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The confusion about secularism

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    The confusion about secularism


    One of the perennial debates raging in Pakistan, and other Islamic countries, is about the nature and meaning of secularism. This debate is highly polarized. One camp insists that secularism is a 'godless' ideology that is anti-religious while the other camp insists that it is simply an ideology that wants the state to treat all its citizens equally by excluding all religions from the matters of the state. In this bitter debate the two camps are often talking past each other and not fully understanding what the other is saying. Secularism can have multiple meanings and it can be helpful to clarify the distinctions in the different meanings.

    The word secularism is used in two distinct senses. One is political secularism and the other is cultural secularism (also called secular humanism). Political secularism is the idea that the state should treat all its citizens equally irrespective of their religion (or lack of it). In order to do this it must exclude religious considerations from all its affairs. It should not promote a particular religion or ideology through its laws, institutions or policies (e.g. educational curriculum). Cultural secularism (aka secular humanism) on the other hand is an ideology that is a competitor to religion. It is an ideology that believes that moral values and the vision of a good life can be derived through rational considerations without recourse to a religion.

    When the religious people criticize secularism they are usually referring to cultural secularism. The defenders of secularism, on the other hand, are referring to political secularism.

    However, there is one point that the critics of secularism are not properly articulating and the defenders of secularism are not properly acknowledging. That point is that, given the current scope and size of virtually every state in the world, political secularism ends up privileging cultural secularism over every religion and falls short in its professed goal of neutrality among citizens of all beliefs.

    Every state today engages in two kinds of activities. One is to protect the basic rights of its citizens - the right to life, liberty and property. In this, it can be completely neutral by unconditionally protecting the rights of every citizen irrespective of their belief.

    However, every state does a lot more than this. It also regulates a large number of consensual activities of its citizens. It regulates marriage and sex. It regulates what people ingest. It provides public education and determines the curriculum . It redistributes their wealth by making judgements on who should be subsidized and who should be taxed. All this regulation requires value judgements in each and every case. These value judgements are not possible without an underlying ideology on which to base them. When religions are explicitly excluded from the state, cultural secularism becomes the default ideology of the state. Anyone who lives in secular countries cannot fail to see this.

    Hence, the claim to neutrality of the secular state falls short. The only way a state can be truly neutral and treat all its citizens equally is by restricting itself to the protection of basic rights and staying out of regulation of consensual affairs - leaving them all to private individuals and communities. Such a state would be a libertarian state. Only a libertarian state, not a secular state, therefore, can treat all its citizens equally.


    #2
    Human rights should trump religious and cultural rights, also state is ward of the children and you cannot choose to not teach your girls swimming. Some countries are more sensitive about their secularism and dont want people advertising their faith on streets and offer religious freedoms in your homes and places of worship.

    Comment


      #3
      Originally posted by Bobby1 View Post
      Human rights should trump religious and cultural rights, also state is ward of the children and you cannot choose to not teach your girls swimming. Some countries are more sensitive about their secularism and dont want people advertising their faith on streets and offer religious freedoms in your homes and places of worship.
      Yes, basic human rights trump all other rights. They come before culture and religion. But, human rights are no more than right to life, liberty and property. The state is the ward of the children only in so far as their right to life, liberty and property. For everything else, parents are the ward of the children. If the state starts telling parents how to raise their kids then it is intruding in the domain of religion and imposing an ideology on them.

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        #4
        A parent slapping a kid finds out in 10 minutes about who really is the ward. We took direction from declaration of French Revolution where you are free to do anything as long as you don’t hurt anyone or society. If your religion allows you to discriminate against lower caste. Treat women poorly, impose your morality on adult children than it goes against our principles, we also will not allow multiple wives and hatred based on religion and race.
        When you live in a society you have to abide by the social contract even if you don’t agree with it.

        Comment


          #5
          Originally posted by Bobby1 View Post
          A parent slapping a kid finds out in 10 minutes about who really is the ward. We took direction from declaration of French Revolution where you are free to do anything as long as you don’t hurt anyone or society. If your religion allows you to discriminate against lower caste. Treat women poorly, impose your morality on adult children than it goes against our principles, we also will not allow multiple wives and hatred based on religion and race.
          When you live in a society you have to abide by the social contract even if you don’t agree with it.
          The point of my original post was that states do indeed do all these things. But when they do so they are imposing an ideology on the citizens. If that ideology happens to be the one supported by the majority of the citizens then it is usually accepted without much protest. But it does undermine the claim to neutrality. One day, you might find yourself in a country where you do not support the ideology of the majority. Then you will realize the ideological nature of the state.

          The only true way to be neutral is not to impose anything on anyone in regards to consensual acts even if the majority does not approve of some of the consensual acts of a minority.

          Comment


            #6
            Originally posted by krash View Post

            The point of my original post was that states do indeed do all these things. But when they do so they are imposing an ideology on the citizens. If that ideology happens to be the one supported by the majority of the citizens then it is usually accepted without much protest. But it does undermine the claim to neutrality. One day, you might find yourself in a country where you do not support the ideology of the majority. Then you will realize the ideological nature of the state.

            The only true way to be neutral is not to impose anything on anyone in regards to consensual acts even if the majority does not approve of some of the consensual acts of a minority.
            krash that is not possible as price to living in a society is social contract and abiding by that, I did not like my society so I left for a society that is more aligned with my values. When someone is at our door begging, pleading, risking life and limb, lives of their children only to get in and wishing death on their benefactors is beyond what I can accept. Humans have to be adaptable and maleable and need to be able to blend in their society.

