Religion in public life – two approaches

Two different approaches to the problem of religion in public life were in the news recently. I think they are worth contrasting.

1. Copenhagen Declaration

This was a document accepted World Atheist Conference: “Gods and Politics”, held in Copenhagen from 18 to 20 June 2010. Some people worry about atheists organising and making declarations. it seems to them a bit too much like religious dogma. However, I think this declaration is great. One could quibble at the edges, change a few things, ask for a few deletions or additions. But, I think as as a general declaration it really accords with the Universal declaration of Human Rights. I can’t see why any reasonable person could disagree with it. You can download the Copenhagen_Declaration as a pdf file.  It reads:

  • We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one’s religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.
  • We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.
  • We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.
  • We assert that the only equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.
  • We assert that private conduct, which respects the rights of others should not be the subject of legal sanction or government concern.
  • We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.
  • We affirm the right to freedom of expression for all, subject to limitations only as prescribed in international law – laws which all governments should respect and enforce. We reject all blasphemy laws and restrictions on the right to criticize religion or nonreligious life stances.
  • We assert the principle of one law for all, with no special treatment for minority communities, and no jurisdiction for religious courts for the settlement of civil matters or family disputes.
  • We reject all discrimination in employment (other than for religious leaders) and the provision of social services on the grounds of race, religion or belief, gender, class, caste or sexual orientation.
  • We reject any special consideration for religion in politics and public life, and oppose charitable, tax-free status and state grants for the promotion of any religion as inimical to the interests of non-believers and those of other faiths.  We oppose state funding for faith schools.
  • We support the right to secular education, and assert the need for education in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge, and in the diversity of religious beliefs. We support the spirit of free inquiry and the teaching of science free from religious interference, and are opposed to indoctrination, religious or otherwise.

Adopted by the conference, Copenhagen, 20 June 2010.

2:  Combating secularisation

USA Today reports that Pope Benedict XVI is creating a new Vatican office to fight secularisation and “re-evangelize” the West (see Pope battles secularization, ‘eclipse of the sense of God’).

It’s part of his “cabinet reshuffle” – which does appear a bit like recognising the deckchairs on the Titanic. He laments that “the process of secularization has produced a serious crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and role of the Church.” His aim is to “promote a renewed evangelisation” in countries where the Church has long existed “but which are living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God.'”

This strikes me as the language of a battle or a crusade. Nothing to do with human rights.

What is so bad about secularisation? Give me more of it.

By the way – I would love to hear what you think of the Copenhagen Declaration.

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48 responses to “Religion in public life – two approaches

  1. befuddled2

    For the most part I really like the Copenhagen Declaration. As you say there are some things around the edges I could quibble with, but by and large I agree with it. Much better than the attempt to prevent secularization.

    Of course, as it so often is, the devil is in the details in regards to whether this is something I could whole heartedly support or not.

    For example, does allowing the burga to be worn in public violate the “We reject any special consideration for religion in politics and public life”.

    Does this section, “We assert the principle of one law for all, with no special treatment for minority communities” mean that a Muslim girl in high school would not be allowed to wear her head scarf and long pants to play soccer?

    Does the section “We support the right to secular education, and assert the need for education in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge, and in the diversity of religious beliefs.” mean that private schools are not allowed of if allowed not able to set up their own curriculum?

    I am for a secular government and think that it is the best means for protecting freedom of conscience. However I am concerned that some secular governments may go too far in promoting secularism and wind up actually supporting atheism or at the very least unnecessarily discriminating against a particular faith.

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  2. Richard Christie

    USA Today reports that Pope Benedict XVI is creating a new Vatican office to fight secularisation and “re-evangelize” the West
    Hmmm, Pat Condell had a bit to say about this particular Pope in this month’s post :

    http://www.youtube.com/user/patcondell#p/a/u/0/eBrmH2pCmyM

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  3. thank you very much succesful article

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  4. I agree, befuddle2, that the declaration doesn’t answer your specific questions. But I think that’s the nature of declarations. After all the Declaration on Human Rights doesn’t answer specific details like this either.

    I think society has to deal with the details, and the differing views around them, as they arise.

    But still there is place for agreement on general principles.

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  5. befuddled2

    I agree Ken. And I fully agree with the above as general principles and support them.

    I was just pointing out that to be effective general principles have to be applied and that is the point at which things might become rather interesting.

