Secularism vs atheism (again)


by Sunny
26th October, 2007 at 2:52 pm    

Simon Barrow tells me there’s an article in The Church Times that mentions me. The article echoes my earlier criticisms of the National Secular Society.

But my real argument with the NSS is the trickery it constantly employs with respect to the word “secular”. I contend that the core meaning of secularism is the belief in the separation of Church and state. Religion, the secularist contends, ought not to have a place in shaping the laws or political realities by which we live. Thus there should be no bishops in the House of Lords, the Queen ought not to be the head of state and Supreme Governor of the C of E, and so on. There are many Christians who believe in this sort of thing. From time to time, I am one of them.

Yet, not far below the surface, another meaning of secular breaks out. Here, secular is little more than a synonym for virulent anti-religious prejudice. In this guise, the NSS portrays all religion as being about “brainwashing” and “indoctrination”. It goes so far as to defend comments about Muslims as having “shit for brains” (from a “comedian” also beloved by the BNP).

The commentator Sunny Hundal, who is from a Sikh family but is not religious himself, says of those in the NSS: “While they preach secularism, they actually prefer atheism.”

Here’s the original blog post I wrote about the NSS.

Update: Terry Sanderson of the NSS replies in the comments.


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  1. j0nz — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:09 pm  

    LOL. “Anti-religious” prejudice. Does this extend to adults who believe in fairies and unicorns? Shall we not mock thee with thy silly beliefs?

  2. j0nz — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:15 pm  

    You might be right the NSS should be renamed. But so should a lot of other organisations, such as the MCB to be renamed the Muslim Brotherhood Alliance of the UK etc ec.

    Really the point of secularism is that religion is stupidity, but if you want to believe it thats up to you, just don’t govern us with it!

    What’s wrong with atheism? Do I sense some anti-rational bigotry?

  3. Sunny — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:16 pm  

    Does this extend to adults who believe in fairies and unicorns?

    I’m not fussed about ‘anti-religious prejudice’ as I am annoyed about the fact that ‘secularism’ is the cover it is being done under rather than ‘atheism’.

  4. j0nz — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:17 pm  

    Mohammed said “Kill he who changes his religion”. And we are not allowed to criticise people who follow this advice??? It is ‘bigotted’?

  5. j0nz — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:19 pm  

    There’s little difference between atheism and secular ideology. Secular just means without religion. I suppose atheism could be secularism, with balls.

  6. Sunny — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:22 pm  

    There’s little difference between atheism and secular ideology.

    Rubbish. Why don’t you define it for us.

  7. j0nz — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:28 pm  

    Well, there are two different meanings to secularism.

    1. Religious scepticism or indifference.
    2. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.

  8. Sunny — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:34 pm  

    Well, I’m afraid you’re making up things then (as you do). This from Wikipedia and by the guy who coined the term.

    Holyoake invented the term “secularism” to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. An agnostic himself, Holyoake argued that “Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life.”[8]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism

    In other words, neither you nor the organisation that stands for Secularism knows what it means really.

  9. Mike — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:36 pm  

    The idea that all religions should be treated and respected ‘equally,’ regardless or what they say or what they inspire, is idiocy on a grand scale.

  10. Sofia — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:43 pm  

    jonz, you’ve made a blog career out of criticising religions, including islam, so plz don’t pretend otherwise..of course you are “allowed” to do it…because you do it all the time…what do you want..a pat on the back?

  11. Sunny — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:45 pm  

    The idea that all religions should be treated and respected ‘equally,’

    Who said they should? If you like Islam, good for you. If you prefer Sikhism good for you. If you’re an atheist good for you!

    What we’re talking about here is how the law should treat religions. Try reading up on the meaning of secularism.

  12. Don — on 26th October, 2007 at 3:51 pm  

    As an atheist and a secularist I tend to agree with Sunny’s point. If the NSS is what it says on the tin, then it steps outside it’s brief rather too often.

    Really, with the bumper-sticker simplicisms of Jonz and the ‘right-hand path’ gibberish from Morgoth, the rational atheists around here risk having our pitch queered.

    It’s probably similar to what Simon Barrow feels when the Bishop of Carlisle opens his mouth.

  13. Matt M — on 26th October, 2007 at 4:21 pm  

    The only type of secularism worth defending is that which is synonymous with freedom of thought: If someone wants to believe in sky pixies, that’s fine. If someone wants to tell others about how great their sky pixie is, that’s fine. If they want to impose their beliefs, an important line is crossed.

    The big problem with the NSS is that by putting forward a consistently anti-theist position they alienate religious believers who also want to live in a liberal democracy. Many religious believers don’t want schools forcing children to worship or the government to fund openly sectarian schools, but they’re unlikely to support the NSS because it consistently insults them. The organisation would be far more effective if they focused on the real problems of religious-based politics and stopped using every opportunity to blow raspberries at anyone who isn’t an atheist.

  14. Rumbold — on 26th October, 2007 at 4:23 pm  

    Good points Sunny and Don. America is a secular society, and a religious one. I would happily throw the bishops out of the Lords (to make room for more hereditary peers), but find myself as somewhat of an anti-disestablishmentarian, on the basis that such an act would force Her Majesty to break her cornation vows, which would be unacceptable. I also rather like the fact that our national church was founded not because of religious differences, but so our king could marry his mistress and steal from the monastaries.

  15. Joe Otten — on 26th October, 2007 at 4:27 pm  

    It is not just the NSS who mix up the two secularisms. I have just written on this topic, in response to an attack on undifferentiated secularism, here:

    http://joeotten.blogspot.com/2007/10/reinventing-state-chapter-6-liberalism.html

    mentioning the NSS.

    Now I would be happy to agree that Sunny’s meaning, (j0nz’s 2nd meaning) is the correct one. However there are two powerful forces which serve to mix these meanings up. First, by fighting primarily for equal rights for atheists, the NSS has attracted atheists, so atheism informs its culture. And some of that atheism will be strongly anti-religious. Second, theocrat polemicists seek to paint true secularism as if it were some kind of compulsory atheism.

    I think it is better not to rely on a commonly understood meaning of secularism, but to spell it out every time.

  16. Jherad — on 26th October, 2007 at 4:37 pm  

    Heh, I had a chat last night with my better half about just this (yeah yeah, we’re a barrel of laughs). I think the key phrase was ‘what is wrong with being a Christian AND believing that Church and State should be seperate?’

    The extremes always looks to polarise issues *into* extremes. If you believe in secularism, you’re an anti-christian atheist. If you don’t like the current US administration, you’re anti-american. If you don’t like (some of) the policies of Israel, you’re anti-semetic.

  17. Roger — on 26th October, 2007 at 4:44 pm  

    Atheism is a belief about god[s]. Secularism is belief about society. Therefore it is perfectly possible- and reasonable- for atheists to favour both equally.

  18. Rumbold — on 26th October, 2007 at 5:05 pm  

    It is worth repeating Douglas’ comment from that thread on the NSS:

    “Again, there are far too many bodies claiming to represent people of no religion, and claiming , in this instance to take my basic views and wrap them up with stuff I most certainnly do not subscribe to. To be clear, I’d never even heard of the National Secular Society before his article far less embraced its views.”

