Berlinerblau (and Hoffmann): Secularism is not Atheism or Irreligion

There have been no posts this week, as I am taking a break while I finish up finals-related things. I expect to be back to posting by the end of this next week.

In the meantime, I thought it would be worthwhile to share a recent re-post of a 2012 article from R. Joseph Hoffmann’s site inspired by a then-recent 2012 Huffpost article by Jacques Berlinerblau, who wrote a book on secularism. In the video Berlinerblau made and attached to his Huffpost article, he says briefly:

Secularism is a political idea about Church and State relations. It is not a metaphysical idea about the existence or non-existence of God.

The book on secularism spells this political element out more fully (or so goes the video he made for the page, which cites from his book):

Secularism is a political philosophy which, at its core, is preoccupied with, and even deeply suspicious of, any and all relations between government and religion.

As secularism is about the separation of Church and State, it follows that

not all atheists are secularists. Some atheists want the Church to disappear.

Such as many –if not most– in the “New Atheist” movement.

Berlinerblau goes on to clarify that “many secularists are not atheists.” Indeed, as he noted, one of the nation’s most pronounced secular advocacy groups, Americans United For Separation of Church and State, is run by an ordained UCC minister, Barry W. Flynn (who made a brief appearance during a recent episode of NPR). Berlinerblau, to his credit, says in the video that the theory of the secular has roots in Christian theological reflection, and mentions Augustine of Hippo, whose take on the saeculum we have covered previously. Secularism is not anti-theism, but pro-conscience, and pro-get-government-out-of-religion and pro-make-everyone-equal-in-the-eyes-of-the-state, whether believers or non-believers. This is because secularism

is a proponent of religious freedom and freedom from religion. It sees the “Church” as a legitimate component of the American polity. It doesn’t view religion as “poison” (to quote Christopher Hitchens) or hope for an “end of faith.” As noted earlier, secularism has no dog in that fight.

Freedom to worship, freedom of conscience, and the removal of religious groups from wielding political power are all part of what Berlinerblau calls “secularism”. Religious groups are free to participate in public life, and to have a presence there, even if they are not given political power, or any kind of preference.

Recently, Atheists have inappropriately bought into equating their own position with both “Humanism” and “Secularism” (if my reading of these two articles is correct, and granted that they are accurate, then it appears that Protestant culture warriors were responsible for fusing the cluster of terms together –secularism, humanism, atheism &c. with little conceptual clarity and a lot of negative emotional charge). Hoffman cheekily states that Atheists bought into this mal-formed fusion (atheism-secularism-humanism), and accepted it as their proprietary label, because they were

in search of an upmarket brand name.

This false equivalency of atheism and secularism has succeeded in controlling discourse, so that now, many will shudder with revulsion at the phrase, “Secular Humanism”.

Hoffmann notes that,

on the pretext that words and definitions matter, neither secularism nor humanism are explicitly irreligious, anti-religion, or atheistic.

This is bad for secularism, and, on Berlinerblau’s definition of secularism, it is also bad for the churches, and for religious, non-religious and anti-religious minorities everywhere.

I would say that secularism is more than this restricted political arrangement, but these two authors are correct: it is not atheism.

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