LDS Growth Encyclopedia on Missionary Work and Church Growth (Missiology)

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Secularism

Author: Matt Martinich

Posted: September 28th, 2013

Secularism is traditionally defined as the separation of religious and civil affairs in government to prevent the interference of religious values and beliefs on the formation and enforcement of laws and government policies.  Secularism in government aims to eliminate inequalities among its populace that may be inflicted as a result of differing religious beliefs exhibited by the population.  In other words, a secular government avoids the imposition of policies and legislation that favor or promote the values of one religious group or authority over another and attempts to divorce itself from religious values and principles.  The goals of a secular government often include religious tolerance, religious pluralism, and equality.

Secularism in government has been frequently accompanied with the rejection or indifference of religious beliefs and values on a social or cultural level.  Although it is not entirely clear how secularism in government often reduces the religiosity of societies and cultures, the role of religion as a cultural artifact rather than a source of policy and legislation in government appears to have had an influence on how religion is viewed by the general population.  Many secular countries have experienced modernization and have high standards of living, resulting in increased materialism and consumerism.  A combination of secular government and modernization appear to have eroded the religiosity of most populations in Western Europe, industrialized East Asian countries, and North America.  The governments of some countries have enforced secular principles to the extreme that they violate religious freedom under the premise that religion creates inequality.  Countries where governments have professed or have officially adopted atheism often experience low levels of religiosity, especially when government restrictions on religious freedom prevent worship and improvements in living conditions occur such as in the former Soviet Union and communist countries in East Asia. 

One Christian writer described the transformation from a religious to a secular society as follows:

"The struggle to live ethically without God has left us not with the just and moral order we imagined but with disorder and confusion...Something has gone radically wrong with secularism.  The problem has more than its share of irony, for secularism, in the end, has converted itself into a kind of religion. ...Now the transition is complete: the state has become the church."[1]

Receptivity to nontraditional Christian faiths is often poor in countries where secularism predominates.  The LDS Church generally reports stagnant growth in secular countries where the majority of the population is unaffiliated with a religious faith or nominally adhere to a religious group.  Finding investigators to teach is often challenging due to disinterest in organized religion.  Investigators and prospective converts often experience greater struggles in testimony development and following church teachings in countries with a strong influence of secularism on society than in countries where secularism has a weaker influence.  A lack of religious influence on society has often exacerbated behaviors that stand in opposition to LDS teachings such as substance abuse, casual sexual relations, cohabitation before marriage, and shopping and recreation on Sundays.  Some issues pertaining to faith, belief, and attitude also present challenges such as approaching the traditionally conflicting views of science and religion, the belief of one's relationship with God, and the role of personal revelation and Sunday worship in religious identity.

Secularism constitutes one of the greatest challenges for LDS Church growth.  One of the greatest barriers to effective outreach among secular individuals has been the lack of common ground pertaining to fundamental beliefs like God and revelation.  Missionaries often cannot build upon basic beliefs and consequently struggle to teach and progress investigators to attend church, read the scriptures, and pray daily.  LDS proselytism efforts have struggled to adapt the missionary lessons in countries where secularism constitutes the dominant influence on society.  To date there have been no specialized teaching manuals or resources that specifically address the difficulties presented by secularism although the Church has developed specialized resources for addressing some issues such as same-sex attraction.[2]

The outlook for the LDS Church addressing the challenges presented by secularism in its missionary and church growth efforts is poor as there have continued to be little research and no specialized resources for addressing this challenge.  Within recent years the Church has increasingly emphasized the role of member-missionary activity in many secular countries which has helped sustain growth or even slightly accelerated growth.  However, growth rates in most of these countries remains significantly less than prior to the advent of secularism and modernization.


 

[1]  Marin, Peter. "Secularism's Blind Faith," Harper's Magazine, Sept. 1995, 20

 

[2]  "God Loveth His Children," lds.org, 2007.  https://www.lds.org/manual/god-loveth-his-children/god-loveth-his-children