    A nice reminder to all those people who believe that self-appointed ‘community’ leaders represent everyone in their community, just because they say so.

  19. Don — on 26th October, 2007 at 5:13 pm  

    Rumbold,

    Anti-disestablishmentarianism? I’m shocked. (And have also posted the longest word ever on PP)

    You don’t have to worry about coronation vows, though, as Charles apparently intends to square the circle by becoming the Defender of Faiths.

    Presumably that means the inclusion of Rastafarians, Pastafarians, Jedi and Scientologists as part of our system of government.

    But I agree that there is something entertaining about having a national religion based on the family values of Henry VIII.

  20. Rumbold — on 26th October, 2007 at 5:19 pm  

    Don:

    “And have also posted the longest word ever on PP.”

    I don’t know- I am sure that the Sri Lankan cricket team have been mentioned a few times.

    “You don’t have to worry about coronation vows, though, as Charles apparently intends to square the circle by becoming the Defender of Faiths.”

    There was all this uproar about Charles changing ‘defender of the faith’ to ‘defender of faiths’, but the actual title is in Latin, and as a medieval Latinist pointed out to me, it can be translated either way, so there is no need for any change. ‘Defender of the faith’ was a title given to Henry VIII by the Pope, a few years before they split and declared each other Antichrists.

    “Presumably that means the inclusion of Rastafarians, Pastafarians, Jedi and Scientologists as part of our system of government.”

    What is a pastafarian?

  21. Morgoth — on 26th October, 2007 at 5:23 pm  

    Atheism is a belief about god[s].

    No, no, no. Atheism is a *lack* of belief.

    That’s all I’m going to say. Everyone already knows my views on this.

  22. Don — on 26th October, 2007 at 5:33 pm  

    Rumbold,

    What? You have not been touched by his noodly appendage?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastafarian

  23. ZinZin — on 26th October, 2007 at 5:50 pm  

    Rumbold knows a medieval Latinist!

  24. douglas clark — on 26th October, 2007 at 5:53 pm  

    Rumbold,

    Thanks.

    I’d been thinking a bit about this and I’ve only two comments really:

    Richard Dawkins, who seems to be on a mission to alienate everyone who isn’t a militant atheist, has been quoted as saying that trying to organise atheists is a bit like herding cats. You could say he sounds a tad frustrated: can’t say I am though, that is as it should be…

    You certainly don’t become an atheist for the songs or the architecture or the feeling of belonging.

    …—————…

    We will be no further forward with this arguement in a years time, than we are now, unfortunately. Sunny had a thread up on CiF where this was discussed and there was a frankly wilful desire by theists to muddy the waters of debate by insisting that what was being discussed was definition 1), when it was perfectly clear that it was definition 2). It was very frustrating.

  25. Giles Fraser doesn’t like the National Secular Society. Oh well, we can live with that.

    But now he takes his antipathy a stage further and actually starts to misrepresent the organisation and attribute to it characteristics it does not possess.

    The NSS’s articles of association affirm that “this is the only life of which we have any knowledge” and that “supernaturalism is the enemy of progress”. I suppose that makes the NSS an atheist organisation, but one that is fighting for a secular society. There are religious groups with similar ambitions – Catholics for a Free Choice, for example, and Ekklesia. Does their religious ethos make their efforts nul and void, too?

    Atheists in the NSS fight for secularism not because they think religion is marvellous (many of our members are indifferent to religion, others hold it in contempt), but because they think this is the only way to organise society in a way that is fair to everyone. We know that religion is not going away, that we as non-believers have to live together, hopefully in peace, with religious adherents. But that isn’t the same as having to approve of religion or praise it, which is what Giles Fraser seems to think is a prerequisite of secularism. He gives the impression that he thinks that only religious believers can be secularists. He’s wrong.

    The way to live alongside each other, Catholic with Protestant, Jew with Muslim, Hindu with Sikh, believer with non-believer, is to ensure that none of these categories takes civil power. The state must be blind to religion and non-religion.

    But, as we see all around us, religion is a power-seeking construct.

    It is not an accident that the Church of England is by law established. It is not by coincidence that the Vatican holds dozens of concordats with governments around the world that privilege it politically and fiscally. All these attachments to temporal power have been sought and fought for by the religions involved. And the resurgence of the unpleasant right-wing religion that we see all around us shows that new efforts are being made to entrench and widen that power base.

    The National Secular Society sees the dangers that this resurgence poses to democracy, to fair play and to equality. We see religious leaders demanding to be exempt from human rights laws, we see them resisting the march of equality and liberality as they attack the rights of homosexuals, try to roll back the law on abortion, demand yet more money from the government for their schools and welfare projects, as well as the maintenance of their crumbling buildings. We see attempts to restrict free speech from those religious groups that do not like to be criticised or examined too closely. These are not the activities of fringe cults, but of the mainstream churches.

    Some people from religious traditions recognise those dangers, too, and are as alarmed as we are. We will work on projects with such groups if our aims are similar. But we surely don’t have to “approve” or “share” their faith any more than they have to abandon their faith in order to work with us.

    Giles Fraser says we use “trickery” with the word secular. But as he will know, there is more than one definition of secularism. Are we to have the “all-inclusive” style of secularism that the Pope wants – the sort where every religion is accommodated equally within the state, or are we to have the complete neutrality that the NSS favours? This is a debate that we need to have, and urgently.

    I think Giles Fraser’s real beef with the NSS is that we are an organisation of non-believers. He thinks because we don’t believe what he believes that we have no right to be engaged in this debate. But if religion becomes over-mighty, we will all suffer, believer and atheist alike. We see in the world today examples of that, in Islamic regimes where Christians are mercilessly persecuted. Christians, too, have practised such persecutions in their time when they held power.

    We can live with religion, so long as it does not try to rule the public spaces that we all must share. We can live together, so long as one of us doesn’t try to boss the other around. A neutral state where we can all participate as citizens is the answer. A secular state doesn’t say you’re special because you believe, nor does it say you are privileged because you don’t believe.

    For instance, in one country with a secular constitution – France – you are a citizen first and foremost and whatever other label you choose to apply to yourself, religious or non-religious, it must be a secondary consideration when you are dealing with the civil authorities.

    Many religious people cannot accept that; they insist that their religion is their primary identity. That is where the problems start. And that is when secularism comes into its own.

    Yes, the NSS is sometimes vigorous in its criticism of the many irrational elements of religion. Why shouldn’t it be? Its members debate the topic endlessly, and why shouldn’t they? But that does not mean that we are not pragmatic enough to know that religion is here to stay, and that we have to live with it. And we do. Members of the NSS do not seek to interfere in the private beliefs of individuals, we do not advocate state interference in to workings of the church. Because we are not particularly enamoured of supernaturalism does not mean, as Giles Fraser ridiculously claims, that we want to “eradicate religion from sight”.

