The Trickery of “Secular”

I had a wild time Tuesday afternoon when I tried to convince an adjunct faculty member that his “secular” is my “Christian supremacy.”

It took me a few minutes to put my finger on why exactly his claim was bogus, because he was using such stupendous verbal slight-of-hand (slight-of-tongue?) that I was not clear, at first, whether or not he was trying to characterize America as a Christian nation. I mean, he jumped from “justice is secular” (is not! should be, but is not!) to “the Founding Fathers were Christians” (except for the Deists, but what-evs; they are all dead anyway) in about 30 seconds. What was this dude doing?

It finally occurred to me that he was saying “secular” when all he meant was “civic.” I caught on when he told me — and here is proof-positive that a PhD doesn’t guarantee any degree of intelligence — that the Pledge of Allegiance is secular. Let us be clear. In my mind, the Pledge of Allegiance, or, as I’d rather call it, the Pledge of Monotheism, is not at all secular.

Suddenly, every conversation from earlier in the day made sense. I had been saying “secular” and meaning freedom from religious coercion. Other people had been saying “secular” and meaning civic expressions of Christianity.

The secular movement is important to me because it is a space from which I cannot be exiled if I refuse to parrot a creed, if I refuse to stand for values I do not hold, or if I refuse to lie by pretending to pray while you pray. My strength is my refusal. The secular is where I am included, and where I am allowed to speak truth. The idea that the secular can be corrupted to refer to the civic glove on the fist of Christian supremacy or the middle-finger of Christian privilege is dizzying.

Secular means: you leave your gods at home, and I will not tell you why you should try reason instead. Liberal Christians need to stop trying to weasel into secular space. You are invited in — Jesus is not.