February 02, 2008

And on a related note…

Follow-up to Article 301 from Jimmy K's Eclectica

Secularism is the ONLY sensible system for any country, regardless of the principal religion, or how many faiths that country houses. Any country wanting to operate in any international or global environment cannot be ruled by religion. And I say that as a Christian. Because once you allow religion to enter government, you allow one faith to dictate how others should behave. There are many paths to God (Allah, Buddha, Krishna, whomever you want to insert). People should come to their faith, or non-faith, in whatever way they choose, as naturally as possible. Which cannot happen if any particular religion becomes enshrined in law, because then there is a palpable and unavoidable force drawing them into a particular faith, and a particular morality. I'm a Christian because I believe in God, and I believe Jesus was the son of God. But I don't believe in the church, or any real sense of organised religion - the office of Pope offends me, where did anyone get the idea that there was some spiritual authority closer to God than any of us? Religion is a persona relationship between you and God, and no-one has the right to tell you how to conduct that relationship except God. The government can stop you murdering in the name of God, or stealing, and so on, because then your faith ceases to be a fundamentally personal thing and necessarily impacts on those around you. That impact is what we have no right to, which is why secularism is vital, because it protects everyone's rights to freedom of religious expression by saying that there are some areas where no-one is allowed to express themselves, like politics, and education. This is why it pisses me off when Republicans use their "Christian credentials" on the campaign trail in the South, and middle America. I understand why they do it, it's what the crowd wants, it's what'll get them elected, but it's yet another example of the idiotic pandering to populism that democracy encourages.

I suppose the thrust of it is, in this particular case, that a particular intolerance is necessary to protect a greater tolerance. The Turkish laws, like the French ones also recently hotly debated, are often claimed as aimed at Muslims in particular, but actually apply to all religious symbols. There is no favouritism here, no two-tier system being played. There are just the ignominious rantings of those who like to play victim. As if the law could possibly persecute Muslims in a country which is nominally 98% Muslim. The very idea is ridiculous. The danger comes from Erdogan, and the AKP, sliding in a backdoor agenda until they're certain of a big enough slice of popularity to push it through. What upsets me is that they caned at the last elections. And yet the people regularly turn out in support of secularism, despite having elected an openly fundamentalist leader, whose wife wore a headscarf illegally in a a governmental office, if I remember correctly. I won't say he hasn't done some good - some of his reforms, especially economically, have seriously boosted Turkey in its own right, and as a potential EU member state. But he started out in political Islam, and I don't buy the claim that he's left it behind - he tried to introduce alcohol-free zones and make adultery illegal, and was actually convicted of incitement to religious hatred in 1998. These serve as classic examples of the importance of secularism, and hopefully this bid will fail as well. If it doesn't, it could easily be the start of a slippery slope which ends in the ruin of all Attaturk helped to build...

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  1. Sam Foxman

    I’m concerned by a kind of general assumption here that Western secularism is irreligious. Western secularism such as it is and indeed most of our laws and the laws of other post-religious countries are fundamentally christian regulations. Secularism itself is an almost Christian model. To suggest that secularism is necessarily and absolutely right is, I think, quite wrong. We all, whether we accept it or not, engage with the consequences of state-sponsored religion and a great many of those consequences are wholly positive. In the UK we don’t live in a secular state. The establishment of the Church of England has been fundamental to the development of the state and many of the best things that this country has ever done have been motivated by Christian imperatives (eg. the stopping of the slave trade). The United States similarly. The two countries that have championed individual rights and religious freedom have been entirely driven to do so by their collective faiths.

    I suppose my point is this: religion pervades government and should do. Many of the best things that we do we do for religious reasons. We are ruled by religion, albeit a supremely passive one.


    “where did anyone get the idea that there was some spiritual authority closer to God than any of us?” – This is pretty much in every book of the Bible. And religion, if personal, is meaningless. True religion (and true faith) are not personal – though they might be experienced on a personal level.

    02 Mar 2008, 01:20

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