Monday, February 20, 2017

Secularism Good and Secularism Morally Disastrous

There are two senses of the word "secular" which mean similar but not identical things.  One would be merely making it unconstitutional for the government to favor one or some religious sects over others which is a vitally needed guarantee that the government won't disadvantage some religious groups over others AND AS IMPORTANT that the government won't meddle in either the denomination or denominations it favors or all of them, really.   That was one of the things that James Madison pointed out in his famous Memorial and Remonstrance which, for many decades, has been distorted into an attack on Christianity while Madison actually expressed a hope that, without government interference, Christianity would prevail.

That kind of secularism IN GOVERNMENT is fair and good and has had mostly good results, as long as people aren't gulled or duped into believing its provisions extend past the government in its official administrations.  That confusion, again promoted by those who mostly don't like Christianity or religion in general, constitutes the so-called "secularism" that I've come to believe is destructive of democracy.  It is an insistence that all parts of the government, including schools, have nothing to do with the promotion or promulgation of morality, including the moral bases of egalitarian democracy, civil rights, protection of minorities and the environment we all depend on to live at all.  Even worse, it asserts that any promotion of moral absolutes outside of government, in the media, in society, in day to day life is, somehow, without any such provision written into any official, agreed to document, somehow disallowed.

I think the regime of that second "secularism" is, actually not secularism, it is an assertion of the ideological religion of atheism as the de facto state religion.

A lot of us, even, or perhaps especially those of us who have gone to college, use a lot of words and phrases without any thought to what they mean or what they contain or what those things consist of. Take the phrase "civil rights" of any minority group which is discriminated against.  We are always talking about those "civil rights" as if those rights and the promotion of them are not dependent on some pretty extensive and far from secure moral stands.  In order to assert equal rights a group which suffers discrimination has to depend on those not in the group having an effectively strong belief that the people discriminated against have a right to equality and that they and other people have a moral obligation to supply that right to equal treatment. And that group discriminated against won't necessarily be in the minority.  Women are the quintessential example of such a group suffering under horrendous inequality though often comprising an actual majority.

In order to gain and sustain equal rights, a group which is not treated equally must depend on an effective and enduring majority of those not in that group believing that they and other people are morally obliged to stop discriminating against that group, to not inhibit the rights of that group and to do what is necessary - even at a cost to the majority - to make things equal.

If there is one thing we know from the history of the world and the present day, those moral prerequisites are far from a natural phenomenon which can be depended on to just be there or to just happen as if by magic.  Look how long racial discrimination has ruled the United States, at how quickly and effectively Republican-fascism here has attacked and overturned the most basic and essential laws requiring even the right to vote.  Think how long the putrid caste system in India has prevailed and thwarted and ended so many lives.  And unofficial caste systems exist in may societies. The moral prerequisites for equality must be promoted and encouraged and even required to prevail if egalitarian democracy is to exist and protect the equal rights of minorities.

It is, entirely, completely and essentially the business of an aspiring egalitarian democracy, one aspiring to have economic justice, one in which women and minorities are treated fairly and with common decency to promote the moral absolutes that those realities are based in.

No matter how much some Nietzschian moral nihilists or members of some flaky atheist-"Humanist" club or board members of the ACLU might resent even that level of what is generally considered religious morality being asserted, no matter how they can talk pudding-headed and short-sighted members of the Supreme Court or ignorant school superintendents into banning the promotion of those moral positions, without them egalitarian democracy is made impossible for everyone.

If the "no religious test" clause*, the "no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" part of the Constitution means that those moral absolutes necessary for equality and democracy are not favored over those ideological denials of them, then the results will damage, corrode or totally rot out the possibility of the very egalitarian democracy they are supposed to ensure.

In this Republican-fascist Congress and the Trump regime, we are seeing government comprised of people who do not really believe that such moral absolutes are real and that the consequence of violating those will do any damage they need to worry about.  They are in it for themselves and their small circle of those they care about or who they figure can benefit them by deal making and conspiring to gain by doing all manner of depravity.  They certainly don't believe in racial or gender equality.  They especially don't believe in the equality of poor and rich people, they don't believe they have a moral responsibility to care for animals basic welfare or right to not be treated horrifically, they have no moral responsibility to care for the environment, not when there's money to be made for them or their sponsors.

In this Republican-fascist Congress we are seeing the results desired by the people who used an ideological interpretation of the unfortunately vague and unspecific very minor 18th century poetry of the founders to promote moral nihilism as a means of attacking religion.