    Religious people like Giles Fraser should accept that atheists can be tolerant and peace-loving. He also has to stop stamping his foot and whingeing because not everyone shares his world view, and, come to terms with the fact that there are those who think that his world view is infantile. People live together with all kinds of contradictions. We can manage this one. But don’t demand that we abandon our critical faculties in order to be secularists.

    (Oh, and by the way, the comedian Pat Condell did not say that Muslims have “shit for brains”, he said that murderous fanatics who happen to be Muslims do. Mr Condell is a passionate and sometimes intemperate critic of religion, but he makes his case with reason. He is not the pseudo-fascist that Giles Fraser tries to smear him as. If Giles Fraser cannot make his case against the NSS without distortion and misrepresentation, he should shut up.

  26. j0nz — on 26th October, 2007 at 6:39 pm  

    Religious people like Giles Fraser should accept that atheists can be tolerant and peace-loving

    Exactly :) Sunny there’s seems to be a rise in anti-rational bigotry against atheists, that they’re all militant and want to eradicate other belief systems. I don’t seek to eradicate religion! It’s hilarious that people believe such ridiculous things, and usually, it’s benign. Sometimes, as we are all aware, it is dangerous.

    I am very pleased the president of the NSS has come here and made his thoughts known. Let’s see what the atheistophobes have to say about it ;)

  27. lithcol — on 26th October, 2007 at 6:48 pm  

    Thanks Terry for the clarification. The meaning of words obviously change over time, gay for example.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

  28. douglas clark — on 26th October, 2007 at 6:59 pm  

    Terry,

    It seems to me that the title of your organisation is, at the very least, causing confusion.

    You say:

    The NSS’s articles of association affirm that “this is the only life of which we have any knowledge” and that “supernaturalism is the enemy of progress”. I suppose that makes the NSS an atheist organisation, but one that is fighting for a secular society.

    would it not therefor be better named the National Atheists’ Society? ‘Cause, at the moment, many theists take comfort in knowing that secularism is just another word for the godless hegemony of us atheists. It frankly undermines the Rainbow alliance that you rightly seek to support. And given that you’d have to be an incredibly weird theist to join the NSS in the first place….

    If you really do believe that there is a case for a secular social contract, and I am sure you do, then you will not wish to give succour to the forces of darkness, now, will you?

  29. Douglas,

    Our name was created in 1866 by our founder Charles Bradlaugh – and we’re stuck with it. We are not primarily an “atheist society”, in the sense that our first purpose is to promote non-belief. No, we are a society of atheists fighting for secularism, just as you might have an organisation of Christians fighting for secularism.

    Our members like to talk about the various aspects of religion which they consider undesirable, as atheists do. That doesn’t mean that they want to persecute all believers or try to wipe them out. Apart from the authoritarianism involved in such an approach, it simply doesn’t work. All attempts to eradicate religion have resulted in those religions becoming stronger. We hope that our existence will encourage indifferent believers to reconsider their allegiance. But there would never be any coercion or proselytising involved. Here we are, if you’re interested find out what we’re about.

    The NSS is a democratic organisation, our annual general meeting is coming up next month and I have to put myself up for election. Unlike the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope, I can get the push if I am saying things out of step with the feelings of the membership.

    Situations change, and whatever I might think about the name of the organisation or what it is for, we can only change it with the will of the membership. Maybe someone will propose it.

  30. Don — on 26th October, 2007 at 7:27 pm  

    A lot of Terry’s post is entirely reasonable, but when he says, ‘…we are an organisation of non-believers.’ he more or less concedes the point that the NSS excludes secular believers, of whom there are many. Quite a few on PP, actually.

    I don’t object to the stance taken by the NSS, except in some details, but perhaps a more transparent name would be in order.

    But, Douglas, ‘militant atheist’? Didn’t you forget ‘shrill’ and ‘fundamentalist’? As Dawkins has repeatedly pointed out, his tone would be considered mild if the topic were politics or economics.

  31. Don — on 26th October, 2007 at 7:28 pm  

    Damn (sic), crossed-post.

  32. Morgoth — on 26th October, 2007 at 7:56 pm  

    Don, P.S. I’m not actually atheist.

  33. douglas clark — on 26th October, 2007 at 8:10 pm  

    Terry,

    Thanks for the reply. I am a bit concerned about para 2 though.

    Sorry if this comes across as taking coals to Newcastle, but, please, bear with me. Could I just say that the word is frankly a bit of a bastard child.
    It has two definitions that apply here, which are completely different:

    Definition One – ‘not religious, sacred or spiritual’ and

    Definition Two – ‘not subject to or bound by religious rule’

    If you look up near the top of this thread, you’ll see comments about the mixed messages that the word sends out. That was the point of my post. It is not that you are misrepresenting it, it is that it is being deliberately and obtusely misrepresented as only being about definition one by those that advocate the status quo.

    You, nor I, are likely to subscribe to a belief in ‘the godless hegemony of us atheists’ but that is how it is being played out by those that think the present settlement between Church and State is hunky dory.

    Can you see what the problem is?

  34. Don — on 26th October, 2007 at 8:22 pm  

    Morgoth,

    Yeah, I gathered. What the hell, it’s the weekend, have one on me.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TV7x3qfegAE

  35. Rumbold — on 26th October, 2007 at 8:22 pm  

    Don:

    “What? You have not been touched by his noodly appendage?”

    Heh- that made me laugh. I wonder how many others have not been blessed by this knowledge.

    ZinZin:

    “Rumbold knows a medieval Latinist!”

    Of course- doesn’t everyone?

    Douglas:

    “Richard Dawkins, who seems to be on a mission to alienate everyone who isn’t a militant atheist, has been quoted as saying that trying to organise atheists is a bit like herding cats. You could say he sounds a tad frustrated: can’t say I am though, that is as it should be…”

    I agree. We all know what would happen if Dawkins got his way:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKUJgkSOy8Y

    “You certainly don’t become an atheist for the songs or the architecture or the feeling of belonging.”

    Nor is it a good long-term bet, given that eternity in Hell may await. At least if you pick a religion you might get lucky and be right.

  36. Don — on 26th October, 2007 at 8:25 pm  
  37. Rumbold — on 26th October, 2007 at 8:29 pm  

    Don:

    The URL still does not work.

  38. Don — on 26th October, 2007 at 8:30 pm  

    And by the way, Rumbold and Douglas, (and Sid, if you’re in the mood), any chance of something substantive on the Dawkins meme we have going here?

  39. douglas clark — on 26th October, 2007 at 8:32 pm  

    Don,

    I’ve been an atheist for a very long time, and generally I don’t feel any particular need to persuade others to my view. It is up to them. If they want to debate it – I remember a thread here once that petered out – that’s different. But, as an atheist, I do not much appreciate the aggressive way the debate is now being framed.

    On a separate point, I am certainly not at all happy with the idea that the Government can say it’s consulted atheists just ’cause it’s talked to the NSS. I am beginning to understand why religious folk that write here feel so disconnected.

  40. Rumbold — on 26th October, 2007 at 8:38 pm  

    Don:

    A debate about atheism or Dawkins’ interpretation of it?

