Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Sacred and the Secular

There is that standard term ”the sacred and the profane”. Sacred of course means the church. Everything else is the profane.

The term is no doubt centuries old and goes back to when the church was equal to or greater than the local civil authority or king. The aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire left many gaps and many niche opportunities for those willing to fill those gaps. Many of the basic civil institutions of western and European countries started first as church entities.

Profane as a word or description has picked up much too much negative connotation over these recent centuries.

For the sake of anything you might read here, I am using or will be using the word secular in place of the word profane, to mean the common man or woman’s world outside of any religious organizations.

Secular of course and of late has a nasty connotation especially in conjunction with the use of the word humanism. That is another article.

I live in a secular world. The USA is a market economy and goes non stop 24/7, twenty four hours a day and seven days a week in case you have never seen or totally understood that new cliché of communication.

So many things culturally are changing today. The fast pace of life has taken over the way we live in this secular world.

As a child, and half a century ago, my local neighborhood was immersed in the traditional nineteenth and early twentieth century predominate Christian culture. That meant that six days per week commerce was conducted. On Sunday, the Sabbath, stores did not open. The origin of the term “blue laws” in Pennsylvania applied to moral conduct codes and legislated by the state assembly.

Open a store on Sunday and get fined or arrested. In our neighborhood that was true but we played a little bit of a local variance of the law thing. Since orthodox Jews were closed on Saturday, their Sabbath, these grocers opened their stores from nine A.M. to one P.M. on Sunday and sold mostly milk and bread. My father would be buying milk on the way home from church from the Jewish Deli for my baby sister.

Over the years in larger urban centers, these local blue laws began to be ignored or legislated out of existence.

The stage was set for supermarkets and malls to do business seven days a week.

This commerce thing did not immediately weaken the religious thing. The tradition of not shopping on Sunday or keeping a quiet stay at home Sabbath lingered on depending on local regions.

Speaking to somebody recently who grew up in rural Georgia, the collapse of the no shopping on Sunday tradition budged a little when the local K-Mart opened from 12 to 4 on Sundays in the early eighties.

All this coincided with the expanding suburban mall culture, with the local indoor fountain area or food court in the local mall becoming the equivalent of the traditional American town square.

Many factors pulled the American culture away from the traditional sacred culture of the past.

Secularism did not happen as some evil satanic campaign to rob the sacredness from Sunday. It just happened.

So when I hear the strong political voice of American evangelicalism and their faint hope to go back to some sort of rural farm sacred Sunday kind of place, I have to concede that the dream sounds great. Shut down the Malls, our new 21st Century Cathedrals of Commerce on Sunday? I don’t think so.

It is a secular world and we are very much a part of it.