As a Christian university, Malone is confronted with the challenge of seeking Christ’s kingdom first in all areas of life, including both the sacred and the secular realms. Students and professors are confronted with a line that divides the secular from the sacred.
In her media choices, freshman nursing student Paige Showalter steers to the sacred side of the line, listening to mostly Christian and worship music. Showalter said this type of media is rejuvenating and beneficial to her.
“A lot of people aren’t bothered by just listening to secular music. If they don’t feel convicted to only listen to Christian music, I would say that’s fine,” Showalter said.
“I just know from experience that it does influence you. Even if you think it doesn’t bother you, it definitely could, and you might not even realize it,” Showalter said. “So if you want to live your life for Christ, I would say to get everything out of the way that would not glorify him.”
One of the educational goals of this university is to “understand and critically engage those bodies of knowledge and cultural influences that have shaped the world.”
Two areas in which the discussion about the secular and sacred divide is prevalent are those of popular media and political discourse.
Junior Bible and theology student Avery Linn believes that one should seek awareness when it comes to secular or sacred sources of media. Linn, however, does not agree with the view that holds secular media as a necessarily negative force.
“My responses to that kind of thing is that, while the sacred is definitely more safe, I still think that God uses secular things for his purpose,” Linn said. “I think that we have to accept that God, in his power, doesn’t have to just use the sacred. He is powerful enough to use the secular.”
Linn recalled that there have been times in which God used secular songs to help her think about spiritual issues. Linn used the example of hymns to further demonstrate her point.
“Lots of hymns are old bar songs, and that is a strength for this argument,” said Linn, “If God can take an old bar song, and make it into a hymn that moves the soul, then we have to expect that he still does that kind of thing today through secular music.”
Professor of communication arts and filmmaker Andrew Rudd prefers to take a view of the world where the dividing line between the secular and the sacred is de-emphasized. Rudd actively seeks out the divine in his own academic and creative work.
“I find the notion of taking every moment as sacred, to looking for the transcendent even in the mundane, in the quotidian, as being a more exciting way of living in this world,” Rudd said.
In his film and media courses, Rudd leads students in exploring how the lens of a filmmaker can reveal the sacredness in the world.
Rudd quoted 20th century film theorist André Bazin and his concept of holy moments. “It’s the moment in a film where suddenly you can see the specific detail of this face, or this tree, or this stream in a way that makes you recognize the face of God.”
For his Mass Media and Society course, Rudd uses the book Eyes Wide Open by William D. Romanowski. In part, this text presents the idea that separating Christian and secular media is not the best way to engage with popular culture.
Rudd explained that Malone students tend to discuss Romanowski’s ideas happily.
“Almost always, students are pretty excited to hear someone giving voice to something that they had suspicions about. So the majority of the conversation centers around that joy of discovery,” Rudd said.“There are some Malone students who are very protective of the role of worship music or inspirational music, and its devotional role in their lives. Romanowski doesn’t want to attack that.”
Rudd regrets the decision that many in Christian culture see secularism as a negative force working against Christianity. He explained that the idea of the secular realm was created as a way to talk about that which belongs to governmental authority.
“So it’s ironic, I think that lots of Christians now feel like secularism is not only an enemy of Christianity, when in reality it was meant to be a way of coordinating a place where multiple religions could thrive, but that it also threatens to overtake Christianity,” said Rudd.
Assistant professor of communication arts Jason Moyer pointed to the etymological origin of the word “secular” as key for this conversation. As a 13th century term, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “secular” meant “living in the world, not belonging to a religious order.”
The significance of the word has evolved along with the changes in the world. Moyer explained that when 11th century theologian Anselm of Canterbury wrote arguments for the existence of God, he was not interested in proving God’s existence; as such a question would not be in the interest of Anselm.
“The way that we understand the difference between the sacred and the secular is pretty [historically] recent. Today, we tend to ask “does God exist?” But the question for figures like Anselm was ‘how does God exist?’ I think this older question is better. Even atheists have to use the name God to define themselves . . . a-theos [the root of the word atheism] means ‘without God,’” said Moyer.
One way these questions show up today is in the political arena. As a rhetoric of public discourse scholar, Moyer is also interested in tracking the use of religious language, specifically in this political sphere.
“The word ‘God,’ or synonyms for ‘God,’ like ‘the Almighty,’ have been a part of American politics since the beginning. And it still functions as a necessary word to use if you want to be President,” said Moyer.
For Christians engaging in these ideas and this type of discourse, Moyer suggested looking to the Bible.
“Romans 13 is instructive on this question. Romans 13 describes how the Church should be in relationship to authority and state authority. It says that we should be, as Christians, respectful of state authority, but not to the extent that we love the state. We should reserve our love for the church,” Moyer said.
During this election season this is important to remember as decisions regarding elected offices are being made.
Kim Farkas is a staff writer for The Aviso AVW.