  41. sahil — on 26th October, 2007 at 8:59 pm  

    “A debate about atheism or Dawkins’ interpretation of it?”

    Could be an interesting thread. :D

  42. Gibs — on 26th October, 2007 at 9:35 pm  

    In my opinion – too much fuss has been made about the distinction (or not) between atheists and secularists.

    Why can’t the two groups end their petty squabbling and turn their attention to the common enemy – religious bigots ?

  43. douglas clark — on 26th October, 2007 at 9:52 pm  

    Rumbold,

    It could be interesting.

  44. Ravi Naik — on 26th October, 2007 at 10:05 pm  

    “we are an organisation of non-believers.’ he more or less concedes the point that the NSS excludes secular believers, of whom there are many”

    Atheists are also believers and are people of faith: they firmly believe that God does not exist. Faith, of course, because like theists, they have no scientific proof of existence or non-existence of God.

    “supernaturalism is the enemy of progress

    Science and Religion are not mutually exclusive. Whatever science does not explain, we fill the void with religion. That in no way hinders progress, and great scientists like Isaac Newton were religious people.

  45. Don — on 26th October, 2007 at 10:36 pm  

    Rumbold,

    More the interpretation of Dawkins, have you read the books?

    Douglas,
    ‘…the aggressive way the debate is now being framed.’

    We haven’t established that it is being so framed. A couple of books? Hitchens, yeah, I grant you that was aggressive, but not without merit. But Dawkins? what point has he asserted that you feel has crossed some sort of line?

    Ravi,

    ‘Atheists are also believers and are people of faith: they firmly believe that God does not exist. ‘

    Please, no.

  46. douglas clark — on 26th October, 2007 at 11:24 pm  

    Don,

    We haven’t established that it is being so framed. A couple of books? Hitchens, yeah, I grant you that was aggressive, but not without merit. But Dawkins? what point has he asserted that you feel has crossed some sort of line?

    Just to put this in some perspective, I’ve read most of Dawkins books, but not “The God Delusion”.

    I’m not particularily accusing Dawkins himself. I have been a long term fan of his books, ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ and ‘Climbing Mount Improbable’ are possibly the best books ever written for the layman that spell out convincingly what is behind evolutionary theory. When I’ve heard him speak, he has come across as reasonable. The problem with Dawkins is that he has become a rallying point for folk that simply see life as a process of polarisation. Specifically, it is just another wedge issue, an attempt to differentiate folk for no good reason. Except of course, that we can.

    I’m as likely to agree on a wide range of topics with Christians and Muslims, etc, as I am (to disagree) on the same topics with Atheists. The point being that dividing a – to quote Rumbolds phrase elsewhere -”progressive viewpoint” could, I would argue, be seen as shooting ourselves in the foot.

    So, I do not see the point of aggressive tactics, such as those adopted by jOnz and Morgoth, etc, etc. The point being that they feel licenced in their aggression by the words of the prophet. We are a small enough group – progressives – as it is, without further schism.

    (Looking over that, I seem to be saying I’m a progressive, jeez, who’d have thought it? Not many, certainly not me.)

  47. douglas clark — on 26th October, 2007 at 11:30 pm  

    And Don,

    Re Ravi’s post, can I just agree with you. Please, Ravi, for the sake of your sanity, please don’t take us there!

  48. Sunny — on 27th October, 2007 at 12:46 am  

    In my opinion – too much fuss has been made about the distinction (or not) between atheists and secularists.

    Why can’t the two groups end their petty squabbling and turn their attention to the common enemy – religious bigots ?

    Because of organisations like the NSS and Terry Sanderson himself actually.

    By conflating atheism and secularism, Terry and the NSS make it very difficult for non-atheist secularists (myself for example) to join his calls. The NSS constantly confuses the two terms, which means that anyone supporting secularism could also be accused of supporting atheism, or a complete ban on any religious expression in public life.

    For example, if you see the article that first sparked off my annoyance at the NSS (linked above), Terry Sanderson accuses even liberals who have faith as being apologetics for religious bigots.

    So, going by that, I’m an apologist for religious nuts simply by the virtue of the fact that I’m not an atheist. That’s complete rubbish. I have far more credibility in challenging religious nuts than he does because of this.

    j0nz: Let’s see what the atheistophobes have to say about it

    You don’t half come out with crap j0nz. After having your arguments destroyed above, you’re accusing others of ‘atheistphobia’. Sheesh. Two of PP’s writers – Rohin and Leon – are atheists. But they’re not rabid like you.

    Is this term like your previously derided ‘anti-American bigotry’?? Heh.

  49. douglas clark — on 27th October, 2007 at 1:20 am  

    Sunny,

    It is becoming increasingly difficult to form a reasonable consensus on anything, whatsoever. I am not interested in going to war with religious folk that, largely support the same ideals of liberal democracy that I do.

    I am not interested in arguing, as some do, that the religious are deluded fools. What the hells the point? It seems to me, having read this web site for a very long time, that good folk can have religious beliefs, and bad folk can have none, and vice versa.

    It is all down to empathy, I think. Or the lack thereof.

  50. Clairwil — on 27th October, 2007 at 2:16 am  

    ‘You don’t half come out with crap j0nz. After having your arguments destroyed above, you’re accusing others of ‘atheistphobia’. Sheesh. Two of PP’s writers – Rohin and Leon – are atheists. But they’re not rabid like you.’

    Bless poor JOnz. He’s a wacky lad out for attention. If the internet didn’t exist he’d only be smearing shit on the bars of his playpen.

  51. Sunny — on 27th October, 2007 at 3:29 am  

    It is becoming increasingly difficult to form a reasonable consensus on anything

    I don’t think it is… I just think orgs like the NSS behave like the SWP crew and other Trots on the web – denouncing madly and loudly anyone who doesn’t agree with their narrow interpretations.

    We’re seeing this through very narrow (web-based) lenses. In the wider world most people realise that religious people can be liberal and vice versa, and religious people can be nutters.

    I find it completely bizarre that the web is dominated by these extreme positions.

    Despite being an absolute believer in secularism, I wouldn’t support or join the NSS because of the shrill attitude they take. Half the time they sound like Muslim Public Affairs Committee.

  52. Sunny,

    Your posts seem to suggest that because there are plenty of good, kind religious believers that it is somehow illegitimate to criticise their beliefs. This is the point I was trying to make in my Guardian article – by suggesting that legitimate criticism of religion equates to a blanket condemnation of believers, you let the madmen and the murderers off the hook. By tryint to protect the innocents from being “offended” in this way, you also give shelter to the fanatics.

    The NSS is angry about religious power-seeking. It doesn’t attack individual believers who just want to get on with their lives. It has no beef with the worshippers in the pews, so long as they aren’t organising to disadvantage other people.

    The “shrillness” that you perceive in the NSS is, in fact, anger mixed with a touch of alarm, that unpleasant, right-wing religion is increasingly seeking to interfere in our lives. Somebody has got to shout about that. You seem paralysed with this earnest desire not to hurt the feelings of believers. We don’t want to, either, but sometimes it’s necessary to speak plainly – and loudly – when the vlues that you treasure are under threat.

