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The Campaign Against Secularism

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Thanks to the LGM crew for inviting me to guest blog, it’s a privilege. I’ll do my best to uphold their standards of propriety and civilized discourse while they’re in Las Vegas attending to professional responsibilities, and where right about now Rob is probably just waking up and realizing, through the curtains of a wicked bourbon hangover, that that chick is a fucking dude.

I myself had similar feelings of stunned, blinking confusion this morning when I realized that I had, once again, wasted several precious minutes of my life reading Charles Krauthammer, and, having squandered those moments, moments which could have been better spent staring blankly at a wall, chewing broken glass, or teaching the animals to sing, that I furthermore was going to waste even more by responding to him. Oh, the humanity.

Here The Dry One demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the concept of secularism.

The Op-Ed pages are filled with jeremiads about believers–principally evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics–bent on turning the U.S. into a theocracy. Now I am not much of a believer, but there is something deeply wrong–indeed, deeply un-American–about fearing people simply because they believe. It seems perfectly O.K. for secularists to impose their secular views on America, such as, say, legalized abortion or gay marriage. But when someone takes the contrary view, all of a sudden he is trying to impose his view on you. And if that contrary view happens to be rooted in Scripture or some kind of religious belief system, the very public advocacy of that view becomes a violation of the U.S. constitutional order.

What nonsense. The campaign against certainty is merely the philosophical veneer for an attempt to politically marginalize and intellectually disenfranchise believers. Instead of arguing the merits of any issue, secularists are trying to win the argument by default on the grounds that the other side displays unhealthy certainty or, even worse, unseemly religiosity.

Secularism, simply put, is the idea that the affairs of religion and of government should be kept separate, and that government should show no preference between faiths, or between believers and non-believers. Krauthammer’s suggestion that believers and secularists are natural adversaries is flat out wrong. Many believers ae secularists, indeed the principle of secularism itself grew out of the bad experiences of European sectarian conflict and the persecution of minority religions by state churches. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to name but three, were all avowed secularists.

By Krauthammer’s definition, anyone who supports any legislation is attempting to “impose” their views on the rest of the population. Fine, I’ll grant that, simplistic as it is. The conflict between religious conservatives and secularists, however, is not that secularists deny the right of believers to advocate for religion-based laws, but that secularists are impolite enough to insist that religious conservatives actually offer something a bit more concrete than “because the Bible tells me so” as support for those laws. Anyone who has spent much time at all reading this blog is aware that Scott has created an impressive body of argument in support of a woman’s right to an abortion. I don’t think any liberal or secularist would deny the right of a religious conservative to publicly advocate an anti-choice view, regardless of how that view was arrived at, whether through a burning bush, a James Dobson tract, or from the mouth of a magical dolphin. But when it came time to create or change an abortion law, they would have to meet facts with facts and defend their anti-choice view with a rational argument. The assertion that “God doesn’t like abortion” just doesn’t cut it.

As for the “campaign against certainty” supposedly being waged by “liberal secularists,” Krauthammer can go take a bath. I’m certain of my beliefs, but the difference between me and a religious conservative is that I’m neither afraid to subject my beliefs to rational interrogation, nor stubborn enough to cling to them when they are proved wrong. Two hundred years ago, religious conservatives were “certain” that slavery was all right by God. One hundred years ago, religious conservatives were “certain” that women shouldn’t vote. Fifty years ago, religious conservatives were “certain” that blacks and whites shouldn’t intermarry. They were proved wrong on every count, and their supposed certainty is revealed as ignorance. But they still have their defenders.

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