In part 1 of this series, we looked at what secularism is. Part 2 examined the relationship between the church and state in a secular democracy. In this final installment, we’ll see how secular democracy affects human progress.
Image by Olivander, used under creative commons license.
Secularism and democracy are legacies worth fighting for, because they in union provide the only safe public space whereby people of different outlooks can amicably tackle their differences and pursue shared goals for their common welfare. In what follows, we shall attempt to prove our opening statement by discussing the relationship between secularism, democracy and human progress,
Secular Democracy and Human Progress
The empirical studies of Gregory Paul on secularism and religion reveal a strong correlation between dysfunctional societal conditions and public acceptance of conservative religions as well as an inverse correlation between improving social conditions and a high level of popular religiosity (Paul, 2005, 2009). The most religious affluent nation USA scored the worst in 14 out of 25 societal health and the highest in dysfunction indicators (homicide, incarceration, juvenile mortality, venereal disease, abortions, teen pregnancies, income disparity, poverty, work hours, and volume of energy consumption/resource-use per head), while the least religious democracies in Western Europe, Japan and Canada scored best in societal health indicators.
Paul attributes the USA’s exceptional ill health to unregulated capitalism and the American people’s heavy reliance on religion as a psychosocial mechanism for coping with stress and fear of misery and dispossession. Among the affluent states, all but the USA, have adopted a mix of pragmatic and social democratic policies that include progressive taxation, moderation of predatory propensities of corporations, protection for women at home and in work environments, job security and universal health care that reduce the risk of catastrophic ruin of ordinary citizens. Though the least religious of the prosperous democracies have their own major problems, they enjoy a high level of societal health such as they’ve never experienced before under past theocracy-friendly regimes. In contrast to these countries, the USA imposes the free market principle on ordinary people while handing out billions of tax dollars to big business firms, military contractors and faith-based initiatives, with disastrous results for democracy, popular welfare and global ecology. Far from proving claims about religion as an indispensable guide to moral conduct and about democratic secular values as a contributing factor to moral decadence, the results of these studies demonstrate the ease with which many people outgrow the faith of their forefathers and devote their lives to earthly but no less ethical endeavors, as soon as they attain a certain level of freedom, education and economic security.
Secularism is a necessary but insufficient condition for the growth of amity and cooperation among people of diverse outlooks and cultural backgrounds. The flaw in many secular societies lies not in excessive democracy (or “moral laxity” as conservatives and reactionaries are wont to argue) but in its limited and inconsistent observance with regard to ownership of productive assets, distribution of incomes and benefit-entitlements, as well as control over the policy-making process. The ideals of liberty, equality, and fellowship do not prevail in nominal democracies not because of their lack of validity, but because of their being stunted by stratification of these societies along class, ethnic, gender and/or geopolitical lines (imperial states versus their respective neo-colonies). These modes of stratification generate impoverishment and social exclusion of underprivileged sectors that in turn fuel identity formation and violent contention along ethnic and religious lines.
Democracy must not to be confused with a multicultural pluralist polity of the sort that bestows upon every ethnic community and religious sect immunity against external criticism on issues of broad societal concern such as reproductive health, sexuality, marriage, medical care and so forth. Faith-based privileges such as speech codes and anti-blasphemy laws do not a democracy make; they in fact constitute a distortion of democracy that leads to any or all of the following evils:
a. tyranny of dominant religious groups by virtue of state-guaranteed special privileges to meddle in the affairs of government;
b. ghettoization of cultural minorities and strengthening of their traditional leaders without commensurate accountability for respecting the constitutional rights of their individual members as citizens of the republic;
c. elite cooptation of leaders of minority communities and their very agenda for sector amelioration as quid pro quo for special privileges; and
d. self-censorship and concealment of deep seated prejudices
that manifest themselves in insidious and antagonistic forms.
Religion has always been a worldly affair and it would profit people to subject to critical analysis both the doctrinal contents and secular histories of their respective faiths with same impartiality that they analyze non-religious issues. For instance, some Jewish scholars — such as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe and American political scientist Norman Finkelstein — have contributed to the demystification of Israel’s official history by revealing how the Zionists built the Jewish state through the propagation of ancient myths, exploitation of the Holocaust tragedy and the expulsion of the Palestinians from their native land.(Finkelstein, Nov. 2000; Lendman, 2007) Likewise, Muslims must rediscover their past, not only with a view to acquitting Islam of the sins of religious despotism and misogyny as well as casting all blame for these on Western imperialism and secularism; they must also consider the merits of secular democracy by disentangling democracy’s substance from its corrupted forms that foreign and local elites have foisted upon them.(Dacey and Koproske, 2008) Such is the level of honesty required of both secularists and religionists in discussing and settling disputes on the basis of truth, fairness and practicality.
1) Concordat Watch. “Millions for the bishops: Why the German State pays the wages for the church” http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=41971
2) Concordat Watch. “”German taxpayers subsidise 98% of faith-based social services” http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=32561
3) Dacey, Austin and Colin Koproske, “Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations, Center for Inquiry, September 2008. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/ISLAM_AND_HUMAN_RIGHTS.pdf
4) Dacey, Austin. “The Secular Conscience” Excerpt from The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2008). http://www.culturaljudaism.org/pdf/Dacey.pdf
5) Frerk, Carsten. “German Taxpayers Subsidize 98% of Faith-Based Social Services”
6) Farris, Anne. R. P. Nathan and D. J. Wright, ”The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George Bush Jr. and Faith-Based Initiatives” The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, Rockefeller Institute of Government, August 2004. http://www.religionandsocialpolicy.org/docs/policy/FB_Administrative_Presidency_Report_10_08_04.pdf
7) Finkelstein, Norman. “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering”, Nov. 2000, http://www.vho.org/aaargh/fran/livres4/NFHolindustry.pdf
8) Loll, Anna Catherin and Peter Wensierski, “The Hidden Wealth of the Catholic Church”, Part 1: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,700513,00.html; and Part 2: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,700513-2,00.html
9) Lendman, Stephen. “On The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe”, Feb. 2007, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=LEN20070207&articleId=4715
10) Paul, Gregory. “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look” Journal of Religion and Society (2005) http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/pdf/2005-11.pdf
11) Paul, Gregory. “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity on Dysfunctional Psychosocial Conditions” Evolutionary Psychology, Volume 7(3). 2009. http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf
12) Sizemore, Bill. “Gaining Faith in Federal Money” The Virginian-Pilot, January 17, 2006 http://www.redorbit.com/news/education/359888/gaining_faith_in_federal_money/index.html