I love my job. But one of the downsides is that my day is spent in a kind of hermetically-sealed Catholic bubble. Surrounded by like-minded people who love the Church and are serious about their faith makes it easy to forget how hard it is for those who live and work in a secular environment day in, day out.
Being immersed in the faith is a wonderful thing, but it can also make it hard to relate to people steeped in secularism, which means practically everyone. Because secularism is the mainstream of modern American culture, it’s easier to go with flow than against it because it’s so normal. And because secularism is so normal, nobody notices it. After all, you don’t notice the current when you’re going with it, but only when you’re going against it. A secularist doesn’t think he’s a secularist. He just is. Secularism isn’t a consciously chosen belief system, it’s just assumed; taken for granted like air.
I think that’s one reason why the Obama administration was surprised by the reaction to the contraceptive mandate. It didn’t see anything odd about a secular government agency defining what kinds of organizations are religious, and which ones aren’t. But in order to determine what kinds of institutions are “religious” it had to use some sort of criteria. It had to measure it against something. That “something” is secularism. From a secular point of view, schools, hospitals or homeless shelters aren’t religious enterprises, only churches are. The administration, like most people, doesn’t see secularism itself as a belief system, an ideology, a point of view. It doesn’t see it at all. A secularist notices secularism about as much as a fish notices water.
There’s a silver lining in all of this though. We tend not to notice those things that are just normal. When Christianity was the norm, people hardly noticed it and took much of it for granted. Even those who didn’t go to church assumed a Christian world view. As a result people of faith tended to become complacent, and complacency led to indifference, and indifference led to inactivity, and inactivity led to abandonment. Something had to fill the void, and something did. Secularism replaced Christianity as the dominant world view. But now that Christianity is not the norm, people notice it; including religious people, maybe especially religious people. For if we take our faith seriously and really try to live it well, we notice in double-quick time just how difficult it can be. It’s natural to go with the flow. But when you try to live your faith and resist secular values, you notice it more and therefore value it more. And that’s a good thing.