Secularism: the best defence for religious freedom


by Dave Osler    
1:37 pm - February 14th 2012

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I am not quite sure where the Almighty stands on the mechanics of proportional representation or qualified majority voting in Brussels. Nor, having read both the Bible and the Quran from cover to cover, am I clear as to divine opinion on the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Given that the job of any the European Union constitution is to regulate these matters, the case for such a document including explicit reference to God – as demanded by Baroness Warsi in the Daily Telegraph today – is tenuous.  

Yet Britain’s first Muslim woman cabinet minister advocates just that as a means of resisting the ‘rising tide’ of ‘militant secularisation’. Many of the claims her contribution contains are questionable, as is its principal conclusion.

We live in a country in which a minority denomination within Christianity is privileged as an established religion, with the head of state acting as its supreme governor, and places reserved in the legislature for its representatives. So long as these arrangements stay in place, the contention that secularism dominates political life is laughable.

Moreover, acts of religious assertion have risen dramatically over the last decade. The numbers choosing to wear clothing that signifies particular religious affiliation has risen dramatically, for instance. Nor do I have a problem with that. I mention it merely to counter the broad brush assertion that secularism is the only game in town.

Even if we admit that it is on the increase, the use of the adjective ‘militant’ is pure hyperbole. Secularism is not, for instance, enforced at the point of a gun. Nor is the labour movement balloting workers on indefinite all-out strike action is support of the right to blaspheme.

Although Baroness Warsi does not mention it as such, much has been made of the well-publicised recent court case bought by the National Secular Society against Bideford Town Council, which debars it from holding prayers before meetings.

Contrast the resort to legal action with the violent mass pickets that forced the closure of a play deemed offensive to the Sikh faith in Birmingham a few years back. Some might deservedly call that ‘militant religiousity’. Care to comment, Baroness?

Most risible of all is the idea that the instincts of secularists are intolerant and essentially similar to those of totalitarianism. To come up with arrant nonsense like that on the day she pays a state visit to the Vatican is particularly outrageous.

Or perhaps Baroness Warsi is just unaware of such regimes as Franco’s Spain, Tiso’s Slovakia or Pavelic’s Croatia, which had no difficulty in combining elements of fascism and Catholicism, while sometimes murdering and repressing adherents of other faiths?

Secularism is the correct sense of the word is tolerant by its nature. The separation of church (or mosque, or synagogue) and state is the precondition for the maximum exercise of religious freedom and the minimisation of tension in a multicultural society.

That governments should neither encourage or discourage religious belief is a point that should appeal to the thinking believer and the atheist alike.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments


So while this govt is trying to deport a religious fundamentalist, another member of this govt, Baroness Broomstick is at the Vatican to demand……er, more religious fundamentalists.

Comical!

I keep asking who was responsible for designing in earthquakes, tsunamis and pandemics but can’t get a straight reply.

Even if we admit that it is on the increase, the use of the adjective ‘militant’ is pure hyperbole. Secularism is not, for instance, enforced at the point of a gun. Nor is the labour movement balloting workers on indefinite all-out strike action is support of the right to blaspheme.

If they were, I’d support it.

Free speech is fundamental to a liberal democracy. A campaign for free speech is analogous to a campaign for freedom of worship, not analogous to a campaign to prevent freedom of worship. The fact we don’t defer to someone else’s superstition doesn’t mean we are going to force everyone step on the cracks in the pavement.

Public disagreement, lack of deference and – yes – the giving of offense – are necessary preconditions for liberal democracy. The religious are perfectly entitled to say I’ll burn in hell. Frankly that says more about their morality than mine.

As far as is known, Voltaire never did get a reply from any representative of the Catholic (or any other) Church to his question over the earthquake and tsunami that caused such loss of life and damage to the city of Lisbon in 1755:

“Where was God?”

5. Chaise Guevara

“Secularism: the best defence for religious freedom”

Secularism IS religious freedom.

I’m not sure what people are referring to when they talk about “militant secularism”. I can think of hypothetical militantly secular acts, but they don’t seem to happen here beyond a few isolated incidents of bad decisions (and good decisions that get misreported by our wonderful media).

We certainly don’t seem to have any militant secularism in our system, and I’m not aware of it being a major political force in the country. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps Warsi could give us some examples, preferably some that are comparable to the religious oppression of gays currently supported by UK law.

We have a Christian state religion. Our national anthem is Christian. People routinely swear on religious texts in court. Parliament opens with prayers. Most schools push some religion or another onto kids, and those that don’t may technically be breaking the law, at least within the state system. Most high-level politicians are or claim to be Christian. Gay people are second-class citizens, because that makes religious bigots happy. We don’t have *normal* secularism yet, let alone a militant version.

I suspect Warsi may be one of those people who conflates secularism with athiesm. I suspect rather more strongly that this is a case of the bully playing the victim.

6. Chaise Guevara

@ 4 Tim Fenton

Oh, I can think of some on the fly. Suffering is necessary to create opportunities for grace. God moveth in mysterious ways his wondrous mass murders to perform. Lisbon had it coming. Shut up or he’ll smite your ass.

Theodicy is easy. It’s a special form of apologetics where you get to make up the rules as you go.

If the Bible is our source for moral guidance then why have we given up killing adulterers and unchaste damsels as commanded in Deuteronomy 22?

I’ve been watching the DVD of the BBCTV drama of the life of the merry king Charles II.

What with Barbara Villiers and the actress Nell Gwyn in the narrative and at least 12 acknowledged illegitimate children by the king, I’m not surprised his reign gets scant coverage in the school history syllabus despite him founding the Royal Society with Hook and Newton as members and Samuel Pepys managing the Royal Navy. Try the Earl of Rochester on Charles II – no one mentioned that at school:
http://www.ealasaid.com/fan/rochester/charles.html

Its important to distinguish secularism from atheism.

