Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Inter-Belief Dialogue And The Challenges Of Secularism

Earlier this year during the Republican primaries, presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum said in an interview with 'This Week' host George Stephanopoulos that he felt the separation of church and state makes him "want to throw up."  He said, "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute", "The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country."

Extreme right-wing ignoramuses like Rick Santorum are the intellectual enemies of those who want to preserve the separation of church and state and it is good news to know his political party is on the decline. It is people like him that are constantly trying to knock down this barrier and usher in a flood of religious influence. As secularists it is important that we remain a challenge to their agenda while at the same time do not help further the extreme partisanship that has gridlocked much of Washington. This is much easier said than done, but let me try to explain.

We can never concede our principle on the separation of religion and government. It is paramount to the atheist and secularist alike that we continue living in a society where politics is decided from the point of view using science and reason and free from the influence of religious tradition, dogma and supernaturalism.

If you consider that for quite some time secularists like myself and those against secularism will have to coexist in the US, I wonder how can this best occur while not conceding on principle. I have been trying to recently articulate my positions on secularism to make clear what I mean when I say the separation of religion and government, and what that means for a theist or someone who was anti-secularist. I haven't been able to take on every challenge of course, but I think it is important to address some issues we are facing.

It is important for those who disagree to be able to come together whenever possible on the things they have in common. Even the most ardent partisans on opposite sides of the political spectrum will have something in common that they could join together in fighting for. It is important that the secularist can recognize the common humanity bonding them together with the theist, and they should all be willing to engage with others who we sometimes disagree with. I can name a few areas where this could occur:

  1. The Occupy Wall Street movement. Although it was not as successful as many hoped, it did at least spark a serious debate on the disproportionate increases in wealth and power of the top 1 percent in recent years. Many Muslims (due to their religion's prohibition of usury) are also against the culture of greed that characterizes the financial system. Many Catholics are against this too. This is a perfect opportunity for atheists and those with faith to come together and fight a system of corruption created by the rich that hurts the poor and working class. 
  2. Working together towards the elimination of poverty and to help those less fortunate can be done between those with and without faith. 
  3. There are those with faith who also support the separation of religion from government and we can work together whenever and however possible.
  4. Working together to spread human rights and to help those in countries that are having their human rights violated, such as those suffering under dictators or from ethnic cleansing. 
  5. Working together towards unreasonable laws that we both agree are unjust, such as basic women's rights, civil rights and caste systems.
  6. Working together on environmental issues such as climate change, laws concerning pollution and waste treatment
  7. Working together for ethical treatment of animals 
There are many reasons where secular atheists can come together with those who believe in god. The other alternative is to say, "since we disagree on religion and politics, let's not even communicate or work together at all, ever." That is not a long term strategy of coexistence even if we are highly polarized in some of our politics. It is through working together, that we can best achieve our goals. 

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