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  6. I don’t want (or have time) to start a long exchange, but a few notes about the Copenhagen Delclaration:
    -I simply observe that there are lots of ‘should’-s (i.e. ‘oughts’) in there which have an other-than-‘factual’ basis, and thus (broadly speaking) can only have a ‘religious’ basis. Or the basis of a ‘philosophy’ or ‘worldview’ or (to use phrase from declaration) a ‘life stance’.
    -the term ‘secular’ is ambiguous (almost as ambiguous as the popular usage of ‘religious’). What are the orthodox tenants of a truly ‘secular life stance’?
    -self-harm, mutilation, and even suicide is legal in this approach – if done in private?

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  7. And, Dale, what did you think of Pope Benny’s approach?

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  8. Obviously I agree with and heartily support the task of evangelisation. However, as reflected in my comment, I’m actually not sure what ‘secularisation’ is because I don’t know what the term ‘secular’ means, or what the ‘secular life stance’ is?

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  9. And evangelization covers a multitude of sins, doesn’t it?

    It certainly is inconsistent with human rights.

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  10. honestly, let’s not bother scrapping over the word evangelisation. I’m more interested in what a ‘secular life stance’ is and/or what ‘secularism’ has to do with human rights?

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  11. Actually, Dale, let’s not scrap over the meaning of the word “secular?”

    There is always the dictionary.

    I am more interest in the contrasting of the two approaches – human rights wise and in terms of building an inclusive, while pluralist, society.

    Here I think Benny is completely wrong (just as evangelizing atheists would be – if they seriously existed).

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  12. clearly part of the comparison process would be getting to what is meant by both ‘evangelisation’ and by ‘secularisation’ – or more directly what the terms euangelion and secular mean. The former is about bringing humanising ‘good news’ (‘gospel’/’euangelion’) to the world and is not afraid to admit that humanising the world is a religious/philosophical endeavourf – the latter seems to be about ‘not being religious’ as the way to be truly human. Both are aiming at a kind of humanism – one seems terrified to admit that this is an inherently ‘religious’ goal.

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  13. I have often commented on the theological dishonesty of labeling different ideas religion. Why should people who profess a religion use it to discredit science, evolution, secularism, etc.

    Having just read “In the Name of God” (an excellent book on the evolution of religion and religious morality) I can now understand why. Religions arose as a natural evolution of our in group/out group intuitions. The out group (usually a different religion) had to be demonized. Hence a natural step to see different ideas as a “religion” – the better to promote hatred of them by the in group.

    It should be clear from the above declaration that these ideas are inclusive. People of different religions, as well as no religions are included. They all have the same human rights and responsibilities.

    As such I see an aim of widening the in group. Not by demonizing others but by stressing what is common.

    Personally I think this is the only sensible way forward in today’s pluralistic and globalized world.

    Benny’s evangelization us a dangerous step backwards. But probably what we should expect from such an inhumane, and discredited, institution.

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  14. Ken,
    Your act of demonising Benny’s evangelisation (or your tarred/feathered version of it) also makes an in/out distinction between what is or isn’t a ‘sensible way forward’.
    There is no ideological vacuum, no view from nowhere, no non-religious people (in the most inclusive sense of the word ‘religion’).

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  15. Yes, I am happy to put child rapists and those who cover up crimes against children into the out group. I think most of us are.

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  16. Yes, I am happy to put child rapists and those who cover up crimes against children into the out group. I think most of us are.

    Therefore, goddidit!
    Simple really. ;)

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  17. a nice jab, but what does that have to do with comparing ‘evangelisation’ with ‘secularisation’?

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  18. …a nice jab…

    Well, theology strikes people in different ways. ;)

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  19. Oh, I thought you had moved on Dale. I was simply responding to your previous jibe at me.

    Benny’s evangelization is attacking secular society. He is, in effect, promoting a small in group and demonizing a large out group,

    On the other hand the Copenhagen Declaration is promoting enlargement of the in group (while still excluding child rapists) – it is inclusive and hence more in line with human rights.

    This is appropriate in today’s pluralist and global society. Benny’s evangelization is a return to the past and out of line with modern society and human rights.

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  20. My ‘jibe’ at you was merely to point out that everyone both INcludes and EXcludes people from a group they perceive to be a ‘good’ or ‘humane’ one. BOTH the C.D. and Benny are seeking to enlarge their “in-group”… Everyone is ‘religious’ (in the most INclusive sense of the word).
    Which, again, is why I don’t understand what is meant by ‘secular’ etc.

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  21. You could look up the dictionary. Or you could ask Benny or one if his followers. He is identifying all things secular as the enemy.