  53. douglas clark — on 27th October, 2007 at 9:31 am  

    Sunny,

    I think that you have hit the nail on the head. Some folk say things on the internet that in real life they wouldn’t dream of expressing. Or perhaps dare to say. Which is either incredibly liberating or incredibly uncivilised, take your pick.

    That is a very interesting point. It would explain a lot. Hmm.

    Just out of curiosity, what is a typical viewing figure for one of your more popular threads? I recall, the last time we discussed the ‘is there a god question’ some incredibly bright female suddenly appeared out of nowhere and basically took the thread by the scruff of the neck. Never seen her here before or since. Suggests you have a lot more readers than commentators.

    The reason for asking is that I think sometimes folk think that it is really a kind of head to head WWF deathmatch all the time. And that folk tend to forget that there is an audience.

    Mea culpa, as Rumbolds’ chum would say.

  54. douglas clark — on 27th October, 2007 at 9:59 am  

    Terry,

    I am really not at all impressed with the arguement you make here:

    Your posts seem to suggest that because there are plenty of good, kind religious believers that it is somehow illegitimate to criticise their beliefs. This is the point I was trying to make in my Guardian article – by suggesting that legitimate criticism of religion equates to a blanket condemnation of believers, you let the madmen and the murderers off the hook. By tryint to protect the innocents from being “offended” in this way, you also give shelter to the fanatics.

    No, no, you don’t. By condemning the innocents, as well as the lunatics, you create a dichotomy for the innocents. You put them in the position where communalism is the only option available to them in an increasingly hostile environment. If we can get beyond the coded language, it is pretty plain that you are specifically talking about Muslims, unless you are talking about Methodist
    “madmen and the murderers”?

    If they were all the tick tock men that you seem to think they are, World War Three would have already started.

  55. Sunny,

    Yes, of course I am talking about Islamists (not the majority of Muslims) when I talk about the murdering fanatics, but Christians have had their go in their time.

    In the United States the pressure on the secular constitution is relentless, and looking at the way that the candidate selection is being handled for the next election, the whole thing will be about who is most pious and who is going to turn the clock back furthest. There is a real danger that America will eventually turn to some form of theocratic model to order its affairs, and that will have consequences for all of us.

    So, how do those of us who want a liberal, open-to-all secular society protect those values when they are under ferocious attack by irrational forces?

    By holding back in case we hurt the feelings of bystanders? I don’t think so.

    It’s time for a bit of muscular liberalism, a liberalism that takes itself seriously and is willing to fight back against ractionary forces.

    The liberalism that stands back and says to the religio-politicals “yes, lets help you get a bit more power” is self-defeating. These are the liberals that argued for the original Racial and Religious Hatred Act, the one that would have prevented any criticism of religion. We had to fight such misguided liberals in order to get free speech protected.

    Those of us who take the idea of a free society seriously must stand up more vigorously for what we think is important. We will stand with truly liberal religionists, but we are highly suspicious of those who are actually pushing an agenda of superstition and demanding that everyone respects it, no questions asked.

    I don’t respect religion, I think it infantile, but I respect any individual religionist who sees the dangers when his or her “faith” becomes organised and ambitious and begins to imagine that it is OK to force others to conform – because, well, God told them so. Can you name a religion that has not done this at some point in its history?

  56. douglas clark — on 27th October, 2007 at 12:07 pm  

    Terry,

    Err, you’ve, I think, replied to me. Contrary to what you might think, I’m not Sunny and he’s not me ;-)

    He writes for CiF. Me, I get banned. (For standing up for Richard Dawkins against their ‘star journalist’, our ‘Maddy of the Sorrows’, by the way – OK, I was quite cheeky too).

    I’d completely agree with you that keeping ‘faith’ out of politics, or at least recognising it for the ‘lobby’ that it actually is, would be a good thing. The point, I think, of Sunnys’ position is that you do not throw the moderate theists out with the bathwater. It is a proposition I subscribe to.

    The NSS makes this more difficult to achieve, I think, simply by conflating secularism and atheism. It gives our opponents the benefit of confusion. Which is not a good thing.

  57. Douglas,

    I beg your pardon. I refer you back to previous posts I made. I don’t think there is anywhere else to go with this – we just have a different approach to the same problem.

  58. douglas clark — on 27th October, 2007 at 1:18 pm  

    Terry,

    Agreed. Thanks for at least listening, or reading or whatever.

  59. soru — on 27th October, 2007 at 4:22 pm  

    By holding back in case we hurt the feelings of bystanders? I don’t think so.

    If you are going to talk tactics, a better way of phrasing the question is ‘just how good an idea is it to shoot our allies in the back’?

    The Blackwater-style rhetoric that says ‘there are quite likely some enemies in that crowd, so spray it with verbal machine-gun fire’ is one of those things that is a bad idea for more than one reason.

    Just because you feel angry enough to break normal social rules about not causing offence, doesn’t mean you should ignore the bigger picture, the actual effect of your words.

  60. zubair — on 27th October, 2007 at 5:29 pm  

    Terry @56 said “Yes, of course I am talking about Islamists (not the majority of Muslims) when I talk about the murdering fanatics, but Christians have had their go in their time.
    ……..I don’t respect religion, I think it infantile, but I respect any individual religionist who sees the dangers when his or her “faith” becomes organised and ambitious and begins to imagine that it is OK to force others to conform – because, well, God told them so. Can you name a religion that has not done this at some point in its history?”

    Terry, don’t you remember the media back in the 70s when reporting the sectarian violence in Northenrn Ireland there was the constant refrain “these are the acts of a few extremists, the vast majority of people in northen Ireland are peace loving and decent”? It seems to me that this was an unwarranted exoneration of the large scale communal bigotry which sustained and was the real motor for the terrorism both in Northern Ireland and on the mainland.
    I therefore would take issue with your “liberal” concessions to the vast majority of “believers” who though they don’t share the same “focused” views about how to achieve certain millenarian political ends, they nonetheless share a very pronounced “family resemblance” to the terrorists and the onus is upon them (and I might add the role of organisations like the NSS to press them on) to clarify just how they are different in their beliefs on doctrinal issues such as, “do suicide bombers go immediately to heaven on fulfilling their roles as missile delivery systems?” etc.
    But I suspect that you see the futiltity of such an attempt at dialectical exchange on such doctrinal issues since one man’s “belief” is just a matter of postmodern inclination in our multiculturalist society, when it comes to “belief” truths and falsity are purely matters of obscurantist predeliction.
    So I’m not saying that religion is evil or anything like that but rather that insofar as religion becomes a matter of purely formalistic issues of “belief” (witness the almost neurotic obsession amongst muslims now for “empty” rituals such as beards and veils to the almost total exclusion of any other deeper metaphysic that might emanate from their own very rich tradition) its just that because organised montheism does indeed stress “belief” in combination with a fearful image of God as wrathful and that this is to the detriment of any chance of productive dialogue.
    Only when the faithful themselves adopt a form of religiousity without “belief” will there be the conditions for the dialogue you seek but also the conditions for a true and valid form of religiosity to emerge from the sterilty of mere belief.

