A while ago I wrote a piece about secularism, where I received some interesting and stimulating comments. In particular, Clark Bartram addressed my remarks on his blog. Because of PGR, getting a job, and other commitments, I have been unable to reply until now.
First of all, I would like to return the respect that Clark showed for me. I feel honored by his treatment of the subject. I love discussing and exploring issues. My goal is to gain perspective and learn new things. If we all agreed with each other, we wouldnâ€™t have anything to learn from one another. HisÂ arguments show thoughtfulness and passion and have pushed me to more carefully examine my position.
As for the subject at hand, Clark has said that I set up a straw man when I discussed secularism. I believe the real problem here is semantics and a slip up on my part. Clark is right that I am unclear on this. At the outset of my piece, I chose a very strict definition of secularism: the absence of religious references and/or prejudices within a sphere of influence. An example of this, outside government, would be a television show where no characters exhibited any religious belief.
This is a very different concept from Secular Humanism and Atheism which are what I believe Clark goes on to address.
My mistake was that I also slipped into defining secularism as Secular Humanism when I stated that families who were secular adopted â€œa history where religion made very little impact on history or scientific developmentâ€ and I messed up even more in my reply to Sarabeth when I said that maybe I should have written that children of secular families learn that religion only had negative impact.
What I really should have said was the children of secular families learned nothing about religion and probably history, except what they learned at school. This is more in keeping with my original point anyway: children of secular families seek spirituality because it holds more meaning than nothing.
I think Clark and I might agree that often the outcome is unfortunate. Individuals coming from this background are scientifically illiterate as well as being religiously immature. Such are likely to seek out the easiest answers and are vulnerable to the highly emotional styles of evangelism and Pentecostal sects. The sum of this is the rise of the religious fundamentalism that both of us hate.
Within my strict definition of secularism, even atheism and its sister, secular humanism must be considered philosophies with religious bias. They are not religions themselves, but their philosophical bias against religion removes from them the neutrality required in a truly secular environment. This is why some theists might accuse atheism and secular humanism of being a religion. Again, those philosophies arenâ€™t religions, but secular policy within our schools and government must treat them as such.
I am not arguing against separation of church and state. I believe that practice is crucial to religious freedom as well as scientific development. I believe that the same problem exhibited in my own essay, the mix up of secularism and secular humanism, sometimes occurs in schools, especially higher institutions where professors may feel moreÂ free to express personal opinion within the classroom. However, there are sufficient balances within the system to counteract an explicit development of the problem.
I am arguing against the portrayal of religion in popular media. It is either absent (secular) or crudely used to explain a characterâ€™s foibles (caricature), except in the case of shows where religion or belief in God is the theme. I feel that this attitude of religion not seen or heard, a problem of the 70s and 80s especially but still prevalent today,Â slipped into familial culture.
I am also arguing against the adoption of secular humanism as the only philosophy compatible with scientific inquiry. This artificial divide has given evangelical preachers an evil villain against which they can rally their followers. Clark worries about â€˜religion run amokâ€™. He seems to think that secular humanism has served as a protector against this. I maintain my arguement that it is the opposite that has happened.
Scripturally illiterate and spiritually immature religions subsist on emotional response. They rely on charisma, easy answers, and a sense of righteous persecution. Science does not offer easy answers, and members of the scientific community who have preached against religion have fueled the sense of righteous persecution such religious sects maintain.
For the person who struggled with science, such an organization would not only comfort them by absolving them of any incompetence they may have felt, it also tells them that science is one of the faces of evil. In this belief structure, to not understand science is to be more righteous.
This is easy religion, and I believe it does run amok in part because of the close alliance of secular humanism with the scientific community.
Clark wrote of his feelings of persecution. I believe the very real and evil phenomenon he describes is a symptom of a religion based on social and emotional constructs. Sunday School, for many churches, is about why other religions are wrong, why evolution is wrong, or the latest â€˜chicken soupâ€™ book, rather than studying the actual text of scripture and learning how to have moral behavior. Service is about a savior who will absolve them of all their wrongs, with very little effort on their part. Every good thing that happens is classified as a Miracle directly wrought by God. These are comforting, feel good teachings designed to maximize the congregation and they are worthless. Worse than that, they substitute true Christian values: integrity, accountability, good works, knowledge, love for all fellow humans, hope, and faith. Without those values, religion is a bane to society.
Next up, I’ll reply to Sarabeth’s very good question about teaching our children.