A CASE AGAINST SECULARISM AND HUMANISM
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GEN 4:1-15, 25; PS 50:1,8,16-17,20-21; MARK 8:11-13]
Is religion the cause of division and hinders the development of humanity? This is the belief of secularists and humanists. They want to build an earthly paradise without God. They sincerely believe that religion destroys humanity because it is based on superstition and naivety and should be removed at all costs if humanity were to flourish and develop. Secularism, in truth, is not new. It is as old as humanity. In fact, in the first reading, we read the story of Cain and Abel. Cain could be said to be the Father of Secularism and Humanism. He sought to build the earthly paradise without God. He wanted to do it without relying on God. Does faith in God really impede the full development of humanity and unity among all? On the contrary, it is because of a lack of faith in God that men have supplanted themselves in place of God, causing the world to be more confused because they have lost the ground of their existence, their origin and their goal in life. Without faith in God, in the name of autonomy, every man has become his own god. When there are so many gods in the world, each claiming to be right in his view, division ensues because of half-truths and deception.
Let us examine Cain, the exemplar of a secularist and a humanist. He did not offer a pure sacrifice to God, unlike Abel. That was why the Lord rejected the offering of Cain because he was not sincere. “The Lord asked Cain, ‘Why are you angry and downcast? If you are well disposed, ought you not to lift up your head?” The book of Proverbs affirms that “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when brought with evil intent.” (Prv 21:27) The responsorial psalm echoes this similar message. “I find no fault with your sacrifices, your offerings are always before me. But how can you recite my commandments and take my covenant on your lips, you who despise my law and throw my words to the winds? You who sit and malign your brother and slander your own mother’s son?”
The response today says, “Pay your sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.” We are called to offer sacrifices so that we will not forget that all we have come from Him alone. We do not own what we have and we should be happy to offer all that we have back to God because He is the bestowal of all our gifts. Without His graciousness, we would not have anything in life. So we should recognize Him as the sovereign giver of gifts. Offering Him sacrifices is to remind ourselves of our place in this world. Cain was jealous of Abel because he failed to realize that his gifts were given to him by God. He thought that he earned the fruits of the harvest himself. When we offer our gifts to Him or give tithes, it is a way for us to thank Him.
Secondly, because Cain sought to build himself up without God, he became insecure and this led to ambition. Because he could rely on no one but himself, he became jealous of the success of Abel and this led him to further sins, ending in killing. The Lord warned Cain, “But if you are ill disposed, is not sin at the door like a crouching beast hungering for you, which you must master?” Cain allowed sin to devour him and lead him from one sin to another. St James said. “But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind” (Jms 3:14-16) Isn’t ambition and insecurity the cause of division in the world when everyone wants to grab more for himself? This leads to selfishness, greed, envy, stealing and killing. When man can only depend on himself, he becomes inward-looking because self-preservation is a human instinct, since we all fear death.
Thirdly, he forgot that life came from God. Cain took the place of God and killed Abel. In killing Abel, he forgot that only God can take away life because life is bestowed by Him alone. No one can create life. “‘What have you done?’ the Lord asked. ‘Listen to the sound of your brother’s blood, crying out to me from the ground. Now be accursed and driven from the ground that has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood at your hands. When you till the ground it shall no longer yield you any of its produce. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer over the earth.'” St John warned us, “We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (1 Jn 3:12)
Finally, like many of us, the loss of faith does not happen overnight. It is always preceded by the sin of disobedience and pride, ending in hostility against God. The sin of Cain began with pride, wanting to build an earthly paradise without God. This was a repeat of the sin of Adam and Eve because they too wanted to be like God without God. This led them to disobedience because of pride. So we read that after killing Abel, “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Gn 4:16) Eventually, he went away from the Lord completely. He attempted to build a human civilization without God. We read further on that his children, Jabal, “the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock”, Jubal, “ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe”, and Tubal-cain, “who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools.” (Gn 4:20f)
Through their natural gifts, they sought to develop creation without God until it reached a peak when technological advancement brought about greater division and disunity. This we read in the story of the Tower of Babel. “They said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built … So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth.” (cf Gn 11:3-9) Indeed, without God, man falls into disarray because he lacks guidance, wisdom, virtues and most of all the capacity to do good.
Today, we are called to imitate Seth, whom we read was the promoter of religion. “To Seth also a son was born, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to invoke the name of the Lord.” (Gn 4:26) It was Seth that helped his own family and people to know that God is their Lord and to acknowledge Him as such. We too must do the same and honour God, which is the first commandment. Only when God is acknowledged can there be peace on earth.
It is true that religions can also divide and impede humanity because of the lack of wisdom and revelation. However, not all religions are equally enlightened, just as not all human reasonings are rational and acceptable. Some religions only have rays of truth and not the fullness of truth, hence the disagreement among religions on certain doctrines. This is where dialogue remains the key to unity among religions and with secularists. It is not true that religion is the cause of disunity and impedes human development. On the contrary, religion seeks to grow in the fulness of truth and love. Faith is not against reason, but reason enlightened by faith will enable all men and women to come to the fullness of truth and love.
But without faith, reason alone cannot accept the truth. This was the situation of the Pharisees who did not have faith in Jesus in spite of the fact that Jesus had performed many miracles earlier on, the feeding of the Four Thousand, (Mk 8:1-10) the healing of the man who was deaf and dumb and delivering the Syrophoenician’s daughter from an evil spirit. (cf Mk 7:24-31) Jesus’ reaction was one of sadness and disappointment. “And with a sigh that came straight from the heart he said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign? I tell you solemnly, no sign shall be given to this generation.’ And leaving them again and re-embarking he went away to the opposite shore.” The people missed a great opportunity to encounter God and find healing and peace. We too must not be misled by humanism and secularism that the path to peace and development is to depend and rely on our intellect and strength alone.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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