Sacred vs Secular

by Clark Roush, Ph.D.

I have pondered this alleged dichotomy for years now, and I just cannot bring myself to accept it. There are probably some things that are easier to deal with when they’re black and white, but in this case, I believe a huge disservice is done. Before I go any farther, please let me assure you that I’m fully aware that there is content that is definitely secular and content that is definitely sacred. That needs no explanation, and hence, is not the focus of this missive.

What concerns me is how we utilize these labels as though they are mutually exclusive. If we allow ourselves to place things in one of these two “camps,” I fear we will miss some great riches and we will get blown “off course” from the intended way of things. I don’t want to leave this point in the realm of the purely philosophical, so please stay with me while I try to illustrate what I mean.

I love the Frost poems “Choose Something Like a Star” and “The Road Less Traveled.” They feed my artistic soul. They certainly stand as great art within the poetry genre. As a musician, I am drawn to how Randall Thompson set these texts to music. Technically, these are “secular” texts – am I not to glory in the God that gave Frost and Thompson the ability to create such marvelous art both separately and collectively? Have we not been given gifts from above to offer back to the Giver and to humankind? As we give these gifts, is this not a “sacred” endeavor? How can we possibly separate the two?!

Do we take a “secular” text or experience less seriously than a “sacred” one? Why would we not honor the creative process and the Creator that imbued us with it in all that we do. Here is where the schism allows danger. If I can pigeon-hole something as secular, then possibly I don’t have to give it the attention I would if it was sacred. Also, if something is “merely secular,” it might allow me to not think of myself as being spiritual as I experience or create it. Is there ever a time we should approach anything as though we are NOT spiritual beings? I believe this is catastrophic to not only our creative selves, but to our spiritual selves as well.

When we are moved and touched – regardless whether it is through the sacred or the secular – it is still a spiritual experience! I passionately believe that the sacred can abide within the secular, and indeed it must do so every place that it can. I can’t embrace that we’re better off as artists or as humans if we allow the bi-polar dualism that results in a sacred-secular split to take root within us. I am deeply moved by spiritual truths; I am deeply moved by artistic truths. I do not believe they must be mutually exclusive any more than I believe that sacred and secular must be. I think we rob ourselves of great treasures when we permit the “vs” to come between sacred and secular.