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Do Secularists Contribute to Social Divisiveness?

Russell Blackford

Metamagician and the Hellfire Club

March 10, 2010

My colleague Taner Edis, who contributed a fine essay to 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Atheists , has, alas, written a new essay over on the Secular Outpost blog, in which he takes me to task for my recent criticism of Gary Bouma.


Complete entry


Posted by Hector  on  03/11  at  04:45 AM

I think Lisa Bauer makes a conflating error in this paragraph:

“Israel and many other ex-Ottoman countries like Egypt and Jordan also divide up their religious communities along these lines, where each one has their own family law courts based on religious law and so on, and we might note how friendly most of them are to atheists and the nonreligious (not very!). And this autonomy certainly doesn’t prevent the majority from treating minorities poorly, as Copts in Egypt or even Palestinian Muslims under Israeli rule might tell you.”

The first half of the paragraph refers to Israel’s religious communities, but winds up talking about Palestinians being treated poorly under Israeli rule ... but the rulers there are for the most part secular.

Posted by CygnusX1  on  03/11  at  06:53 PM

Wow, this is strong and convincing stuff. And I ask myself why this more robust kind of secularism is not already a realisation throughout our western cultures. And in fact to an extent it actually is, only maybe pushed to the sidelines somewhat for the purposes of political laziness and in the guise of protecting the status quo?

Yet we do appear to be facing a delicate trade off between the rights of individuals, and the rights of minority groups and religions that are protected under freedom laws and also their declarations for fairness and recognition and equitable community funding?  : Is this where the divisive problem lies?

It may not be fair to provide funding to religious groups per se, yet ethnic groups of cultural religions and more established religious groups are still receiving governmental funds under rules of equity via their communities. I have a growing concern that the uprising and promotion of faith schools will have a divisive effect upon communities and education, and serve to promote a form or liberal dystopia and fear of the freedom to express any form of speech regarding religions. A world where cartoonists come under increasing prejudices and pressures?

All this encourages a society concerned with political correctness where individuals are protected from harm, yet are open to all forms of litigation concerning slander and libellous speech and free thinking. This is already a reality where I live and where I work, it is a reality now. OK, I may have it all wrong, since the ideal is for diverse communities to live happily together through mutual “respect” and “tolerance”. Yet acceptance and understanding should be the goal, and I cannot see faith schools delivering the goods?

I would most certainly vote for any advancement of secularism of state and church, and the points that you propose are well grounded. What you have here should form the basis for any democratic manifesto. I look forward to part three.

Faith schools

Wiki quote : “A faith school is a school that has a particular religious character or has formal links with a religious organisation. The term was introduced in Britain in 1990 following demands by Muslims for institutions comparable to the existing church schools. In the United States such schools are often called parochial schools.”

Quote : “The English education system developed in partnership with the mainstream Christian churches, whose involvement in education pre-dates that of the state and which focused on providing education for the poor. Since 1944 faith communities have been able to apply to set up schools in the state sector in response to demand from parents. Today around a third of maintained schools have a religious character and are popularly known as faith schools.


Wiki quote : “The principle of laïcité in France is implemented through a number of policies. The French government is legally prohibited from recognizing any religion.

Laïcité is currently accepted by all of France’s mainstream religions. Exceptions include the monarchists, who wish to reinstate Catholicism as a state religion with a stronger political role, as well as with some Islamist leaders who believe their religious law to be superior to civil law.
French political leaders, though not prohibited from making religious remarks, generally refrain from demonstrating openly that their policies are directly inspired by religious considerations.

Although the term was current throughout the nineteenth century, France did not fully separate church and state until the passage of its 1905 law on the separation of the Churches and the State, prohibiting the state from recognizing or funding any religion. All religious buildings in France (mostly Catholic churches, Protestant temples and Jewish synagogues) became the property of the City councils, who now have the duty to maintain the buildings but can’t subsidize the religious organizations using them. “

Wiki quote : “George Jacob Holyoake’s 1896 publication English Secularism defines secularism thus: “Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable. Its essential principles are three:
(1) The improvement of this life by material means.
(2) That science is the available Providence of man.
(3) That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good.”

“There are those who state that religion is not necessary for moral behavior at all. The Dalai Lama has said that compassion and affection are human values independent of religion: “We need these human values. I call these secular ethics, secular beliefs. There’s no relationship with any particular religion. Even without religion, even as nonbelievers, we have the capacity to promote these things.”

Posted by postfuturist  on  03/12  at  02:02 PM

Religion is the social default mode.
Since humans are incompatible beings, religion (or at least spirituality) is necessary to tame the male animal to the extent he does not need to be caged. And that is just for starters.

