Secularism is important

Book Review: The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism by Paul Cliteur

Price: US$26.95; NZ$53.97
Paperback: 328 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (September 7, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1444335219
ISBN-13: 978-1444335217

It’s funny how some people allow their emotional reactions to interfere with their understanding of, and reaction to, words and their meaning. Almost 40 years ago I had a problem posting a letter to an address in the former East Germany. The women behind the counter in the post office refused to accept it because its address included the words “German Democratic Republic.” While she muttered things like “Soviet Zone,” and I was expecting her to starting foaming at the mouth, her colleague had to take over and provide me with the correct stamp.

Some people react the same way to words like secular and secularism. They equate these with atheism, or “worse.” So they animate their definitions of such words by their personal aversion to denial of their gods.

Pope Benedict XVI often warns of the “moral dangers” of secularism and many theologians and apologists wilfully equate secularism with attempts to destroy or eliminate religion.

Definitions and common understandings of words are important- especially where there is emotional baggage. So the first chapter of Paul Cliteur’s book is welcome – and probably necessary. “Atheism, Agnosticism, and Theism” reviews the possible definitions of these words and argues the case for a consistent and accurate meaning – taking 50 pages to do so.

And far from secularism being hostile to religion Cliteur sees it as “an essential precondition for the free development of religion. . . . It would be a serious mistake to consider the values espoused in the secular outlook as in any way inimical to religion or the rights of religious believers. On the contrary, secularism is the only perspective under which people of different religious persuasions can live together.”

The book devotes much of its content to justification of free thought. Chapter 2 argues that criticism of religion as central to free thought.

Criticism of Religion

There is a historical perspective of the problems of criticising religion and its importance today. This is important to free thought because religion is classically, and still, identified with imposing authority – the opposite of free thought.  The book spends some time on the relevance for moral areas.

The lesson from the history of religious criticism is that scriptural authority, the ideas of “divine” or “holy” texts and books is a problem with theism. Revelation and “divine” commands produce an attitude that religious commands must be followed, whatever the results. And that God’s commands override any civil rules or laws. Even if a “holy” scripture has only a few passages inciting violence, or even if there are only a few literalists,  the fact it is considered “divine” or “holy” can still cause much harm.

This is relevant today as religion still has a protected status which tries to make it immune from criticism. Critics are labelled “strident,” “fundamentalist,” “militant”, “angry,” etc. And criticism is interpreted as a wish to “destroy” religion. Even many atheists adhere to this protected status and react irrationally to criticism of religion

However, criticism of religion is essential not only to free thought but to overcoming today’s problems of religious violence and terrorism or their threat.

Freedom of expression

The third chapter discusses freedom of expression as another fundamental part of secularism. Cliteur argues that freedom of expression is fundamental to both free thought and the secular outlook. It is also strongly connected with the need to criticise religion, authority and its imposition.

Today there is a revival of religious “self-confidence.”  This produces religious revolts against the secular state and secular morals, and attempts to impose minority interpretations of law and human rights. There are attempts to reintroduce blasphemy laws nationally and to produce international documents including the idea of “defamation of religion.”  Religious groups argue for their exclusion from human rights legislation barring discrimination in employment and services.

All this threatens freedom of expression as this new religious confidence is often asserted politically, sometimes with violence or even terrorism.

Cliteur describes problems created by militant Islamic threats to newspapers, cartoonists and authors. The accompanying problem is the way the western governments, publishers and politicians have crumbled. In effect they argue for self-censorship and have created the dangerous practice of blaming the victim for the anger of the offender.

This means that today there is a de facto submission to terrorism which far from solving the problem only encourages more violence.

The book has an interesting discussion of the philosophical justifications of free expression. Free thought, combining religious criticism and freedom of speech, is necessary for emancipating humankind.

We can see this in personal development. We need freedom of expression to allow our minds to develop and our personalities to flourish. Suppression of free expression is a form of abuse in children and retards development. There are also cultural aspects. Free expression encourages flourishing of science, art and culture. Ironically it also encourages development of religion as part of that culture. There is the duty we have to others and to society in general. We should develop ideas and convictions collectively. The book presents some interesting arguments on this from W. K. Clifford who is famous for: “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

And there is the question of self-control and autonomy. Every time we accept something without evidence we undermine our self-control – we hand over to others. Freedom of expression helps prevent that.

While arguing strongly for freedom of expression Cliteur does not deny that sometimes there needs to be limits. We should not support the right to shout “fire” in a crowded hall when there is no fire. However, he argues against using these limits inappropriately – as they often are when religion is criticised.

Finally, the book deals with moral and political secularism. We need a secular outlook because one evil of religion today is its lack of support for important civil rights and freedoms. Freedom of expression enables criticism of this. However, religious terrorism and religious sensitivity inhibits or even assaults freedom of expression.

‘Divine’ command ethics and abhorrence of atheism

Cliteur argues for moral autonomy, justifying moral ideas without resort to religion. We need autonomy to break away from religious tutelage.

Theists hotly debate this, claiming morality can’t stand on its own feet. That morality without a god is impossible. Secularists must reject this for moral and political autonomy.

The author spends some time discussing “divine command” ethics.  This “assumes that what is morally right is synonymous with what has been commanded, prescribed, or ordered by God.” He believes that this attitude helps explain a common Christian abhorrence of atheism:

“Atheists are so much hated because they are supposed to be immoral. Psalm 14:1 formulates this clearly:

The fool says in his heart,
‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they do
Abominable deeds,
There is none who does good.”

With this attitude “divine command morals sees morality as ‘revealed.’ According to divine command ethics there is an intimate relationship between theology and ethics.” ‘Divine’ command ethics leads to “the idea that having different opinion on religious matters has to be punished by God.” “Here we encounter one of the most obnoxious elements of the theistic creeds: their tendency to intimidate people into the right sort of faith by threatening punishments for those who think otherwise.”

A danger of divine command ethics is that its assumptions and its grounding in “divine” will, rather than independently existing reasons for action, means that no other reasons for action are necessary.  So it can be used to justify the most inhumane actions.

Of course theologians claim this description is too simple. This reveals that “divine” command ethics exists in different forms with different justifications. Cliteur identifies three general varieties:

  • Mystical – where the individual directly apprehends the divine;
  • Received via mediation – through god’s representative. Commonly Catholic, and
  • Through scripture – usually protestant.

In reality these draw inspiration from claimed revelation of one form or another. God commands through the voices in your head. Through the pope, Imam or other relgious leader, or through the “holy” book suitably interpreted.

While all sorts of mental gymnastics are used to correlate “divine” command ethics with human standards of morality some adherents take the whole idea literally, rather than metaphorically or poetically. Religious extremists are firm believers in divine command ethics – they firmly reject moral autonomy.

