Secularism

Warsi on ‘militant secularisation’

If you read what I wrote about David Cameron’s speech on Christianity here then you can probably guess what I think of Baroness Warsi’s speech, warning of the dangers of militant secularism.  Here’s a brief extract:

Second, there are the anti-religionists, the faith deniers.

The people who dine out on free-flowing media and sustain a vocabulary of secularist intolerance….

…attempting to remove all trace of religion from culture, history and public discourse.

While ignoring the fact that people of faith give more to charity and that the number of people going to a place of worship is globally on the up.

This is a real misuse of the term secularism – she seems to jump from a grumble aimed at Richard Dawkins to a description of a regime such as that of North Korea. Real secularism guarantees freedom for all to practice any religion or none.  (And, to be fair, she does criticise regimes which impose a religion on their citizens.) ‘Faith denier’ is an annoying phrase too – does she mean those who deny personal faith, or does she mean those who deny that others genuinely experience that faith?  The first meaning is insulting to atheists, and the second makes no sense – obviously some people believe, no one denies that.

Although I’d describe myself as both an atheist and a secularist, I wouldn’t really describe myself as militant.  When I read about Richard Dawkins’ description of an atheist holiday camp (in which the children would spend time trying to prove that there weren’t invisible unicorns living in the nearby woods or some such) I remember thinking that my idea of an atheist holiday camp is one where God simply isn’t mentioned.  Although in theory I agree, as Norman Geras puts it, that religion should have ‘no privileged place in political and civil life’, in practice I don’t lose sleep over the presence of bishops in the House of Lords, or the Establishment of the Church of England.

However – and I know some HP readers won’t agree with me, and I’m too indolent an atheist to want to pick a fight with them over this – I supported those who wanted to get rid of prayers in council meetings.  I once found myself (having failed to read the text in advance) having to make (in a work context) a promise to serve religion – at least I think that was the phrase – and feeling most uncomfortable, though certainly not militant enough to do anything other than repeat the words dutifully. But Cameron, Warsi and co make me begin to feel a little more militant, or at least irritated.  I commented on Butterflies and Wheels earlier:

One thing which struck me, in relation to coverage of the story about prayers in council meetings, was that getting rid of prayers was seen as ‘atheist’, as a terrible attack on Christianity, not a neutral position. That made me think how seldom, despite talk of militant atheism, atheists do articulate their views, outside of books and blogs. No one is suggesting that meetings should start with a ritual assertion of God’s absence.

I’m not a massive Dawkins fan – here one atheist describes why he finds Dawkins too strident. But, whereas Dawkins is a public figure he doesn’t have a public role in the way Warsi and Cameron do.  I find Cameron’s implication that religion makes you morally superior and Warsi’s grating misuse of the word secularism more offensive than the kind of faith statements made by leading religious figures.  One accepts that religious people are going to talk about religion – that’s their job. But I’d rather politicians kept their feelings about religion (negative as well as positive) to themselves.

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