How would you define the religion of our modern Secular Age?
While we might not be a formally religious culture anymore here in the West, everyone believes in something – about life, meaning and purpose—even the most secular of people. And so, what does our secular culture believe?
In his latest book, How to find yourself – Why Looking Inward is Not the Answer, Christian author and theologian Brian Rosner makes the case that the dominant (informal) belief system in the West today is expressive individualism: ‘the view that you are who you feel yourself to be on the inside and that acting in accordance with this identity constitutes living authentically’.
And so, he asks, what would it look like to pray as a secular expressive individualist? While Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, what would our secular culture pray?
Rosner developed the ‘Prayer of the Authentic Self’, a caricature of the Lord’s Prayer. But I think it sums up our culture’s obsession with Authenticity: an obsession that affects even Christians.
Here it is:
The Prayer of the Authentic Self
My essence within,
help me to find my authentic self,
my kingdom come,
my will be done,
from birth to seventh heaven.
Give me today my daily spread.
Forgive not my enemies as I suppress those who sin against me.
Lead me not into self-doubt but deliver me from all external authorities.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are mine now and for ever.
Why this prayer captures the religion of our secular age
While the Lord’s Prayer looks up to God, glorifying Him and asking Him for our needs, the Prayer of the Authentic Self glorifies self and looks inward for meaning, purpose and our needs.
Let’s take a look more closely at what the Prayer of the Authentic Self – and the Expressive Individualism that undergirds it – is based on:
1) It looks inward to find true identity
Only we get to determine who we are. And it’s all based on our inward desires (which is why, for the first time in human history, the phrase ‘I am a woman trapped in a man’s body’ makes sense and is celebrated by our culture).
2) Personal happiness is the highest goal
I must not sacrifice for others or some higher goal: I must satisfy my own needs if I’m to be happy because happiness is the aim of life.
3) Personal desire must not be challenged (especially sexual desires)
My desires are sacrosanct: they must be honoured at all costs.
4) All external authority must be rejected
Nobody gets to tell me how I’m to live my life.
5) The glorification of individual freedom
We attain glory by being free to do what we want to do.
6) The controlling narrative is that of triumphant personal achievement and experience
Our Social Media feeds are filled with stories of personal triumphs and experiences because these things give modern people meaning. If you don’t have them, your life is seen to be lacking in meaning (and let’s face it: who feels their life is more meaningful after scrolling social feeds complete with other people’s experiences and achievements?).
7) The self-made self looks to others, but only to defeat perceived enemies
We use others to achieve our happiness. And woe to anyone that stands in our way.
8) It looks backward and forward, but only to its kingdom of me
Secular culture is increasingly obsessed with our life stories, which we showcase on social media. We are the point and the apex of life.
9) It looks forward to the goal of earthly fulfilment and bliss
There is no heaven above or earth beneath: there is only now, and we must make the most of it at all costs. ‘You only live once’ – YOLO – is the a motto of our secular age.
10) It never looks up to God but ignores Him (or uses Him to find personal meaning and comfort)
If God serves me and my purposes, then He can be part of my life. But submitting to Him? That sounds oppressive, and therefore unthinkable.
Welcome to the religion of our secular age.
Article supplied with thanks to Akos Balogh.
About the Author: Akos is the Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition Australia. He has a Masters in Theology and is a trained Combat and Aerospace Engineer.