Dangers of the ‘divine’ and ‘holy’

The ideas of “divine” and “holy” present a real problem for national and international politics. Such ideas provide sanction to actions which may well be inhumane. They can lead to sacrifice and martyrdom – and the sacrifice of innocents. They provide motives for international religious terrorism, and for threatening order and freedom for others. The book illustrates this with a quote from the farewell letter of a Dutch jihadist:

“In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful,
I write this letter to inform you that I departed for the land of the jihad.
To dispel the unbelievers, and to help establish the Islamic state.
I do not do this because I like fighting, but because the Almighty has commanded this” ‘Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. God knows, but you may not’

Cliteaur therefore argues that a central requirement of a secular outlook must be rejection of scriptural authority and religious justification and adoption of moral autonomy.

Religious apologists often argue that their ethics are objective. That there is such a thing as god-given objective morality.  Cliteur describes this as a pretence.  “Is divine command ethics really the only way to save us from relativism? Or is it rather the other way round, and should we confess that adopting divine command ethics brings us into the quagmire of relativism?”

In fact religious morality is arbitrary precisely because it is “revealed” or “divine.”

The book provides final comment on “divine” command ethics.  Cliteur asks:

“why God proclaimed certain values superior to others. Wouldn’t that be because those values are superior? In other words does not God choose for us on the basis of some intrinsic property?”

“Once we have accepted that intrinsic property we have rejected divine command ethics. And we can reject divine command ethics in the ground that this would make morality a matter of arbitrariness – dviine arbitrariness, yet arbitrariness nevertheless.”

From ‘interfaith’ cooperation to secular untiy

We need to reject “divine” command ethics and the “divine” authority of scripture and “holy” books if we are to overcome the negative parts of religious tradition. But, this does not require refutation of religious claims or proving the non-existence of gods.  That is a mug’s game because of the enormous variety of god concepts, the vagueness of terms, seeming deliberate lack of clarity in religious arguments, and what Cliteur calls the “humpty-dumpty” way of using words.

Clitear spends some time discussing the different trends within Christianity and Islam and their possible political role. He does not see the role of liberal Christianity as positive precisely because it is so vague.

“If we could, together with Humpty Dumpty, let words mean what we choose them to mean, communication would be pointless. Yet many discussions, especially about sensitive issues – and religion is such an issue – are flawed because people are reluctant to provide us with clear definitions . . . . Once religion becomes ‘wishy-washy, you can’t refute it, but you also have no reason to believe in it.’ So Sinott-Armstrong tells us.”

This vagueness hides a compete refusal to face up to the problem of the “divine” or “holy” nature of scripture and religious pronouncements. In fact the confused nature of liberal Christianity seems to have the main purpose of avoiding this issue.

Cliteur sees a secular Christianity as being more positive. That is a Christianity which accepts moral autonomy and rejects ‘divine” command ethics and the “holiness” of scripture. He argues this is possible within the framework of a religious world-view.

The book briefly considers a similar analysis of Islam, suggesting for the same reasons that we should place out hope in secular Islam rather than liberal Islam.

Religious intuitions and cultures are widespread.  This will not change quickly. But “it is possible to criticise elements of a religious tradition without rejecting everything.”

I see this as an important message of The Secular Outlook. It is hopeful the negative parts of religious tradition can be opposed without having to first oppose religion in its entirety. In fact many religious people can engage in such a struggle. We can move from interfaith cooperation (which considers secularism a threat) to secular unity involving cooperation of the religious and the non-religious.

Conclusion.

There is a lot in this book and I believe it is timely and valuable. It certainly helped me clarify some of my own ideas about morality and the need (and justification) for a secular society and outlook. His differentiation between literalist and liberal religion on the one hand and secular religion on the other is useful. It provides an analysis which helps reveal the possibilities for cooperation of the non-religious with the religious and the pitfalls in this.

My only criticism is of Cliteur’s simplistic presentation of religion in the USSR. He defines a “political atheism” as “the conviction that the state has to eradicate all kinds of religious belief, as was done in the Soviet Union and in Albania.”

Religion was by no means “eradicated” in the USSR. (I attended a Christian church service in communist Moscow).  The relationship between church and state was certainly complex during Soviet times but I find such simple and mistaken claims in such an otherwise excellent book a little disturbing. It suggests a willingness to lower standards of objectivity just because few people will object in this case.

I also dispute his assertion that “Maoism and Stalinism were not based on moral heteronomy but on moral autonomy. . .  . . Yet Maoism and Stalinism produced brutal dictatorships that warped the minds of the people subjected to them. So adopting the secular outlook is not a recipe for universal harmony.”

Some morality attitudes under Mao and Stalin may have differed strongly to that prevailing in the west. But my memory of Maoism, and my understanding of Stalinism, was of strong imposition of many moral attitudes. The authoritarian nature of the regimes and their political and moral guidelines don’t support the author’s claim of their being “based on moral autonomy.”

In raising this I am not concerned at correcting the historical mistakes. More I think we should be able to see that moral heteronomy can be a problem with non-religious ideologies and non-religious social control. That we can apply much of the analysis in this book to some non-religious or “secular” ideologies too. I think that Cliteuir’s conclusion from the history of Maoism and Stalinism that “adopting the secular outlook is not a recipe for universal harmony” gives the wrong emphasis.

In fact, Cliteur infers as much when he writes about the “pernicious influence” of ideology “which needs to be studied.” And “What makes Nazism, fascism or other ideologies preaching blind obedience problematic is precisely this element.”

So perhaps there is room for more discussion of moral heteronomy and authoritarian moral and political attitudes within non-religious communities.

But otherwise an excellent book.

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94 responses to “Secularism is important

  1. It is hopeful the negative parts of religious tradition can be opposed without having to first oppose religion in its entirety. In fact many religious people can engage in such a struggle.

    …like each and every prophet in the Bible, for example.

    And… I don’t suppose the secular religion has any “negative parts” which need to be opposed, does it?

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  2. Dale – you are being oversensitive.

    (What is it with religious people – they get so emotional about nothing – you should see how I am being attacked on Glenn’s blog for being a “bad person” and crazy – all because I dared ask for examples of “other ways of knowing” these people refer to when they use the word “scientism.”).

    I clearly referred to the need for this sort of analysis of non-religious authoritarian ideologies. In fact I criticised the author for his naive misrepresentation of Maoism and Stalinism.

