Tag Archive | "Rough Notes"

Rough Notes on Secularism, Democracy and Human Progress, Part 2


In part 1 of this series, we looked at what secularism is. Today we examine the relationship between the church and state in a secular democracy.


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,

Church-State Relations in Secular States

Not only the non-religious but the organized religious as well have benefited from secularism and democracy. Historically dominant churches have survived and minor sects have flourished – some, to an arguably greater extent than they deserve — owing to liberal policies adopted by secular states that range from neutrality and benign tolerance to outright accommodation of politically significant sects. Whereas, in the past, a single hegemonic church ruled society directly or in partnership with secular overlords, various churches now freely evangelize without fear of prosecution under apostasy and blasphemy laws. These varying policies toward religion attest to the pragmatic concessions that societies had to make to various sects in their arduous and conflict-ridden march towards secularism and democracy.

A few examples would prove the aforementioned fact about church-state relations. The United Kingdom still maintains a national church, although one with a much diminished public role, as part of its bourgeoisie’s concessions to the old aristocracy, which it left ensconced in a constitutional monarchy and a House of Lords. In spite of the rising number of non-religious citizens in Germany, taxpayers subsidize 98% of faith-based social services, which are provided mainly by 2.5 million workers of the Catholic Caritas and the Protestant Diakonisches Werk. Thus, German state subsidies for faith-based social services seem less a function of popular religiosity than of the state’s pragmatic policy of honoring old agreements with the Vatican and the Protestant Churches. (Frerk)

America’s policy toward religion has been more ambivalent than what its secular liberal Constitution suggests. The First Amendment of the Constitution forbade the Congress from enacting “laws either respecting the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, but the U.S. government restricted the meaning of this clause to the establishment of an official national religion and allowed state governments to enact faith-based discriminatory laws against non-Christians until 1868 or three years after the Civil War. It took a century and a half for the U.S. Civil War (1861-65) and the mid-20th civil rights movement to sweep away these faith-based laws along with racial apartheid laws.

However, state support for religious discriminatory laws reemerged with a vengeance under the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and later George Bush Jr. In 2001, George Bush Jr. initiated the outsourcing of social services (that were once provided by the state) to favored church-affiliated organizations or “faith-based initiatives” through executive orders, rule changes, managerial realignment in federal agencies, and other innovative uses of his presidential prerogatives. Among these innovations is the creation of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under the President and linked to sub-offices in 10 government agencies, each with a director and staff empowered to articulate, advance and oversee coordinated efforts to generate financial support for faith-based services.(Farris, et. al.) While the Bush Administration didn’t come up with a comprehensive faith-based legislative package, it crafted laws that permit recipients of government grants to hire only those whose religion and sexual orientation is compatible with the grantee’s mission. In 2004 alone, Bush extended more than $2 billion of tax money to religious organizations. Among the program beneficiaries was right-wing televangelist and 700 Club founder Pat Robertson whose annual revenue from government grants ballooned from $108,000 to $14.4 million in the brief period from 2003-2004. (Sizemore, 2006)

What could we surmise from the above relationship between church and state in secular societies? Much of religion’s resilience arises partly from default on the part of secular states that either make a fetish of faith or deliberately exploit faith for political and pecuniary purposes.

The secular humanist philosopher Austin Dacey has valuable insights on what he discerns as errors in secular thought. One is the Privacy Doctrine, which regards fundamental beliefs about morality as strictly private matters, not to be debated in public or urged on anyone else. The other is the Liberty Doctrine, which supposes that freedom of conscience entails that beliefs should be insulated from criticism and not held to any shared standards of correctness. The prevalence of these doctrines results in “a culture unwilling or unable to sustain a real public conversation about religion, ethics, and values.” A trend contributing to the privacy model of conscience is the commercialization of social and cultural life that tends to reduce the realm of values, ethics, and religion to private possessions and market choices. Traditional faiths, non-denominational religions and New Age occultism compete with one another, offering a buffet of diverse beliefs from which consumers can pick and choose the wisdom that best suits their needs. Ethical and religious questions are not “subjective” and “personal,” but open to rational inquiry and amenable to critical scrutiny by others. Claims of conscience may be introduced into public discourse so long as they are held to the same standards as other political proposals: practicality, rationality, consistency, and legality.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll take a look at how secular democracy affects human progress as well as the conclusions of this series

References:

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”
http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=32561

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

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Rough Notes on Secularism, Democracy and Human Progress, Part 1



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,

Secularism and Democracy

Secularization is the process by which religious ideas and institutions tend to lose influence in society with the progress of science, technology, economy and modern government. Included here are such phenomena as the decline of formal church membership, reduced role of religion in formal education, institutional separation of church and state, as well as the supremacy of state laws over sectarian religious codes.
Democracy, in its 20th century sense, is a government that possesses the following traits: (a) universal suffrage or equal voting rights to all citizens of legal age regardless of class, creed, race, gender or sexual orientation; (b) a bill of rights; (c) rule of law; (d) periodic elections, whereby voters can freely choose among candidates bearing alternative platforms; and (e) rule of the majority for the election of representatives as well as for parliamentary deliberations.

Though modern democracy and secularism rely on rational and scientific arguments instead of appeals to faith and divine fiats, they are distinct from each other. Democracy is a form of government, dedicated to advancing and defending freedom, equality, social justice, fellowship and common welfare. Secularism is a social orientation that delimits the role of religion and faith in supernatural agencies to the non-governmental sphere of civil society, so as to protect society and state from endless conflict driven by faith-based claims. The institutional separation of church and state in democracies is not, as some religionists, argue, primarily intended for the protection of believers and their faith; it is intended for the protection of both believers and unbelievers, and their right to be held to the same standards of logical and scientific evidentiary tests, whenever and wherever they submit their claims to appropriate public institutions for adjudication or parliamentary deliberation.

Secularism is not anti-religion, but only anti-theocracy. A comparison of Old Testament norms and modern democratic norms should clarify the difference between a secular society and a theocratic society. In a democratic secular society, a person who files a case of marital infidelity against his/her spouse must first present a list of charges indicating probable cause of the said offense and later produce supporting empirical evidence for his/her case to prosper in court. In ancient Jewish society under Mosaic law, jealousy on the part of a husband is sufficient ground for him to compel his wife to submit to the “water of bitterness” ritual, a trial by ordeal wherein the suspected wife drinks a concoction of holy water and temple dirt prepared by a priest The suspected wife’s illness and eventual demise after her ingestion of the “water of bitterness” would prove her guilt, while her survival would clear her of all suspicion. (Numbers 5: 11-31)

Secularism and democracy have progressed at highly uneven rates across societies with varying politico-economic structures, cultures and historical legacies. The continuing hegemony of religion in some modernizing societies such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ascent of faith-based political blocs in affluent societies such as the United States defy a simple correlation between modernization and decline of religious practice. Likewise, the supposed synchrony of secularization and democratization cannot be taken for granted in view of the numerous regimes that are both secular and authoritarian. The lack of synchrony between secularization and democratization across affluent societies is underscored by the contrast between democratic welfare states and the USA which is a self-declared “free enterprise society” with minimal social security nets.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at the relationship between Church and State in secular states

References:

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”
http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=32561

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

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