A large swath of materialistic ideology has, actually, either had that as a goal or had that as something they were willing to risk in order for atheism to prevail.   I don't think they'd have admitted to that,  very few of them were as honest as the insane Nietzsche in what they were aiming for.  Of course, in the democracy which would be damaged by their program of moral nihilism, they couldn't do it honestly.   They might not have even admitted to themselves that's what they were set on doing, they might not have even noticed or realized it.

It is one of the ironies of this age when so many of the most foolish among us hold college degrees, many of them from the Ivy League class of universities, that so many of us are so clueless as to the meaning of the words and phrases we talk about as if they were absolutely basic, without having requirements to exist and which will endure no matter how they are worn away or attacked.  For those deputed to be liberals, "equality" is one of those words, "equal rights" "equal justice under the law".   I'm almost tempted to believe that the more elite the education, the greater the temptation to twist words out of any real meaning either out of foolishness or convincing yourself you're doing so for other than ignoble reasons.  Perhaps that is a function of privilege and the expectation of it.

For so many of the conservatives who violate all of its most basic moral positions, the Gospel of Jesus which they pretend to believe is the actual word of God,  "Christianity" is one of those, "democracy" is another.   If you want an example of that, look at the promotion of "Christianity" by the Republican-fascists, that promotion, itself, violating just about everything Jesus said.  And as good an example as possible on that misuse of "democracy" was seen in George W. Bush - the beneficiary of an anti-democratic installation by the fiat of five Republicans on the Supreme Court through a corrupt election in the state run by his brother, claiming he was going to impose "democracy" on Iraq through an illegal invasion that killed enormous numbers of people, empowered despots as bad if not worse than the one deposed, empowering even worse factions to murder, oppress and terrorize,  that imposition of that "democracy"  sold to a cowardly and duped Congress with lies.   And it's clear that our media covering up for it, an enormous percentage of the American People have learned little to nothing from that hard experience sixteen years ago.  But, then, again, alleged liberals haven't learned what a moral disaster results when you empower lies with what they need to prevail against the truth, either, and that doing that has reliably bad results.

There are some moral absolutes that we have not only a right to enforce but a moral duty to, no matter how much selfish and self centered people whine about that like bratty 2-year-olds.  No matter what you are encouraged to believe on TV and the radio and the internet, not imposing those morals on the unwilling has a price none of us is obligated to pay.  The friggin' Constitution doesn't mean we have to pretend otherwise.

*  Update:  I have to, once again, point out that not only does the "no religious test" clause mean that voters have to vote for atheists if they choose not to, there is absolutely no way, short of North Korean-Soviet style rigged elections to force people to vote for atheists if they have been alienated by atheists.  No one has ever asserted that atheists or others who choose to not vote for Southern Baptists or religious fundamentalists have a moral obligation to vote for them if they don't choose to.


  1. Martin Luther King was "The Rev.," although so many people overlook that because he "had a dream!" That's all they know and all they want to know.

    Gandhi's movement was equally religious. "Mahatma" is a religious title, not his first name, and his entire movement was based on religious ideas and beliefs; and successful only because of that.

    It's funny how stupid people are who claim to be smart. More and more I think of them as weak echoes of Donald Trump, because like Trump they revel in their ignorance and their "good brain[s]".

  2. Stumbled across this quote from Niebuhr, thought you would find it interesting:

    "A further consequence of modern optimism is a philosophy of history expressed in the idea of progress. Either by a force immanent in nature itself, or by the gradual extension of rationality, or by the elimination of specific sources of evil, such as priesthoods, tyrannical government and class divisions in society, modern man [sic] expects to move toward some kind of perfect society. The idea of progress is compounded of many elements. It is particularly important to consider one element of which modern culture is itself completely oblivious. The idea of progress is possible only upon the ground of a Christian culture. It is a secularized version of Biblical apocalypse and of the Hebraic sense of a meaningful history, in contrast to the meaningless history of the Greeks. But since the Christian doctrine of the sinfulness of man [sic] is eliminated, a complicating factor in the Christian philosophy is removed and the way is open for simple interpretations of history, which relate historical process as closely as possible to biological process and which fail to do justice either to the unique freedom of man or to the daemonic misuse which he may make of that freedom."

    Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Intepretation, Vol. I (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press 1996), p. 24.

    1. That is interesting, thank you. Makes me think I should get back to the Niebuhr project I abandoned for the Brueggemann project. I'm working through W.B.s Old Testament Theology and thinking I'll have to read it at least several times.

      Theology is too complicated for the simple minded. The reason so many atheists who like "simple interpretations" and pseudo-scientific reductionism can't read it.