Are you for or against secularism?

14 Secularism Resign yourself to your shadow What does it mean to be secular? Secularism is sometimes defined as the negation of religion, and secular people are thus characterized by what they do not believe or do. According to this definition, secular people do not believe in any gods or angels, they do not go to churches or visit temples, and they do not perform rites and rituals. In this respect, the secular world appears hollow, nihilistic and amoral - an empty box waiting to be filled with something. Hardly anyone would adopt such a negative identity for themselves. Self-proclaimed secularists view secularism completely differently. For them it is an extremely positive and active view of the world, which is primarily characterized by a coherent code of values ​​and less by opposition to this or that religion. In fact, many secular values ​​are also found in various religious traditions. Unlike some sects who insist that they have a monopoly on all wisdom and goodness, one of the main characteristics of secular people is that they do not claim such a monopoly. They do not believe that morality and wisdom came down from heaven in a particular place and time. Rather, they consider them to be the natural inheritance of all human beings. In despair and hope, 272 it was only natural in their eyes that at least some values ​​would crop up in human societies around the world and be common to Muslims, Christians, Hindus and atheists. Faith leaders often present their followers with a strict either / or decision - either you are a Muslim or you are not. And if you are a Muslim, you should reject all other doctrines. Secular people, on the other hand, have no problem with diverse hybrid identities. If it is up to secularism, one can continue to call oneself a Muslim and continue to pray to Allah, eat halal food and do the Hajj to Mecca - and at the same time be a good member of secular society, provided one adheres to the secular moral code. This moral code - which in fact is accepted by millions of Muslims, Christians and Hindus as well as by atheists - encompasses the values ​​of truth, mercy, equality, freedom, courage and responsibility. It forms the basis of modern scientific and democratic institutions. Like all moral codes, the secular code is a desirable ideal and less of a social reality. Just as Christian societies and Christian institutions often deviate from the Christian ideal, secular societies and institutions also often lag behind the secular ideal. Medieval France was a self-proclaimed Christian kingdom, but tried all sorts of non-Christian activities (check with the enslaved peasants). Modern France is a self-proclaimed secular state, but since the time of Robespierre it has taken on some irritating freedoms just to define freedom (ask about women). This does not mean that secular people - in France or elsewhere - lack a moral compass or moral obligation. It just means that it is not that easy to conform to an ideal. 14. Secularism 273 The Secular Ideal So what does the secular ideal look like? The most important secular obligation is to truth, which is based on observation and evidence, not mere belief. If you have a firm belief in any story, it can tell us a lot of interesting things about your mental health, your childhood, and your brain structure - but it doesn't prove that the story is true. (Often times, strong beliefs are needed when the story is wrong.) Furthermore, seculars do not glorify any group, person, or book as if that group, person, or book were the sole keepers of the truth. Rather, secular people sanctify the truth wherever it reveals itself - in fossilized bones from primeval times, in photographs of distant galaxies, in tables full of statistical material or in the writings of various human traditions. This commitment to the truth underlies modern science, which enabled mankind to split the atom, decipher the genome, trace the evolution of life, and understand the history of mankind. The other main obligation of secular people is to compassion and compassion. Secular morality is not based on obeying the edicts of this or that god, but on a profound understanding of suffering. For example, secular people abstain from murder, not because some old book forbids it, but because killing causes endless suffering to sentient beings. There is something deeply disturbing and dangerous about people who just don't kill because God says so. Such people are motivated by despair and hope274 more by obedience than by compassion. And what will they do when they become convinced that their God commands them to kill heretics, witches, adulterers, or foreigners? Of course, since secular ethics lacks absolute divine commandments, it often faces difficult dilemmas. What if the same act hurts one person but helps another? Is it moral to tax the rich in high taxes to support the poor? To wage a bloody war to eliminate a brutal dictator? To let an unlimited number of refugees into your own country? When secular people face such dilemmas, do not ask, "What does God command?" Instead, they carefully weigh the feelings of all parties involved, consider a wide range of observations and possibilities, and seek a middle ground that does as little harm as possible. Take, for example, attitudes towards sexuality. How do secular people decide whether they are for or against rape, homosexuality, sodomy and incest? By asking about feelings. Rape is manifestly immoral, not because it violates some divine commandment, but because it hurts people. A loving relationship between two men, on the other hand, does not harm anyone, and so there is no reason to forbid it. And what about sodomy? I have participated in countless private and public discussions about gay marriage, and all too often at some point some clever guy asks, "If marriage is