Secular Postmodernism does not recognize any god-like beings or metaphysical forces. There is the natural world only—no divine power, no God, no angels—because there is no scientific evidence for anything but the natural world. Human pronouncements on the supernatural vainly attempt to verify what cannot be substantiated.
One person may say that she is a humanist, a moral relativist, and a strict materialist. Another may describe himself as a hedonist, a stoic, a cynic, and an environmentalist. These identities all have manifestation in what is broadly called Secular Postmodernism. Individually and lumped together, they are philosophies, not religions.
What is humanity without God? A remarkable animal. Humanity was originally nothing more than a bottom feeder in the primordial ooze, but through genetic mutation, random chance and multi-millions of years, humans became something more biologically complex. Like every other animal, from aardvarks to zebras, humanity needs food to survive. If they hunt successfully, they will live. If not, they will die.
Humans are social animals on one hand. On the other, they have appetites for sex and territory that make them warring animals.
Unlike other animals, humanity can imagine suffering, in addition to merely remembering pain. They can look to the future. They can plan for it but usually not very well.
Or perhaps man and woman are just a consumer of goods and services. Economics, specifically the clash between labor and capital, is the sole determinate of human history.
Or if you like, where we are now as a species was determined by gender or race, psychology or prejudice, maybe many combinations of what we cannot or will not control.
No matter what you think, the sun will go out in four billion years, and it will not make any difference how we get however far we go because this physical world will all be gone.
Can one act morally within the context of existential bleakness? Certainly. One can do what feels good or what parents taught. One can base their behavior on activities that do not alienate them from their neighbors. Individually, one can be selfless, honest, and hard-working, in spite of social pressure to be self-serving. Globally, one can advocate for peace, the disclosure of UFO files, and the recycling of beer cans.
There is some common ground between philosophy and religion. Many philosophies take up questions of what is good and how people should act. In providing guidelines for living, philosophies espouse ethics, just as religions do. But religions differ from philosophies in several ways.
Only a religion has rituals. From that perspective, only a religion has holy days. Only a religion has ceremonies to sanctify birth, marriage, and death.
Some religions like Buddhism and Confucianism have often been termed philosophies by Westerners. Zen Buddhists do not teach about a Supreme Being because, first and foremost, the goal for Zen adherents is to find enlightenment within themselves. Other Buddhist sects, such as Pure Land, do believe in a transcendent God. However, because of their rituals, ceremonies, and venerated texts, Buddhism and Confucianism have more in common with religions than with pure philosophies like Marxism.
Philosophies use reason to discern what is true, and religions rely on both reason and revelation.
Reason depends solely upon the use of unaided human thought. Reason does not appeal to the authority of God or to tradition to establish truth. Religion often depends on revelation, a gift of knowledge given in a holy text or directly from God. Accepting reason requires thought, but accepting revelation requires adding belief.
Religions teach that miracles, which appear to averse commonly held beliefs about nature, are actually real. Miraculous events are not metaphorical or symbolic tales that represent some divine principle. In nature, for example, bushes do not burn without being consumed, and people do not rise from the dead.
Miracles are examples of God’s power and love for people of faith. They are also classic examples of how religions can seem irrational to philosophers, who seek to prove all truth by reason.
Religions and philosophies are like two overlapping circles. They share the search for what is true about life on earth. The belief that stealing and murder are wrong is a place where the circles overlap. The beliefs in Moses’ splitting the Red Sea or in Buddha’s turning rain into a shower of flowers are parts of the religious circle that do not touch the circle of secular postmodern philosophy.
In every culture, in every era, there have always been individuals who do not believe in God. The following history attempts to show how many people who ascribe to some form of secular postmodernism also do not believe in God
The Enlightenment is generally identified as taking place between 1680 and 1860 AD. The period started with the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, reaching its epitome with the discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton. As time progressed, the industrial and agricultural revolutions changed the face of town and country in the West. But if William Blake’s “dark Satanic mills” blighted the landscape, there also was great romantic hope that technological advancement would bring about humanity’s ability to control the environment to the good of both humanity and nature. Thereby, God would be pleased with a world in harmony.
Modernism extended from the writings of Charles Darwin in the mid-nineteeth century and petered out by the end of the twentieth, as many scientists and social commentators excised God (and all religions) from any hope of helping achieve harmony. The worldview of modernism, and the philosophies that orbited its worldview, became increasingly materialist. For example, by the end of the nineteenth century, the avant-garde in French architecture were describing a house as “a machine” that contained people.
