Thursday, 8 November 2007

BHA launch secularism pamphlet

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Just back from the RSA, where the British Humanist Association launched its new pamphlet The Case for Secularism: A Neutral State in an Open Society with a lunchtime debate chaired by its president Polly Toynbee.

The debate was opened by philosopher David Papineau, a co-author of the pamphlet and member of the Humanist Philosophers Group, who put his case for a secular society as one intended not to cause differences, but rather to ensure that all citizens are free to practice their religion (or lack thereof) as they please, with the state favouring none. He presented secularism as a fair system, and one which encourages the loyalty of all groups to the state, since they have no need to fear that it is infringing on their religious autonomy.

There was little disagreement from the rest of the panel. Dr Indarjit Singh, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations began by saying he agreed 70-80% with Papineau, but warned that secularism and humanism are religions in their own right, in that they advocate a particular way of life. He expressed his view that we already live in a secular state, and reminded that it is important for all groups, religious or otherwise, to have the right to influence the state. He also warned that staunch advocates of secularism too often make big issues of the trivial, citing a debate he had yesterday on the BBC with a representative of the National Secular Society over the Sikh girl suspended from school for wearing a Kara bracelet.

The final speaker, Simon Barrow of liberal Christian think tank Ekklesia, agreed with Papineau that a secular society is not anti-religious, but rather provides institutions that are open to all. He warned that privileges harm and distort the egalitarian core of Christianity and believes the Church must be persuaded that letting go of privileges would not threaten their existence.

Copies of the pamphlet can be ordered for £5 inc UK postage from the BHA by calling 020 7079 3580 or mailing BHA, 1 Gower St, London, WC1E 6HD


Simon Barrow said...

Thanks, Paul. Just to clarify, Ekklesia would not call itself a 'liberal Christian' think tank, for the reasons set out here: I'll do a more detailed review of the pamphlet shortly. Best wishes, S.

Demented Clanger said...

Freedom means choice and institutions being open to all facilitates that.

Russell Blackford said...

Secularism does not advocate a particular way of life. That claim is nonsense.

Secularism can be embraced by many people with many different views about the best way of life and the true picture of the world.

You can be a secularist and also be an evangelical Christian; you can be a secularist and be an atheist; you can be a secularist and be a practising wiccan.

You can be a secularist and advocate a child-free lifestyle; you can be a secularist and advocate that we all have lots of children because it will be fulfilling for us as individuals and have some kind of valued economic and social impact.

You can be a secularist and advocate strict monogamy; you can be a secularist and advocate a promiscuous or polyamorous lifestyle.

You can be a secularist and an enthusiastic participant in the corporate rat race; you can be a secularist and favour dropping out of the rat race to adopt a green, relaxed, and downsized lifestyle.

Different secularists can advocate many different worldviews, value systems, and personal ways of life.

Where they agree is simply this: they confine themselves to advocating those things - and to using other methods, such as personal example, that don't involve force. They agree in abjuring the coercive power of the state to impose their various recommended ways of life.

For whatever reasons, from within their different comprehensive worldviews, secularists insist that the state respect the varied worldviews, value systems, ways of life, etc., of all its citizens, to the extent that adherents to those worldviews, etc., are prepared to enter into a regime of mutual tolerance.

jeepyjay said...

Russell Blackford's and, in the main, also the BHA's use of the term "Secularism" is in the weak sense of keeping religion out of civil affairs.

However this was not the meaning of the term when it was introduced by G. J. Holyoake whose "Secularism" was, and still is for most members of the Secular Societies that he founded, the rejection of religious nonsense, especially its claims in ethics.

If you are a strong religious believer what is your motivation for keeping religion out of civics? Just in case other religions get the upper hand over yours? The reason for keeping it out is its irrationality.