What is not held by faith

Much of our world is divided into two. In the majority world, we are told that there are two kinds of NGOs working; faith based, and ‘not-faith-based’. Christians tend to go along with this terminology. ‘We’ are the ones doing faith-based development. Other people are doing the ‘real-thing’, the development that is not just based on faith! Because theirs is the ‘real thing,’ whereas ours is just a faith-based imitation, we look up to ‘them’ as better and setting the pace.

The not-faith-based are ‘the secular’. We come from secular countries, and (typically, unless Islamic), the countries we go to are ‘secular’. The latter, the ‘secular’ is the solid rock onto which as Christians we endeavour to introduce faith in Christ. It is as if the latter, faith in Christ, is like an added extra to help otherwise-secular people to befriend God on Facebook.

If I say that secularism is just as much based on faith as is Christianity, some may gawp. Not only is it as much based on faith as the Christian faith, but it is also based on the Christian faith. Western secularism (i.e. secularism as we know it in the West) is only found in Protestant countries. This is because it grew out of Protestantism. What other people around the world might call ‘secularism’, are imitations of Western secularism.

The above has various implications. One, is that we should stop seeing Christian or faith-based initiatives as ‘second-class’. Others are following the Christian example, whether they like to admit it or not. Second, is that majority world people struggle to ‘get’ secularism, but find it much easier to understand Jesus. We should not expect people to understand us when we talk about so-called secular things like science, technology, project management, or even charitable aid. These are all derivative of certain interpretations of Christian belief. They can be total strangers in people’s worldviews. When we talk about Christ, the son of God, the power of evil, about the need for love, about Jesus’ healing the sick and driving away demons … then we are right on the page of the majority world!

Secularism is a faith. It thrives when people believe in it. It would collapse if people ceased to believe in it. Secularism is not a rock; it is a chameleon, it changes shape and colour wherever it goes. The rock is Christ.


Photo by Mauricio Chavez on Unsplash

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Jim Harries

Jim Harries

Jim Harries (PhD Theology, University of Birmingham, Professor of religion at Global University) teaches the bible in Western Kenya using the Luo and Swahili languages. His focus is on work with indigenous churches. He also works with orthodox and other mission churches. Many articles and books written by Jim can be found here. Having lived in East Africa since 1988, Jim promotes the practice of vulnerable mission. Jim has been a visiting scholar at Christian universities in the USA, Canada, UK and Germany.
Jim Harries

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