            If we forced atheism on people, didnt allow them to worship or have their beliefs than I would not like that. I do not think that any eastern country can even come within miles of freedom we offer.

            We do have restrictions on fascism and dont allow promotion of hate and violence, if people use fascism under disguise of religion than they should be called out.

            Comment


              #7
              Restrictions on fascism and promotion of hate and violence come under the protection of basic rights and is not discriminatory.

              There is no doubt that Western countries offer greater freedoms than non-western countries because they do a better job of protecting basic rights of all and give a lot of freedoms in the private space. But in so far as the state is engaging in regulation of consensual acts it is promoting a state ideology. Now, this ideology may be considered benign and well liked by most. But, that is not the point. The point is that the state fails to live up to its claim of neutrality.

              Comment


                #8
                Secularism to me means affairs concerning all things Administrative; dispensing services and justice without regard or preference for one religion. An example of this would be when Ali (r.a.) and a Jewish resident were before the court in a muslim administered State, and Ali (r.a.) lost his claim and the Jewish person won. That's secularism to me.

                Secularism to me does not equal absolute deregulation without regard for local customs. My views are influenced by my faith and so I feel secularism has a specific framework and does not become a blanket for all personal freedoms in public/shared spaces. Law of the land applies, so to speak.
                Boycott Indian economy. Buy Pakistani!

                Comment


                • krash
                  krash commented
                  Editing a comment
                  "dispensing services and justice without regard or preference for one religion"
                  This only works if the dispensation is based on principles on which everyone agrees. And, the only principles on which everyone can agree are the basic self-evident rights of life, liberty and property (like in your example of Ali (r.a) which was a proprty rights dispute). But if the state dispenses anything beyond it will have to pick an ideology.
                  What you are saying in the 2nd part of your response is that you are comfortable with that ideology being the ideology of the majority.

                #9
                Originally posted by krash View Post
                Restrictions on fascism and promotion of hate and violence come under the protection of basic rights and is not discriminatory.

                There is no doubt that Western countries offer greater freedoms than non-western countries because they do a better job of protecting basic rights of all and give a lot of freedoms in the private space. But in so far as the state is engaging in regulation of consensual acts it is promoting a state ideology. Now, this ideology may be considered benign and well liked by most. But, that is not the point. The point is that the state fails to live up to its claim of neutrality.
                Can you please give examples of consensual
                acts? There can be more done but if it is considered that consensual acts will harm the fabric of society than there will be regulations
                i am not sure about what you mean by neutrality?
                i am not sure if LGBT have reached the equality status, natives and blacks do not receive full equal treatments etc?

                But please elaborate on what is on your mind?

                Comment


                  #10
                  There are so many ways that governments regulate consensual acts . Some examples that are applicable even in the most liberal democracies,

                  1. There are laws against polygamy. There used be to until very recently laws against gay marriage.
                  2. There are laws against drugs.
                  3. There are laws regulating abortion.
                  4. Govt provides public education and determines the curriculum.
                  5. Govt redistributes wealth according to its concept of equity.

                  Is it possible to do any of the above without an ideological framework on which these decisions are made? The result is that the government ends up promoting a secular ideology. Now, you may find this ideology admirable and majority of the population may agree with you. But it doesn't change the fact that the govt has picked one ideology among many and privileged it. The long term result is that state becomes a battleground of ideologies as those whose ideology is out of favor struggle to displace the reigning ideology and capture the state. Right-wing Christian movements in the US are engaged in such a struggle.

                  Comment


                    #11
                    Fabric of every society is based on certain structure and rules, even apes, wolves, lions live by rules of their group. We chose human equality and democracy and rewarding successful behavior as our guiding principles. Why did you mention Polygamy and not Polyandry? BTW a man here can live with many women in consensual relationships, there is no law against having many consensual sexual partners. Marriage is a contract and bigamy is against law, if you are not happy with marriage contract than common law is an option. One of my friend is living with the partner for over 20 years.
                    As per education we need to have standards, the eccentric uncle cannot prescribe medicine or fly a plane or even operate a vehicle without completing the requirements.. We do allow Madrassas, and Christian schools and parents can home school also.
                    In this society you are responsible for your childs morality with in the boundaries of childs and societies welfare.

                    Comment


                      #12
                      I think secularism is just one of many concepts of governance. I remember an old interview of Benazir Bhutto in which she talked about how her father ZAB insisted that she study comparative governance. I’ve never felt any interest in such topics and since these matters are almost always out of our hands anyway, so I guess why worry.

                      However, I had a boss once who was from the Soviet Union before its disintegration. He used to praise Communism and Marxism and shared his experience of benefiting from them, but said those wonderful ideas were ruined by people who were supposed to implement them. I also read a bit about their governing principles and I didn’t find anything wrong with them.

                      Another example that comes to my mind is India which is constitutionally secular and other self-proclaimed secular countries accept India as secular as well. But the society, the laws, the courts, the politics, is pretty different from what one would expect. So I guess there is no prohibition on who calls themselves what as ideas are 1%, and implementation is 99%.

                      Comment


                        #13
                        Being neutral on its own is not good or bad—it’s relative. Governance and collective behavior (culture) is driven by the moral gradient between moral relativism and moral realism—some things are morally relativistic—eg eating halal meat vs non halal—somethings are morally realistic—killing of someone without cause.

                        The guiding principles come from scientific humanism and not secular humanism—why? Because moral imperatives are better informed by science than arbitrary frameworks like secularism—while secularism offers a greater degree of rights-based governance and behavior, it still falls short when it comes to moral imperatives that require utilitarian solution.

                        Governance and behavior works at optimum when informed by knowledge (science).

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