This is an Introduction written by Tom Hall and given at the launching of Lloyd Geering’s, In Praise of the Secular
It is the high calling of prophets, artists, and teachers to help us see things more clearly and thereby to live more wisely and happily. For well more than half a century Lloyd Geering has combined these roles by enabling people the world over to see where they stand in the slowly unfolding process of human self-discovery.
Such tutelage is never easy, for like children we are loath to give up our familiar toys until someone requires or persuades us to do so. Besides, the myriad events that comprise the broad sweep of global history are not easily arranged into understandable patterns. Engrossed by the trees that comprise our daily experience, we tend to ignore the forest that they are but a part of.
It has been said, for instance, that the driving economic engine of slavery so permeated first-century Greco-Roman culture that even religious visionaries paid little explicit attention to its inherent moral depravity. A noted scholar recently suggested that the dynamic force behind our global culture – capitalism – is a similar phenomenon.
However arguable that second hypothesis may be, it is certain that Lloyd Geering is correct in pointing out something we often overlook: that secularism is both a growing force in society worldwide and the dominant feature of western culture (even including that bastion of reactionary theology known as the United States). In a recent series of lectures, and now in this printed version of his text, he has thus consummated the public discourse he began in 2004 with a similar opus entitled “Is Christianity Going Anywhere?” (It is, he answered, if it prunes the suckers and the dead wood from its healthy branches and joins the growing consensus that this world is the only one we have.)
He continued in 2005 with “The Greening of Christianity,” in which he showed that this world of ours is threatened by our thoughtless and even calculated ecological assaults, and envisioned a new Christian dispensation centered on reverence for the planet and the delicate web of life it sustains.
Now he has followed the lead of the Renaissance sage Erasmus, whose droll and counter-intuitive title “In Praise of Folly” similarly introduced a critical assessment of a conflicted and self-satisfied society. Our present paradox, Lloyd notes, is that willy-nilly we live in a secular society lately evolved from Christendom – one in which liberal spiritualities are under assault by both religious fundamentalists and militant atheists.
But then, liberty has always fought an uphill battle against political and ecclesiastical tyrannies, and has always demanded a high level of individual responsibility. The personal freedom offered by secularism – which includes a free choice of spiritual pathways – is what Lloyd Geering sees as a beacon of hope as we strive to create the global society of tomorrow.
Indeed, one may well see in this little volume an echo of one of Jesus’ most radical and authentic teachings – the parable of the Leaven – the essence of which is the inspired insight that only when the sacred and the secular are made one will the Kingdom of God have come.
I propose, then, that in addition to recognizing his courage and determination forty years ago, we owe Lloyd heartfelt thanks for continuing to show us the way to live more wisely and happily.