A Secular Sacred?

You probably missed the news story a couple weeks ago in The Washington Times about the brouhaha that erupted between France and Iran. The two counties faced a diplomatic meltdown over a dispute regarding the menu at a proposed dinner between their presidents. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani insisted the meal be alcohol-free and include only “halal meat,” according to Muslim dietary rules. But in France, a dinner without wine is unacceptable, so they counter-offered to make the meal a breakfast. The Iranians called that too cheap and not worthy of the participants of the meeting. Apparently you eat dinner with Iran’s president, not breakfast.

One supposes such diplomatic wrangling will get worked out. Who knows; maybe they’ll compromise and share a falafel lunch. What’s notable about this story is how it was reported in The Washington Times. The reporter, Kellan Howell stated, “A meal without wine is akin to blasphemy in France, where citizens hold secular ideals sacred.” [http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/11/france-wont-dine-without-wine-cancels-dinner-iran-/]

The words “blasphemy” and “sacred” apply to a realm of theology that is categorically alien to the word “secular.” “Secular” refers to the physical dimension of the here and now, to the exclusion of any realm beyond it. It’s the antonym to the word “sacred.” “Blasphemy” is to speak of or attribute evil to the divine, which by definition is spiritual.

Besides the Franco-Iranian dustup over menus which speaks volumes to the collision between a secular state and a religious state, Howell’s choice of words is revealing about the true nature of modern secularism. Human beings are incurably religious. They will even turn their irreligion into a religion and appropriate religious terms.

Stories like this ought to encourage Christians to remember that amidst all the bluster of those who say they are agnostics or atheists; there’s a spiritual itch that yearns to be scratched. The Gospel is the only hand that can bring relief. [Romans 1:16]