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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- The Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life (scienceblogs.com)
- Declaration on Religion in Public Life – Guiding Principle Four (daddyhogwash.com)