    I think I have made my point clear by talking about in groups and out groups and the human need to extend beyond current concepts if in groups . To be more inclusive. To ensure equal human rights and responsibilities for all, religious and non-religious. Bashing on about meanings of words is an attempt at diversion.

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  22. no – words matter – enough for us to use them. I’d say it’s more of a diversion to not want to talk about them.

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  23. Well, if you must, talk to Benny. He seems to be the one most upset about secularism. He wants to evangelise against it.

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  24. Well the secularists seem to have their own brand of ‘evangelisation’ against religion (as if anyone could be purely “non-religious”, or as if there could be a view from nowhere)?

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  25. Everyone is ‘religious’ (in the most INclusive sense of the word).
    Which, again, is why I don’t understand what is meant by ‘secular’ etc.

    Waffle and bafflegab.

    Or perhaps ‘waffle’ and ‘bafflegab’?

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  26. Well, Dale, I don’t know who these “secularists” are or what their “evangelism” comprises.

    But irrespective of what individuals or groups may currently be doing I think the ideas listed in the Copenhagen Declaration are very fair and guarantee human rights for all – religious and non-religious – while at the same time recognising responsibilities.

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  27. Yes, apart from the fact that private self-harm, mutilation and suicide are allowed for, the declaration has many strong points – it expresses a ‘life stance’ or ‘religious view’ that has various points in common with other stances/views/religions.

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  28. befuddled2

    The reason that is has a much in common with various other stances and religious views is because we are all human. Because of this there is a common base from which all morals and ethics spring – our shared humanity.

    The morality often gets dressed up in religious beliefs for a variety of reasons, but the basis of all morality is not religion but rather human nature.

    That is one reason I really dislike how the use of “worldview” has been overused and abused.

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  29. Really, Dale: “apart from the fact that private self-harm, mutilation and suicide are allowed for” This is a bit pathetic. Not even very imaginative.

    I could childishly respond and point out the Benny’s evangelisation “allows for “the same plus inquisitions, thumbscrews, burning at the stake, and child rape.

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  30. Beffudled2 – I agree and have often tried to make the same points here. Our morality is objectively based, and based in or humanity.

    Religion, while it was tied up with intuitive human morality in it’s origins is certainly not a requirement. Today I think it is actually a hindrance as it inhibits acceptance of our common humanity and morality by promoting differences.

    Pope Benny’s evangelization and campaign against secularism is just another example if this.

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  31. human nature is always BOTH lovely AND lethal – by nature we are both creative and destructive, brutal and compassionate, selfish and selfless. It is (speaking as INclusively as possible) a ‘religious’ impulse that seeks to better humanity.

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  32. Dale, WTF has this little homily got to do with my post? It’s just bafflegab – typical theological rant aimed at confusion and diversion.

    It really doesn’t deserve a response.

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  33. if ‘morality is based in human nature’ – then I’d have thought an honest (and non-one-sided) description of human nature would have been at least remotely relevant?

    I just think you cannot stand the reality that ‘morality’ and ‘religion’ (both in the broadest, most inclusive senses) are inseparable? After all, the greatest sin for you would to be anything other than ‘non-religious’?

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  34. Dale, it is only by going past religion that one can find honesty. I mean what a stupid and dogmatic claim to make – “morality and religion are inseparable”. The empirical evidence contradicts that and I think it is obscene to make that claim when we see such a lot of immorality strongly connected with religion.

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  35. I just think you cannot stand the reality that ‘morality’ and ‘religion’ (both in the broadest, most inclusive senses) are inseparable? After all, the greatest sin for you would to be anything other than ‘non-religious’?

    I’m not sure you are using enough scare quotes there to make your words as broad and as inclusive as possible.
    With a little more work you could squeeze even more fluff and ambiguity out of your statement.

    I just ‘think’ you cannot ‘stand’ the ‘reality’ that ‘morality’ and ‘religion’ (both in the ‘broadest’, most ‘inclusive’ senses) are ‘inseparable’? After all, the ‘greatest’ sin for you would to be ‘anything’ other than ‘non-religious’?

    If a word is worth writing, then it’s worth writing in scare-quotes.
    It makes ‘everything’ seem so ‘significant’.
    ‘Really’. ;)

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  36. befuddled2

    Dale, not sure why you say that morality and religion are inseperable. I do not see that they are. From what I can see morality came first and religion came along partly as a social structure to help support morality. But other social structures can do the same job.

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  37. ken and befuddled2,
    “…‘morality’ and ‘religion’ (both in the broadest, most inclusive senses) are inseparable…”
    the desire to identify as ‘non-religious’ requires one to define religion in a very narrow way.

