“To think secularly is to think within a frame of reference bounded by the limits of our life on earth; it is to keep one’s calculations rooted in this-worldly criteria. To think Christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God.” Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind
Someone recently asked me if I thought all the obstacles and setbacks she was experiencing were God’s opposition to her course of action on a matter. Interpreting the will of God through circumstances presents some difficulties. What I particularly appreciated about her question, however, was her effort to think Christianly.
Blamires posits six characteristics of Christian thinking. The first is a supernatural orientation. “A prime mark of the Christian mind is that it cultivates the eternal perspective. That is to say, it looks beyond this life to another one. It is supernaturally orientated, and brings to bear upon earthly considerations the fact of Heaven and the fact of Hell.”
To the secular mind, Christian thinking is irrational and superstitious. The material universe comprises the only reality for the secularist. Only that which can be experienced with the physical senses defines the real world. To throw in spiritual explanations for physical events abandons the rational and scientific explanation of reality. Suggestions of a God or an afterlife only postpone real attempts to solve the problems of human suffering.
This secular presupposition now dominates Western thought. It has forced the Christian mind to move away from the table of discussion and take a seat along the wall as a spectator. When was the last time you heard a television commentator offer a supernatural perspective on the recent financial crisis? How many editorials have you read explaining our social and ethical problems from an eternal point of view? How would your teacher or professor respond if you tried to suggest a divine interpretation of homosexuality?
Trying to think Christianly in a secular culture is like trying to return to your seat because you think you left something, when everyone else is leaving the game. This marginalization of the Christian mind has discouraged many Christians from even trying to walk against the flow of the crowd. It is too much work.
Thus, many are content to segregate their beliefs from public life. A politician claims to have a personal belief informed by a religious faith on some social issue, but he is unwilling to infuse that private belief into the discourse on public policy. An employee never raises an objection to an unethical practice at his company, because it is widely practiced in business and his private moral values seem archaic at his office. “Indeed the Christian trains his mind, forces it, to think secularly – so as to help the job in hand to be done efficiently. In this way, by gradual stages, the Christian loses the habit of thinking christianly over the field of practical affairs in which he is actively involved.” (Blamires)
We must distinguish between the Christian mind and the religious mind here. Many people argue from a supernatural point of view, but that point of view would not properly fall within the bounds of Christian theology. The religious mind may seem agreeable to the Christian mind at times, but it clearly diverges when it rejects the supremacy of Christ over all of life.
Christians are complicit in the withdrawal of the Christian mind from public life. When media mocks Christianity, it scares many followers of Christ to keep their mouths shut – not just on the public issues, but on the less public ones, too. A secular backlash to excessive dogmatism or extreme theological views by some Christians can nurture a fear. This, in turn, results in the restraint of a Christian perspective in discussions with friends or colleagues on all sorts of matters. Christians end up blindly submitting to the prohibition, “Never discuss politics or religion in public.”
Blamires identifies one the leading contrasts in secular and Christian thinking. “For the Christian mind earthly well-being is not the summum bonum, as pain and death are not the worst evil. Eternal well-being is the final aim and end of things here. This means that success and prosperity within the earthly set-up cannot be regarded as a final criterion. Nor indeed can happiness within time be regarded as a final criterion.”
Unfortunately, too many Christians have been infected with this non-Christian perspective. Too often they are unwilling to give up temporal happiness for eternal well-being. If we would incorporate this truth into our choices and habits, we would make enormous strides in reintroducing Christian thinking into public discourse.
The Church in America needs radical reprogramming to cultivate the Christian mind. It must be done under the fire of secular opposition. But it must be done if it is going to have a voice in the public square. And without a voice, the witness to the gospel is lost.