okay between two men, why not allow a man and a goat to marry?" From a secular point of view, the answer is obvious. Healthy relationships require emotional, mental, and even spiritual depth. A marriage that lacks such depth will frustrate, lonely, and mentally cripple. While two men can certainly satisfy the emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of each 14. Secularism for the other, that does not work in a relationship with a goat. Hence, if one viewed marriage as an institution aimed at promoting human welfare - as secular people do - one would never dream of asking such a bizarre question. Only people who see marriage as some kind of magic ritual fall into such an idea. And what about relationships between a father and his daughter? Both are human, so what's wrong with that? Well, numerous psychological studies have shown that such relationships cause immense and usually irreparable damage to the child. They are also an expression of the parent's destructive tendencies and reinforce these tendencies. Evolution has shaped the sapiens' psyche in such a way that love relationships do not really go well with parental ties. So you don't need God or the Bible to be against incest - you just have to read the relevant psychological studies.1 This is the real reason secular people uphold scientific truth. Not to satisfy their curiosity, but to learn how best to reduce the suffering in the world. Without the guidance of scientific research, our compassion is often blind. The double commitment to truth and compassion also leads to a commitment to equality. It is true that opinions differ when it comes to economic and political equality, but secular people fundamentally distrust all hierarchies that exist a priori. Suffering is suffering no matter who experiences it; and knowledge is knowledge no matter who discovers it. If we privilege the experience or knowledge of a particular nation, class, or gender, it will with some truth make us callous and stupid. Secular people are undoubtedly proud of the uniqueness of their respective nation, country and culture - but they do not confuse “uniqueness” with “superiority”. Therefore, while secular people recognize their particular obligations to their nation and country, they do not believe that these obligations are exclusive and at the same time they are aware of their obligations to humanity as a whole. We cannot search for the truth and for a way out of suffering without the freedom to think, explore and experiment. Therefore, secular people uphold freedom and refrain from ascribing supreme authority to any text, institution, or leader as the authority to decide what is true and right. People should always be free to doubt, re-examine, get a second opinion, try another way. Secular people admire Galileo Galilei, who dared to question whether the earth really sits motionless in the center of the universe; they admire the masses of ordinary people who stormed the Bastille in 1789 and the despot regime of Louis XVI. fell; and they admire Rosa Parks, who had the courage to take a seat on a bus reserved for white passengers. It takes a lot of courage to fight prejudice and repressive regimes, but it takes even more courage to openly admit ignorance and venture into the unknown. Secular education teaches us that if we don't know something, we shouldn't be afraid to admit our ignorance and look for new evidence. Even if we think we know something, we shouldn't be afraid to question our opinions and keep checking ourselves out. Many people fear the unknown and want clear answers to every question. Fear of the unknown can paralyze us more than any tyrant. Throughout history people have worried that human society will collapse if we don't put all of our beliefs on some absolute answer. Indeed, modern history has shown that a society of courageous people, willing to admit ignorance and ask difficult questions, is usually not only more prosperous but also more peaceful than societies in which everyone must unquestionably accept a single answer. People who are afraid of losing their truth tend to be more violent than people who are used to looking at the world from different angles. Questions that we cannot answer are usually far better for us than answers that cannot be questioned. Finally, secular people attach great importance to responsibility. They do not believe in any higher power that takes care of the world, punishes the wicked, rewards the righteous, and protects us from hunger, disease, or war. Therefore, we mortals of flesh and blood must take full responsibility for everything we do - or not do. When the world is full of misery and hardship, it is our duty to find solutions to it. Secular people are proud of the tremendous achievements of modern societies: that they eradicated epidemics, supplied the hungry with food and brought peace to large parts of the world. We don't have to attribute these achievements to some divine protector - they are a result of people developing their own knowledge and compassion. But it is precisely for this reason that we must also take full responsibility for the crimes and aberrations of modernity, from genocide to ecological devastation. Instead of praying for miracles, we need to ask what we can do ourselves. These are the central values ​​of the secular world. As mentioned earlier, Despair and Hope278 neither of these values ​​is exclusively secular. The truth is also a high value for Jews, for Christians it is mercy, for Muslims equality, for Hindus responsibility, etc. provided that the doctrine of the faith holds back when it comes into conflict with the secular code. For example, in order to be accepted in a secular society, Orthodox Jews are expected to treat non-Jews as equals, Christians should avoid burning heretics at the stake, Muslims must respect freedom of expression, and