  61. Zubair,

    You make some good points. The problem is that I know a fair few “secular” Muslims, that is to say, people who consider themelves to be Muslims but who wouldn’t go anywhere near a mosque because of the issues you raise. How is it possible, in thos circumstances to demand that “Muslims” apologise for their religion, when many of them don’t practice it? (I think if true statistics were gathered, we would find that large numbers of Muslims aren’t at all the overly-pious mosque-goers that we are led to believe they are).

    The community pressures cannot be underestimated. Declaring yourself a secular Muslim (even if you are actually an atheist ex-Muslim) is nigh on impossible for many.

    But that’s being challenged by the Ex-Muslim Council of Britain, which is trying to provide a model for those Muslims who want out of their authoritarian religion. And we awarded our annual £5,000 Secularist of the Year prize to the leader of that movement last weekend. Her name is Mina Ahadi and you can read abut her on the NSS ebsite http://www.secularism.org.uk .

    Soru,

    You have totally overstated your case. Nobody ever died from being offended. Nobody is being stabbed in the back, nobody is being shot. All we’re doing is challenging their ideas. It’s called free speech and an exchange of ideas. Yes, we can dish it out, but we sure have to take it, too. Which we do. As we have done on this blog and in many other places where we are labelled “fanatics”, “extremists”, “fundamentalists” and anything else that those people who don’t like to be challenged can come up with. The only problem with that description is that members of the NSS are peace-loving, non-violent people who don’t want to fight, but who are not prepared to stay silent when they see the same religious mistake being made again.

  62. Sunny — on 27th October, 2007 at 7:48 pm  

    Hi Terry, I don’t know what “religious mistake” you are referring to. IF y ou mean the pandering to community leaders, then I’ve done more than most to challenge that hegemony and the tide is now turning against them. We all know this. If you’re talking about religious expression in public life, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to live with that providing the religious don’t infringe on the rights of athesists or other religious people.

    If you mean tackling religious nuts or terrorists – again, liberal religious people are your strongest allies in this fight and yet you’re doing your best to alienate them.

    The Council of ex-Muslims may have their use but frankly they’re not going to persuade the vast majority of Muslims or any potential terrorists. A group like British Muslims for Secular Democracy have a much better chance. Your prizes mean squat I’m afraid.

    The NSS is angry about religious power-seeking. It doesn’t attack individual believers who just want to get on with their lives. It has no beef with the worshippers in the pews, so long as they aren’t organising to disadvantage other people.

    I’m afraid you’re conflating two aims here. One is to challenge and ridicule faith in general, which of course you are welcome to do.

    Secondly there is a political aim to fight the power grab by religious bodies and also ensure the government does not disadvantage atheists. I think this is a laudable aim and I’m happy to support the cause of secularism to ensure that no religious body is accorded excessive power nor that the religious have too many rights over atheists.

    But if you’re fighting for secularism, and yet you’re advocating atheism in the public space, then two things happen.

    Firstly, others conflate secularism with atheism and see you as pushing an atheist rather a secular agenda. Therefore they are likely to be very suspicious of you when actually most religious bodies other than the Anglican Church should be on your side (because they want to ensure they are not disadvantaged).

    Secondly, you behave like the people you criticise. You criticise the religious on the basis that they’re providing some cover to religious nuts. One can quite argue that by arguing for secularism you’re providing cover to atheist nuts (like j0nz and even Morgoth (though he claims not to be an atheist)) who want a complete eradication of religion from the public sphere (which is inherently illiberal).

  63. zubair — on 27th October, 2007 at 8:39 pm  

    Sunny,
    I just read the manifesto of the group you recommened as per you’re previous blog and for the life of me I cannot discern in it any distinctively ” muslim” perspective but that’s O.K. cos I believe that the less there’s a muslim (or for that matter Christian, Jewish etc ) perspective the better (since history clearly shows that when these groups have enthusiastically adopted a perspective, bloody consequences soon follow).
    Here’s a quote from your reccommended “muslims for democracy”:

    “We are not a theological group but one advocates civic engagement. We are not concerned in judging or being judged. If you call yourself ‘Muslim’, then you are welcome to be part of our movement. If you are non Muslim, we equally welcome your association.
    [Our organisation] is about social inclusion, co-existence and harmony. Together we can all make a difference. It is now time to work towards this goal.
    bmsd aims to: [etc]
    Lambeth Council’s brochure could not have spoken more truly!!!
    My question is: What’s the difference between the philosophic sentiments expressed here and those of any other well meaning, common sensical, multiculturalist imbued ( liberal?) Kaffir walking the streets of UK? Or does the belief in deity i.e. Allah add something here that was missing in afoerementined Kaffir’s otherwise commendable multiculutral belief sytem?
    I’m afraid this is another example of religionists (wannabe liberals) stealing the virtues of those they’d rather condemen in their more private moments, usually when the only others present are overbearing and sycophantic bearded patriarchs.
    Come on sunny!!!
    Surely you and your mates at Muslims for democracy can do better than this (i.e. undertake a serious examination of whu you are, where you’re going, where you’ve com from without falling back on a lazy dependence on your “muslim” background to provide those answers)

  64. sonia — on 27th October, 2007 at 9:32 pm  

    “religion is a power-seeking construct.”

    for sure.

    if i had a pet idea i wanted to implement, and i wanted to be cunning about it, i would of course declare it a religion and myself the great prophetess. who wouldn’t?

    the point to all this i think is that when people say ‘secular’ – the first step is to clarify what everyone means by that term.

    i would also say – there is a big confusion about what people understand – religion to be, and the implications of that.

  65. zubair — on 27th October, 2007 at 9:47 pm  

    Sonia.
    Its quite simple if you’d bothered to think about it.
    Secular means that in human affairs we don’t rely on occult forces or the notion of future messiahs suddenly appearing to sort out our politics and our ethical issues-its purely up to us and not up to some supernatural entity to whom we owe allegiance or who secretly runs the show.
    As for the concept of religion I suggest that you look around in the real world at it’s practical embodiement to see what it is ordinarily rather than looking for some sterile definition. Once you do that you’ll see quite clearly that what you’re dealing with in that concept in its practical sensuous raelity is something despicable, vioent backward and ulimately meaningless. There are deeper and more profound human truths but acxcess to these are all but closed by the main religions.

  66. sonia — on 27th October, 2007 at 9:59 pm  

    the problem is complex. even when state authority isnt imposing religion on individuals, the other insidious social organisational unit – the family -is often doing the same.

    e.g. certainly in the traditional indian family scenario. its not at all ‘secular’ – that family context.

    look at all these families imposing religion on their kids – that’s what annoys me. even extended families seem to think they should have a say on how kids are brought up with respect to religion.

    In any case, from my observations: in the traditional asian family context, there isn’t even an option to ‘choose your own religion’. religion is who you already are, the deity your family worship, rejecting that deity is effectively rejecting your family. its all bound up with the establishment, authority, familial ties.

    which is highly problematic,( as any ex-muslim can tell you). the fact that our traditional asian cultures force religion, among other things, on us as central and core to our identities. perhaps not too many people are bothered about that aspect as they are trying to get their families to accept that they have the right to choose their own partners, never mind fighting other battles.
    .

