Posted by: Ian | April 29, 2009

A Liberal Secularism?

There has been much debate over the last few years over the role of religious belief in society. The oft-heard cry is that “we are a secular society” and therefore anachronisms such as the public role of religion (from Anglican bishops in the Lords, ‘faith” schools, sharia civil law, public display of religious symbols and dress etc).

Secularism, at its best creates a level playing field for all belief systems – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Satanist, Hindu, Humanist, Atheist, Agnostic, Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever. The issue isn’t whether any of these systems of belief are reasonable, silly, helpful, irritating or anything else. Secularism should allow space for everything and everyone to publicly express their beliefs and to practice them. This means that anti-abortion campaigners, Dawkins devotees, Muslim views on gender, Mohammed cartoon or Jerry Springer the Opera should all have a space in the public space if there is someone who wants to put it there. The freedom to offend other people is a fundamental element of secularism at its best.

Secularism at its worst is no better than religious fundamentalism in that it tries to restrict public freedom of practice and expression, and in that sense is fundamentally anti-libertarian. There is nothing that makes my heart sink more than another Toynbee-wannabe with that peculiar brand of Guardian-inspired illiberal liberalism. The absolute conviction that their opinion is so right that everyone else needs to get in line or shut up.

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Responses

  1. “Secularism at its worst is no better than religious fundamentalism in that it tries to restrict public freedom of practice and expression.”

    Well don’t worry pal, we’ll be living in a Sharia police state in the UK soon, so the nightmarish doctrine of secularism will soon perish, subnormal. And with a key state institution called the CHURCH of England I don’t think our government can reasonably described as secular, even if a great number of citizens are fed up with theocratic bullies and the time consuming irrational nonsense that is religion.

    And while I’m here whining about your idiotic comment on this post I’ll point out to you that libertarianism is the political branch of the philosophy that embraces individualism, as opposed to coercion by a “higher power” and collectivism. People in the developed world cling to the “opiate of consumerism” by choice. Leftist libertarianism is clearly an oxymoron.

    • HI George.

      Thanks for the wonderfully reasoned through response. Always nice to know that people engage their brain before writing.

      You seem to miss the very point of the post – secular fundamentalism is no better or worse than religious fundamentalism when it comes to individual freedom – both opress and restrict the right to self-determination.

      Oh – and you should research your history. Leftist libertarianism has a longer history than any post-monetarism style right-wing philosophy (ask those persecuted by the puritans in the 17th century and those opposing stalin in the 20th for example).

  2. Nice to see you begin your non-retort with such cheap language. You surprise me. Please define “secular fundamentalist” for me and name its destructive effects upon society.

    “Always nice to know that people engage their brain before writing.” Ditto that.

    • George

      Very simple. Fundamentalism includes any ideology that imposes a practice or belief, or restricts other people in the belief that as they are wrong they shouldn’t be allowed to practice or argue their case in the public arena, or to bring up their children according to their beliefs.

      Libertarianism at its heart is secular, in that it allows all beliefs and ideologies equal access (so, yes – there shouldn’t be an established religion). Secular Fundemantalism would restrict liberty in the same way religious fundamentalism would.

  3. “Very simple. Fundamentalism includes any ideology that imposes a practice or belief, or restricts other people in the belief that as they are wrong they shouldn’t be allowed to practice or argue their case in the public arena, or to bring up their children according to their beliefs.”

    OK, you misread, I’ll have to repeat myself: Please define “SECULAR fundamentalist” for me and name its destructive effects upon society. Maybe real world examples (names perhaps) of these vicious secular fundamentalists may bolster your case.

    • I just did.

      Secular Fundaementalism restricts people from expressing their beliefs, or marginalises them for publicly practicing such beliefs. True secularism says “I may disagree with you,but you are free to practice and even to try and convince me, just as I am with you.”

      Th edestructive effects is the feeling oppression of those who are marginalised, leading to resentment and the growth of religious fundamentalism.

      I can think of three examples:

      The Sikh girl who was threatened with explusion for wearing a religious symbol: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_east/7091186.stm

      The French example of banning religious symbols in school: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3619988.stm

      The Hindu Gujarati woman banned for wearing her nose stud: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2474901.ece

  4. The Sikh girl who was threatened with explusion for wearing a religious symbol, The French example of banning religious symbols in school

    I believe this is more to do with that ominous symbol of school oppression call “dress codes” than with “secular fundamentalism”. If a girl is not to wear rings in school, she is not to wear rings in school. It is mi religun innit doesn’t place her above the rules the rest of the students have to abide by. I’m sick and tired of this mentality: if you have God on your side you’re above the law. No, you aren’t!

    Here’s what the Muslim fundamentalists have been up to these last few days:

    2009.05.04 (Peshawar, Pakistan) – Five local cops are murdered in two attacks, including a Fedayeen bombing.
    2009.05.04 (Baghdad, Iraq) – Muslim bombers take out four Iraqis.
    2009.05.04 (Yala, Thailand) – Muslim insurgents shoot a 70-year-old man to death inside his home.
    2009.05.04 (Zabul, Afghanistan) – Women and children are represented among the twelve victims of Sunni fundamentalist bombers.
    2009.05.04 (Zabul, Afghanistan) – A mayor is among seven people blown to bits by a 14-year-old suicide bomber.
    2009.05.04 (Tulunan, Philippines) – Moro Islamists attack a banana plantation, killing three civilians.


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