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  3. good, as long as ‘secularism’ is not seen as some clean/ideal vantage point, from which all the ‘negative’ aspects of ‘religion’ can be spotted. ((btw, don’t mistake the rhetorical form of my question with me ‘getting emotional’…))

    But let me also add a question: does the book discuss the foundations (epistemology, basic presuppositions/assumptions, key thinkers) of secularism at all? It seems to me that ‘secularism’ is best seen as a reaction to various kinds of theocracies (or other forms of govt which are heavily theocratic).

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  4. Repeating my point in the review:

    “And far from secularism being hostile to religion Cliteur sees it as “an essential precondition for the free development of religion. . . . It would be a serious mistake to consider the values espoused in the secular outlook as in any way inimical to religion or the rights of religious believers. On the contrary, secularism is the only perspective under which people of different religious persuasions can live together.””

    As such it isn’t an ideology.

    The first 50 pages goes into the history and under sanding of words like atheism, theism, monotheism.

    It does discuss some ways in which the word secularism is misused or misunderstood.

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  5. I guess it’s just the sharp divide that appears to be painted between ‘religion’ and ‘secularism’. It’s not ‘secularism’, but the ethic of peacefulness which is needed for “people of diff. rel. persuasions [to] live together.” As if ‘secularism’ was the first religion which had peace as a goal?

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  6. I think you have been misinformed about secularism. it is not an ideology, not a religion.

    It is concerned with this world, reality. The idea is to put aside thoughts of another world, cooperate together on what we can agree on for this one, then you can go back to considering your other world in your one limited community.

    No group should expect every other group to adopt their ideology.

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  7. Ken,
    religions that don’t believe in ‘another world’ are no less religions than those that do. In a very fair/accurate sense, secularism is a philosophy/worldview/’religion’ – it needs to be critiqued (from within/without) just like any other.

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  8. It’s not a belief in another world or not. Its an agreement to deal with problems in this real world.

    Secular really comes from a religious background – but concentrates on the existing real world.

    Anyway – you go ahead an critique it, or your understanding of it.

    I think everything is straightforward, can’t see what there is to critique. But am prepared to hear you out.

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  9. Richard Christie

    Tell you what Dale, why don’t you sign up as an editor and go and rewrite the Wikipedia artcle on secularism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism

    “Secularism is the concept that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs…..”

    insert the word “religion” in place of “concept”. I’d like to watch and read what happens.

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  10. The book title is (interestingly) after all, the secular ‘outlook’. It’s a view on the world – a worldview. Is this controversial?

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  11. You are struggling there, Dale.

    I think the important aspect is that a secular outlook is inclusive. It does not assume a “divine” or religious world view . It doesn’t impose a different ideology. It is inclusive with the purpose of enabling people of different ideologies and beliefs to come together and cooperate in the interests of all.

    Of course there will be some whose ideology is so dogmatic that they refuse to cooperate. They impose a precondition that everyone else adopt their beliefs and religion.

    They of course exclude themselves with this attitude.

    It sounds like you might be trying to justify this sort of exposing attitude.

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  12. …and the subtitle is indicative as well. It’s an apologia for secularism! Every religion has its apologetics.

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  13. Does the author think he is correct? Probably. Do ‘religious’ authors do the same? I think so. Is this surprising?

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  14. I get the message, Dale. You are opposed to secularism – the cooperation of people with different religious beliefs it world views.

    Let’s hope you aren’t too typical.

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  15. …secularism – the cooperation of people with different religious beliefs it [and?] world views.

    that’s not secularism, it’s peacefulness & respect… a key part of most religions – yes, even secular ones.

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  16. So, Dale, I guess you will be demanding that the government extend their charity tax exemptions to all organisations you wish to define as “religious.”?

    Or (and this would take integrity) acknowledge that supernaturally based organizations should have no right to such a classification because it us denied other groups you define as “religious.”?

    When I see this I might consider you are serious. But, no, I am sure I won’t. You are just unhappy at the idea that religious and non-religious groups can cooperate and wish to oppose the very idea.

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  17. Religion (loosely/inclusively understood) is everywhere – certainly behind the governmental stance of charity tax exemption and what constitutes ‘charitable’ action (and any defenses/criticisms of it!).

    Contrary to your repeated jibes that I’m not interested in peace/cooperation across beliefs, I’m merely interested in honest, level-ground, accurate appraisals of how things actually are. Secular religious people are more than welcome to critique non-secular religious people. My only point here is that the book/review/original-post made secularism sound a bit like the religion police. The anti-authority movement now standing in pseudo-authority over religion! How grateful we should be that secularism has mercifully allowed us to continue to exist!

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  18. You avoided the tax exemption question, Dale.

    And I reject your assertion that “the book/review/original-post made secularism sound a bit like the religion police.”

    I suggest that is your paranoia showing. You seem to feel threatened by any situations where religion is not in control.

    And you have not supported that claim.

    Again you are upset by someone’s honest review of a book. You presumably haven’t read the book and have no intention of doing so.

    Therefore, isn’t it a bit arrogant to be making these sort of unwarranted claims?

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  19. …I don’t suppose the secular religion…

    Huh?

    …As if ‘secularism’ was the first religion…

    Secularism is a religion?
    Nope.

    In a very fair/accurate sense, secularism is a philosophy/worldview/’religion’

    Secularism is a “religion”?
    Dumb.
    A plaintive strawman.
    Sad.

    “Secularism is a religion too”.
    No it isn’t and anybody who says so is being dishonest and abusing the English language.
    Again.

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  20. Ken,
    No, actually, I didn’t avoid the tax question. I was indicating that the task of sorting who gets exemptions and who doesn’t requires making a ‘religious’ judgment about what religion is and what expressions of it should be tax exempt. I’m happy, obviously, for groups benefiting society to be taxed less, etc. and I don’t care at all what name they bear. The question is what is a ‘benefit to society’ – a ‘religious’ question (using ‘religious’ in as inclusive sense possible).

    And I could care less about Christianity being ‘in control’. Jesus’ taught his disciples to serve the world (washing its feet), not to be in charge.

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  21. Richard Christie

    Cedric: It appears that Dale is demolishing our objections by using the fine art of refusing to engage.

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  22. Dale, you know the charitable status for religion is not about doing good. It’s about supernatural beliefs, their celebration and promotion. Now this excludes all those groups you wish to label “religious”. To be consistent you should be promoting an inclusive option or arguing against the restricted supernatural option.

    But it’s a matter of wanting your cake and eating it too. And also attempting to divert discussion away from any real equal cooperation between the religious and non-religious.

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  23. Ken,
    I think my statement was clear – “I’m happy, obviously, for groups benefiting society to be taxed less, etc. and I don’t care at all what name they bear.”

    And how on earth would this position be opposed to cooperation across the belief spectrum?

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  24. Richard,
    If there are specific points I’ve missed, let me know.