I’m both a seculrist and an atheist but they are by no means the same thing. Atheism is a personal lack of belief in gods; secularism is a political, pluralistic acceptance that other people might have different religious beliefs – but that that does not confer upon them privileges, whether they be over-representation in government, tax exemptions or exemptions from the laws that govern everybody else.

Most atheists are secularists – but so are most religious people as it guarantees their freedom of belief.

None of this has to do with ‘Christianity’ because there is no real movement against Christianity, per se. Sure, we get the odd person who objects now and again in principle to ‘Thought for the Day’ and a few other bits and bobs, but no one really cares about Christianity in this Country one way or another. This is to do with Right Wingers in this Country making all this ‘persecution’ nonsense up.

I propose an adjunct to Godwin’s Law that states: any thread that contains the word ‘Christian’ will eventually contain a phrase like ‘If a Muslim…’ as well. Most of this is just Right Wing posturing.

However, I will say this in defence of Baroness Warsi et al. When the unelected Bishops stood for traditional Christian values in defending the poor and the disabled, the hatred towards Christianity was palpable.

These Bishops were told that they flew in the face of the vast majority of secularists and that Jesus’s brand of Socialism was long gone. These people were accused of hanging onto outmoded Christian values that have no place in our secular society. Spiritualism and Christian charity has beensuperseded by a simple cost/benefit analysis. A child is only worth what it can generate in spending power at some point in the future and has no value if he is unlikely to be able to work in the future.

Oh, hang on though, those attacking the Bishops were the Tories. Those dismissing Christian values were those on Baroness Warsi’s side. Baroness Warsi didn’t rush to defend the British Christianity when they were demanding the children didn’t suffer under benefit cuts.

The bottom line is that the Tories only believe in ‘Christian values’ that are imported from the militant Christian Right. The Christianity of guns, God and 4x4s, the Christianity of the anti abortionists and the death penalty and the killing for your Country, right reason or none. The Christianity that lets the super rich get richer, rather than the ‘eye of a needle’ Christianity.

Baroness Warsi is not interested in the ‘more tea vicar?’, ‘…and in a way, Jesus had the ‘X’ factor too’, Vicar of Dibley, Derek Nimmo type of Christianity, because that does not fit their purpose. Whist drives, tombolas and garden fetes is a million miles away from what they want. They are after the militant ‘Jesus hates fags and Socialists’ type of ‘Christianity’ that galvanise the Republican Right.

The religious Right in America are a group of people who are not known for overstating their mercy or forgiveness, two traits that we would normally expect to be pre-requisites for any Christian. Yet, there they are handing out olive branches to Good old Newt Gingrich. A womaniser who left one wife on her deathbed while he was nuts deep in the next one.

Now what about adultery among the poor, that is to be condemned? However, Good old Newt? Yeah, well as long as he says the right thing about money, his screwing can go unpunished.

Make no mistake, Warsi et al are not interested in Christianity, per se. This is about abortion and homosexuality and how we can use Chritianity to smuggle their hatered into the public domain. This idea of militant secularism is joke, because I am happy for Christians to make a contribution to society, but keep your unwanted nose out of the abortion debate and whether or not we teach evolution in science or allow homosexuals to rent a room.

Hear, hear.

Although I must say, I think the NSS do themselves no favours in some ways when it comes to the conflation of atheism and secularism; they do come across as an atheist, anti-religious organisation at times. I think the cause of secularism would be much advanced if they appointed a President or Vice-President who was a religious believer, and could make a positive case for secularism from that standpoint.

I think the cause of secularism would be much advanced if they appointed a President or Vice-President who was a religious believer, and could make a positive case for secularism from that standpoint.

Jesus Wept, you might as well say only straight white men can campaign against racism, sexism and homophobia. The whole point of secularism is that it does not discriminate in favour of those who hold particular religious beliefs and you want to bar atheists from prominant positions.

12. Frances_coppola

11 Shatterface

If the NSS has no religious believers in any position of authority within its structure, it might not be entirely accurate to say that it “doesn’t discriminate”, don’t you think?

13. Frances_coppola

9 Jim

Christians have as much right to express their views on abortion and homosexuality as you. The fact that you don’t like their views doesn’t give you the right to suppress them. I agree that Christian INSTITUTIONS should stay out of secular debates. But Christians themselves have every right to participate.

What appears to be happening is that, through hysterical misrepresentations in the Express, Mail etc and pronouncements by Warsi, Carey and other numbskulls, the religious right are working themselves up into making some illiberal demands upon Government. We can anticipate more Blairite crap such as blasphemy laws or religious discrimination to be proposed in this most obnoxious form of special pleading.

I don’t even agree that Christian (or Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Jedi, etc.) institutions should stay out of politics – they can argue the case as much as secular institutions such as unions, or any other body.

The problem is privileging them (as in the case of Christianity), or tha assumption they represent the views of all those who nominally share their faith (as with Islamic or other minority bodies). If people want to voluntarily band together under the banner of a shared faith that’s their business.

What always make religious fundies so dangerous is that it never their opinion you understand,but their Gods. So whether it is clerics or Dorres or Bush God told them to do it.

No proof is needed, no evidence required. Try running for President of the US as an Atheist, or even an agnostic. Good luck.

17. Matt Wardman

>”Even if we admit that it is on the increase, the use of the adjective ‘militant’ is pure hyperbole.”

“Militant secularist”, “militant atheist”, “militant secularism” were all coined by – I think – Charles Bradlaugh or one of his associates and have been in pretty consistent use since Victorian times.

The NSS is explicitly anti-religious, and therefore atheistic, by dint of its defining objectives. That is one of those debates that has rumbled around the newsletter as long as people have been debating which end to crack an egg.