Some place the beginning of Postmodernism with the Nazi terror and the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan in 1945. More look to the 1970s as a starting point. Postmodernism embraces all the materialism preceding it with cynicism and subjectivity. Adding Secular to Postmodernism emphasizes that God need not apply.
Secular Postmodernism can contain some elements of Eastern mysticism but mostly as a way to get back at the prejudices of Western religions and rationalism. What distinguishes Postmodernism from Modernism is a bleak sense of absurdity. Progress is haphazard: witness World War II and the coming Ice Age to be brought on by humanity’s disregard for Mother Earth. Humans cannot count on anything because everything is relative.
Although a pure Secular Postmodernist would not think that history can be informative of anything but an author’s own biases, it is necessary to consider how ancient Greek philosophers spoke of the gods worshipped by common folk. The likes of Socrates and Aristotle regarded those gods as useful but phantasmagorical symbols. From time to time during the history of Western civilization, to hold similar views was either fashionable or very dangerous.
For almost a century, from the mid-sixteenth until the mid-seventeenth century AD, a European thinker with strong religious beliefs—to purify the state sanctioned church, to separate from it, to pray or plot for the return of Catholicism, to shrug it all off—was prudent to keep those thoughts to themself.
During this time, sometimes-bloody consequences for speaking out existed throughout Europe. The Enlightenment was a seventeenth century reaction to this abuse. In the centuries prior to the Enlightenment, Christianity’s Dark Ages smothered the supposed pagan glory of Imperial Rome. Then the light of the Renaissance was snuffed out by religious conflicts. However, the Enlightenment birthed scientific advancement, the Industrial Revolution, and true religious understanding in the form of Higher Criticism.
Higher criticism was developed by theologians in Germany and spread across Europe and into the New World. The basic assumption was that the Bible should be studied as text only, setting aside any claims of divine inspiration and designating the miracles as mere folklore. The conclusions of this criticism were virtually inevitable. In spite of the fact that key conclusions did not fare well under coming discoveries in archeology and in linguistics, higher criticism by other names still today has a strong influence on academics, theological and otherwise.
Religious revivals broke out alongside the growth of Secular Postmodernism. The First Great Awakening spread from the American Colonies to the British Isles. Philosophically and politically, it led to American calls for autonomy and ultimately to the Revolutionary War. The Second Great Awakening in an independent America gave new fire to the abolitionist movement and once again forced the issue of war, this time between the Northern states and the slave-holding South.
During the widespread American religious revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were outspoken “free thinkers,” otherwise known as atheists. Nearly every settlement had a free thinker who was usually regarded as an eccentric, but loveable fool. A sea change in respectability and the accompanying influence of atheism followed in the wake of Darwinism.
In the baldest terms, Darwinists introduced primates as the real parents of humanity, not Adam and Eve created in the Imago Dei, the Latin phrase meaning “the image of God.” Acceptance of that notion came not so much from scientists like Darwin as from philosophers.
Radically new ideas abounded—the “turn to the subject” of Descartes, Immanuel Kant’s insistence that the “autonomous self” is the only valid guide for moral action, and the social contract theories of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke. In the late 1800s, a name was given for it all—philosophical pragmatism.
With materialism at its heart, philosophical pragmatism attempted to develop a comprehensive philosophy of life that could satisfy the need of most people to make sense of existence. Therein was the root of modernism, from which would blossom Secular Postmodernism.
Pragmatists enthusiastically embraced Darwinism and recognized that an entire new worldview could be built from its fundamental principles. The twentieth century saw Darwinian and pragmatic bases for modern anthropological and psychological theorists. Traditional theologians retreated from academia, while radically liberal and militantly conservative activists promoted political agendas with religious zeal.
Dostoevsky said that if God is dead, everything is justifiable. In humanity’s search for morality and happiness outside of God, all three have been lost—God, morality, and happiness.
No writings are sacred to Secular Postmodernists because the philosophy holds that there is no absolute truth. They favor and give great authority, however, to Western nonreligious literature that draws from great minds of philosophy, such as Plato, Socrates, and Spinoza, and from major contributors in science, such as Einstein, Darwin, and Huxley.
