My fear today is that a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies. We see it in any number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings; when states won’t fund faith schools; and where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere.And this on a day when we are apparently “celebrating” thirty years of diplomatic relations with the Vatican, by sending a delegation of ministers to Rome with Baroness Warsi at their head. I’ll leave you ponder the irony of that. But the Baroness then goes on, stealing rhetoric from the American religious right
For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.This is of course what those of us of a philosophical bent call “bollocks”. There is nothing in the secular movement that is intolerant or totalitatarian. Nobody is suggesting that individuals have to hide their faith or deny their religious identity. The only argument is whether our institutions have the right to presume religiosity, and worse a particular brand of religiosity on behalf of the citizens of this country. Secular institutions are the state’s guarantee of religious freedom as well as freedom from religion and ensure that religious majoritarianism does not marginalise minority faiths and other world views. Secularism is the route by which deontological and theological morality can be questioned and if found wanting discarded in favour of usually more tolerant and inclusive ideas.
I am particularly amused by the idea that secularists should be frightened by the concept of “multiple identities” when it is religion that that is typically tribal, misogynistic and homophobic. Baroness Warsi is a Muslim but arguing vehemently for recognition of Britain’s Christian heritage and prepared to stand “side by side” with the Pope in fighting for faith. This seems very laudable and inclusive but it is hard to escape the irony that many with whom she shares her faith are in fact the worst kind of totalitarians, demanding death for blasphemers and apostates and seeing Christians as the enemy. It is often the case that religions call a truce between themselves when faced with what they see as the common foe of secularism, but miss the point that it is only in a secular democracy that all faiths have the luxury of coexistence and freedom of conscience within the law to practice their beliefs unmolested by the ruling theocracy.
Secularism is not a militant or extreme ideology; secularism is the moderate position, the centre ground that presumes we all have the right to faith or lack of it according to our worldview without the state promoting one ideology over the other. Religious people and their spokespersons are free to argue their respective corners on the political moral landscape we share, there is nothing in the secular agenda that prevents or stifles this fundemental right to freedom of expression. Secularism is not in any sense a state imposed atheism and those arguing against it are being at best disengenuous when they imply that it is.