After Reading “The Secular City” by Harvey Cox


I was a Christian for more than 20 years since I was given a birth, but the life did not include any logical doubt about it. I was born “in” the world of God, and a special (and illusionary) experience at some point in my life had paralyzed my reasoning on that matter for a long time. As I age year-by-year and encounter the worlds outside Christianity, including the spheres of philosophy, evolutionary science, and psychology, it was unavoidable to see the collision in my mind between the existence of two different truths. Finally, I became to ask a question that should not have been asked (or must have been asked), “God, where are you?”, and left Him. However, Christianity was still lingering in a corner of my mind, raising curiosity about minds that are intelligent yet remain as Christians. Henceforth, I occasionally picked up books written by theologists. This book, “The Secular City” by Harvey Cox, was read in that background.

I had a hard time reading this book because of the heavy usage of philosophical terms, each of which may need an explanation spanning another book. However, I managed to read it steadily and finally was able to fold the last page after four months. During this period, I felt I was riding a roller-coaster of enlightenment and confusion, and I truly enjoyed it. I was able to clear up some of my misunderstandings about Christianity and grab a rough picture of where theology is heading. Harvey’s insights on the modern world–which seems to be valid even now nevertheless the book was written in the 1960s–was a bonus.

One reason why I left Christianity was that I was unable to accept the Bible as a historical fact as Christians do, and Harvey sees that. Indeed, he says that the Bible is mythologized. As the human societies change and technologies developed through the history, our way of thinking has changed and been changing. When humans lived in tribes foraging food, they lived in mythologies. As they started agriculture, formed towns and developed writings, they were fond of thinking ideologies and metaphysics. The Bible was orally handed down and scripted in these times, and it is clear that what they have experienced and felt cannot help but be expressed in those terms, which were the only ways to express what they experienced.

Then, where is the author going with this book as a theologist, if the Bible is a collection of mythological stories? It seems that he still believes in the existence of God, but the God may not be the same God as what Christians traditionally believed in. He indeed asks this question, “what is God?” but he throws us a vague answer because the question is “not important.” If you shall define what God is based on my interpretation of this book, God is a liberator from whatever that makes humans unhuman. God is not a physical or spiritual being that “exists” somewhere or everywhere; it is whatever or whoever that liberates you from prejudices, cultures and traditions, market logics, and minds so you can truly be you, a human being, not a metaphysical, abstract nor mythical subject. Therefore, “God (or liberation)” can be experienced anytime anywhere human beings exist such as in words of a pastor or the Bible, at a gathering with friends, or even in Buddhism and Islam.

Am I going to go back to Christianity? Certainly no. However, this book was the most fascinating book in the last couple of years. It is hard to contain everything that I felt in words. If you get to read this book or already read it, please share your thoughts with me, I am open to talking about it.

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