Thursday, February 19, 2009

The ‘secular bigotry’ con

The Moral Maze last night was the usual mostly pointless blend of point-scoring and bluster, on the relationship between morality and religion (available to listen to for a week). A few things that Melanie Phillips said to Evan Harris as she was cross-examining him leapt out:

You say that religion should not dictate the law, but why do you think that secularism should dictate the law?

You think that the law should be entirely and solely influenced by secular values, don’t you?

You seem to be implying that secularism kind of occupies a neutral space, that it kind of holds a completely objective, neutral ring, whereas religion is particular, has particular values that are divisive. I want to ask you whether there is such a thing as secular bigotry.

Harris held his ground passably well, but this rubbish is laughably dishonest. Hard to know why anyone, except the Daily Mail types whose prejudices she’s paid to stoke, takes Phillips seriously.

On the first question: secularism is the system whereby no particular religion gets to dictate the law; it’s opposed to theocracy, not religion per se. On the second: the law (in a democracy) should be influenced by the values that people hold; some of these will be religious and some won’t. Secularism means that the latter type aren’t treated as less important.

On the third point: there is and always has been religious disagreement, which often contributes to social and political disagreement. If we don’t want a dictatorship of one side or another, then we’ll have to try to carve out a neutral space, where no one gets advantaged or disadvantaged because they do or don’t adhere to whatever religion. Secularism is the name for this. “Secular bigotry” is the name for a straw man, raged against by those who want to slant the playing field in their own side’s favour.

Secularism is the public compromise between one religion and another, and between religion generally and the lack of it. The implication that the fair compromise would be between secularism and religion is a con; a shoddy con, but a dangerous one all the same.


Matt M said...

It's beyond me why they choose people like Melanie Phillips for those types of show - nothing useful is ever going to come of it.

Anonymous said...

the entire point is based on falsehood. secularism is not neutral but irreligious.