  67. sonia — on 27th October, 2007 at 10:01 pm  

    heh zubair, i didnt say anything about what i thought about secular, or religion – or that i needed to know. just that when people engage in discussion, if they discussed what they mean when they use various terms, it would be clearer, all around.

    :-) what a defensive lot!

  68. sonia — on 27th October, 2007 at 10:02 pm  

    and you don’t know what I have bothered to think about or not So i would suggest you adopt a more civil tone Young Man.

  69. sonia — on 27th October, 2007 at 10:03 pm  

    I don’t care what your beliefs are, there is no need to be rude, I don’t know what is wrong with Pickled Politics these days.

  70. zubair — on 27th October, 2007 at 10:18 pm  

    Sonia,
    what is wrong with pikled politics these days as per the way i see it is that ther are alot of people who talk very casually about difficult and serious issues without thinking through whsts involved.
    I am all for people experessing their views but in these trivial times its important to be challenged from time to time in ways that are perhaps difficult. anyway Id much rather you engaged with the issues I raised in my last blog directly than talk in general terms.
    zube

  71. zubair — on 27th October, 2007 at 10:30 pm  

    Sonia @ 67,
    I agree with your cenral point here which is that once the identity issue is all mixed up with who you are vis a vis family and the associated freudian bonds it becomes dificult to revolt.
    But my point would be that revolt is always painful but ulitimately liberatory and that the western capitaist ruse is to convince you that there can be liberation without pain- struuggle is always painful but in a sense that kind of pain (I hope) is cleansing and is its own kind of profit.

  72. sonia — on 27th October, 2007 at 11:32 pm  

    It is incredibly presumptuous of you to think you may have some idea of how lightly/casually anyone else is taking this ‘topic’, and you’ve no idea how each different commenter is/isn’t handling religious issues in their personal life.

    {In any case, that does not excuse your impoliteness, just because you want to leap at people’s throats, I suggest you take some time before you leap. It is not much fun wasting time pointing out how rude people are.}

    and my central point – actually – i pointed out the family context is just as important – as the ‘public’ sphere – in terms of the need for secularism -for much the same sorts of reasons. It’s about where authority lies, that was my central point – in all cases, it needs challenging.

  73. sonia — on 27th October, 2007 at 11:37 pm  

    Anyway, back to the point at hand, I think Terry makes good points.

    Is there a reason why NSS is being compared to the SWP?

  74. sonia — on 27th October, 2007 at 11:38 pm  

    Surely there are more than just 2 atheists on PP?

  75. sonia — on 27th October, 2007 at 11:41 pm  

    “Declaring yourself a secular Muslim (even if you are actually an atheist ex-Muslim) is nigh on impossible for many.”

    Absolutely, the ex-council people are very lucky in as much as they can actually publicly announce themselves as such.

  76. fugstar — on 28th October, 2007 at 12:21 am  

    its hard do define secularism as there are so many. the south asian fudged one is particularly amusing.

    i think a lot of its envy though, by definition atheists dont really have sacred divinely ordained values to congregate around. human rights doesnt count.

  77. Don — on 28th October, 2007 at 2:14 am  

    ‘i think a lot of its envy though, by definition atheists dont really have sacred divinely ordained values to congregate around.’

    Yeah, we are so blooody envious of that. Just lie awake nights, worrying about it.

  78. fugstar — on 28th October, 2007 at 3:05 am  

    whatever floats your boat and provides the wind in its sails don!

    How comes whenever it comes to assigning religion any essential value or respecting the service it has provided over centuries there are a bunch of antis crying out that the state should not recognise such structures.

    Why does is seem like doctors with certain beleifs are not allowed to avoid doing abortions which are against their religion? Whats with the gay adoption canard against the catholics?

  79. zubair — on 28th October, 2007 at 11:34 am  

    Fugster @79 said “How comes whenever it comes to assigning religion any essential value or respecting the service it has provided over centuries there are a bunch of antis crying out that the state should not recognise such structures.”
    I presume by service you’re referring to the millions who’ve been killed over the centuries in the name of religious belief?

  80. soru — on 28th October, 2007 at 12:07 pm  

    You have totally overstated your case. Nobody ever died from being offended.

    You really aren’t getting the point I’m making, are you?

    Shooting people is worse than causing offence, obviously. But tactics can be independant of the scale you are working on – a lot of the same principles apply when playing a parlour game or fighting a war. One of theose principles is the difference between a bystander and an ally.

    Sometimes an idea is bad for two independant reasons:

    1. it’s immoral, impolite or unpleasant

    2. it doesn’t work

    When reason #2 applies, you can’t counter it by making an argument against reason #1.

    For example, if the idea is ‘drinking the blood of virgins keeps you young’, then it’s kind of a mistake to waver about the morality, but finally decide to do it, without ever questioning the effectiveness.

    Now, if all you are interested in is expressing your beliefs for the sake of it, that can’t be usefully argued against.

    It is only when you tie those metaphysical beliefs into the whole politics of terrorism and democracy, claim to have a goal you want to achieve by expressing them, that the question comes up:

    is this working?

  81. Don — on 28th October, 2007 at 12:29 pm  

    Fugstar,

    ‘Why does is seem like doctors with certain beleifs are not allowed to avoid doing abortions which are against their religion?’

    I have no idea why it seems that way to you, as it is not the case.

    ‘gay adoption canard’? What canard?

  82. To illustrate just how complex the issue of secularism is, I suggest anyone who is interested should read “Secularism and Secularity – Contemporary International Perspectives” which is a collection of essays about how secularism is perceived and practised around the world. It soons become apparent that there are endless ways of defining secularism, laicite, laiklik or whatever you want to call it.

    You can read it free at http://www.trincoll.edu/secularisminstitute

  83. fugstar — on 28th October, 2007 at 4:38 pm  

    outside the brownosphere, the secular state is encroaching on morality.

    might not seem too visible to people who consider human rights as a religious common sense.

    Don.
    adoption thingey
    http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=298852007

    abortion thingey
    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling/2007/10/can_we_trust_our_doctors.html

    strange how areligious stances on the matters tend to revolve around the children.

  84. Don — on 28th October, 2007 at 5:16 pm  

    Thanks for the links, fugstar.

    What is wrong with Grayling’s proposal? No doctor is required to perform an abortion if they have moral or religious issues. Fair enough, but some are refusing to direct their patients to another doctor on the grounds that they are ‘procuring’ an abortion. So why not have an agemcy which exists simply to allow women access to all options, including adoption and counselling as well as abortion? The religious doctor’s conscience is now clear. How does that support your claim that ‘doctors are not allowed to avoid doing abortions’?

    On gay adoption, I was aware of the issue, that the church said it would shut down it’s agencies rather than allow gays to use them. I seem to remember that the CofE went even further and said it would shut down breakfast clubs if forced to admit gays. I was puzzled by your use of ‘canard’. Has the clerical stance been misprepresented?

