FENTON, MI – Secondhand Faith is affecting our entire lives.
Secondhand faith is the prevailing spiritual mood that allows individuals to create, recreate, or crush his or her personal spirituality without that spirituality ever being challenged by anyone. Those holding to secondhand faith no longer believe in absolutes. People, by way of the internet and instantaneous global communication, believe that societies with opposing worldviews appear to thrive and suffer at their own pace regardless of their religious affiliation.
During four decades of service in Africa among Muslims, in Europe among postmoderns, and in North America among a mosaic of world religions, I noticed that a very small percentage of the population actually clung to classic religious teachings and practice. Most lived out a secondhand faith.
Meaning Behind Secondhand Faith
What do I mean by secondhand? Bargains were important to my family, when I was a little boy. We knew how to stretch a dollar. Possessions or gifts, whether they were new or secondhand, made no difference to us. My first guitar was a used-guitar with a neck so bowed that it was almost impossible to get the strings to touch the frets. I quit my guitar lessons after only three months, sore fingers and all. My red go-cart was also previously owned along with every small-engine that was attached to its frame.
I have lost track of the guitar and the go-cart. I cannot remember exactly when I stopped playing with them or what became of them. It is no surprise. They did not cost me anything. They were mine. I enjoyed them for a time. Then I lost interest. They became unimportant to me. They were secondhand.
It seems to me that we are treating spirituality in the same way that I treated my childhood gifts. We pick up our spirituality without a lot of thought. We hold it for a while. We modify it when we want. We mix our beliefs willy-nilly. We exchange it for another form whenever it suits our mood. And if life’s experiences threaten what we believe then we discard our quasi-spirituality. That is why I call this phenomenon secondhand faith.
Six Markers of Secondhand Faith
I learned to speak 3 modern languages. I’ve visited 20 countries and lived on 3 continents. I learned that our world is a colorful tapestry of languages, cultures, religions, philosophies, and peoples; yet, I found six markers of secondhand faith present in every area of the globe.
Once these attributes are identified and understood it is easy to see how this fraudulent faith has woven itself into the fabric of everyday life. These six traits are equally evident on the streets of our cities and in the sacred places of our society. I have observed the same six markers of secondhand faith in Africa, throughout Europe, and in North America. The six markers of secondhand faith are:
Let me suggest, as you become familiar with these six markers, that you ask yourself if today’s ambiguous, self-designed spirituality, with its six traits, is helping us to create a better world – or simply a more confused, chaotic one?
1. Divine Schizophrenia
“Divine Schizophrenia,” the first marker, says that any divine force is incapable of clear self-expression in one manner, simultaneously, to every culture and individual, therefore the divine force is revealed in different ways to different cultures and people.
Some may believe this divine force is a personal god, while others believe it to be energy, a design, or a destiny. People seem to believe that all religions, worldviews, and truth claims are valid and equal avenues of spiritual expression even though they may be contrary to one another. Those who hold to this point of view think that no individual culture possesses a complete description of a divine force; therefore, each community must ignore the other’s differences and accept their points of view and practices.
2. Blended Beliefs
The second marker, “Blended Beliefs,” like a spiritual buffet, allowing people to blend different spiritual views, into customized, confusing, and even contradictory mixtures.
People are creating a spirituality that conforms to their own personal notions. To their way of thinking, there are no universal codes of conduct or standards of belief; that would be too confining. Each person is free to choose his own divine force, lifestyle, and beliefs, thereby, creating an array of spiritual dishes.
3. Plastic Morals
The third trait, “Plastic Morals,” allows a person’s morality to change based upon their constantly changing circumstances, not their convictions.
Much like the plastic plates, cups, and flatware used during a picnic, morals can be jettisoned after they have served their purpose. This conviction promotes personal happiness, without remorse or guilt, as the highest goal. According to this conviction, when it comes to moral issues there are no universally right or wrong answers. There are no appropriate or inappropriate judgments. There are no moral distinctions that apply to every occasion, every place, and to every person. Therefore, personal principles and practices can be followed or disregarded at the whim of each individual.
4. Twisted Tolerance
The fourth attribute of “Twisted Tolerance” expects people to give their sincere support to the opposing beliefs and behaviors of other people.
Twisted tolerance is likely the strongest conviction. Strange behaviors are more tolerated in society, while traditional values are marginalized, ridiculed, or dismissed as trivial. People are no longer expected to simply put up with opposing points of view; now, they must validate contrary, even repulsive, opinions as acceptable and normal. As a result, people distrust anyone who thinks he has an absolute response for every situation. People label anyone a bigot, militant, or extremist if he is not completely approving of everyone else’s lifestyle and choices.
5. Worldly Ways
“Worldly Ways,” the fifth marker, shows how people have exchanged divine guidance for secular counselors.
People are attracted to worldly guides and self-designed ideas focusing on self-discovery, self-help, self-affirmation, and feel-good philosophies. People focus much more on the here-and-now rather than the hereafter. They want spirituality that is relevant to their daily lives and think that traditional religions have fallen short on relevancy. They think that human-focused spirituality is more important than pursuing God. People no longer look for guidance from the God of the Ages; instead they are listening to the gods of this age. People are creating demigods from this era of politicians, atheistic moral philosophers, financial mammoths, and celebrities hawking the latest spiritual fad.
6. Spiritual Consumerism
The sixth attribute, “Spiritual Consumerism” reveals how people are searching for that choice-driven, customized spirituality, suited to their own tastes, for the smallest cost to themselves.
People have become avid bargain hunters when it comes to spirituality. People have grown accustomed to enjoying goods and services for their own immediate gratification. It should be no surprise that economic habits have shaped spiritual habits. Shrewd shoppers have learned to search for bargains at the local malls and on the Internet. In the same way, they want to get all that they can from spirituality while giving up as little as possible. Self-gratification has replaced sacrifice. Convenience has replaced service. People are no longer worried about the epic questions, such as, “Why am I here?” They are too busy dealing with life’s immediate questions, such as, “How can I be happy, right now?” From their perspective, religion exists in order to make people happy or to help them cope with life. Spiritual consumerism is on the rise and rapidly climbing.
So how do we lead people to Christ and create dedicated disciples for the Lord is everyone is affected by secondhand faith? Let me invite you to read another section of this column during April, here in the Baptist Beacon, when I will explain how the people with whom we work are much different than decades ago.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.