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  25. Again, Dale, you avoid the supernatural privilege . If you honestly are wanting to use the word “religion” more widely than supernatural then you are morally obliged to argue against that privilege.

    If you are interested in cooperation surely you would not be attempting to impose this word, which has a lot of undesirable baggage, on innocent people. That prevents cooperation.

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  26. As I’ve been repeatedly saying, I’m using ‘religion[ous]’ in the most inclusive sense. And implicit in my statement is a rejection of what you call ‘supernatural privilege’. I genuinely think atheists, for example, who organise to do good should have charitable status. This tax issue seems an issue for you, and I hope I’ve given sufficient treatment to satisfy you.

    My issue, however, is that understanding of ‘secularism’ be even-handed. Secularism itself needs criticism/accountability just as much (in principle) as any other ‘religion’ (or philosophical value-system) does.

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  27. Richard Christie

    Dale, the point you fail to address from Cedric, Ken and me is your definition of secularism as a religion.
    and now you appear soften that by equating religion to any philosophical value system…

    Secularism itself needs criticism/accountability just as much (in principle) as any other ‘religion’ (or philosophical value-system) does.

    No, you can’t wriggle out that way. Secularism isn’t a value system either.

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  28. No Dale, you continue to divert. Religions get tax privilege for supernatural beliefs, promotion and observance. Nothing to do with doing good at all.

    If you continue to use the word “religious” to describe non-supernatural groups then you should either argue for these groups getting tax privileges purely for existing (not doing good). Or that the religious privilege be removed because it is not evenly applied..

    Now I know you don’t want to face up to this and will continue to jelly wrestle over it.

    OK you say secularism needs criticism. – well go for it. No-one is stopping you. After all I strongly support the books call for freedom of thought, criticism and freedom of expression. They are vital.

    As for the word religion – it is obviously offensive for some. So I suggest that instead we use “communism” to describe any philosophical value system. This includes christianity and all other religions. After all, I am sure we can actually find even social aspects, let alone philosophical aspects.

    So how about it? Lets call all world views and organisations one or other forms of communism.

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  29. as i’ve said repeatedly (hence not ‘squirming’), I’m using ‘religion[ous]’ in a broad and inclusive way.

    There are specific terms, about specific beliefs (which show differences between people/groups). Secularists and Muslims are miles apart when it comes to the specific issue of the nature of the Qur’an.

    Then there are general terms, about general beliefs (which show the similarities between people/groups). Secularists and Muslims are more similar than either of them dare to admit when it comes to general (and ‘religious’) notions like bettering humanity.

    General language is just as necessary as specific language.

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  30. What about secular Muslims, Dale.?

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  31. Richard Christie

    ok Dale, you were just being loose with the language.

    But please don’t use the term religion so generally, not everyone appreciates being caught in its net, secular atheists for example..

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  32. ok Dale, you were just being loose with the language.

    To the point of being incoherent.
    Or should that be “incoherent”?
    Or perhaps “Incoherent/deliberately vague/strawman”?

    (Add random selection of brackets to taste)

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  33. Ken,
    ??

    Richard,
    Yes, I was using general language (not ‘loose’) to make a unifying point, countering what I saw as an overly sharply-distinguishing point which used specific language. In other words, when ‘secularism’ is sharply distinguished from ‘religion’ and it is seen that secularism is urgently needed to purge religion from all of its evils, I want to respond with a unifying observation: secularism is [loosely] a ‘religion’ too, and must be critiqued.

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  34. Richard Christie

    humpty dumpty

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  35. humpty dumpty

    Perfect.
    Yes indeed.
    Who is to be master?
    Dale can manage the whole lot.
    😉

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  36. richard,
    forgive me for getting the joke

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  37. Dale – have a look at The St. Petersburgh Declaration and my post Secular Islam.

    You would no doubt know, or know if, a few local secular Christians.

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  38. Why not just quote the St Petersburgh Declaration in full – it’s relevant to the discussion.

    “We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

    We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

    We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.

    We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.

    We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.

    We call on the governments of the world to

    * reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostasy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights;
    * eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women;
    * protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence;
    * reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims;
    * and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation.

    We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy.

    We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.

    We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine;

    to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens;

    and to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.

    Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen People, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must choose for themselves.”

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  39. ta Ken,
    Much in there that many would agree with. But this doesn’t change the fact that it reflects a philosophical/worldview/’religious’ perspective/outlook.

    Anarchy is not the absence of an outlook concerning politics – Vegetarianism is not the absence of an outlook concerning eating – abstinence is not the absence of an outlook concerning intercourse – atheism is not the absence of an outlook concerning belief in a g[G]od – secularism is not the absence of an outlook concerning religion.

    There is no view from nowhere. Religious views are like belly-buttons, they don’t all look the same, but we’ve all got one.

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  40. Agreement is the point. It enables people of different ideological outlooks to work together on common interests.

    There is also the implied acceptance that divisive ideological positions and belief are put aside (not given up) in the interests of common action.

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  41. yes, common ‘religious’ interests. 🙂

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  42. That’s silly Dale. It’s just an attempt to remove the non-religious from common action. Which rather defeats the point.

    However, it us an unfortunately common attitude. “Interfaith” unity a case in point – unity of those with supernatural ideology against those whose ideology us not supernaturalist. The old them vs us problem.

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  43. I should probably remind you that my original comment (and central point throughout) has been not to prevent commonalities, but to establish them! To say effectively, ‘hey, secularists are not as ‘unreligious’ as they think – we’re not so different after all…’

    You just don’t like being called ‘religious’, and I can understand the emotional causes for that reaction. But my point is a) uncontroversial and b) a unifying/common-ground-recognising one.

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  44. No, I don’t like bring called religious any more than you like bring called communist. It’s not polite or honest.

    We have plenty which unites us ad humans / it is divisive to concentrate on what doesn’t unite us.

    You are welcome to your religion. All I ask is respect. Bafflegab and dishonest manipulation if words is not helpful, or respectful.

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  45. Dale’s reaction seems reasonable to me. Though I wouldn’t call it a ‘religion’, Secularism is a set of moral values – – and the postmodern mind is suspicious of all power structures and ideologies, religious or otherwise.

    But overall I think this book review was great, and I have to say that individual freedom of thought and expression is probably one of the rarest treasures of human society.

    Like

  46. Ken,
    I actually respect you enough that I believe you can a) handle a differing opinion and b) see past a word to the point I’m making.

    Like

  47. Of course I am OK with differing opinions. As for your point. I don’t think it is valid. But if your want to support it do so and we can differ about it sensibly. B”ut it is silly just to continue to repeat that “secularism is a religion.” That destroys the whole basis of language. We get to the Alice in Wonderland situation.