Hindus should refrain from being Adopt caste-based discrimination. In contrast, no one expects believers to deny God or give up traditional rites and rituals. The secular world judges people by their behavior and less by their clothing preferences and favorite ceremonies. Someone can follow the flashiest sectarian dress code and practice the strangest religious ceremonies while acting out of a deep commitment to core secular values. There are loads of Jewish scientists, Christian environmentalists, Muslim feminists and Hindu human rights activists. When committed to scientific truth, mercy, equality, and freedom, they are full members of the secular world and there is absolutely no reason to ask them to remove their kippah, cross, hijab, or tilaka. For a similar reason, secular education does not mean negative indoctrination that teaches children not to believe in God and not to participate in any religious ceremonies. Rather, secular education teaches children to distinguish truth from faith, to develop compassion for all suffering beings, to appreciate wisdom and the experiences of all earthly citizens, to think freely and without fear of the unknown, and to take responsibility for their own actions and to take over for the world at large. Was Stalin Secular? There is no reason whatsoever to criticize secularism because it lacks moral obligations or social responsibility. On the contrary, the main problem with secularism is that it is likely to set the moral bar far too high. Most people simply cannot live up to such a demanding code, and large societies cannot be governed on the basis of an open-ended search for truth and mercy. Especially in times of need - for example in the event of war or an economic crisis - societies must act quickly and decisively, even if they are not sure what the truth is and what genuinely compassionate action looks like. You need clear guidelines, catchy catchphrases and rousing battle cries. Since it is difficult to send soldiers into battle based on dubious assumptions or to enact radical economic reforms, secular movements are repeatedly turning into dogmatic creeds. For example, Karl Marx initially claimed that all religions were oppressive frauds and encouraged his followers to search for the true essence of the world order for themselves. In the decades after Marx, the pressures of revolution and war hardened Marxism, and in Stalin's time the official line of the CPSU was that the world order was far too difficult for ordinary people to understand, so it would be best if they should always trust the wisdom of the party and do what it told them to do, even if it set in motion the imprisonment and despair and hope280 annihilation of millions upon millions of innocent people. It might look ugly, but as party ideologues never tire of explaining, the revolution was no picnic, and anyone who wants an omelette has to break a few eggs. Whether we should regard Stalin as a secular leader therefore depends on how we define secularism. If we stick to the negative minimum definition - "secular people do not believe in God" - then Stalin was definitely secular. If we use a positive definition - "secular people reject all unscientific dogmas and are committed to truth, compassion and freedom" - then Marx was a secular beacon, while Stalin was anything but that. He was the prophet of the godless but extremely dogmatic religion of Stalinism. Stalinism is not an isolated incident. On the other side of the political spectrum, capitalism also began as a very unbiased scientific theory, but gradually solidified into a dogma. Many capitalists keep praying the mantra of free markets and economic growth, no matter what the reality is. No matter what terrible consequences modernization, industrialization or privatization sometimes have, capitalist convicts dismiss them as mere “growing pains” and promise that all of this will be offset by a little more growth. Moderate Liberal Democrats were more indebted to the secular pursuit of truth and compassion, but even they sometimes abandon it in favor of comfortable dogmas. For example, liberals, when confronted with the chaos of brutal dictatorships and failed states, often unquestionably trust the great ritual of general elections. They wage wars and spend billions in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Congo in the firm belief that holding general elections will magically transform these places into more sunshine-rich variants of Denmark. And this despite repeated failures and regardless of the fact that even in countries with an established tradition of general elections, these rituals sometimes bring authoritarian populists to power and lead to nothing greater than majority dictatorships. Anyone who questions the supposed wisdom of general elections for these reasons will not end up in the gulag, but will probably receive a rather cold flood of dogmatic abuse. Of course, not all dogmas are equally harmful. Just as some beliefs benefited humankind, so did some secular dogmas. This is especially true of the doctrine of human rights. The only place where rights exist is in the stories that people make up and tell each other. These stories solidified into a self-evident dogma during the struggle against religious bigotry and autocratic governments. While it is not true that people have a natural right to life or freedom, belief in the narrative tamed the power of authoritarian regimes, saved minorities from harm, and protected billions from the worst effects of poverty and violence. He made a more important contribution to the happiness and well-being of mankind than any other doctrine in history. And yet it is still a dogma. Article 19 of the UN Charter of Human Rights says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and expression." If we understand this as a political demand ("everyone