Sunday, May 6, 2012

The death throes of American #secularism?

Jacques Berlinerblau - The death of American secularism | New Humanist

Culture Warriors love a void. With secularists perennially incapable of articulating and agreeing upon what they stand for, their opponents are more than happy to do it for them. Caspar Melville memorably quipped in The Guardian: “Secularism is the handy one-word distillation for all that is wrong in the modern world. Consumerism, divorce, drugs, Harry Potter, prostitution, Twitter, relativism, Big Brother, lack of moral compass, lack of community cohesion, lack of moral values, vajazzling.” A quarter-century ago things were scarcely different. In 1985 a New York Times writer joked that Secular Humanism stood for “everything they [the Religious Right] are opposed to, from atheism to the United Nations, from sex education to the theory of evolution to the writings of Hemingway and Hawthorne.”
Of course secularism is under fire. When has it not been? I'm inclined to say Berlinerblau's crisis of secular identity, "Is it atheism? Is it a type of worldly ethics espoused by Holyoake? Is it separationism? Is it humanism, rationalism, secular humanism, anti-theism, naturalism, freethought, liberalism? What is it?" is overwrought by half. At the risk of getting tautological, there's a reason we have the terms humanism, rationalism, liberalism, etc.  They mean different things and have varying degrees of relevance to politics. If you can't immediately spot the difference between secularism and liberalism, or secularism and atheism, you haven't given it much thought. Now, to be fair, I'm certain Berlinerblau knows this and is being rhetorical to make the point that he thinks most don't. But, really, it's the Religious Right who don't, despite having been told, which comes back to my Too Stupid Too Talk To Theory. They don't know because they don't want to know.

Berlinerblau blames the virulently anti-theist atheists along with the Right for the current straits of secularism, but the atheists aren't the problem. The problem, and here I think he and I are in agreement, is simple separationism, which ought to be an uncontroversial position, is lumped in with the perceived combativeness of the New Atheists. This is not a problem that needs solving on the Left though. The failure here is on the part of the self-styled moderates and centrists to stand for separtationism. The radical Right has persuaded them secularism is an extremist ideal of the Left. It is not. And it shouldn't be up to us to remind them of their American history. Religious and political moderates, frankly, need to find their spines and brush up on their Jefferson. The fundamentalists won't listen to the likes of me. They just might listen to someone who shares at least some of their cultural values.

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