    As I quoted from the book in my review:
    “If we could, together with Humpty Dumpty, let words mean what we choose them to mean, communication would be pointless. Yet many discussions, especially about sensitive issues – and religion is such an issue – are flawed because people are reluctant to provide us with clear definitions . . . . Once religion becomes ‘wishy-washy, you can’t refute it, but you also have no reason to believe in it.’ So Sinott-Armstrong tells us.”

    So argue you point out with facts and examples – not humpty dumpty words.

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  48. So argue you point out with facts and examples – not humpty dumpty words.

    Hear, hear.
    Enough already with the scare-quotes, the slashes, the word-combo squashing and the random use of brackets.
    You seem totally incapable of writing a comment without them.
    It’s ugly and incoherent.

    The English language is rich.
    Help yourself to a thesaurus or a dictionary.
    Don’t just make up your own personal non-language by abusing the punctuation characters on your keyboard.

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  49. I really don’t it a matter of difficulty of understanding what I’m saying – I think it’s a matter of not wanting to be associated with the term ‘religion[ous]’. Use whatever term you don’t have an emotional reaction to – worldview, philosophy, ideology, approach, value-system, whatever – the point is basic.

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  50. Richard Christie

    Dale click this link

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism

    Do you see the term religion in the definition of secularism? What does it say?

    Or for further clarity click this link

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/secularism

    or better still, try your weasel-word definition out in Wikipedia.

    As I’ve said before, just go in and add your definition.

    It’s easy,there is nothing to be afraid of.

    See how long your claim stands up.

    You can even argue your point in the discussion page.

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  51. …because if the wiki entry doesn’t call secularism a religion, then that PROVES that it cannot EVER be likened to religion in ANY conversation and that people who try are ALWAYS wrong. 🙂

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  52. Use whatever term you don’t …

    I have a much better idea.
    Since it’s only YOU trying to somehow connect secularism with religion then maybe YOU should use a better, more honest term?

    …because if the wiki entry doesn’t call secularism a religion, then that PROVES that it cannot EVER be likened to religion in ANY conversation and that people who try are ALWAYS wrong.

    My that’s an impressive strawman.

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  53. Dale, your concentration on names, etc., is a diversion. Of course calling a non-religious person religious is insulting, as calling a religious person non-religious is. But WTF relevance is that?

    You make the point that secularism should be critiqued. Surely that is true whatever name you want to use, whatever, classification you want to give.

    Personally I welcome any criticism you can make – theory or practice. But your insistence on names suggests to me that you are not capable of making a proper critique. That you want to use humpty-dumpty language to0 create a diversion. It is significant that you have been unable to make a criticism.

    More and more I suspect that you guys learn this humpty-dumpty technique at theology school specifically as a tactic to divert people away from honest and humanitarian activity.

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  54. Ken,
    I’d have hoped it would be obvious that my very point about secularism having ‘religious’ quality to it is itself a criticism – both theory and practice… and identity, which is always a difficult thing to discuss. Certainly the reactions here demonstrate that.

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  55. So “secularism is bad because it has a ‘religious quality’ about it?”

    Seriously?

    Are you bad because you have a ‘religious quality’ about you?

    Come off it Dale!

    You aren’t able to make a specific criticism. That in itself suggests ignorance because I certainty think the actual history and practice of secular activity, like any human activity, can be criticised. I would have no problems myself finding specific criticisms of secular activities I have been involved it.

    And a proper critique of the practical experience of secular activity is of course valuable becuase it helps overcome and prevent similar mistakes in future.

    But to stand aside and criticise secular activity because you feel (via theological humpty-dumpty talk) it has a ‘religious quality’ about it is not honest.

    You are simply rule yourself out of participating in such secular activity. Which is OK. There are plenty of people who find cooperation with people of different beliefs impossible.

    But why not be honest about it.

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  56. Take a breath sir, you read me wrong. The criticism is not a) that secularism has a religious quality, but b) that many secularists are unaware (or unable to admit) that it has this quality (not all, of course, as I’m sure there are secularists who admit the ‘religious’ qualities of their secularism).

    I’m mainly interested in this general critique, at the moment, as opposed to any particular critiques.

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  57. What the hell is a “religious quality” anyway?
    Yet more meaningless waffle.

    Mumbling to the ceiling?
    Building temples?
    Taking money from people?
    It’s anybody’s guess.

    A: Are you a religious person?
    B: Certainly not. I’m a religious quality person.
    A: Oh…um….

    A: Just fill out the form and tick the boxes. Name, Date Of Birth, Postal Address, Religious Quality, etc.
    B:???

    A: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of choosing your own Religious Quality…er….
    B:???

    ….both theory and practice… and identity, which is always a difficult thing to discuss.

    Speak for yourself.
    You’re the one that seems to have immense trouble with it.
    Communication in standard English is not your strong point.

    Focus on the usual 26 letters of the alphabet and limit yourself to the commonly accepted use of punctuation marks.

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  58. Richard Christie

    I’d have hoped it would be obvious that my very point about secularism having ‘religious’ quality to it is itself a criticism – both theory and practice… and identity, which is always a difficult thing to discuss. Certainly the reactions here demonstrate that.

    Dale, you are being disingenuous.
    You didn’t say that secularism had a religious quality.
    You called it a religion.

    And… I don’t suppose the secular religion has any “negative parts” which need to be opposed, does it?

    later you said it again.

    As if ‘secularism’ was the first religion which had peace as a goal?

    And later you said it again

    In a very fair/accurate sense, secularism is a philosophy/worldview/’religion’ – it needs to be critiqued (from within/without) just like any other.

    and again

    …and the subtitle is indicative as well. It’s an apologia for secularism! Every religion has its apologetics.

    and again

    .Secularism itself needs criticism/accountability just as much (in principle) as any other ‘religion’ (or philosophical value-system) does.

    and again, but belatedly qualified

    I want to respond with a unifying observation: secularism is [loosely] a ‘religion’ too, and must be critiqued.

    By doing so you hijacked your own contribution to any discussion on secularism. You provoke objection.

    Yet, amazingly, you claim to do this in order to be unifying, inclusive.
    Go figure.

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  59. Oh, so you are determined to criticise me, or anyone else, who may support cooperation between people of different beliefs??

    Well, you are just going to have to live with that Dale, as I am.

    And WTF is a secularist anyway? I bet it covers a multitude of sins – and is certain an expression of hate from people like the pope.

    But part of cooperation is to work on what people agree on, not concentrate on differences.

    And of course “I’m mainly interested in this general critique, at the moment, as opposed to any particular critiques.”
    Its part of the humpty-dumpty technique you guys learn.

