Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What is "militant secularisation"?

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Cabinet Office minister of the British government and chair of the Conservative Party, wrote yesterday that "a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies," and "one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant."

According to Baroness Warsi, failing to "fund faith schools" and prohibiting the signs of religion in government buildings are examples of this militant secularization. It would seem that any curtailment, restriction, or limitation of any sort on the activities of the ordained is, by definition, an attack on religion and a demonstration of secular fundamentalism as extreme and dire as any witch burning or suicide bombing. Similarly, not providing the faithful the amount of public funds they desire for their own sectarian purposes is tantamount to banning religious practices outright.

Imagine, for a moment, a truly militantly secular state. 
  • Any display of religious dress on publicly funded property is forbidden. Wearing hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes, or crosses while walking on the sidewalk or driving your car is illegal. 
  • All evangelical activities are forbidden in the public square. 
  • Any public avowal of a particular faith automatically disqualifies you from eligibility for a public office (elected or appointed) until an equally public declaration repudiating such views has been made (possibly under oath).
These propositions are, of course, absurd. Secularists support government neutrality in matters of religion, which means, among many other things, that public monies, contrary to Baroness Warsi's claims, should not be directed to factional religious schools.   

Baroness Warsi acknowledged that "we all know that too much blood has been shed in the name of religion." And yet she also claims that "in order to encourage social harmony, people need to feel stronger in their religious identities, and more confident in their beliefs," and "Europe needs to be more confident in its Christianity." Yet any honest appraisal of the world today (and throughout history) would conclude that bloodshed is far more likely when secularist principles are violated - when the power of the state is used to support or repress religious sentiment.

Public policy should be based, to the greatest extent possible, on reason and evidence, not dogma or ideology (whether economic, political or religious).