One question is whether we wish to end up with secularism or explicitly anti-religious secularism. Sanderson, Porteus-Wood and friends have usually aimed for the latter under the marketing image of the former.

There is currently a effort to bring a “Secular Charter” to the fore, rather than the traditional ‘objects’.

Whether that changes the substance remains to be seen.

Perhaps you could commission an article on the change, Sunny?

@ Shatterface

The fact that I think it would be a good thing for the NSS to have a religious believer at or near the top of the organisation doesn’t mean I want to ‘bar atheists from prominent positions’, any more than the fact that I think it’s a good thing for the cabinet to include some women means I want to bar men from prominent positions in government. Obviously.

“you might as well say only straight white men can campaign against racism, sexism and homophobia.”

First of all, I didn’t say *only* religious people should campaign for the NSS. I said it would be good if at least one religious person was (prominently, visibly) campaigning for the NSS.

But in any case: if secularism is supposed to protect the freedoms of religious believers and non-believers alike, the analogy between religious believers campaigning for secularism and straight men campaigning against homophobia doesn’t hold up. A better analogy would be straight men campaigning for (say) greater awareness of testicular cancer – i.e. something that benefits straight and gay men alike.

FC @ 13

Of course they do. No one suggests otherwise, but having a religious conviction (er, not that way Bob) does not mean you have a special insight into any issue. What we are seeing is that the religious fanatics on the ‘Christian Right’ (not the Christian Left or the centre ground in Judaism or even the Right in Islam) appear to be demanding that THEIR beliefs be given prominence because they have an inside line to something called ‘Christianity’.

I welcome people who campaign for the disabled and/or the poor. If they do this from a religious standpoint, so be it. As long as they have good intentions, it doesn’t really matter what motivates them and we should accept and respect their views. If, on the other hand they are plainly using ‘Christianity’ to justify bigotry, then we will call them on that too. If they ignore 99% of the bible and stick to using chapter and verse to condemn homosexuals, then they can seriously fuck off in my book. Same with the type of people who call themselves ‘pro life’ yet make no attempt to condemn an economic system that allows millions of starving children to die every year as well.

On a side note. Nowhere should we be teaching religious beliefs anywhere outside of a religious class. We should not be teaching children creationism in a science class, anti homosexuality crap or whatever in time given to facts. If you want to teach the bible then you do it in a theology class, not something called ‘general studies’ etc.

20. Matt Wardman

“Secularism is the correct sense of the word is tolerant by its nature. The separation of church (or mosque, or synagogue) and state is the precondition for the maximum exercise of religious freedom and the minimisation of tension in a multicultural society.

That governments should neither encourage or discourage religious belief is a point that should appeal to the thinking believer and the atheist alike.”

Now that I could probably agree with, provided you can come up with definitions which have a clear meaning.

I, for example, don’t see the existence of faith-based schools – respecting parental wishes and funded from parental taxes (yes, let there be ‘non-faith schools’ too) – as excluded by the concept of a secular state.

I guess I’d draw a distinction between permissive secularism and directive secularism, where elements of a secularist ideology are shoehorned in.

21. Frances_coppola

19 Jim

Totally agree. Phew.

Re your last paragraph, though. Does any of that actually happen? I ask, because my experience of state education is not like that. One of my children is at a faith school and the other is at a secular state school. Both learned about the bible in Religious Education lessons. My son – at the secular school – did GCSE Religious Education, and my daughter is now doing exactly the same course at her Catholic comprehensive. That course teaches Christianity in the context of comparative religion and doesn’t appear to give it any special prominence. Neither school teaches “religion” outside RE lessons, and neither has taught either creationism or homophobia – fortunately, or I would have a BIG argument with them. I realise that’s just my experience, but do you have examples of schools that DO teach religion in “general studies”, creationism and homophobia?

I wish we could dis-establish the church,, get rid of those militant christian bishops who have a say in law making. And di I blink and miss the bombings;burnings by militant atheists aimed at converting others to their cause/penalising thos ewho disagree with them?

23. Chaise Guevara

@ 22 rentergirl

http://www.jesusandmo.net/2006/10/11/park/

I think the expression is “zing!”

FC @ 21

I have heard of proposals to teach creationism in science class here, but of course the Americans make this type of thing an art form. Too many examples to pick one out though

Tax the churches, Tax the Mosques, Tax the synagogues.

@ Frances

Just to point out that *secular* schools are illegal in this country, because all schools are legally required to engage in ‘collective worship’. We have faith schools, and non-denominational community schools, but no schools that are officially non-religious or secular in character.

Some schools are de facto secular, of course, because they ignore the requirements on collective worship; but it’s certainly not the case, as some people mistakenly believe, that nonreligious parents can simply choose to send their children to a nonreligious school. (We sent our children to the local C of E school partly because it seemed *less* religious in character than the local non-denominational school.)

Also: there’s at least one state school that teaches (or used to teach) creationism in science classes – the Emmanuel College in Gateshead. I used to be friendly with their head of science’s dad, who, funnily enough, is a committed humanist. (He even officiates at humanist funerals.)

27. Frances_coppola

26 G.O.

Yes, of course. I meant “secular” as opposite to “faith” school, obviously. My point was there is little to choose between them and what they teach doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the loony fringe.

@4 Tim Fenton: “As far as is known, Voltaire never did get a reply from any representative of the Catholic (or any other) Church to his question over the earthquake and tsunami that caused such loss of life and damage to the city of Lisbon in 1755.”

The reference is to Voltaire’s highly readable and amusing novel: Candide (1759).
http://www.esp.org/books/voltaire/candide.pdf

The account therein of the Lisbon earthquake is in chps. 5-6, which led Candide to question how could this happen in the best of all possible worlds according to the teachings he had from his mentor, Dr Pangloss.