Posted by CygnusX1  on  03/13  at  03:51 PM

I have read through the Taner Edis blogs and despite his declarations that he views himself as fundamentally secularist yet supports multiculturalism, he is not at all clear as to what he actually does believe or support? I can understand his points regarding the values of multicultural communities which can be self governing to a high degree, and of the positives from these, yet multicultural communities left to govern and instil their own sense of moralities, ethics and even local laws can only lead to the division of society as a whole. This should not be permitted to happen in a secular society.

What should happen is the complete opposite, as indicated above, that strong and robust secular ethics and philosophy should be the foundations which enforces stringent philosophy regarding the protections of life, liberty and property and freedom of speech. Which again, is what we have in place already. What it appears we do need is to ensure these secular ethics do in fact protect the rights and liberty of the individual regardless of which multicultural, ethnic or religious community they belong to.

In this way individuals are protected under the laws of state which takes precedence over any local rules of multicultural communities. It thus protects the rights of freedom of individuals to escape persecution for free thought and speech within their own communities, and moreover permits individuals the rights to escape the bonds of their communities and religions if they so wish. Is this all obviously simple, or am I missing the point here?

With the world a much smaller place to live and diverse multicultural communities taking root in all western nations and declaring strongly their rights for recognition and fairness, I see the solution to any problems as merely the application of strong secular philosophy and the state laws to uphold these ethics. This sends a clear message to any community, theistic or other, that individual rights of freedom take precedence. Once all parties understand this is a mandatory social contract within a state, then all parties should be clear as to their rights and wrongs? Any further squabbles of details and confusions can then be argued out in courts of law.

Also his comments regarding slavery as being scare mongering and non-existent are rather naive, as his contemplation’s do not include “sexual slavery” which is very much a reality and does exist, and is also a growing problem especially for western societies and law courts. Children are being abducted and bred into sexual slavery through organised crime syndicates today, this is not fiction it is fact.

I think we too easily take for granted our existing freedoms and secular ethics in the west, and that these philosophies of ethics can be quite transparent and it is easy to overlook their fundamental importance. What would happen if you woke up tomorrow without them? You would certainly notice them then! This is the price of liberalism, (as I see it), that freedoms can be woven against each other in the guise of selfish pursuits. And multicultural communities will be the first with their hands up shouting and ranting about their equity and freedoms whilst at the same time limiting these very freedoms of individuals within their own communities?

Spock : “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one”
Kirk : “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many”

Posted by postfuturist  on  03/13  at  10:37 PM

“that strong and robust secular ethics and philosophy should be the foundations which enforces stringent philosophy regarding the protections of life, liberty and property and freedom of speech. Which again, is what we have in place already.” No, there is too much corruption; there are more Blagojevich’s than you want to know. We are not aware of the extent of the corruption because intellectuals—academics esp.—tend to be out of touch with what is going on underground. What statistics are available on govt. corruption?

Posted by CygnusX1  on  03/14  at  10:21 AM

@ postfuturist

Quote : “Religion is the social default mode.
Since humans are incompatible beings, religion (or at least spirituality) is necessary to tame the male animal to the extent he does not need to be caged. And that is just for starters.”

I don’t believe Religion is necessarily the default mode, yet spirituality is important, and at the heart of these wants and needs that we have, is to “belong” and associate with groups and communities of all kinds. This inherent need to connect and communicate with each other, if you examine closely, this human condition, is associated with identity crises, and the inability for us to reconcile our own intellect and intelligence and our separation and seclusion from each other. Thus the question arises “who am I?”

This is why we look outwards and upwards to others, to groups, to religions, to God, to understand and define ourselves. We even look to the passing stranger on the street, the shopkeeper, the barman, and use that momentary eye contact as a mirror to continually attempt to enquire and define who we are?

It’s a shame you see humans as incompatible beings, since we are all really connected on a biological, genetic and intellectual level. We all have the same wants and needs expressed in a diversity of ways including sex and drugs and entertainment and thirst for knowledge and wisdom. “Self enquiry” is at the heart of understanding the human condition, and the Buddha, (and others), explain this clearly.

Quote : “No, there is too much corruption; there are more Blagojevich’s than you want to know. We are not aware of the extent of the corruption because intellectuals—academics esp.—tend to be out of touch with what is going on underground. What statistics are available on govt. corruption?”

This is just a generalisation. Sure corruption does exist, there are “freeloaders” everywhere in societies and communities. The reason why there are no statistics on govt. corruption is because if there were, it would be an acceptance that corruption is the norm, and it is not. It is up to politicians to weed out the corruption among their colleagues and associates, and when they fail to uncover or deny this, then we have the media to investigate and uncover these failings. A healthy dose of cynicism is a good thing, and I am most certainly cynical, yet we must not let it increase our sufferings and affect our well being. The application of methodlogical scepticism is a better tool to advance with and progress.

On the whole I do not see our politicians as corrupt, merely incompetent and lazy. And lazy is the agent, (one of many vices), of selfishness. Selfishness is always apparent whilst this notion of “Self” is deemed as separate and in separation. Once again, progress towards connectedness leads us to understanding, empathy and naturally to compassion and even altruism. A future vision where there is in fact only one community, one communion, one God (or not), and one selfless ideal.