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  60. Richard,
    Thanks for documenting my consistency. FYI, the notions a) that secularism is a religion, and b) that secularism has religious qualities are complimentary, not contradictory. Again, trying (despite emotional reactions & distracting red-herrings about the ?Pope!?) to make a general point.

    Ken,
    Goodness, this is a conversation and please stop pretending I’m against ‘cooperation’. I’m just making a general point, and I’m inclined to think that nobody wants to engage with it directly.

    I can understand the emotional reaction to the suggestion that ‘non-religious’ people may be more ‘religious’ than they thought; but that conversation doesn’t have to be shut down, does it?

    And I can understand the adjustment of language required – esp. for those a) whose definition of ‘religion’ is narrow/specific and b) whose identity is ‘non-religious’. Indeed, that’s why throughout I’ve used other terms (approach/worldview/ideology/etc.), which may be less emotionally provocative for the ‘non-religious’ crowd. I’d hoped to have a conversation…

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  61. I don’t think you are being honest, Dale. You have done absolutely nothing to support your characterisation of secularism. Nothing at all.

    Consequently there is nothing to discuss – because you refuse to support a silly characterisation.

    So don’t be surprised of on-one is convinced.

    I am quite happy to discuss the nature of secularism, because many people do have a mistaken concept (and I think this may be your problem). But your persistence in humpty-dumpty words and avoidance of substance (the old theological tricks) makes conversation impossible.

    Now face up to that, Dale. Stop trying to blame others. If you have something substantive to say, for christ’s sake say it. But you do nothing for your credibility by persisting in humpty-dumpty arguments.

    And of course no-one can see any substance to your complaints about secularism.

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  62. Thanks for documenting my consistency.

    Don’t be dense. That’s not what he was doing. Learn English.

    the notions a) that secularism is a religion… is a humpty-dumpty.
    the notions (..) and b) that secularism has religious qualities…is another humpty-dumpty.

    I can understand the emotional reaction to the suggestion that ‘non-religious’ people may be more ‘religious’ than they thought…

    Strawman.
    There is no emotional reaction to any such idea.
    If you want to make such a statement and back it up…then go ahead.
    Have at it.
    Make an effort.
    However, bafflegab and abuse of the English language will get you nowhere.

    And I can understand the adjustment of language required…

    Try using English.
    The rest of us do.
    People have intelligent discussions about religion and secularism all the time without the obsessive-compulsive disorder that you have developed of randomly using every single character sign on their keyboard and throwing dictionaries out the window.

    ‘religion’
    narrow/specific
    ‘non-religious’
    (approach/worldview/ideology/etc.)
    ‘non-religious’

    Awful.
    Just awful. It just doesn’t stop with you, does it?
    I have never seen anybody on the internet write in such a chaotic and downright ugly fashion.

    I’d hoped to have a conversation…

    You are communicating in a language designed and recognised by you alone.
    The words and symbols mean what you personally choose them to mean-neither more nor less.
    (Fat lot of good that does for the rest of us.)
    Certainly, perhaps you think you are indeed managing the whole lot but the effective result is that you are having a conversation all by yourself.
    Impenetrable.

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  63. Ken,
    If we can’t get past emotional reactions, we’ll never be able to consider support for my characterisation. If I use one word (‘religion’), I am criminalised for inhumane speech; if I use many words (worldview, approach, ideology, etc.), I am demonised for incoherent (humpty dumpty) speech!

    Maybe I should have consistently used the terms ideology or ‘approach’ (the latter of which has the benefit of being used in the book title)? Can you agree that secularism shares with all religions the (broad/general) status of being an ‘ideology’??

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  64. I have never seen anybody on the internet write in such a chaotic and downright ugly fashion.

    pots, kettles and all that – talk to you next year Cedric

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  65. No, Dale. How can I without evidence?

    Why are you afraid to supply supporting evidence? Why divert attention by accusing others of emotive reaction.

    The only emotion is frustration, it’s impossible to have a conversation with someone asking us to accept a conclusion which he can’t produce evidence for!

    Come on! Surely if you really believe what you are claiming you could provide evidence and examples.

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  66. For brevity/clarity: which do you fail to agree as an ideology – secularism or religion?

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  67. Clearly (from the beginning) secularism.

    Mind you, currently reading Pascal Boyer’s recent book which makes the argument that “relgion” is an illusion. That there is no such thing. Instead we should be talking about religious thinking and behaviours.

    But don’t get distracted. I want you to justify, evidentially and by example, your claims about secularism.

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  68. If you want to be taken seriously, then stop inventing your own private language.
    Use standard Engish.
    It’s a very rich and effective form of communication.

    I have never seen anybody on the internet write in such a chaotic and downright ugly fashion.

    “pots, kettles…”

    Ah, the tu quoque argument.
    No.
    That won’t do.

    Whatever my literary flaws may or may not be, it doesn’t make your humpty-dumpy rubbish magically vanish.

    Fallacies: Appeal to Hypocrisy

    Like

  69. Richard Christie

    Dale, here is another word for you to look up the meaning of:

    intransigence

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  70. Richard Christie

    Dale,

    Richard, FYI, the notions a) that secularism is a religion, and b) that secularism has religious qualities are complimentary, not contradictory.

    Since it hasn’t yet dawned on you, they are not the same either.

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  71. Ken,
    Lest I be accused of humpty-dumpty-ism, I’m using the word ‘ideology’ in a loose sense. The secular outlook or perspective (your terms and books terms) is based on secular ideas. It’s not special-pleading to call it an ‘ideology’; and I’m not using the term pejoratively.

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  72. Richard,
    Good thing I never said they were 🙂

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  73. Richard Christie

    “Richard,
    FYI, the notions a) that secularism is a religion, and b) that secularism has religious qualities are complimentary, not contradictory.

    Dale,
    Since it hasn’t yet dawned on you, they are not the same either.

    Richard,
    Good thing I never said they were

    WTF

    We’ve established that you said secularism is a religion.
    You then attempted to wriggle out of that by saying the definition was “general/inclusive/loose” or whatever you basically decide it means in your head and that you meant that secularism had religious qualities.

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  74. nope – no ‘wriggling out’ of anything I’ve said. I still think it’s perfectly fair (and intelligible, despite humpty-dumpty accusations) to (loosely) call secularism a religion. I said ’em both – meant ’em both, and never pretended they were both the same statement. What, pray-tell is your point?

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  75. Lest I be accused of humpty-dumpty-ism, I’m using the word ‘ideology’ in a loose sense.

    Oh.
    (…awkward silence…)
    Well that clears everything up.
    Not.

    We all know what the word ideology means because of…the dictionary.
    The English dictionary.
    However, we are all still completely in the dark what the phrase “ideology in a loose sense” actually means.
    Behold a classic humpty-dumpty.
    (Fresh from the oven.)

