual’s personal connection to their religious-affiliation. If a person finds their religion as purposeless and meaningless than they’re more apt to leave it than to stay a practitioner of it. I’ve practiced religion all of my life and never stopped due to secularism. However, I am not discrediting that some people may have left religion due to the influence of education, but this can’t be the claim for every adherent that leaves religion. Education has become another scape-goat for keeping people from critically-thinking. In choosing to live Islam, I’ve found myself constantly thinking about the Quranic instruction of pondering and reflecting upon the world. In being an adherent of religion, I believe it is essential to critically think about my role as an individual within the world and as an adherent of a particular religion. I’ve never been told by Quranic text to simply believe without reflecting. So, in my journey of living Islam and being a student of secular-education I don’t find myself using education as a scapegoat. I will never claim that secular education is bad essentially. I find it useful and an important tool in being critical of ourselves as consumers of our global-community. Additionally, I believe an adherent of religion can easily find themselves practicing religion and learning secular-knowledge.
In going back to the original argument, I believe that the speaker at this particular conference was wrong in saying that adherent of religion should avoid secular philosophy. Why? What is bad about secular philosophy? Can we be sure that secular knowledge was the reason for this man’s decision in leaving his religion? However, these questions are irrelevant because we can’t claim that every adherent of religion will apostate due to secular knowledge because at the end of the day the question of religion and its place within society depends upon individuals. We have to understand that a person’s choice of leaving or adhering to a particular religion is dependent upon their connection/adherence of it. For many people, the choice to leave a religion is due to its lack of purpose and meaning. So, if religion lacks meaning and purpose than individuals will most likely turn away from it due to its ineffectiveness. In understanding this, it is important to see how secular-knowledge is a poor excuse for a scapegoat when bigger questions are being raised about the role of religion within our lives and within societies globally.


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