Note also Candide’s account on his visit to Portsmouth of the execution of an admiral in chp. 23 “Pour encourager les autres”. This is a reference to the execution of Admiral Byng in 1775 for failing to prevent Minorca from falling to the French, a precedent which was highly motivating in the Royal Navy where the regular penalty for striking an officer was death. Class warriors here might like to recap that Nelson’s advancement in the Royal Navy to Admiral of the Fleet was on merit – he was the younger son of a minor country parson in Norfolk.

Voltaire was exiled to England 1726-29 which led him to publish his English letters on his return to France: Letters on the English – Letter VIII

“The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of kings by resisting them; and who, by a series of struggles, have at last established that wise Government where the Prince is all powerful to do good, and, at the same time, is restrained from committing evil; where the nobles are great without insolence, though there are no vassals; and where the people share in the Government without confusion.”

As the result of his exile in England, Voltaire became an Anglophile.

Chaise @ 6:

“Theodicy is easy. It’s a special form of apologetics where you get to make up the rules as you go.”

How so, exactly?

@17 Matt Wardman
“One question is whether we wish to end up with secularism or explicitly anti-religious secularism.”

Indeed. the NSS definitely comes across as wanting the latter, rather than the former. And Warsi’s statements on the issue are almost certainly directed against the anti-religious version of secularism. There is a genuine concern in some quarters that there is a movement towards an anti-religious form of secularism, and those of us on the Left would do well to at least try to understand the concerns, rather than dismissing them as right-wing extremism, as some in this discussion have done.

Chaise @ 5:

“Secularism IS religious freedom… We don’t have *normal* secularism yet, let alone a militant version”

So does Britain not have freedom of religion then?

“Gay people are second-class citizens, because that makes religious bigots happy.”

Wait, what?

Voltaire on religious freedom in England – Letters on the English: Letter V

England is properly the country of sectarists. Multae sunt mansiones in domo patris mei (in my Father’s house are many mansions). An Englishman, as one to whom liberty is natural, may go to heaven his own way.
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1778voltaire-lettres.asp

33. Matt Wardman

Jim, on your post at 9, as I read it Warsi was not dismissing ‘Christian values’, she was arguing against the political implications which some (in this case Bishops) draw from their understanding of Christian values. A very different thing, which leaves room for disagreement.

I think I agree with most of your post at 19, with the proviso that lines are *very* difficult to draw, and that I think that religious institutions have as much right to input into public debate and politics as any others.

Unless you are proposing that all institutions should have no right to comment on political issues – Trades Unions? Professional bodies? The BMA?

An example of a line drawn in the wrong place for anti-religious reasons was the Michael Reiss affair; his position was the rational one.

>No one suggests otherwise, but having a religious conviction (er, not that way Bob) does not mean you have a special insight into any issue.

The outworking, or impact of, that conviction may very well give an institution a special insight on an issue.

@22. rentergirl: “I wish we could dis-establish the church…”

Disestablishmentarianism (try typing that after a few glasses of wine) is orthodoxy in parts of the CofE. Giles Fraser, almost said it this morning on Radio 4, but then back pedalled.

Kick a few bishops out of the House of Lords, if you wish. But then ask why we gave a free ticket to Rabbi Sacks. This crosses over to House of Lords reform: do you want the other tier to comprise ancient political farts and failed political farts, or something different?

Or perhaps Baroness Warsi is just unaware of such regimes as Franco’s Spain, Tiso’s Slovakia or Pavelic’s Croatia, which had no difficulty in combining elements of fascism and Catholicism, while sometimes murdering and repressing adherents of other faiths?

If you started to list what Warsi is unaware of, you’d take a long time over it. She’s a dim bulb.

I feel sure that the reintroduction of the Auto-da-fé festivals would do much to revive flagging interest in perennial Christian values:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto-da-f%C3%A9

@16. Sally: “What always make religious fundies so dangerous is that it never their opinion you understand,but their Gods. So whether it is clerics or Dorres or Bush God told them to do it.”

Whatever you are against, whenever you need it, Sally will have made a point that you can use as ammunition.

In this case I will use the argument of conservatism. Old fashioned conservatives did not mince words and declared that everyone was born flawed and only through the directions of conservatism could they become respectable citizens. Independent thought (which encompassed liberalism) meant that you were either a lunatic or a witch.

Times have changed and conservatives typically recognise that liberals are not lunatics. Some recognise that humankind responds, in terms of morality and behaviour, to the societies in which we live.

Sally’s blanket condemnation of “religious fundies” is superficially attractive to atheists and secularists, but it is a conservative blanket: people who have a faith should not declare it publicly unless they wish to be treated as a lunatic.

38. Mike Killingworth

Simple questions (primarily for Jim, but really anyone can answer).

Do you believe in freedom of speech? If so, do you agree that people who adopt interpretation X of religion Y should be allowed to call for the imposition of their interpretation of their religion on everyone else, by force if needs be? If I’m in a crowded theatre, am I allowed to say “it’s very very hot in here?”

Actually, Warsi’s motivation is blindingly obvious. She wants to downsize the State but is bright enough to recognise that there’s a reason the State is the size it is: social cohesion. So someone else has to do the job, and ultra-conservative religion has its hand up – hell, it’s jumping up and down at the back of the class.

39. Chaise Guevara

@ XXX

“How so, exactly?”

Because the nature of God is not defined, and religionists rarely feel the need to provide evidence for their claims, you can say pretty much anything to defend the existence of evil. Best-case example is “God moves in mysterious ways”. That’s not an answer, it’s a fancy way of saying “I don’t know”. But press certain people on this and you’ll be told that you, mere mortal, can never hope to understand God, and in fact you’re arrogant for even trying.