    The secular outlook or perspective (your terms and books terms)…

    No.
    There is no “our terms” versus “your terms” thing happening around here.

    Ken, Richard and myself are using the English language.
    You, however, are not using the English language.

    Those pesky book terms?
    Well they apply to you as well as anybody else.
    You are just creating your own private language that is intelligible only to yourself.

    Communicate in good faith.
    Use English.
    Real English.

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  76. I still think it’s perfectly fair.. call secularism a religion.

    (…clang…)

    …never pretended they were both the same statement.

    (…CLANG!!!…)

    Behold the death of modern English.
    Awful.

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  77. Dale I think you’re conflating the secular/materialist/postmodern mindset (a rather slippery, fuzzy concept) with the political philosophy of secularism, which is the topic of the book in question, and a rather well defined subject (e.g. the First Amendment to the US Constitution)

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  78. Dale, I have just listened to our PM give a secular speech expressing the nation’s grief at the loss of the 29 Pike River miners. I felt he included me in this nation and in this grief. I am thankful for that.

    Yet there are people who insist on reacting in a minority way with prayers and religious comment. These people don’t include me in their messages or grief ( although I fully support their right to speak this way within their own groups of communities where it is acceptable).

    I am grateful that our PM conveyed the thoughts of NZers (which included us all) rather than prayers (which would only include a minority and would exclude many NZers).

    Yet, are you going to point out that our PM is being religious or ideological?

    No. He was doing his job as he should do. He was being secular, inclusive, and I thank him for that.

    I thank him for including me in the country and our national grief.

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  79. Dale, I have just listened to our PM give a secular speech expressing the nation’s grief at the loss of the 29 Pike River miners. I felt he included me in this nation and in this grief. I am thankful for that.

    Yet there are people who insist on reacting in a minority way with prayers and religious comment. These people don’t include me in their messages or grief ( although I fully support their right to speak this way within their own groups of communities where it is acceptable).

    I am grateful that our PM conveyed the thoughts of NZers (which included us all) rather than prayers (which would only include a minority and would exclude many NZers).

    Yet, are you going to point out that our PM is being religious or ideological?

    No. He was doing his job as he should do. He was being secular, inclusive, and I thank him for that.

    I thank him for including me in the country and our national grief.

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  80. Richard Christie

    Well put. I can’t think of a worse single disaster that has affected NZ greater in terms of loss of life since the Air NZ disaster in Antarctica.

    As to Dale

    What, pray-tell is your point?

    The point is that you call secularism a religion. It isn’t. Never has been. Never will be, not until the dictionary definitions of religion or secularism change.

    You maintain the claim.
    In the face of black and white evidence you won’t admit to your error and thus allow the discussion to move on. No one can even start to enter into a discussion on secularism with you while you maintain that it is something that it isn’t.

    In my view to continue this exchange is pointless. The record speaks for itself.

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  81. Indeed, the Pike River mining disaster is of infinitely more importance than this thread.

    Ropata,
    The distinction you make is helpful between the secular mindset (I’m thinking of the book title – the secular outlook), and secular political philosophy. Would not, however, a parallel be fundamentalist mindset (fundamentalist theology) and fundamentalist politics? Religions tend to have political stances.

    Ken,
    Re John Key’s address. Acknowledging praying NZers would have excluded many NZers? How does that work!? Surely the inclusive thing to do would have been to say “hearts, thoughts and prayers”… (not that I took any offense at all to Key’s statement, which I thought was fine)

    But I find the question of what it means to ‘be secular’ interesting. If it’s language we’re talking about (which we apparently have some experts in here), it’s hopelessly metaphorical. Even the most precise, technical & ‘scientific’ language is metaphor at bottom. All we can do is compare this to that.

    In science, we compare physical things to physical things (units of measure are based on visible objects). In our moral/political/social lives, though we use science, our statements reflect non-physical entities, such as ‘heart’, ideas, values, spirit, compassion, purpose, rights, responsibilities, hope, etc.

    The point is not to open a huge can of worms about trying to prove that any of these have actual objective non-physical existence (i.e. Plato’s primary reality – the ‘forms’, etc.), but to note that human living and language is inescapably ‘religious’ in the broadest and most inclusive sense – literally all humans (except, perhaps nihilists or solipsists! “vee veeleev een nahfeeng!” lol).

    Key’s comment about ‘hearts’, ‘this spirit [which] will see us through’, and the shared ‘values and principles’ we have as a nation are – in this sense – the properly basic, and ‘religious’ lives that we as humans live. Far from trying to divide humans, I’m trying to show just how much alike we are. Sure, if someone (wrongly) defines ‘religion’ in terms of ‘belief in a god’, then certainly most secularists (i.e. those who happen to be atheists) aren’t ‘religious’ – but then if that’s the criteria then Buddhism isn’t a religion either; but it is. The problem is that this definition of ‘religion’ is too narrow. It’s convenient – too convenient, I suggest – for those who wish to identify as ‘non-religious’, but in reality we’re all alike.

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  82. Surely the inclusive thing to do would have been to say “hearts, thoughts and prayers”…

    No.
    Muttering prayers not inclusive any more than spraying fresh chicken blood around the house is inclusive.
    Not all people go for magical incantation mumbo-jumbo and rightly resent their glib mention by tax-funded officials in public life.
    Keep your chackras and your whirling and your wailing and your chicken-blood to yourself.
    Save it for your off-duty hours.

    …human living and language is inescapably religious…

    Total bullshit.
    Huh?
    What did you say?
    Oh, you want to add vagueness and ambiguity to that statement to provide some vital wiggle-room?
    Go ahead…

    …human living and language is inescapably ‘religious’ in the broadest and most inclusive sense…

    Yeah, well…
    No idea what the difference is between religous and ‘religious’ is.
    Whacking on the qualifier of it being used in a most broad or inclusive sense is just more meaningless bafflegab.
    Humpty-dumpty.

    These ugly and confused contortions don’t help people understand what you are trying to say.
    They really don’t.
    You’re just coming of as sounding like a first-year undergrad philosophy student who has taken his first bong hit.

    …in this sense – the properly basic, and ‘religious’ lives that we as humans live.

    Once again, a meaningless sentence from you.
    Any neutral reader reading the word ‘religious’ here is rendered helpess.
    The English dictionary is of no use now thanks to your dreaded and decidedly unhelpful scare-quotes.
    This fresh-minted scare-quoted unword you have invented is fully understood only by you.
    We are forced to guess at your meaning.
    (Yet if we try to pin you down, you will wriggle gleefully away.)
    There’s some vague special sense about it all but that contributes precisely nothing useful to comprehension.

