On Secularism

To the best of my knowledge, I don't think I've ever done a blog post about secularism, which is quite odd since it's something I bang on about a lot.

Firstly - because some people still don't get it - what is secularism? Put simply, it's keeping religion out of spaces where it doesn't need to be, like council meetings, schools, and people's wombs. (As a pro-choicer, I simply could not resist that.) Secularism is not an attempt to "force beliefs on you"; it works precisely the other way round, trying to keep people from forcing their beliefs onto others by creating a neutral space. (Also, do not believe any of the hype about "militant secularism"; militant secularists are at worst loud and angry, and most of us are the kind of people you'd pass on the street, but more to the point, they don't blow up abortion clinics or fly planes into buildings as militant theists do.)

Secondly, why do we need secularism? Why do I regard a Christian school or praying in council meetings as so very wrong? Why do I disagree with the people who want a religious nation, or a state church?

Excuse me while I take some time to compose myself here, because things like this make me incredibly angry, but I don't think getting angry and swearing will do me any good here.

Firstly, let's assume that mixing religion and public spaces is just fine. (I don't think it is - and I'll explain why later - but it might be wise to start off with a milder argument.) Pushing religion in schools and doctors' offices, in this world, doesn't lead to any harmful consequences because of the religion itself. So it's all fine, yes?

Umm...no. For the sake of argument, let's pick, say, Christianity as the dominant religion, though it would work just as well with any other religion. Let's say that Christians are allowed to call this country a Christian country (whether countries are anything other than an artificial and divisive construct is a whole other kettle of fish and a topic for another time). Let's say they're allowed to preach Christianity in every school and pray before every meeting, but nobody else is allowed to say anything because it's disrespectful. Is that fair?

Did I really need to ask that last question? No, of course it's not fair. Perhaps you could make a case for it being fair in a country where every single person was Christian (but, as I hope to show later on, not even then), but chances are not everyone is - in which case, you pushing your Christianity on them infringes on their rights to freedom of belief, speech, expression, thought, and probably others I haven't thought of.

Let me say it again: if you push your belief onto others who do not share this belief, which is going to happen in every public space, you are infringing on their rights to belief, speech, expression, thought, whatever. You are infringing on the rights of someone exactly like you, with exactly the same rights and responsibilities, and I don't know if you noticed this or if you even care, but that is unethical. It doesn't matter whether 9% of the population are affected or 99% are, you are discriminating against people for having different beliefs - only for having different beliefs, mind, not for actually doing anything wrong - and that actually is wrong.

And what if you have a country in which everyone is, say, Christian? Is it fair to mix church and state, to put it very crudely, then? No. For a start, that's called theocracy. If you still don't understand why theocracy, and indeed the mixing of church and state, is a bad thing, let me explain.

In a theocracy, your rights to find and hold your own beliefs will naturally be very, very limited, as will your right to dissent - so there go the inalienable freedoms of speech, belief, expression, and thought. Religion will be shoved down your throat at pretty much every opportunity - schools, meetings, whatever. In theocracies, anyone who isn't a white, straight, cisgender male of the correct religion tends to be discriminated against simply because theocracy and kyriarchy seem to go really, really well together. Reproductive rights and the right to die tend to go out of the window, too. It would become quite acceptable to, say, refuse someone an abortion on the grounds of religious belief (even a life-saving one - and yes, it does happen) as long as it was the correct religious belief. It would be quite acceptable to place religion before science, before reason, before ethics - because that is what happens when you let religion in places that should be religion-free. The kind of religion that disregards secularism is the kind that, if you let it, gets everywhere and pushes outdated, unscientific and morally untenable views.

I know that I've been letting my antitheistic tendencies run loose here and have probably alienated more moderate atheists - and quite a lot of believers also. I'm not sorry for speaking my mind, but I am sorry if I've alienated people. Secularism needs all the help it can get. Moderate atheists, secularism is still right even if defended with antitheism. Believers, a lack of secularism could also work against you if you were the wrong religion - just remember that. And just remember how wrong discrimination is and how the aim of secularism is to stop it.