Banning God and other religious stuff: reflections on the rise of secularism and the book of Esther

Secularism had become quite popular, especially in these last two decades. Even the Philippines, a predominantly religious country, has started embracing it more. I work in a secular, non-sectarian, stater-run university, where religious practices are often confined to the private lives of its constituents. Public prayers during events are scarce, and are sometimes sanitized by replacing them with “invocation” songs.

You can pray, but not too loud…

Some hardcore faith practitioners see secularism as a form of oppression and a threat to religious freedom. On the other hand, adherents to secularism see the public practice of religion as a violation of the separation of church and state. Indeed,  even the mention of our Lord Jesus in a regular conversation will raise some eyebrows here and there, except when being used as a swear word.

On the other hand, there is a growing number of those who now offer a certain level of tolerance and accommodation to the private practice of one’s faith. Quoting from our campus’ Chancellor, there are now hospitals that will ask you if you want a room with a bare cross, a crucifix, or one with neither.

Most Christians would suggest that we fight for our rights to religious freedom and public practice. After all, if, for example, 80% of the population are self-declared monotheists, why should we disallow a public, generic prayer to a monotheistic god for the sake of not offending the 20% who don’t believe in an all powerful being?

My personal take on this is that fighting for our right to worship in public is not such a big issue that should take up much of our energies. My bible-in a-year reading guide, which should have finished last year, coincidentally was on the book of Esther for these past few days. The book of Esther chronicles part of the Jewish exile under the Persian ruler, Xerxes in Susa, part of modern-day Iran. What makes this book uniquely controversial is the absence of any reference to God.

Secularism has been around even before the birth of Christ. The Jewish history is filled with moments wherein the protagonists were not allowed to practice their faith freely (Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Bablyon, Esther in Susa, among others; okay, granted, these states are not necessary secular but rather those that impose a different state religion). What was very clear in these three instances was that fighting for their “religious freedom” was never something actively done. True, the times were different back then and fighting for rights was relatively unheard of, but what we want to look at is, how should God’s people conduct themselves in a society whose values and beliefs are different from theirs?

The story of Esther revolves around Esther (Hadassah) and her cousin Mordecai, and how God (though not mentioned) worked through them to (1) deliver His people from genocide and (2) reveal God’s prominence by elevating some of His people to a state of national renown through morally upright conduct. These stories somehow resonate with Joseph and Daniel as well.

The private actions of these godly individuals were able to turn  whole kingdoms upside-down. And although no record of any massive conversions happened,  I believe that the uplifting of the status of God’s people, whether or not directly attributed to God, still brings Him glory. Also, though this is more speculative than exegetical, I think it is quite possible that the Jews back then (Esther, Mordecai and company) were still able share their faith, to a certain extent, to the people around them.

For me, the bottom line is that we should not allow the circumstances that restrict the public practice of our faith to duly influence our practicing of God’s greatest commandment(s): to love God above all things, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

How should these be practiced in our every day lives?

  1. Realize that you don’t always need to fight for your rights. Choose your battles. We’d get all our rights in the afterlife, anyways.

Our Lord Jesus made a whip and overturned tables at the temple on one occasion, and did not resist being arrested and shamed by Roman soldiers on another. The apostle Paul used his Roman citizen ship for his advantage on one occasion, yet got beaten up half to death on many others.

2. Love your enemies.

Facebook bashing and verbal protests are often signs of immaturity. Genuinely try to understand their beliefs and earn the right to be heard. Choose to live such good and peaceful lives among men to the point that your integrity and genuineness cannot be debunked (like the decease senator Juan Flavier). Don’t refrain from an opportunity to do good to someone just because you don’t agree with his/her point of view. It was Mordecai’s unrewarded good deed that gave way to his rise to prominence years later. On the other hand, try “doing a Haman” (Esther 5:14), and you might just find yourself hanging in gallows that you made.

3. Pray for the people and situation.

It’s not bad to ask God for righteous reign on earth, or for some miracle that will allow a higher degree of public worship. It’s also not a bad idea to pray that His detractors would finally believe in Him.

4. Grow/work where you are planted.

And who knows that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? (Mordecai to Esther, Esther 4:14b, NIV)

A position of power can either be abused, or put to good use. Wherever you are, exercise godly influence, even in the subtlest of ways.

5. Never Compromise.

1-2 Some time later, King Xerxes promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, making him the highest-ranking official in the government. All the king’s servants at the King’s Gate used to honor him by bowing down and kneeling before Haman—that’s what the king had commanded.

2-4 Except Mordecai. Mordecai wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t bow down and kneel. The king’s servants at the King’s Gate asked Mordecai about it: “Why do you cross the king’s command?” Day after day they spoke to him about this but he wouldn’t listen, so they went to Haman to see whether something shouldn’t be done about it. Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew. (Esther 3:2-4, MSG)

Loving God is still the first and greatest commandment. Between disobeying God or disobeying man, the choice should be quite obvious.

6. Lastly, stay beautiful/handsome 🙂

Mordecai had reared his cousin Hadassah, otherwise known as Esther, since she had no father or mother. The girl had a good figure and a beautiful face. After her parents died, Mordecai had adopted her.

Nah, I’m just joking. I would be inclined to believe that Esther was effortlessly beautiful, and not someone who was vain to start with. But if ever you have been blessed with physical attractiveness, then, I think it’s not such a bad idea to capitalize on that as a way of influencing others 😀

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