So it moves from not answering the question to saying “stop asking that question”. Which wouldn’t be an acceptable response in most other fields.

“So does Britain not have freedom of religion then?”

Sorry, I expressed myself badly there. Secularism is how you get religious freedom. It covers other things too. We don’t have perfect secularism, but we do have religious freedom.

“Wait, what?”

If you love someone of the same sex, you can’t get married under the law. And that’s not some historical quirk, that’s a deliberate concession to bigots, especially religious ones (what with the whole “sanctity of marriage” concept).

Before you say anything, I don’t deny that in this case the space between first-class and second-class is small. It’s not like America during segregation. Regardless, however, we have a legally defined snub that lets gays know they’re just not quite as good as straights, by denying them something that the rest of us are entitled to.

40. So Much For Subtlety

Even if we admit that it is on the increase, the use of the adjective ‘militant’ is pure hyperbole. Secularism is not, for instance, enforced at the point of a gun.

Sorry but what nonsense claim is that? Everywhere secularism has been tried, it has been done at the point of a gun – usually over the objections of the locals. They tried it in France during the Revolution. The Vendee was only one of many local protests. They tried it in the Soviet Union – the loss of life dwarfed the later Holocaust.

Contrast the resort to legal action with the violent mass pickets that forced the closure of a play deemed offensive to the Sikh faith in Birmingham a few years back. Some might deservedly call that ‘militant religiousity’. Care to comment, Baroness?

But it wasn’t. Rather it was a result of British liberals spinelessly giving in to self-appointed “community leaders” who saw a quick way to power and wealth. The Sikhs chose to organise around this particular issue, but that does not mean religion was the problem. Sikhs don’t do this most places because they know they will not be rewarded for it. And yet the Sikhs of India and Malaysia are probably more religious than British ones.

Most risible of all is the idea that the instincts of secularists are intolerant and essentially similar to those of totalitarianism. To come up with arrant nonsense like that on the day she pays a state visit to the Vatican is particularly outrageous.

It is simply true for a large number of secularists. You do not even have to point to the openly totalitarian Communists and Nazis. Richard Dawkins wants to remove the children of all believers and have them raised by the state. A more totalitarian proposal it would be hard to think of.

Or perhaps Baroness Warsi is just unaware of such regimes as Franco’s Spain, Tiso’s Slovakia or Pavelic’s Croatia, which had no difficulty in combining elements of fascism and Catholicism, while sometimes murdering and repressing adherents of other faiths?

So freakin’ what?

Secularism is the correct sense of the word is tolerant by its nature.

And no doubt the Pope would say the same about Catholicism. But secularism, as it is actually practiced, as opposed to your personal flavour, is certainly not tolerant.

The separation of church (or mosque, or synagogue) and state is the precondition for the maximum exercise of religious freedom and the minimisation of tension in a multicultural society.

It has not proven to be the case. Tensions have been rising. And religious freedom is on the decline. Mainly due to the intolerance of the secular.

That governments should neither encourage or discourage religious belief is a point that should appeal to the thinking believer and the atheist alike.

So the government should not be secular then? Merely indifferent. Or as some other people might say, supportive of the Church of England? I agree.

Famously, the French claim to have established a secular state as the means of resolving centuries of internal religious wars and civil strife.

Just how many thousands of Protestant Huguenots were slaughtered during the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in August 1572 is uncertain and the strife continued through the civil wars during the next century.

The 30 Years War in Europe 1618-48 was basically about one sovereign state in Europe invading another to install a different brand of Christianity supposedly to save the immortal souls of the residents from eternal damnation.

As a school boy I was engaged in an exchange visit in the early 1950s with a state lycee in France. To my surprise, it had no act of worship every morning and no RE classes. If parents wanted an religious education, they had to come to an arrangement with local clergy for extra-curricula classes out of school hours. Few bothered.

42. Chaise Guevara

@ SMFS

“Richard Dawkins wants to remove the children of all believers and have them raised by the state.”

When did he say that?

43. So Much For Subtlety

41. Bob B

Famously, the French claim to have established a secular state as the means of resolving centuries of internal religious wars and civil strife.

So they claim.

Just how many thousands of Protestant Huguenots were slaughtered during the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in August 1572 is uncertain and the strife continued through the civil wars during the next century.

A hell of a lot fewer than were killed in the French Revolutionary struggles against religion or even in the struggle against religion ever since.

And notice that France continues to discriminate against the religious. They even added an interview to state schools for the elite like ENA specifically to prevent religious believers being admitted.

Chaise @ 39:

“Because the nature of God is not defined, and religionists rarely feel the need to provide evidence for their claims, you can say pretty much anything to defend the existence of evil. Best-case example is “God moves in mysterious ways”. That’s not an answer, it’s a fancy way of saying “I don’t know”. But press certain people on this and you’ll be told that you, mere mortal, can never hope to understand God, and in fact you’re arrogant for even trying.

So it moves from not answering the question to saying “stop asking that question”. Which wouldn’t be an acceptable response in most other fields.”

So because you can think of a sloppy theodicy, all theodicy is inherently sloppy?

“Before you say anything, I don’t deny that in this case the space between first-class and second-class is small.”

For “small” read “non-existent”, given that civil partnerships give people all the rights of marriage and civil partners are legally indistinguishable from a married couple. Gay people have all the same rights as straight people under the law.

SMFS: “And notice that France continues to discriminate against the religious. They even added an interview to state schools for the elite like ENA specifically to prevent religious believers being admitted.”

You have a citation to a reputable source to substantiate that?

As the controversy last year over banning the hijab showed, there is strong and wide public support for maintaining France’s secular traditions.

