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Secularism Revealed

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 wouldn’t have anything to learn from one another. His 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 “a history where religion made very little impact on history or scientific development” 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 aren’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 more 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 character’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, 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 ‘religion run amok’. 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 ‘chicken soup’ 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.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for the kind words in your introduction. I too enjoy healthy discussion done in a respectful manner. I’ll see your post and raise you this comment:

    You said, “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.”

    CB: I contend that there aren’t many “secular” families that exist in the way you seem to mean here, which is,as you explain, something different from secular humanistic and/or atheist families. I don’t see the utility of making the distinction either.

    My family is secular in that religion will have very little to no influence on our daily lives but would not fit your definition. I am an atheist and my wife is a theist with weak leanings towards the Judeo-Christian god. My daughter will learn about religion, not only Christianity but major world religions in general. In my public high school I took a world religion course and learned much from it. Religion is fascinating and has impacted the world in a number of ways both negative and positive. It can be ugly and it can be mind blowingly beautful. My daughter will learn, as best as I am able to teach her, historically accurate truth. My goal is not to draw her over to the “dark side” but to impart accurate knowledge so that she will one day be able to rationally find her place in the world.

    My main concern with your statement is the false dichotomy between religiously motivated spirituality and “nothing”. What is this nothing of which you speak? I certainly don’t feel it. I feel a very prominent something in my life and in fact my most recent post touched upon this. Why then is my daughter at risk of being doomed to a meaningless and empty life and subsequent lurch into extreme religiosity? The assignment of terms like “nothing” and “meaningless” to the lives of those who choose not to accept religious belief systems is a common thread in fundamentalist banter and I’ve never bought it.

    Most “secular” families are probably closer to being like mine, if not exactly, than like that which you describe. Thus I don’t think that many children growing up in these families would end up scientifically illiterate though they might be religiously immature. I don’t know what that means so I can’t really comment on it. I can’t imagine anyone really could define such a sentiment. The men who strap bombs to their bodies and murder innocent civilians in the name of their god, or the poor soul that would murder a doctor for performing an abortion would likely consider themselves very religiously mature. You would probably say the opposite. Am I religously immature or do qualifiers such as that only apply to those who accept some kind of religious belief? If so, why would children of those falling outside of the category be at risk of being religously immature? Couldn’t lack of belief be considered an easy answer or devout atheism an emotional style of evangelism? Am I making any sense?

    Religious bias of all atheists is a stretch. Must I be biased against all things I do not accept? I am somewhat biased against religion because I am biased against magical thinking in general in that it doesn’t add any insight into my place in the world. Hell, I don’t need more insight into my place in the world. I’m here, so is everybody else, let’s all be nice. But I wouldn’t begrudge religious inclinations of others. My goal isn’t that my daughter be an atheist. My goal is that my daughter have the critical thinking skills to make rational decisions based on her interpretation of the evidence.

    If atheism or secular humanism are religions then so is major league baseball. That being said, I agree that public schools should not be in the business of telling children how to approach belief. They should, as you so wisely point out, be in the business of grooming generation after generation of critical thinkers. If I found out that my daughter’s teacher was extolling the virtues of atheism I’d beat a path through all of the fundies to be first in line to protest.

    I’ve got to go but I’ll rant incoherently about the second half of you post later. Sorry for the long comment.

  2. No worries with the long comment if you don’t care about the long reply .

    CB: I contend that there aren’t many “secular” families that exist in the way you seem to mean here, which is,as you explain, something different from secular humanistic and/or atheist families. I don’t see the utility of making the distinction either.

    This may be so, but a quick look at TV portrayals would seem to argue against you. Of course that is just TV, and part of what pets my peeve.

    A large portion of people who claim to be Christian in this nation also admit to never going to church and have never read the Bible. These don’t even know the ten commandments, let alone how the interaction of religions have impacted history. So while they may technically be Christian, in practice they are secular. I think the distinction between secularism and secular humanism does exist.

    CB: My main concern with your statement is the false dichotomy between religiously motivated spirituality and “nothing”. What is this nothing of which you speak?

    I’m afraid I was not clear enough. The ‘nothing’ that I speak about is not an absence in belief in God but an absence in any spirituality whatsoever. I think that Atheists can be spiritual: in awe of the universe and adhering to moral law.

    CB: Am I religously immature or do qualifiers such as that only apply to those who accept some kind of religious belief?

    I define religious immaturity as someone seeking not the truth, but answers that are easy (not necessarily simple and true – just ones that make them feel better) with a large emphasis on instant emotional gratification, combined with a tolerance and in some cases encouragement of immoral behaviors such as bigotry and dishonesty.

    CB: If so, why would children of those falling outside of the category be at risk of being religously immature? Couldn’t lack of belief be considered an easy answer or devout atheism an emotional style of evangelism? Am I making any sense?

    Well, actually that makes a great deal of sense. But then it starts to sound like Atheism is a religion, a point that you disagree with. The problem is that extremist Atheists do act like extremist Theists, in that they actively proselytize; embrace their minority status; and can be unyielding and sometimes disrespectful of others.

    Typically, extremists on any side of the religious discussion among humankind are immature in their religion.

    Especially among youth, though, this is not necessarily a chronic condition. People changing major religions may often go through a period of immaturity. In both those cases, they may lack the ‘easy answers’ part of it.

    CB: Religious bias of all atheists is a stretch.

    Let’s separate the word bias from the word bigotry, here. You must be biased against theism, otherwise you would not believe it is wrong. It doesn’t mean that you hate theism. It doesn’t mean that you are bigoted against theists. It does mean that you evaluate all the information you received based on your personal belief, making it a bias.

    When I say Atheism and Secular Humanism are biased against religion, it is merely a statement that one cannot hold those philosophies and be a believing member of a religion.

    CB: Must I be biased against all things I do not accept? I am somewhat biased against religion because I am biased against magical thinking in general in that it doesn’t add any insight into my place in the world.

    I’ve been intrigued your ‘magical thinking’ statement here and elsewhere. I might address that someday.

    If you post some more, I’m looking forward to it.

    Thanks and take care.

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