Whenever I hear Christians bashing ‘secularism’ I wonder what do they mean and have they really considered what secularism is before joining the bandwagon. I wonder if secularism (as a concept) has been hijacked (as humanism has been) by extreme ideologies which skew its meaning to either get popularity or to find a hobby horse. In this process the concept is emptied of it’s wider meaning and devalued. For example modern humanism traces it’s birth within the Christian context – and I am bemused how today is used with such impunity to claim exclusion of faith.
Last week I heard the Pope bash again secularism as one of the ills of our society. While I agree that the Catholic Church might have an axe to grind with secularism – as the arrival of secularism announced the demise of political power for the Catholic Church – I don’t understand why this has to be a threat to Christians and their faith. The Protestant church, to my knowledge (and I am not a church historian), has been an advocate of secularism (well with some exceptions) since the Reformation. Secularism for me in simple terms means separating the political from religious and in practical terms making a safe space for all where religion does not dictate to society what to do but at the same time it is not excluded from society – an alternative to theocracy. Secularism per-se does not, and cannot, eliminate faith out of the public sphere – otherwise it looses it’s core principle – neutrality. Secularism is not atheism.
Simon Barrow with other members of Ekklesia have done recently a good amount of work to try and reclaim secularism as a concept.
Evan Harris published at the weekend a Secularist Manifesto in the Guardian which I find to fit with what I think secularism is. There is nothing in this manifesto that I could not say amen to and I don’t think many Christians would object to the ethos of this manifesto (some Christians though might find some aspects harder to accept). Here are the main points:
“A manifesto for secularist change would look like this:
1. Protect free religious expression that does not directly incite violence or crimes against others or publicly and directly cause someone distress or alarm.
2. End discrimination against nonreligious belief systems or organisations.
3. End unjustified religious discrimination
I would be interested in feedback.