In the US, the Christian fundies hate to admit it but the US Constitution is secularist.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Claims that secularism go along with totalitarianism are just nonsense. Try this:

“The Vatican blundered into a fresh public relations fiasco on Tuesday after seeking to rewrite the biography of Pope Benedict XVI by denying that he was ever a member of the Hitler Youth.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/vaticancityandholysee/5314338/Dont-mention-the-Popes-Hitler-Youth-past-says-the-Vatican.html

46. Chaise Guevara

@ 44 XXX

“So because you can think of a sloppy theodicy, all theodicy is inherently sloppy?”

No, I did say that the “mysterious ways” get-out-of-jail-free card was a particularly egregious example. Theodicy as a whole suffers more from my other two points: that the thing whose existence you’re defending is generally not defined, and therefore can shapeshift to suit the argument; and that it in any case always seems to be pure conjecture of the “I want to believe this” variety.

If you’ve defined specifically what God is, and you’re providing evidence for your claims, and you’re using rational and honest arguments, including starting from the desire to discover truth rather than defend your beliefs, THEN you’re doing excellent, first-class theodicy. I for one have never seen it done. Maybe it’s been done and I haven’t seen it. Maybe it can’t be done because the whole concept rests on an unwarranted assumption.

Personal experience here, but all attempts at theodicy I’ve ever encountered have either been blatant special pleading, been logically incoherent, or have made God look like the sort of person you’re burn effigies of rather than worship.

“For “small” read “non-existent”, given that civil partnerships give people all the rights of marriage and civil partners are legally indistinguishable from a married couple. Gay people have all the same rights as straight people under the law.”

It’s not non-existent. Gay people can’t get married. Yes, civil partnerships are marriages in all but name, but names are important when they’re *deliberately picked as snubs to a minority group*. There is NO reason not to call civil partnerships “marriage” except to pander to bigoted wankers. While Britain allows said wankers to dictate the personal choices of gay people, even in name, we have a two-tier system.

Do you really think it doesn’t matter? Honestly? If it was announced tomorrow that blacks could not legally marry whites anymore, but that mixed-race people could form “Loving Unions” with all the legal rights of marriage, would you not blink?

Matt @ 33

she was arguing against the political implications which some (in this case Bishops) draw from their understanding of Christian values.

No doubt, she sees it that way. No doubt, she and the rest of the Tories see defending the disabled and the poverty stricken as nothing to do with Christianity. No doubt the Tories see the main role of Christianity to rage against the working classes having sex before marriage, the middle classes having same sex and the poor having sex at all.

However, what is the point of arguing about a ‘militant secularism’ if you want to ignore or attack the input of people in the legislative process whose only role is to represent the established church?

The Tories don’t get to play both sides of the street, do they? They cannot, on one hand, demand that we give the religious groupings a pedestal simply because they happen to follow a given faith, the week after nineteen bishops actually stand up for (in this case) Christian values and then dismiss them as ‘out of touch’. Either you want ‘Christian values to underpin the fabric of our society’ or you don’t.

What we have seen from the Tory woman et al is a plea for the religiously driven be included in cultural life beyond what there numbers and observance can justify. Nineteen Bishops stood up against militant secularists last week, has that gave the Tories pause for thought and look to Christianity for guidance? Nope, they have announced that Mammon must take precedence over the Nation’s Christian underpinnings. Fine if that is what they want, but don’t bleat the following week that Christian voices are being sidelined.

Unless you are proposing that all institutions should have no right to comment on political issues – Trades Unions? Professional bodies? The BMA?

No, of course not, but we need to get this into perspective. Having strong religious beliefs do not give anyone a special insight into anything other than having strong religious beliefs. If two hundred groups campaign against a bypass for example, being the local vicar and your congregation of fifty people gives you the right to speak against something, but having a dog collar does not elevate your group above the local darts team, for example.

The outworking, or impact of, that conviction may very well give an institution a special insight on an issue.

Sure, but it is the experiences of that outworking that gives you the authority to talk on the subject, not necessarily the motivation behind it.

I am all for listening to someone who runs a soup kitchen for example, and I will draw my own conclusions from what he says, but it is the fact that he provides a soup kitchen that is important.

48. Chaise Guevara

@ 47

Well said, Jim.

@45 Bob B
“In the US, the Christian fundies hate to admit it but the US Constitution is secularist.”

Actually, for the most part, they’re happy with the kind of secularism that’s explicitly there in the Constitution (the state has no right to compel religious belief, and the church has no right to greater influence on government than any other pressure group). What they’re against is a secularism that seeks to remove religious expression from public life.

@47 Jim “Having strong religious beliefs do not give anyone a special insight into anything other than having strong religious beliefs. If two hundred groups campaign against a bypass for example, being the local vicar and your congregation of fifty people gives you the right to speak against something, but having a dog collar does not elevate your group above the local darts team, for example.”

There aren’t many darts teams that have 50 members. And the only time the darts team would have something relevant to say about a bypass would be if it affected their ability to meet or play. Whereas a church or other religious institution has a whole load of things to say about economics, care for the environment, the impact on the local area (unless they’re very small they’ll almost certainly be doing some kind of charitable work in their community – and in some areas religious groups are the only community organisations), and the like. Basically, religious groups have more to say about political issues than any other interest group I can think of that isn’t a political party. And that’s why we should expect them to be prominent voices in the public sphere.

Green Christian @ 49

Whereas a church or other religious institution has a whole load of things to say about economics, care for the environment, the impact on the local area

Oh, I am sure they have tons to ‘say’ on all those and dozens of other subjects and there is nothing wrong in that, but just because they have lots to say on a subject being Christians does not automatically make them right. Nor does being Christian give them any special insight either, if I am being honest.

