CATEGORIZATION: THE ‘RELIGIOUS’ AND THE ‘SECULAR’

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In secular societies like America, many religions and religious people exist within a secular structure and live along-side secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, etc. The ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ have designated ways to both celebrate successes and cope with difficulties. This is not to say there is no overlap in these activities, that religious people may not take part in secular activities or visa versa. But in our categorized society, there are activities regarded often as one or the other. They are placed in neat little boxes of meaning, though people do not hesitate to help themselves to the contents of multiple boxes. I will juxtapose the activities of these two categories, religious and secular, to illustrate similarities and points of differentiation that may affect people’s decisions when navigating these categories.

If one is going through difficult times, the religious person may pray or ask others to keep them in their thoughts and prayers. They may seek council or support from a leader in their religious community. They may give money to a religious organization to have a worship service held on their behalf. Religious people may cope in different ways, keeping to solitary thought and prayer or seek support from wider community.

When the secular person goes through difficult times they may lean on family and friends for support. If it is a serious upheaval or the person is having an especially difficult time coping they may hire a professional therapist. They may engage in ‘retail therapy’, buying things in an attempt to ease emotional pain or at least providing a temporary distraction. The secular person may try to feel better emotionally and mentally by purchasing services at a salon or spa to feel physical pleasure. They may just take some down-time alone sleeping, watching TV or reading. Again, both solitude and community may be utilized when coping.

When religious people succeed or have something in their life worth celebrating, one of the first things they typically do is thank God, or thank the divine for providing the means and / or opportunity to succeed. Such thanks may include a donation to a religious organization. Celebrating could involve a party with special food, music or dancing to mark the event. Gifts may be given as congratulations or in commemoration of the event.

The secular equivalent is very much the same, except thanks would not be offered to a higher power. Nor would a higher power be acknowledged. Any thanks would go out to people that helped or provided moral support to the celebrated person. Parties and gift giving would occur in much the same way. But it would not be uncommon for the person succeeding or being celebrated to purchase something for themselves as a type of reward for reaching the achievement or milestone.

These categories are not absolute as ‘secular’ people often take part in ‘religious’ activities, like giving thanks to a higher power or praying for help. ‘Religious’ people undoubtedly take part in ‘secular’ activities as they live their faith out in a secular society. Despite the significant overlap and sharing beyond boundaries, these labels exist and play a part in what activities people choose to engage in and how people are regarded based on what activities they choose to engage in.

A theme that runs through coping and celebrating in both religious and secular realms is money. It seems more natural and expected in secular life. Perhaps because the exchange of money is more visible and straight forward in secular activities. In the secular world goods and services are marked with a cost, a sum of money is paid in exchange. It is easy to see and evaluate the fairness of the exchange. In the religious world money is kept more private. The cost for goods and services is more ambiguous as often only donations are requested. Though money finds its place in both religious and secular worlds there are very different customs and expectations surrounding it. These differences help sort activities across the secular-religious boundary.

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