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Posted by on Jun 2, 2009 in secular society | 0 comments

Andrew Brown on secularism

I have only just noticed this old piece by Andrew Brown. Brown writes (slightly patronizingly) about disagreements at a meeting of the Council of Ex-Muslims at Conway Hall:

“The only time these disagreements were overcome was when someone made a little speech about how no one minded religion as a private activity: it was only obnoxious when the religious tried to force their opinions on everyone else. The whole hall joined in applauding this sentiment, so obviously and unarguably right.

Perhaps it’s just my limited tolerance for high-mindedness that gave me a sudden flash of insight that this doctrine was in fact obviously and unarguably wrong.”

Actually, I think Brown is wrong and the applauded doctrine was largely right. In this article it becomes clear that Brown (though perhaps also his target) is muddling up the kind of secularism (my kind) that makes equal public space for religious and non-religious views without privileging either [and which says you shouldn’t, by state or by other means, compel others to adhere to your specifically religious, or atheist, views], with the kind of secularism that insists that only atheist and/or non-religious views can be publicly expressed. The religious must bite their tongues. This is a muddle that anti-secularists promote and trade on.

Shame Brown is perpetuating it (incidentally, how many secularists do you know who believe people should not be allowed to publicly express a religious point of view? I have only ever come across one. Yet that’s how opponents of my kind of secularism typically caricature it.)

The bit about “forcing doctrines on everyone else” is interesting. But of course secularists don’t typically want to force secularism on society, but to persuade society to embrace a religiously-neutral, secular position (which is not to say such a society is officially neutral on everything of course – it clearly isn’t [it’s not neutral on the value of secularism and freedom of religious belief, for a start).

True, as a result of a society being secular, some freedoms will be curtailed. I won’t be free to send my child to a state-funded school promoting atheism, for example. Good thing too.

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