Being part of the congregation of the local church does not automatically make you an expert on the environment the economy or even impacts on local traffic, either. Certainly Christians are no more intrinsically more knowledgeable on any of these subjects that the clientele from the local pub could be.

I would welcome input on any given subject from whatever quarter, but what Baroness Warsi’ is suggesting is that the Christian viewpoint should be given prominence because of this Country’s historic ties to Christianity. Given her Party’s reluctance to accept the health professional’s stance on the future of the health service and the climate scientists on the prognosis of the Earth unless we tackle CO2 emissions, it makes you wonder why they would argue that religion has an inside take on anything.

Basically, religious groups have more to say about political issues than any other interest group I can think of that isn’t a political party.

They may have ‘more’ to say, but is that the same as ‘more relevant’ to say?

As I have said before. If your church runs a local soup kitchen for example or a drink/drug help centre or whatever, I would be happy to hear from your opinions on the subject of homelessness and I would be happy for you to apply for funding on that basis. I would suggest that your church may have expertise on the subject given their direct involvement with the homeless but I would be cautious in supposing that their religious belief should be taken as a defacto expertise in any given sphere.

51. Just Visiting

Jim

> I am all for listening to someone who runs a soup kitchen for example, and I will draw my own conclusions from what he says, but it is the fact that he provides a soup kitchen that is important.

But don’t Christians run more soup-kitchens than the local Labour parties: or any one else locally !

Naming just one denomination: the Salvation Army in your town, are probably doing lots for the homeless.

@51 Which means the Salvation Army is very much worth listening to on matters of homelessness, though probably not so much worth listening to on the subject of gay adoption, for example. Given that by their actions they will have gained special insight into the former, but will have bugger all extra or relevant to add to the latter discussion that the average taxi driver couldn’t also provide.

53. Just Visiting

Green Christian

> Basically, religious groups have more to say about political issues than any other interest group I can think of that isn’t a political party. And that’s why we should expect them to be prominent voices in the public sphere.

Spot on. But of course, depending on the nature of the god they follow, some religious groups may advocate punishment of women caught in adultery, and have a following behind them.

So it may not be compatible with liberal views to give equal space to all the views of all religious groups

> And that’s why we should expect them to be prominent voices in the public sphere.

Humm, I wonder if that is one reason that many on the left would prefer to silence religious voices. They are seen as competitors in the public sphere!

Both politicians and religious groups advocate policies that would make society better, ‘by impacting what people are allowed to do’ – but it seems that very factor is often something some on the left condemn religious groups most strongly for!

Just visiting @ 51

Cylux, has beaten me to it. I do not have a problem with the Sally Army doing anything like that, and I have no problem with them campaigning on the subject of homelessness for that matter. If I was a minister in a government and I wanted to get some insight into ‘homelessness’ I would invite them and a few others to a forum, but not because they are Christians, but because they deal with the homeless and the poor. Their ‘Christianity’ does not make them experts on the poor through some kind of religious insight, it is the day today contact with the vulnerable that make them worth listening to. An atheist group with the same contact would offer an avenue to evidence too. Now, it could well be that I would find their evidence at such a forum useless because their religious beliefs may colour their views, that would be a judgement call.

If I was tasked with devising a policy for redeveloping the Thames Barrier, then my immediate course of action would not be the Sally Army, because they have no expertise on the subject. I would not think, ‘ah their religious beliefs make them excellent candidates to design a tidal barrier’.

55. So Much For Subtlety

52. Cylux

Which means the Salvation Army is very much worth listening to on matters of homelessness, though probably not so much worth listening to on the subject of gay adoption, for example. Given that by their actions they will have gained special insight into the former, but will have bugger all extra or relevant to add to the latter discussion that the average taxi driver couldn’t also provide.

How do you know? How can you determine that their work with the homeless only teaches them about the homeless? Perhaps every single homeless person was driven to the gutter by their desire to adopt a child with their same-sex lover, but they were cruelly prohibited from doing so by the State?

What is more, it is absurd to say that you cannot draw larger lessons from life experience? I would have thought that it is precisely those values that drive them to work with the homeless, selfless as they are, that make their views on pretty much anything else worth listening to. Why would you – an angry anonymous blogger who does little except smear those that have dedicated their lives to helping others – have any better insight?

In the end it seems that you simply think that people who agree with you are entitled to an opinion and people who do not aren’t.

@55 What makes you think a taxi driver wouldn’t have comparable life experience?

Chaise @ 46:

“Theodicy as a whole suffers more from my other two points: that the thing whose existence you’re defending is generally not defined, and therefore can shapeshift to suit the argument; and that it in any case always seems to be pure conjecture of the “I want to believe this” variety.”

I think you’ll need to be a bit clearer on what you mean by “generally not defined”. Most religions define God to some degree — creator, omnibenevolent, omnipotent, etc. Also, what exactly do you mean by “pure conjecture of the ‘I want to believe this’ variety”?

As for the gay marriage thing: I personally would like to allow Churches to perform marriage services for gay people. But describing them as “second-class citizens” implies some sort of 1950s-style US segregation, and so looks a bit over-the-top.

58. Chaise Guevara

@ 57 XXX

“I think you’ll need to be a bit clearer on what you mean by “generally not defined”. Most religions define God to some degree — creator, omnibenevolent, omnipotent, etc.”

They’re generally less clear on how he interacts with the world, how he decides which prayers to answer and which people to reward/punish. They’re inconsistent on whether he exists within the universe, without it, or both, and how much of a direct hand he has in human events (which tends to lead to pretty serious biases where God gets all the credit and humans get all the blame).