should have the right to freedom of expression"), then this is absolutely reasonable. However, if we believe that every single Sapiens is naturally endowed with the "right to freedom of expression" and that censorship violates a natural right, despair and hope282 we are missing the truth about humanity. As long as we define ourselves as individuals who "have inalienable natural rights," we will not know who we really are, and we will not understand the historical factors that have shaped our society and our own minds (including our belief in natural rights). Such ignorance may not play a major role in the twentieth century, when people were busy fighting Hitler and Stalin. But it could be fatal in the 21st century, because biotechnology and artificial intelligence now even want to change something very fundamental, namely what it means to be human. If we are committed to the right to life, does that imply that we should use biotechnology to overcome death? If we are committed to the right to freedom, should we empower algorithms to decipher and fulfill our hidden desires? If all human beings enjoy equal human rights, do supermen have extra rights? Secular people will have difficulty dealing with such issues as long as they remain attached to a dogmatic belief in human rights. The dogma of human rights was developed and sharpened in earlier centuries as a weapon against the Inquisition, the Ancien Régime, the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. However, it is hardly equipped or suitable for dealing with superman, cyborgs and super-intelligent computers. While human rights movements have amassed a very impressive arsenal of arguments and defensive strategies against religious prejudice and human tyrants, this arsenal does not really protect us from excessive consumption and technological utopias. 14. Secularism 283 Acknowledging the Shadow Secularism should not be equated with Stalinist dogmatism or with the bitter fruits of Western imperialism and industrialization that is out of control. However, he cannot deny himself all responsibility for these things. Secular movements and scientific institutions have drawn billions of people under their spell with promises to perfect humanity and use the abundance of planet earth for the benefit of our species. Such promises not only led to disease and famine being overcome, but also to gulags and melting polar ice caps. Now, with good reason, you could claim that all of this is the fault of people who misunderstood and distorted core secular ideals and the true facts of science. And you are absolutely right about that. But this is the problem faced by all influential movements. For example, Christianity was responsible for major crimes such as the Inquisition, the Crusades, the suppression of indigenous cultures around the world, and the disenfranchisement of women. A Christian might reply that all of these crimes grew out of a total misunderstanding of Christianity. Jesus preached love only, and the Inquisition was based on a terrible distortion of his teachings. We can understand this claim, but it would be a mistake to let Christianity off the hook too quickly. Christians who feel repulsed by the Inquisition and the Crusades cannot simply wash their hands off these atrocities - they should rather ask themselves some very uncomfortable questions. How exactly could their religion of love allow despair and hope to be abused in such a way, not just once, but many times? Protestants who wish to attribute all the blame to Catholic fanaticism should read a book on the behavior of Protestant colonizers in Ireland or North America. Similarly, Marxists should ask themselves what paved the way to the Gulag in the teachings of Marx, scientists should consider why the scientific project took the destabilization of the global ecosystem so lightly, and geneticists in particular should take it as a warning as to how the National Socialists made use of Darwinist theories. Every religion, every ideology and every creed has its shadow, and no matter what belief you hold, you should acknowledge your shadow and distrust the naive self-certainty that "this cannot happen to us". However, secular science has at least one great advantage over most traditional religions, namely that its shadow does not frighten it and that it is at least in principle ready to admit its own mistakes and blind spots. On the other hand, anyone who believes in an absolute truth that has been revealed by a transcendent power must not admit any mistakes - because that would destroy the whole story. However, if you believe in a search for truth by fallible people, it is of course part of the game to admit mistakes. This is also one reason why undogmatic secular movements tend to make relatively modest promises. They know about their imperfections and hope to be able to bring about small, step-by-step changes, for example by raising the minimum wage by a few euros or reducing child mortality by a few percentage points. It is one of the hallmarks of dogmatic ideologies that, due to their excessive self-certainty, they regularly conjure up the impossible. Its leaders speak all too freely of "eternity," 14. Secularism, "purity" and "salvation", as if by passing a law, building a temple, or conquering any territory they could save the world in one grand gesture . Today, as we face the most important decisions in the history of life, I would personally trust those who admit ignorance rather than those who claim infallibility. If you want your religion, your ideology or your worldview to serve as a guide to the world, my first question for you is: «What is the greatest mistake that your religion, your ideology or your worldview has committed? What did she do wrong? " If you can't give me a reasonably serious and serious answer to that, at least I wouldn't trust you.