    Sure, if someone (wrongly) defines ‘religion’ in terms of ‘belief in a god’…

    You really love scare-quotes, don’t you?

    What exactly is the difference between ‘religion’ and…religion?
    Or ‘belief in a god’ as opposed to plain ol’…belief in a god?

    Speak English or shut up.
    This is a stupid game you are playing and it’s well past it’s expiry date.

    …then certainly most secularists (i.e. those who happen to be atheists) aren’t ‘religious’

    (…awkward silence…)

    Wow.
    So..we as human beings lead ‘religious’ lives….(whatever that means)…but most secularists however aren’t ‘religious’ (whatever that means) and people try to identify themselves as ‘non-religious’ (whatever that mean)…but their doing that just for the sake of convenience (????)…cause in reality…we’re all alike.

    (…more awkward silence…)

    Yep.
    You are officially ripped off your tree.
    Drag out those old Pink Floyd tracks and feel the vibe, man.

    In my view to continue this exchange is pointless. The record speaks for itself.

    Yes. It does.
    This is not the first time Dale has done this.

    The English language is a beautiful thing but it become unrecognisable when people like Dale treat it as a public masturbation tool.

    (…walks off in disgust…)

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  83. Dale, how do you get to the conclusion that most secularists are atheists? I doubt that is anywhere near the truth. Secularism is not the same as atheism. Most NZers are probably secularists in attitude and practice, if not via declaration. But only a small fraction probably declare as atheist. (It would be wrong to equate the 34% declaring “non-religious” as atheist).

    I agree religion is not necessarily defined by belief in gods – more the supernatural. That is how our tax laws define it. Many Buddhists do not believe in gods, but their description of the world is certainly supernatural (and who would give that up and give away a government subsidy).

    My experience with local Buddhists is that they do easily succumb to a form of theism. I guess that is natural if you accept supernatural thinking. A minimally non-intuitive supernatural agent would seem a natural thing. And I strongly believe there is a huge gap between the religious thinking and behavior of lay people and the dogma/doctrine of theologians, priests and monks.

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  84. Ken,
    a) I was wrong (yep, I can say it) to indicate that ‘most’ secular people would be atheists. In my mind I was thinking of the fewer number who would not only associate with secularism in the popular cultural sense, but self-identify as a secular person. But at any rate, ‘most’ was wrong of me.
    b) Some Buddhists would not use the concept of the supernatural even. From numerous amicable discussions with a local Auckland Zen teacher who has a seemingly non-supernatural (though of course ‘spiritual’) understanding, I’m aware there are many different approaches. Loosely speaking, Buddhism is centrally a wisdom-tradition, and can ‘fit’ within many different worldviews.

    I noticed you didn’t comment on Key’s use of words like ‘spirit’, or answer my question on how his inclusion of terms relating to all NZers (thoughts and prayers) could leave any excluded?

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  85. Buddhism as an ancient tradition is inevitably tied up with supernatural understanding. Even something like meditation is described in a supernaturalist way. However, they do seem to be far more accepting of modern scientific understanding, even to the extent that some will advocate giving up a Buddhist teaching if found to conflict with science. And of course modern neuroscience is finding a lot of value in Buddhist psychology, despite it’s supernatural veneer.

    I have no problem with the words spirit and spiritual – as long as they aren’t narrowly interpreted in a supernatural or religious way. (But, yes, I did receive a criticism for the use if “spiritual” in my article on religious diversity in NZ. Just a problem with a narrow interpretation)z

    No, Key’s addition of prayer as an extra would not offend. But in isolation it would. I see thoughts as including prayers for some people. (The sort of thing you do when you can’t do something useful.)

    I get offended by the messages which refer only to prayers – in the same way as when I have a prayer imposed on me. That us not secular – it us exclusive and rude.

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  86. Ken,
    cheers. Indeed, various people would have various reactions to words like ‘spirit’ or spiritual’. At bottom, however, the term – you surely must admit – is inescapably supernatural. Nobody needs my permission or approval to use the terms, but for what it’s worth I think it’s interesting for people who don’t believe that any s(S)pirit(s) actually exist to use the term. I think the popularity of the term reflects current cultural tendencies (i.e. the cliche: “Me? oh, I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual…”).

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  87. No admission, Dale. Not inescapable, at all.

    Sure some people use it in reference to supernatural, and some dictionary definitions include this.

    1: Of soul “relating to the soul or spirit, usually in contrast to material things”
    2: Of religion “relating to religious or sacred things rather than worldly things”

    However, I clearly use it differently – more consistent with the dictionary definitions:

    3: Temperamentally or intellectually akin “connected by an affinity of the mind, spirit, or temperament”
    and
    4: Refined “showing great refinement and concern with the higher things in life.”

    And I have, too often, had theists lecture me that 3 and 4 are impossible without their gods – a load of arrogant crap. Also implies that I cannot appreciate art, philosophy or deeper thought without a god belief.

    I have had atheists lecture me that using the word implies 1 and 2. That is obviously a problem, but I usually point out that I am not using the words that way.

    In the end should I fight to retain the wider meaning of such words or succumb and allow supernaturalists to snatch another word away for my use?

    I usually go with the dictionary.

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  88. You certainly don’t need my permission to use the word of yourself. Knock yourself out. 🙂 I do think your knee is jerking when you say ‘load of arrogant crap’, though. It’s a perfectly solid problem, that both theists/atheist point it out is indicative. But again, you don’t need my permission or approval to use the word – even if the contradiction is plain to others.

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  89. I don’t know what gave you the impression I was asking for permission. As I said, I use a dictionary as the authority in cases like this.

    My so called “knee jerk” is simply a response to the arrogant crap of people making assertions about my morality, science and artistic/intellectual/emotional appreciations which are, in effect, derogatory. I certainly don’t need god beliefs for any of these things – no-one does.

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  90. I certainly didn’t have the impression that you were seeking my permission. T’was my point.

    And yes, human mouths/fingers are able to utter/type all kinds of words regardless of the presence or absence of this or that belief. Beliefs aren’t ‘needed’ in that sense. But it remains a basic and expected question why (other than being moulded by one’s culture) anyone who disbelieves in spirits would ever use the term ‘spiritual’ of themselves – esp. when their practices, feelings and/or emotions can be described with less obviously supernatural sounding words.

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  91. I guess because anthropologically the origins of supernatural beliefs and things like bush spirits has been related to the mind, thought, dreams, etc. Consequently the word now gets used to describe higher aspects of thought and emotion. Culture, art, feelings of awe. Even though we longer have that understanding and can see a non-supernatural basis for mental processes.

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  92. perhaps a few do, but the vast majority use/connotation is supernatural.

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  93. We move in different circles, Dale.

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