The Case For
SECULARISM

Oday Baddar

 

The most fierce opponents of secularism are the leaders of organized religion. But that's natural and expected, since they are clearly seeking to gain and maintain political power, which secularism is against, and for very good reasons.

What Secularism is Not

Secularism is not a contradiction with religion, spirituality, or theism. It is also not a tool for atheists or anyone else to attack religion or persecute the believers in any religion. Secularism does not take sides with one religion over another, or with one religious sect over another. Secularism does not limit religion nor actively facilitate its expansion. And it does not distinguish citizens or groups based on their religious beliefs or non-beliefs.

What Secularism Actually is

Rather, secularism, in its modern era definition, is the belief that organized religion (a.k.a. the church) and government (a.k.a. the state) must be and remain separate. To be more precise, it means that leaders of organized religions (clerics, priests, pastors, popes, imams, rabbis, sheikhs, brahmins, monks, religious scholars, et al.) have no political power: governance and policy making, and, that all government branches and all policy makers do not use, abuse, propagate, or interfere with organized religion. The main opponents of secularism aforementioned often ignore this second part of secularism from the debate because they not only have no objection to it, but in fact demand it!

The ordinary religious (spiritual) person, who does not seek political power for him or herself, might think:

I'm a believer, and I have seen the light of the truth in my religion. I have followed its rules and guidance, and the results have been so brilliant to myself and to my family. Altogether, I have become a better person because of this faith, which in turn affected everyone around me and made them feel better as well. So if religion makes my life better, alongside the lives of others, what's wrong with having religion embedded in government, to become involved in policy-making for the entire nation?

The answer is quite simple and self-evident: religion cannot be imposed on anyone, whereas policy and governance by default are. "Cannot be imposed" should be read as "impossible to impose," since faith and belief takes place in one's soul, there is no way to ascertain whether someone was a believer or not.

The Scriptures Calling for Secularism

According to holy scriptures of all true religions, God is the judge, not humans nor angels or prophets. And God declared that this judgment shall take place in another world. As for the leaders of organized religion who claim to represent God and God's judgment in our world; in this world, they were self-appointed. God certainly did not appoint them, and they surely have no certification from heaven to prove otherwise.

In the least secular part of the world, the Muslim world, not even the prophet was given such powers to rule over people - Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In the holy Quran God directs His speech to the prophet in many instances, such as these two:

"Remind them, for you [Muhammad] are but a reminder (21) You are not to control them (22) As for who turns away and disbelieves (23) God shall punish him the greatest punishment (24) To Us is their return (25) And upon Us is their judgment (26)". Quran - The Overwhelming (Ch. 88)

"Had your Lord willed it, everyone on earth would have believed, all of them entirely. Who are you to force people to become believers? (99)". Quran – Yunis (Ch. 10).*

We find this to be also true in the world's most followed religion on earth: Christianity:

"(1) Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: (2) 'The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. (3) So you must obey them and do everything they tell you to do. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (4) They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (5) Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; (6) they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; (7) they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi' [Hebrew for: Lord]. (8) But you are not to be called 'Rabbi' for you have only one Lord and you are all brothers. (9) And do not call anyone on earth 'father' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. (10) Nor are you to be called 'teacher' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. (11) The greatest among you will be your servant. (12) For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (13) Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (14) They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely. (15) Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. (16) Woe to you, blind guides!...". Gospel of Jesus through Matthew (23).

Anyone who reads the Gospels knows that Jesus Christ was undisputably against organized religion altogether. But a couple of centuries after his ascension, Christianity became one of the most rigorously organized religions in the world, thanks to the Roman empire. The moment of its enactment as a state religion in 325 AD, persecution of non-believers began instantly. Christian clergymen developed a clerical heirarchy and appointed themselves as the sole interpreters of God's will. They also included in the Christian Creed that allegiance to the Church is part of the very essence of the Christian faith. To go against the Church's ruling was a blasphemy. It was no coincidence that the day organized religion was injected into temporal power and politics that Europe was plunged into its dark ages. Illiteracy was at levels unprecedented and people were forbidden from interpreting the Bible, let alone read it. And 1000 years later, Europe's renaissance could not have happened without the secularization of government and ordinary life.

False Accusations

In most debates in our current era, many proponents of secularism accuse religion of being a divisive and war-mongering tool. They claim that so many (if not most) wars and genocides have been committed in the name of God (the Crusades, the Grand Inquisition, the 30-year war, the 100-year war, etc). Then the leaders of organized religion counter this by stating that the most genocidal wars in all of history were committed by secular regimes (Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and China, and even the United States and its allies).

Both sides are wrong. It is not religion that divides, but organized religion, i.e. the politicized version of religion. Ordinary individuals don't shoot or stab one another just because they adhere to different religious sects. It is politically-driven groups that commit violence, regardless whether religious or secular. And the more efficient and powerful the politically-driven group, the greater the massacre.

The "state" just so happens to be the most efficient and powerful of all politically-driven groups. So if a secular state commits crimes, many opponents of secularism will say "look, it was their lack of religion (true faith) that caused this." And if a theocratic state commits crimes, many proponents of secularism will say "look, it was religion that caused this." In reality, violent religious states abuse religion to justify their violence, while violent secular states don't abuse religion.

Secularism Honors Religion

Ideally societies never want violence of any level to take place, whether justified or not. But if it does take place, keeping the true essence of religion out of it is the greatest service that we can provide to honor religion.

In governance and policy-making, people err and learn from their mistakes. The law of the land should always be open to revision and amendments. To get religion involved in such a flawed and imperfect system would be to tarnish religion with flaws and imperfection. Thus, secularism exalts the perfect God from the trials and errors of human beings in worldly matters.

On Judgment Day in the next world, God won't judge people by the groups they were members of. For example, God won't say "all people with curley hair and all Manchester United fans enter heaven," nor will He say, "all followers of X religion enter heaven; all followers of Y religion enter hell." Those who read Scriptures know very well that God judges people individually on what each has done. Even those who have been brainwashed by clergymen to believe that only the followers of religion X are granted entry to heaven know that a follower of religion Y cannot say to God in his defense "but my parents and teachers and priests and government all told me that religion Y is the true one" or "forced me to believe in religion Y." Such arguments cannot be accepted because, clearly, religion and believing in religion cannot truly be forced upon a person except through verbal pronouncement.

Hence, since people's hearts cannot be coerced to believe in a particular sect, theocracy would be in defiance of that fact. Even if there was a nation-state where 100% of the population claimed to follow only one religion that had only one sect, secularism is still necessary because otherwise political disputes will be the cause of dissecting that one religion. How else do you think sects were formed throughout history?

Conclusion

Secularism is not synonymous with freedom or democracy or even utopia. Rather, it is a necessary element for their achievement. Secular people and secular governments are still capable of committing horrible crimes, just as non-seculars are. But in the name of preserving religion's true essence and exalting it from erroneous or intentionally evil acts, secularism is key. To find beauty in interacting with people of similar religious beliefs is one thing, and to want to impose what you find to be beautiful on others is another. Secularism is all in favor of the former and totally against the latter.

In a secular system, a government official may have certain religious beliefs. But when it comes to doing their job, whether it was legislating or executing laws or passing judgment, they must adhere to a code of laws that all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, adhere to. That is true justice, and it is not in conflict with religion, but is of the true essence of religion.

 

2013.06.25


Notes:

* - For more details on secularism and Islamic Law (Sharia), read Secularism and Islam