Take Aquinas’s “proofs” of God’s existence. All of them rely on defining God as something other than what is normally understood by the concept: “Here is a gap in knowledge, that thing is what we call God”. Presumably he hoped that people wouldn’t notice the equivocation between “God exists because I’m defining the first cause as God” and “A conscious, omnipotent creator being exists”. Or perhaps he didn’t even realise he was equivocating.

People still use Aquinas’s arguments, and others like them. Defining your terms up front can prevent that kind of goalpost-shifting.

“Also, what exactly do you mean by “pure conjecture of the ‘I want to believe this’ variety”?”

Pure conjecture cos there’s no evidence. Someone might hypothesise that God allows suffering to give us the opportunity for grace, but I’ve yet to see anyone try to prove that this is actually true. So I might equally say “God allows suffering because he’s a sadist”.

“I want to believe this” is my theory for why most people allow themselves to chase bad arguments for God’s existence and benevolence.

“As for the gay marriage thing: I personally would like to allow Churches to perform marriage services for gay people. But describing them as “second-class citizens” implies some sort of 1950s-style US segregation, and so looks a bit over-the-top.”

Fair enough, I see why you’d think so.

59. Mike Killingworth

[58] Chaise. there is evidence that people believe in God: God as a psychological projection, if you like. This has been the position of Christian humanists at least since Erasmus, and they would argue that it is sufficent.

Of course, a counter-argument might be that such projection is evidence of mental illness, but then I think the burden of proof is shifted to those who wish to make it. Perhaps a more interesting question is whether absence of mental illness is a prerequisite for creativity – there are any number of counter-examples, Kierkegaard and Kafka come to my mind immediately (because we share an initial, I daresay :) )

60. Chaise Guevara

@ 59

What? Of course there’s evidence that people believe in God, but that isn’t evidence for the existence of God (which is obviously a prerequisite for the benevolence of God). You don’t need a counter-argument to something that isn’t actually an argument in the first place.

61. Mike Killingworth

[60] CB, what is your evidence for the non-existence of psychological projections?

AFAIK they explain most of human behaviour, whether religious or secular.

62. Chaise Guevara

@ 61

We seem to be having separate conversations. I never said anything about psychicological projections.

63. Mike Killingworth

[61] I think you will find, CG, that in most conversations new ideas are introduced by both parties.

Clearly you don’t want to have a conversation, merely to preach and to show off your superiority to the rest of us.

Thankyou for reminding me why I deleted this site from my Favourites list in the first place.

@53 Just Visiting
“So it may not be compatible with liberal views to give equal space to all the views of all religious groups”

You seem to be saying that freedom of speech isn’t a liberal value. Obviously more prominence should be given to religious groups with relevant expertise and to ones which represent a larger part of the population, but that’s no different to how we would – in an ideal world – weight the views of any interest group.

@54 Jim
“If I was tasked with devising a policy for redeveloping the Thames Barrier, then my immediate course of action would not be the Sally Army, because they have no expertise on the subject. I would not think, ‘ah their religious beliefs make them excellent candidates to design a tidal barrier’.”

But you might well consult Sally Army groups who live and serve in the areas that would be affected by the redevelopment.

65. Chaise Guevara

@ 63 Mike

You know, I honestly thought until now that you were making an honest attempt to discuss the matter, but we’d got our wires crossed somewhere?

But no, it appears you’re a weird little man who goes around demanding people provide evidence for things they never said, then throws their toys out of the pram when the person in question points this out.

Congratulations, you’re joined the rare and exclusive club of arseholes on the internet. Your troll-hat is in the post.

Still, glad you’ve deleted this site from your favourites list. I don’t suppose, as a parting gift, you could convince some of your troll brethren to join you?

@22
Lib Dem policy was/is to disestablish (as Libs did to Church of Wales and Church of Ireland).

Try googling Plutarco Elías Calles and Enver Hoxha.

67. Just Visiting

Chaise

> Of course there’s evidence that people believe in God, but that isn’t evidence for the existence of God

Does this mean that you hold the view that the only truth is what can be obtained by empirical science – and so when you say ‘evidence’ it is empirical science evidence you want?

Presumably he hoped that people wouldn’t notice the equivocation between “God exists because I’m defining the first cause as God” and “A conscious, omnipotent creator being exists”.

Are you sure that’s what Aquinas was saying?

69. Yeah, but am i bovered?

@53 “But of course, depending on the nature of the god they follow, some religious groups may advocate punishment of women caught in adultery, and have a following behind them.

So it may not be compatible with liberal views to give equal space to all the views of all religious groups”

Indeed. Many religious groups advocate some pretty unsavoury things and sinister, strangely dressed, bearded men promoting hatred and discrimination don’t really fit with a liberal agenda. Remind me, who’s that weird old beardy bloke who seems to like wearing purple shirts with the collar on back to front, used to be in charge of some declining organisation for the gullible and who recently launched a diatribe against gay marriage? Which particular god does that prejudiced old hate – monger follow? Interestingly, the holy book of his sect also lays down death as the only acceptable punishment for “worshipping false gods.” They sound like a rather dodgy lot, don’t they?

@ 67 “Chaise

> Of course there’s evidence that people believe in God, but that isn’t evidence for the existence of God

Does this mean that you hold the view that the only truth is what can be obtained by empirical science – and so when you say ‘evidence’ it is empirical science evidence you want?”

Empirical science evidence, eh? What kind of evidence did you have in mind? The “lots of people profess to believe it, so it must be true” kind of evidence?
Fair enough. By the same token, islam, hinduism, judaism, buddhism etc etc are all simultaneously “true.” The cults of Jupiter, Neptune etc used to be “true”, but ceased to be about 1700 years (give or take) ago and haven’t been “true” since. The healing power of crystals and the ability of mediums to contact those “on the other side” are “facts” and aliens kidnap thousands of people annually. See any problems with this approach to judging what counts as evidence?


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