Militant secularism (2)
What are the aims of secularism? Rightly understood, secularism works for the separation of political and religious institutions, so that government is free from the dominant (or domineering) influence of any particular religion.
In other words, secularism asserts that religion should not be privileged by the state when the state enacts legislation or formulates policy. Secularism also guarantees people within a state freedom from the governmental imposition of a religion.
As far as it goes, such aims are potentially beneficial to Christians (or other minority religious groups) in Islamic states where Shari’a law prevails, for example; and would disenfranchise extremist groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, who seek to impose their fundamentalist views on society.
Ideally, secularism is neutral about matters of belief, so that, if many of a nation’s citizens are religious, then it even becomes inappropriate for that nation to be anti-religious.
However, there is a growing militancy among contemporary secularists that is in tendency inherently anti-religious. Secularism purports to touch our welfare at every point. But, in practice, many of its advocates are atheists who deny any spiritual dimension to humanity.
In other words, secularism has evolved from an affirmation of certain social and political freedoms into a strident protest against all religion. In theory, it upholds intellectual independence, but in practice is a despot that detests faith and desires its eradication.
Secularists today see secularism as one of the most important movements in the history of the modern West, helping to culturally differentiate the West from the Middle Ages and from earlier eras. They view the positive aspects of Western culture as the fruits of secularism.
Secularism, in this more developed, nuanced form, might be understood as simply achieving the absence of religion from a society. And it is a philosophical system with extensive personal, political, cultural, and social implications. It desires to establish an autonomous political and social sphere which is entirely naturalistic and materialistic, and to rule out anything of the supernatural and faith.
Its advocates argue for knowledge, values and actions that are independent of all religious authority. They desire ultimately to deny religion any voice in political and social affairs.
Secularists maintain that the reduced numbers attending churches today shows that society as a whole has (rightly) given up on faith. This, they say, underlines the unfairness of the Government granting privileges to faith groups, and shows that faith-based schools are divisive and damaging to the prospects of a harmonious, diverse society.
While secularists prescribe state neutrality in religious matters, their stance is not, in fact, morally and politically neutral. While, in theory, they are not against the right of individuals to have faith, their practice becomes akin to outlawing religion.
They lobby for the trans-formation of faith schools to community schools open to all pupils, regardless of faith or lack of it. They contend that religious education should be non-denominational and multi-faith, and that it should present non-religious ways of looking at the world. They would join with aggressive atheists in banning prayers both from Parliament and from local government council chambers.
Some secularists would prefer religious education to be replaced by citizenship lessons including only brief coverage of the basic tenets of world religions. One wonders how this might affect the teaching of other subjects such as history and art!
They support legislation to outlaw discrimination in employment on the grounds of religion (or lack of it) and oppose legal exemptions for religious organisations. They want the abolition of special treatment for religious broadcasting.
But the fundamental problem with all of this is that secularism has become essentially humanistic and atheistic. Dawkins and others like him have tied the cause of secularism to the eradication of all religion.
Its materialistic world view denies a spiritual dimension to human beings and is aggressive, intolerant and strident. If it were to succeed in all its aims, it would be as abusive in denying its subjects freedom of religion and conscience as the former communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the present regime in North Korea.
Radical secularists want to gag God, strait-jacket believers and usher in a new order of relativistic and utilitarian morality. The extent to which they succeed in fulfilling their chilling aims might well depend on the prayerfulness, watchfulness and resourcefulness of Christian believers.