Additionally, Secular Postmodernists tend to value Eastern mystical and “New Age” literature, such as the works of Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Barbara Marx Hubbard, as well as the writings of prime movers in Enlightenment-era politics, such as Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Thomases, Jefferson and Paine.
THE RELIGION OF DEISM COMPARED TO THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION
By Thomas Paine
Every person, of whatever religious denomination he may be, is a DEIST in the first article of his Creed. Deism, from the Latin word Deus, God, is the belief of a God, and this belief is the first article of every man’s creed.
It is on this article, universally consented to by all humankind that the Deist builds his church, and here he rests. Whenever we step aside from this article, by mixing it with articles of human invention, we wander into a labyrinth of uncertainty and fable, and become exposed to every kind of imposition by pretenders to revelation.
The Persian shows the Zend-Avesta of Zoroaster, the lawgiver of Persia, and calls it the divine law; the Bramin shows the Shaster, revealed, he says, by God to Brama, and given to him out of a cloud; the Jew shows what he calls the law of Moses, given, he says, by God, on the Mount Sinai; the Christian shows a collection of books and epistles, written by nobody knows who, and called the New Testament; and the Mahometan shows the Koran, given, he says, by God to Mahomet: each of these calls itself revealed religion, and the only true Word of God, and this the followers of each profess to believe from the habit of education, and each believes the others are imposed upon.
But when the divine gift of reason begins to expand itself in the mind and calls man to reflection, he then reads and contemplates God and His works, and not in the books pretending to be revelation. The creation is the Bible of the true believer in God. Everything in this vast volume inspires him with sublime ideas of the Creator. The little and paltry, and often obscene, tales of The Bible sink into wretchedness when put in comparison with this mighty work.
By Raymond Bragg
The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. The time is past for mere revision of traditional attitudes. Science and economic change have disrupted the old beliefs. Religions the world over are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience. In every field of human activity, the vital movement is now in the direction of a candid and explicit humanism. In order that religious humanism may be better understood we, the undersigned, desire to make certain affirmations which we believe the facts of our contemporary life demonstrate.
There is great danger of a final, and we believe fatal, identification of the word religion with doctrines and methods which have lost their significance and which are powerless to solve the problem of human living in the 20th Century. Religions have always been means for realizing the highest values of life. Their end has been accomplished through the interpretation of the total environing situation (theology or world view), the sense of values resulting there from (goal or ideal), and the technique (cult), established for realizing the satisfactory life. A change in any of these factors results in alteration of the outward forms of religion. This fact explains the changefulness of religions through the centuries. But through all changes religion itself remains constant in its quest for abiding values, an inseparable feature of human life.
Today man’s larger understanding of the universe, his scientific achievements, and deeper appreciation of brotherhood, have created a situation which requires a new statement of the means and purposes of religion. Such a vital, fearless, and frank religion capable of furnishing adequate social goals and personal satisfactions may appear to many people as a complete break with the past. While this age does owe a vast debt to the traditional religions, it is nonetheless obvious that any religion that can hope to be a synthesizing and dynamic force for today must be shaped for the needs of this age. To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present. It is a responsibility which rests upon this generation. We therefore affirm the following:
FIRST: Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.
SECOND: Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process.
THIRD: Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.
FOURTH: Humanism recognizes that man’s religious culture and civilization, as clearly depicted by anthropology and history, are the product of a gradual development due to his interaction with his natural environment and with his social heritage. The individual born into a particular culture is largely molded by that culture.
FIFTH: Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values. Obviously humanism does not deny the possibility of realities as yet undiscovered, but it does insist that the way to determine the existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assessment of their relations to human needs. Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.
SIXTH: We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of “new thought.”
SEVENTH: Religion consists of those actions, purposes, and experiences which are humanly significant. Nothing human is alien to the religious. It includes labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation – all that is in its degree expressive of intelligently satisfying human living. The distinction between the sacred and the secular can no longer be maintained.
EIGHTH: Religious Humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now. This is the explanation of the humanist’s social passion.
NINTH: In the place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer the humanist finds his religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a cooperative effort to promote social well being.
TENTH: It follows that there will be no uniquely religious emotions and attitudes of the kind hitherto associated with belief in the supernatural.
