Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Secular Government is a Sane One - Part 2

A while back I wrote a post arguing that the current infusion of religious fundamentalism into politics (in the US specifically) was very dangerous and that the only sane form of government was a secular one.  Not everyone agreed with me on that, not because they thought that religious fundamentalism was good but rather because they considered secularism to be bad.  However I suspect it was because I wasn't that clear regarding what I mean by "secular".

So let me be clear then.  Secular does not mean anti-religious.  It simply means that government takes no sides in religion and that they don't promote one belief over another.  Now I realise that to some religious people this in itself is considered an attack on their faith.  If you really believe that your rights are being violated by the government not giving privilege to your beliefs then you may as well stop reading here, we're never going to agree.  What you want is a theocracy, not a democracy.  But ask yourself this - what if the government starts to mandate and privilege a religious view and it's different from yours?  The problem with theocrats is that they always assume their group will be the ones in charge.

That is exactly the kind of scenario that a secular government prevents.  Under a secular government everyone is free to believe what they like, provided it does infringe on the same freedom for others.  Therefore you can pray however you like, interpret your holy book as you choose and have the sacraments you believe in.  In a world where the church up the road - who considers your beliefs misguided and heretical - got to make the rules, you wouldn't be able to do any of that.  Think about that.  Best part is, under a secular government, you even get to disagree!  You get to call those other guys who do things differently things like "misguided" or "heretics" or "blasphemers" (and they get to call you the same) without the government throwing anyone in jail for it!  No one is forced to conform to anything.  You get to have and keep your beliefs.  A secular government is not an anti-religious one.  On the contrary!

Now I do understand that sometimes even the people in government fail to understand the nuances of secularism which leads to them actually acting anti-religious.  When that happens though, they are in the wrong.  You can turn to the law and the law will vindicate you.

Secular does not mean that no religious activity is allowed on government property.  It means that no one group gets exclusive access to government property.  Presbyterians can meet in a public park but not Presbyterians ONLY.  Anglicans, Catholics, Pentecostals, Muslims, Jews and the Secular Student Alliance all get the same access to it.

Secular doesn't mean you don't get to pray in school.  It means the government doesn't get to tell you what to pray or who to pray to.  If you were a Baptist, would you be OK with a school led prayer to the Virgin Mary?  I didn't think so.  When no one belief is forced on anyone, everyone is free to believe as they choose.

Similarly secular doesn't mean that for instance the Bible is banned from schools.  It just means the government doesn't get to force anyone to read it.  If you were a Christian, you wouldn't like it if your kids were forced to read the Book of Mormon would you?  And no, doing Bible readings and letting some kids "opt out" by standing outside is pretty much the same as forcing everyone to read the Bible.  Peer pressure is immense in school, not many kids will willingly choose to become outcasts.

No one is forced not to have a religion.  Even politicians get to have religious faith and still be in a secular government.  They just don't get to impose their religious views on others.  Secularism is simply about keeping government and religion separate.  The government doesn't tell you what to believe (or not believe) and faith groups don't get to mandate rules for everyone else to follow.  

OK, that was my clumsy attempt at explaining Secularism as applied to government.  For a far superior and much more eloquent explanation, please check out this video by youtuber QualiaSoup.  One day I wish to be this good at explaining myself...


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