Secularism Is Not Atheism
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30-07-2012, 12:10 PM
RE: Secularism Is Not Atheism
Hey, pool.

If I say that my place is a non-smoking home, I am not making any statement about smoking other than, "This environment is smoke free." Similarly, if I say, "This government will cater to no special interest group, religion very much being a special interest group," all I'm saying is, "this society doesn't want to infringe on anyone's rights and that means not allowing the laws to reflect the preferences of a single group." It says nothing of what I think of that group's beliefs or their God outside of, "They're entitled to it."

Hey, Hafnof.

I've always wondered about that firewall. Because secularism, practically speaking, is closer to Atheism than Theism. It will allow things that Theists find abhorrent. If the government suddenly said, "Killing black people is legal," I'd lose my mind. If the platitude was, "We shit, no one said YOU have to kill them," I'd hardly feel good about the situation. So freedom to do whatever is great, but the sacrifice seems to be failing to regulate things that some groups feel absolutely need to be regulated. It's tricky. But a necessity.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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31-07-2012, 08:01 AM
RE: Secularism Is Not Atheism
Ghost,

Yeah, I think there is a genuine argument to be had as to where the boundary lives. If the government can't fund or support any religious activity but can fund and support atheist activities then I wonder about the idea of secularism in that context. Religious people see secularism as a kind of back door atheism and it's something that I think secularists need to take seriously - especially atheist secularists. I tend to think it's not secular if your non-belief wins by default any more than it would be secular if one religion were to win by default. Others may disagree on this point.

My thinking on this is still developing, but if you accept that a secular government should not be an atheist government then one needs to be careful as I suggested earlier about how the firewall is defined and maintained:
* Government should not as a rule be able to define what it means to believe any particular thing. We shouldn't have government telling us through law or through discriminatory funding arrangements what it means to be a true Christian, true Muslim, true Atheist, or true Citizen in terms of belief systems.
* Government should not be able to decide which beliefs or non-beliefs are acceptable for people to hold in the society. Government should not make laws or allocate funding that would preferentially benefit one particular belief over another.
These positions can be tricky in the detail because questions come up like "Should a religious parent be able to deny medical treatment to their seriously ill children?" "Do demonstrably false beliefs reflect badly enough on someone's critical thinking skills that they should be denied positions of power or authority that would be awarded a more rational individual?" "Should government be able to restrict fringe or minority religious groups?". We should seek to minimise interference with and discrimination due to belief, but in cases where actual harm is being done we may still need government to step in and curtail behaviours associated with some beliefs.

If these basic principles are in place then in theory government should not be able to be used as a tool for a majority of any kind (religious or not) to unduly influence the beliefs of its citizenry. Still we probably need to go further:
* Government should regulate civil society to enforce secular principles. For example, I shouldn't be able to be fired for being a believer or non-believer of any kind unless my beliefs or non-beliefs are causing actual harm to someone - in which case it is the harmful behaviours I am being fired for. This can be a tricky line, and no doubt people will still be fired wrongly and not have any real recourse. Still, the laws should be there. There are limits to what such laws can achieve though, for example it's hard to find a good argument for outlawing "christian yellow pages" and or in general the tendency of some people to shop with people of the same religion who they feel they can trust to a greater extent than someone whose beliefs they don't understand. It would be nice to be able to minimise that but there is only so much one can do. If government digs into this issue where should it stop? What about bigotry being preached from the pulpit? Should any actual harm that might arise from this be actionable by the recipients of that harm? Probably yes I suppose.

The deeper we dive into this stuff though the more any religion that excludes the possibility of all the others being right starts to feel persecuted. Just how much harm does a particular belief need to have in practice or in theory before it is a viable target for secular disapproval? How careful do the preachers of these exclusive sects need to be to avoid running afoul of legal or social disapproval? Where do you draw the line so that religions that are exclusive and fundamentalist feel that they are able to practice? It seems secular society needs to back off at some point to avoid having found itself outlawing belief in a way that it didn't intend. How deeply do we go into this before an atheist who is after all just as exclusive about his or her beliefs also runs afoul of antidiscriminiation provisions? Secular society must leave room for a free and open exchange of contradictory ideas.

So maybe the way to characterise the problem here is that a secular society wants to keep people from oppressing belief, but in maintaining that freedom it also needs to balance the need to allow exclusive beliefs to be expressed and not curtailed. The focus needs to constantly be on actual harm, and a significant amount of actual harm should be needed to start setting legislative pens into motion either in applying a nondiscriminatory model more forcefully or in backing off and ensuring the free flow of ideas is not disrupted.

As to what role the government then fills in particular as part of its service delivery role and whether the secular nature of that service delivery necessarily starves religion and implicitly promotes atheism, which is what I meant this post to be about. Arrgh, whrrgarbl. I suppose I'll think about it a little more and come back to this thread again later.

Benjamin.

Give me your argument in the form of a published paper, and then we can start to talk.
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31-07-2012, 09:43 AM
RE: Secularism Is Not Atheism
Sup, Ben.

True dat.

Quote:Secular society must leave room for a free and open exchange of contradictory ideas.

This especially.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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31-07-2012, 10:01 AM
RE: Secularism Is Not Atheism
(31-07-2012 09:43 AM)Ghost Wrote:  Sup, Ben.

True dat.

Quote:Secular society must leave room for a free and open exchange of contradictory ideas.

This especially.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt

Nope, not by definition. There could be a secular government that brooks no criticism.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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