    ‘people who consider human rights as a religious common sense.’

    Don’t know what that means? Is it a good thing?

    ‘strange how areligious stances on the matters tend to revolve around the children’

    Given that the matters in question are abortion and adoption, it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t.

  85. Edsa — on 28th October, 2007 at 7:30 pm  

    Terry Sanderson must be talking of western secularism and I hope it is not being claimed as being universally valid. (I only briefly glanced at the website cited.)
    I am sure other groups have their own brand of secularism. The Indian version was formulated by one A B Shah, founder of the Indian Secular Society and its journal The Secularist. Here is an extract from one of his publications:
    “Secularism does not reject religion but is opposed to religious dogmatism and the obscurantism associated with it. Instead it relies on reason and science to promote the maetrial and cultural progress of man. It seeks to foster harmony among social groups despite differences of faith …”

    I am no expert in the subject and this is hardly the place for the details. I merely wish to point out that there must more than one vision about secularism and the West’s need not be the authoritative one.

  86. sonia — on 28th October, 2007 at 8:47 pm  

    yes, if a doctor doesnt want to do an abortion thats one thing, its completely different to not refer them to another doctor to help them! that’s outrageous, who the hell is the doctor to withold treatment? if that’s person religion was so important to them, they should have been a priest instead of a doctor.

  87. sonia — on 28th October, 2007 at 8:58 pm  

    and isn’t is strange how a religious stance seems to always have an awful lot to do with sex and sexuality?

    ‘cant let gays adopt children’ – ! more concerned about someone’s sexuality than about someone’s care-giving skills. or imagining someone’s sexuality is bound up with someone’s care-giving skills, is a bit of a bizarre obsession, if you ask me.

    islam certainly is clearly obsessed with sexuality, i think it would be safe to say the RC church is also equally obsessed.

  88. douglas clark — on 28th October, 2007 at 9:33 pm  

    Edsa,

    Terry’s link can take you to an Indian perspective on secularism, which I found quite interesting.

  89. Leon — on 28th October, 2007 at 9:47 pm  

    Two of PP’s writers – Rohin and Leon – are atheists. But they’re not rabid like you.

    True but then we’re true atheists, rational and calm, at one with the force…er…sorry was watching Star Wars earlier…!

    Terry made a great suggestion earlier, he said the NSS is a democratic org, perhaps more secularists should take him at his word and join en masse to change it from within?

  90. alan — on 28th October, 2007 at 9:54 pm  

    I think that Sunny lacks an historical perpective.

    The NSS dates from a time when asserting a lack of belief would have actual consequences.

    The wikipedia page on NSS founder Charles Bradlaugh :-

    “In 1880 Bradlaugh was elected Member of Parliament for Northampton, and claimed the right to affirm (instead of taking the religious Oath of Allegiance), but this was denied, and he subsequently offered to take the oath “as a matter of form”. This offer, too, was rejected by the House. Because a Member must take the oath before being allowed to take their seat, he effectively forfeited his seat in Parliament. He attempted to take his seat regardless, was arrested and briefly imprisoned in the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament. His seat fell vacant and a by-election was declared. Bradlaugh was re-elected by Northampton four times in succession as the dispute continued. Supporting Bradlaugh were William Gladstone, George Bernard Shaw, and John Stuart Mill, as well as hundreds of thousands of people who signed a public petition. Opposing his right to sit were the Conservative Party, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other leading figures in the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church.

    On at least one occasion, Bradlaugh was escorted from the House by police officers. In 1883 he took his seat and voted three times before being fined £1,500 for voting illegally. A bill allowing him to affirm was defeated in Parliament.

    In 1886 Bradlaugh was finally allowed to take the oath, and did so at the risk of prosecution under the Parliamentary Oaths Act. Two years later, in 1888, he secured passage of a new Oaths Act, which enshrined into law the right of affirmation for members of both Houses, as well as extending and clarifying the law as it related to witnesses in civil and criminal trials (the Evidence Amendment Acts of 1869 and 1870 had proved unsatisfactory, though they had given relief to many who would otherwise have been disadvantaged).”

    We are in danger of a return of the days when scepticism about religious claims will again have consequences in the U.K.

    I know someone in Ireland who has had her children baptised into the catholic church because she believes they will be seriously disadvantaged otherwise.

    I do not want a return to such fears here.

  91. douglas clark — on 28th October, 2007 at 11:29 pm  

    Alan,

    We are in danger of a return of the days when scepticism about religious claims will again have consequences in the U.K.

    Do you really think so? Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ has sold over a quarter of a million copies. We are hardly in the same world as Charles Bradlaugh, are we?

    Bradlaugh’s fight was only twenty years after Darwin published ‘The Origin of the Species’. Things have moved on a bit since those days, have they not?

  92. Morgoth — on 29th October, 2007 at 1:46 am  

    We are hardly in the same world as Charles Bradlaugh, are we?

    If the theists had their way, it would be.

  93. douglas clark — on 29th October, 2007 at 8:47 am  

    Morgoth,

    Which theists though? I doubt the vast majority of Anglicans for instance, would want to turn the clock back quite that far.

    There are extremists attached to nearly every movement, quite apart from religions. For instance, there are environmentalists that think that a return to a hunter gatherer society is the answer? No-one pays them any heed, and neither should we pay any heed to religious fundamentalists of any stripe.

    What we are seeing, in Europe at least, is growing secularism. Quite why politicians privileged the likes of the MCB for so long before chucking them out is, admittedly, a bit of a mystery. I think it is because it is hard to teach an old dog – the government – new tricks. They try to apply control, ahem, sorry, consultation methods that were more applicable to the colonial era.

    Personally, I think that if you want a government based on evidence rather than the crucifix, the likes of Nadine Dorries should be challenged on rationalist grounds. Come to that, Tony Blairs pandering to faith was pretty unwholesome too. These are the real enemy.

    We have fundamental rights, embodied in the European Convention of Human Rights that would have astonished any Victorian.

  94. j0nz — on 29th October, 2007 at 9:06 am  

    Leon an atheist? Wonders will never cease. Not many atheists are staunch supporters religions, for obvious reasons. So Leon, out of interest, you think religion is a load of poppycock, but you never say so?!

  95. Morgoth — on 29th October, 2007 at 11:23 am  

    Personally, I think that if you want a government based on evidence rather than the crucifix, the likes of Nadine Dorries should be challenged on rationalist grounds.

    Oh definitely, Douglas. Dorries et al is one of the reasons I left the Conservative party a while back.

    Oh, also, Douglas, I’m not a big fan of “rights”. Rights are inherent, we don’t need any government to grant us “rights”.

  96. douglas clark — on 29th October, 2007 at 11:39 am  

    Morgoth,

    Rights are indeed self evident, at least I thought so until I read the abortion threads!

    But you need legal machinery to enforce them, no? And for the legal machinery to work, you have to create a legal framework. Laws and all that stuff.

    For instance, there is a democratic consensus nowadays that married women are not the property of their husbands. That was not always the consensus view, albeit that consensus seems to have consisted of a few up tight Victorians with somewhat odd attitudes to bare table legs.

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