Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why Secularity May be the New Christian | Or | Refugees are Us

Charles Taylor calls them social imaginaries. Peter Berger calls them plausibility structures. Michael Polanyi calls them tacit dimensions. In Latin I guess you'd call it the nomos. Whatever it is, I'm pondering it today in light of the European refugee situation.

I notice, for example, that the largest "Christian" nation on earth (the United States) has a significant portion of its "Christian" population opposed to the welcome of immigrants. In comparison, some of the most "secular" nations of Europe (like Finland) are eager to welcome those seeking refuge.

This is where the social imaginary or whatever comes into play. How is it that secular communities can act out of Christian plausibility structures while Christians are acting out of secular ones? Or is it fair to say that it is part of the secular plausibility structure to resist immigrants? Or fair to label aspects of secularity "Christian" just because their policies and communal action resembles the kind of Christian faith commitments I also espouse.

That is, are the "new seculars" actually "anonymous Christians"?

Of course many other factors are at play. A nation's openness to immigrants/refugees is often a co-efficient of their economic and workforce situation. Germany needs new workers. the UK, less so. But the current "crisis" isn't fully explainable in these terms, so I'm pondering the religious and tacit dimensions.

Finally, I do think the current crisis is going to transform refugee resettlement globally, and is going to force us to revisit how we define refugees and migrants, how we treat them. And most importantly, it is going to be essential that we show compassion for ALL refugees, not just the current wave. More bluntly, why are we more responsive to this wave of Syrian refugees than we were to the continuing waves of refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa?

And oh my, if you read nothing else today, read this from Slavoj Žižek.


  1. Clint, I've thought about this too, noting that the "old" Lutheran countries have become so secular while at the same time inscribing in their constitutions and policies Christian values of care for the meekest, etc. Instead of social imaginary, what about the habitus of the Gospel, which has sunk in deep while the chaff of the Church is slowly blowing away. I think it's important to note too that that habitus has been chastened in Europe, in its failure with regard to fascism, etc. Anyway, I also hear in what your saying Gianni Vattimo's notion of weak Christianity, which I am interested in. And what if secularism in society is different yet overlaps with the experience of secularism in the church? Sorry so disjointed. I saw the Zizek. Big fan.

  2. Gotta' share with my ELCA/Episcopal pastor/priest/spouse (and the rest of my Facebook friends)!