Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Holy crap, I'm not a secularist!

Normally when Bill O'Reilly goes on about how secularists are destroying America, I get offended. I assume "secularist" means a person who is secular, which I am, and the 'ist' morpheme is just a rhetorical flourish to make us all look like communists or fascists or something.
But I was listening to a Big Ideas podcast by Jeffery Stout and I realized I am not a secularist.
Stout defined 'secularism' as the belief that religion has no place in public discussions. Wikipedia has something similar in their 2nd definition.

Secularism has two distinct meanings.

1. It asserts the freedom of religion, and freedom from religion, within a state that is neutral on matters of belief, and gives no state privileges or subsidies to religions.
2. It refers to a belief that human activities and decisions should be based on evidence and fact, and not superstitious beliefs, however devoutly held, and that policy should be free from religious domination. For example, a society deciding whether to promote condom use might consider the issues of disease prevention, family planning, and women's rights. A secularist would argue that such issues are relevant to public policy-making, whereas Biblical interpretation or church doctrine should not be considered and are irrelevant.

By definition 2 and Stout's definition, I am definitely not a secularist. Stout was defending the idea that democracy is more like a conversation (something that resonated with me, of course). I think Stout has something like a brainstorm in mind rather than a pissing match or sales pitch. So as a brainstorming conversation, all viewpoints are valid starting points. But the point of the discussion is to come to an understanding or agreement.
Bill O'Reilly has something close to, but not quite like definition 2 in mind when he rails against the evil secularists.
Millions of Americans are now aware that the traditions of Christmas are under fire by committed secularists, people who do not want any public demonstration of spirituality.

Now I can relax, knowing that Bill isn't mad at me, but just those "committed secularists." Whew!

3 comments:

Eric said...

Suppose you allow that "all viewpoints are valid starting points", but you stipulate that arguments (and policy) are decided "based on evidence and fact". I think that would be my position, roughly, but looking at it like that I realize how disingenuous it is: I'll let them start talking, but in the end they may as well have just kept their mouths shut.

Holy crap, I'm a secularist! Come and get me, O'Reilly!

Eric said...

As usual, Geoff Pullum says it better than I could.

liberal elite said...

It refers to a belief that human activities and decisions should be based on evidence and fact, and not superstitious beliefs, however devoutly held, and that policy should be free from religious domination.
See it's all in the modal. I definitely believe decisions should be based on evidence and fact, but I don't believe they must. I also don't believe, as O'Reilly's strawman does, that there should be no public demonstrations of spirituality.

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