Ah yes at the heart of every cynic is an idealist. Let’s throw off these chains of negativity and look inside to find the optimist we once were, and always have been. (do you know Nietzsche died at the age of 56 after a decade in a mental asylum, and what finally put him there was an act of desperation that would startle most people, yet he was a true idealist).

Posted by postfuturist  on  03/14  at  05:20 PM

Quote unquote: “including sex and drugs and entertainment and thirst for knowledge…” Knowledge, yes. But sex and drugs are overrated, Cygnus. If sex promoted happiness rather than just cheap pleasure (sex is, when you strip away the over-romanticization, merely animalistic) then prostitutes would be the most fulfilled of persons; pimping would be the most respected profession. And I’m not going to say or do anything to promote drug usage. Period. Connecting with others is fine; yet there is something to be said for privacy, for not meddling too much in others’ lives, and, as so often is the case, being smarmy about it. Funny, when a religious person is condescending, he is smarmy; but when someone in the govt, say, acts that way, he is only “human”. I AM optimistic about the future materially, but using the year 2040 as a parameter (30 years being a “generation”), in 2040 we will still have to deal with people we don’t want to. We will still have to have our doors locked when we are not at home; crime will still be common. In 2040 we will still have to deal with the IRS, the govt will still be predatory. Not to pick on the govt, we will still have to deal with firms trying to sell us overpriced stuff we don’t want. After midcentury, I do not know. How can anyone have any detailed image today of what sort of lives people will be living in the second half of the century? Not even the most informed scientist could give us anything more than the foggiest generalization of 50-100 years—and beyond—from now.

Posted by CygnusX1  on  03/14  at  08:03 PM

@ postfuturist

Quote : “Knowledge, yes. But sex and drugs are overrated, Cygnus. If sex promoted happiness rather than just cheap pleasure (sex is, when you strip away the over-romanticization, merely animalistic) then prostitutes would be the most fulfilled of persons..”

I have not stated that any of these things brings happiness, only that we all have the same wants and needs. Whether one finds happiness with continual sex or a thirst for knowledge is purely subjective, and people should have the freedoms to pursue these if they so desire.

As for meddling who wants that? Or a totalitarian, or Orwellian State, or a “Blade Runner” styled dystopia. And you are correct about consumerism, until folks choose the path away from selfishness and desires you will not be leaving your doors unlocked anytime soon. Whilst folks are A-mused and concerned with self-interest, minds are distracted and ignorance is promoted, especially by capitalist governments, (just the way they like it).

As I have indicated “Self enquiry” and self-understanding is a personal journey, some seek it now, some seek it later, and some never seek it at all. It is no good trying to predict the future as none of us can foresee this, we can only work with what we have now and attempt to guide things in a positive way and not let what we have already plummet into chaos from apathy and neglect.

Posted by postfuturist  on  03/14  at  10:09 PM

We have to protect ourselves, a man cannot be an ingenue such as Pee Wee Herman or a Michael Jackson; a man has to not only be strong enough, but also competitively strong. Now, a man can survive without being a ‘real man’ (in conventional terms) yet that’s exactly it—merely survival. 
Above I mentioned corporations attempting to stick it to us; it’s not the selling so much, it is the hard-sell, and entering our subconscious’ with subliminal advertising. You can’t let your guard down too much. When nanomanufacturing ends greed & selfishness (and we’d better hope so) then life will be different—but what our lives will be like no one can say. You can’t change lives too fast, thereby you run the risk of perceiving the world as a laboratory, and people as lab animals whose lives are sped up and maneuvered for to satisfy the outcomes of the experimenters.
Frankly, I would rather err on the side of being a tad cynical, than be pollyannish. My parents were v. pollyannish liberals and I was friends for years with v. pollyannish people. Being so is damaging when young, potentially fatal when elderly—the way one thinks it goes without saying influences one’s actions, and pollyannish thinking can lead one to overestimate not only external possibilities but also one’s own capabilities. Jack Kerouac wrote, “one false move and I’m gone”; you can infer from the quote not only fatal or near fatal risks from accidents, but also fatal risks from making big mistakes due to misapprehensions.
The (fictional) Godfather might have been correct: “let your friends underestimate your virtues, and your enemies overestimate your vices.”  You might not agree with him, however I think there is some validity in the advice—one has to cover his posterior. You want to bend over backwards for strangers, but you don’t want to bend over forwards, do you? You do not go by what people SAY, you go by their behavior, their body language.
“Women and children can [be fools], but men can’t”, said the Godfather. Fools Die.
YOU might not see it MY way, Cygnus, though as you did say above, it is subjective.
And if fools don’t always die, then they surely suffer for their foolishness, sometimes very badly.

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