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  38. I would have to ask then what you mean by religion in the broadest and must inclusive senses. Keep in mind that a term defined too broadly ceases to have meaning or value in discussions.

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  39. Dale – as does the Tax Department.

    You desire to widen meanings to divorce meanings of these words

    But you will still accept a charitable subsidy from society which relies on the narrow and accepted naming of the word.

    I suggest you direct your campaign for change of meaning to the Tax Department.

    Then I might take you seriously.

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  40. befuddled2, I’m using ‘religion’ in the sense which seems fully synonymous with the phrase ‘life stance’. This is anything but divorcing meaning form the term – rather, it makes the meaning clearer by giving other semantic examples of the meaning. We all have a ‘life stance and/or religion’ – whatever word we want to use? This seems fairly basic to me? I think some just want to claim that their ‘life stance’ is superior because it is ‘scientific’ and ‘factual’ as opposed to ‘superstitious’ and ‘irrational’ – the strawman-ish mantra is well known. But an honest look reveals that all ‘life stances’ go beyond the ‘facts’ and rest on value-judgments.

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  41. Hmm.
    Nine scare quotes?
    Well…not a bad effort.
    Yet you could have gone for a higher ratio of scare-quoted vs unscarequoted words.

    befuddled2, I’m using ‘religion’ in the ‘sense’ which seems ‘fully’ synonymous with the phrase ‘life stance’. This is anything but divorcing ‘meaning’ form the ‘term’ – rather, it makes the meaning ‘clearer’ by giving other semantic examples of the ‘meaning’. We all ‘have’ a ‘life stance and/or religion’ – whatever ‘word’ we want to ‘use’? This seems fairly ‘basic’ to me? I think ‘some’ just want to claim that their ‘life stance’ is ‘superior’ because it is ‘scientific’ and ‘factual’ as opposed to ‘superstitious’ and ‘irrational’ – the strawman-ish ‘mantra’ is well known. But an ‘honest’ look reveals that all ‘life stances’ go beyond the ‘facts’ and rest on ‘value-judgments’.

    Therefore, Zeusdiddit!

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  42. Dale, just a couple of comments.

    First it looks as if by labelling a life stance view as religious you are trying to make an argument that religion is an indespensible part of human life. Now, given your definition of religous here, that may be true. But to most people would think you are talking about traditional religions such as Christianity and would exclude atheism. That is what I would call muddying the waters.

    The other point I would make is that there is a value in making your beliefs as rational as possible. Yes there is a point at which we cannot appeal to facts but shouldn’t that be as late in the process as possible and not as soon as possible? Shouldn’t those views that have more supporting evidence and reasoning – even if it does not go far enough to prove those views – be considered as having a stronger foundation than those without such evidence and reasoning. Shouldn’t a life stance that beliefs the earth is round be considered more seriously than one which beliefs the earth is flat?

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  43. Richard Christie

    I counted 10 Cedric, not 9.

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  44. bf2,
    it may appear as ‘muddying the waters’ to someone who sees a clear distinction between religious and non-religious people – but that’s kind of my point – things aren’t that clear.
    I wholeheartedly agree about rational support for beliefs.

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  45. Dale – it’s certainly clear enough for our courts and for Inland Revenue. Get them to change their word meanings!

    Its clear to those who promote “interfaith” and the NZ Statement on Religious Diversity.

    Your motives are clear. But they won’t work. You can’t wipe out acceptance of 34% of the New Zealand population just be declaring a change in meaning of a word.

    What’s next? An attempt to convince Maori that we are actually all pakeha and that their use of “Maori” is confusing things.

    I keep getting this picture of Don Quixote charging the windmill.

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  46. Ken,
    Don’t assume that I agree with the definitions used in IRD or NZSRD (or popular discourse for that matter). Though we must use words (which must be defined), we are both talking about real people with real ideas and real ‘life stances’ or ‘religious approaches to life’ – value sets, etc. This is rather simple to me. No hidden motives here.

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  47. Dale, I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a motive behind the common theological tactic of fuzziness and confusions.

    Comments like the ones you make seem to be part of your training. They are not at all helpful, they obviously attempt to confuse. And they don’t work with me.

    You may find them entertaining but it does nothing for your credibility.

    I am all for rational discussion but not this silly theological jelly wrestling.

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  48. Ken,
    Should I be shocked that in response to my ‘too simple’ objection you respond with ‘too complicated’?? That’s not any kind of wrestling…

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