Today is open secular day

by Neil Rickert

It’s still Wednesday in Chicago.  But blog time is UTC, so for the blog it is Thursday April 23, which is Open Secular Day.

People who have been following this blog will already know that I am not religious.  I have never tried to hide that.  Here, I’ll describe what it means to me.

Teaching

As an educator, I have endeavored to keep religion out of the classroom.  (My teaching was at university level in mathematics and computer science).  I don’t think most of my students would have had any inkling as to my religious view.  Perhaps, for my last few years of teaching, some might have seen my blog and worked it out from there.  But I have never mentioned this blog in class either.  For that matter, I have also kept my political views out of the classroom.

Admittedly, mathematics and computer science are areas where it is relatively easy to stay away from religion.  If I were instead teaching some other subject, I like to think that I would stay away from religion and politics there, too.

Relation to religion

While I am not religious, I am also not anti-religion.  If you were to tell me that you are religious, I would not attempt to argue with you about it.  I see that as your private choice, and I would actually prefer that you not bring it up.

If you were to tell me that you are a YEC (young earth creationist), I might respond by saying that I disagree.  But, again, I would not try to argue you out of that position.  I see that as your private choice.

If you were to tell me that you were going to campaign to have creationism taught in the public schools, then I would do what I could to oppose you.  I respect your right to have whatever views you want as a private person, but creationist nonsense does not belong in the public schools.  Just as I keep my religious views out of the classroom, so also should others.

My religious history

My mother took me to her church (the Church of England) every week, until around age 8.  I had no choice in that, and it meant nothing to me.  From around age 8 to around age 12, I attended a different Church of England.  I had been recruited as a choir boy for St. Georges Cathedral, in Perth.  I enjoyed the singing, but paid no attention to the sermons.

At around age 12, as my voice began to break, I was no longer welcomed in the choir.  My mother resumed taking me to her church.  I balked at that.  My parents gave me only one alternative — I could attend a different church.  So I started to show up at an evangelical church that was just down the road.  It was, at least, preferable to the Church of England.  The sermons were clear, and not in vague generalities.

I was persuaded to become a Christian,  and was seriously involved the program of that local church.  My pastor persuaded me to read the Bible, so I did.  I started with Genesis and with Matthew, as two concurrent reading exercises.

I continued with that church through my high school years and into University.  But I was slowly coming to realize that the church was full of pious hypocrites, of people whose everyday lives did not reflect the religion that they professed.  At the same time, I was discovering from my reading of the old testament, that the God it depicted was very different from the new testament God, and was changing over time.  That began to suggest that God was evolving.  And since God was supposed to be timeless, that in turn suggested that it was man who had created God, rather than the other way around.

In the meantime, with my new testament readings, I was developing the uneasy feeling that Jesus had never actually claimed to be God.

At around age 23, I junked it all.  By this time, I was in graduate school.  I suppose the break from religion was easier because I was a long way from home.  My conclusion was that it was mostly a human construct.  There might well have been a Jesus as a moral teacher.  But just about everything else in Christian theology seemed made up.

My adult life

I have been without religion for most of my adult life.  I still think there is something very positive about the moral teachings of Jesus.  So I suppose that I haven’t given up everything.  I guess you could say that I somewhat agree with Frank Schaeffer, when he suggests that it is the humanist enlightenment, rather than the church, which is the real carrier of the teachings of Jesus.

So that’s my religious background, and that’s why I am openly secular.

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