ELEVENTH: Man will learn to face the crises of life in terms of his knowledge of their naturalness and probability. Reasonable and manly attitudes will be fostered by education and supported by custom. We assume that humanism will take the path of social and mental hygiene and discourage sentimental and unreal hopes and wishful thinking.
TWELFTH: Believing that religion must work increasingly for joy in living, religious humanists aim to foster the creative in man and to encourage achievements that add to the satisfactions of life.
THIRTEENTH: Religious humanism maintains that all associations and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life. The intelligent evaluation, transformation, control and direction of such associations and institutions with a view to the enhancement of human life is the purpose and program of humanism. Certainly religious institutions, their ritualistic forms, ecclesiastical methods, and communal activities must be reconstituted as rapidly as experience allows, in order to function effectively in the modern world.
FOURTEENTH: The humanists are firmly convinced that existing acquisitive and profit-motivated society has shown itself to be inadequate and that a radical change in methods, controls, and motives must be instituted. A socialized and cooperative economic order must be established to the end that the equitable distribution of the means of life be possible. The goal of humanism is a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good. Humanists demand a shared life in a shared world.
FIFTEENTH AND LAST: We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow.
Secular Postmodernism rejects modernism’s autonomous individualism and all that follows from it. Rather than seeing humanity as an ocean of individuals, Secular Postmodernists think of humans as “social constructs.”
Rather than conceiving of the mind as a mirror of nature, Secular Postmodernists argue that reality is viewed through the lens of culture. Socio-economic backgrounds, community members, education, and everything else about a person influences the way they perceive every situation. Even simple observation of a situation requires interaction with it, by which the situation is changed to some degree.
In the place of objective truth and comprehensive worldviews, Secular Postmodernists honor “local narratives” or stories about reality that “work” for particular communities. Beyond their original contexts, stories may have no validity. Indeed, Secular Postmodernists reject the language of truth and reality in favor of literary terms like narrative and story. The philosophy is all about interpretation.
Secular Postmodernists argue that the pretense of objective truth always does violence because it excludes minority voices, invalidates contrary worldviews, and marginalizes the vulnerable by scripting them out of the story. According to this way of thinking, claims to truth are essentially tools to legitimatize those in power.
Because of these attitudes about subjectivity and truth, Secular Postmodernists believe that everything must be questioned. Questioning builds more complete understanding of what affects the way humans think. Only by recognizing our inherent and inescapable subjectivity can we see more clearly. As a result, postmodernism is all about self-awareness.
BRANCHES OF SECULAR POSTMODERNISM
Secular Postmodernism is a large umbrella covering many different views. Among the main schools of thought within Secular Postmodernism are:
Atheists reject any belief in God or gods.
Scientists/naturalists believe the world can be understood in scientific terms without any spiritual or supernatural explanations.
New Age Movement
The New Age Movement is free flowing and broad in Western culture. It is characterized by an individualistic, eclectic approach to spiritual exploration. It has some attributes of an emerging religion but is currently a loose network of spiritual seekers, gurus, and psychic healers.
SECULAR POSTMODERNISM IN THE MARKETPLACE
Secular Postmodernism’s approach to business ethics is that there are no ethics. To suggest an absolute truth is absolutely intolerable. It is arrogant for anyone to assert they grasp anything more than personal history.
The concept of not having a religion is relatively new to the world. The vast majority of people throughout history have had at least a nominal commitment to some sort of absolute, such God, or the gods, or an impersonal principle that they believed guided the world and life.
Secular Postmodernists are optimistic because they can make up their own meanings for the purposes of being in business. Most ascribe to ethics that can be loosely termed positive and humane. But they are simultaneously pessimistic because there is no meaning or purpose in life to believe in.
Some Secular Postmodernists are highly “moral,” in that that they are committed to certain principles, even if those principles are immoral from a religious point of view. Others are moral as long as it is convenient. Still others are concerned only about not being caught doing something illegal.
The key point for a Secular Postmodernist is that they cannot be faulted for anything. Each has constructed his or her own meaning, purpose, or philosophy when it comes to commerce. The ethical standards practiced last week may not be the standards that operate next week. If “reality” changes, so do secular postmodernist business ethics.
“Do no harm to the earth, she is your mother. Being is more important than having. Never promote yourself at another’s expense. Hold life sacred; treat it with reverence. Allow each person the dignity of his or her labor. Open your home to the wayfarer.”
—Arthur Dobrin, A Humanist Code of Ethics