Private faith and public faith: Bipolar worldviews

Many times we live our lives as if our spirituality is disconnected from our secular or professional pursuits, our public life. While this practice has become standard in many Christian realms, it stands in contrast to a healthy expression of the Christian faith. J. Milburn Thompson’s synopsis is helpful as he writes:

There is a temptation to separate one’s spiritual life and one’s secular life into two separate and unrelated spheres. There are cultural and historical reasons for this unfortunate, even heretical, separation.

There are a number of trends in modern American culture that tend to privatize faith into a sphere separate from the rest of life. Individualism, when applied to faith, puts the focus on my personal relationship with God. Faith is personal, but this does not mean that it should be private. Furthermore, contemporary life is fragmented. We tend to live in separate worlds at work, at home, at school, at the fitness center, and so on. Thus it becomes easy to think of prayer as something we do on Sunday morning and forget about the rest of the week (unless we have a test or a big presentation or a decisive meeting or become ill). Secularization has appropriately removed most aspects of social life from religious control, but it tends toward secularism, which denies the reality of transcendence, that there is more to life than what appears on the surface. These trends push faith and religion into a separate sphere on the margins of everyday life.[1]

As Thompson suggests, this starts with initial notions that then permeate our thinking in way that forces our faith into a private sphere. In contrast to private faith, we should strive to integrate our faith throughout our life. This is generally referred to as a worldview. Worldviews are generally described as concerning reality, beliefs, and truth. These are beliefs about reality that we accept as true and therefore lived out in a daily fashion. What happens when we when we bifurcate our faith and secular life? We succumb to a surrogate worldview. In doing so, we become unhealthy bipolar worldview individuals, ascribing to a certain worldview in private while affirming a secularist worldview in public life.

Thompson, Joseph Milburn. Introducing Catholic Social Thought. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010, 37-38.

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