If not secularism, then what?

Brian Britt delivered an enlightening talk at our meeting three weeks ago on, among other threads, the evolving interpretations of holy texts and the clash between dominant religious communities and institutional secularism that has become a mainstay of the Enlightenment.* Following a question from Zack at the Leopard discussion afterward, i’ve been wrestling with my own embrace and promotion of secular values—a core element of this club.

Here’s the dilemma Dr. Britt posed: In the hundreds of years since its inception, the secular agenda has failed to realize the hopes of its founders. Now, it may have been too much to hope for an end to religious strife or guidelines for the founding of happiness-maximizing societies. But to get the point across it’s enough to reflect on just how successfully the largest nation to codify secularism—the United States**—has overcome the religious intolerance that has defined it since inception. This failure, Dr. Britt argues, has ushered modernity into a post-secular phase.

This isn’t to say that secularism has been anything but an immense net good for modern societies. But it does seem to say that secularism will not be the final word on interfaith coexistence. Dr. Britt characterizes post-secularism by a defining problem: Religious strife and discrimination—which include the marginalization of the irreligious—require a solution. If not secularism, then what?

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Freethought Nation

Founding Fathers (Michael Allen Smith)

In the months leading up to the start of Fall semester, the Roanoke Times opinion pages hosted an illuminating exchange over the cultural dispositions and motivations of the Founders and the role of prayer in U.S. government. Bob Crawford began the discussion with a review and rebuttal of some of the most common arguments made in support of (by definition state-sanctioned) official prayer at government meetings, including an argument from tradition or precedent, an argument from founding principles, and an argument from neutrality or inclusivity (that is, the case for open-access prayer, which is currently sanctioned by the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, as opposed to non-sectarian prayer, which the similarly-situated Forsyth County, NC, to which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a sternly worded end). Crawford concludes,

It is time we all understand that it is only by prohibiting our government from prescribing or supporting any religious position that our Constitution secures our freedom to hold our own religious views.

Comment on Crawford’s editorial here.

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