Modern Secularism: Faith and Unfaith in the Modern Age

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However, it is rather common for the word to be misinterpreted by those who commonly use it. Secularism is generally understood as an anti-religious edict; it is seen as a philosophy that opposes religious dogma and gives birth to a world devoid of religious values. On an individual level, it guides one to understand life through truth and experience rather than religious explanations. Secularism has taken over Western society more evidently than in the East, where theocratic rule is still alive. Even though the West does consider itself a secular entity, there is not a rise in atheism against predominant Christian values.

The figures for a similar census in the USA showed parallel results Smith, This gives rise to the question of what exactly secularism does achieve, if not a non-spiritual society.

Modern Secularism Faith And Unfaith In The Modern Age English Edition - hymorecchicknut.ml

The answer lies in the analysis of the changing role of religion in a secular society. For secular society, religion is cut off from politics and confined to the homes and private lives of individuals. It does not altogether remove religion from society, but curbs its manifestations in state policies and rule. In the mid-nineteenth century, secularism was first used as a term by British writer George Holyoake. His concept of secularism evolved from a battle against English blasphemy laws.


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He claimed that under free thought, one could arrive at conclusions that could either coincide with those of the Bible or rival them. Secularism thus grew as an ideology where much of Europe and the West withdrew from religious rule and the Christian imposition of values and thought.

Even though secularism is often a Western phenomenon, it has taken root in India and Turkey as countries belonging to the Orient. India opted for secularist policies to eliminate the threat of religious fundamentalism including separatist movements and religious violence.

The main question addressed in this paper is, does secularism really prevent the rise of religious extremism? To determine whether secularism does indeed prevent extremism, one must first understand what extremism is and how it originates within society. Thus, extremism did not originate from a strictly religious drive but rather a human dysfunction that in recent times is linked to extreme measures in the name of faith.

"Faith, Secularism, and Humanitarian Engagement," with Alastair Ager and George Rupp

Extremism in the light of religion has always been around. From the Crusades, Jewish zealots and Islamic jihadists, extremism has taken root in every religion and is used by a few to exploit personal causes through violent means. History has shown it again and again. However, even religious extremism does not always imply a violent approach to the outside world.

Religious extremism can be broken down into three dimensions Liebman, , p. First, it deals with the expansion of religious laws, which form the basis of any religion.

The Harm Principle

Taking the case of Islam, religious law or the Shariah is to be followed by all Muslims; however, it is not followed strictly and to the letter. Thus, religious terrorism in an Islamic struggle could be to enforce and expand the rule of Shariah law to all Muslim societies. An extremist encourages people to revert back to the Islamic law, for everything outside of it is considered sin. Extremism in accordance with the spread of religious law can explain the various sects of terrorist groups or programs that are operational. Each group or individual has their own understanding of law they wish to enforce.

This allows for the rise of several differing extremist ideologies in law itself.


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The second dimension deals with the isolation from a society that rejects extremist norms; most extremist groups are formed in seclusion from society at large. Since present-day society is so multicultural, it is more difficult to govern under a single religious ideology. Hence, religious extremists work amongst like-minded people to expand their program and conduct operations.

In seclusion, extremist groups do not have to seek legitimacy for their existence. Also, seclusion tends to reinforce their hatred and hostility towards the society they wish to purge of sin. Extremists tend to become sects in the long run, as they isolate themselves and indoctrinate themselves, forming a distinct and specific culture. In modern-day terminology, they can also be referred to as cults. Christianity offers an insight into social isolation in the basis of monasteries in orthodox Christian sects. Monks, for example, build monasteries in isolated areas and are cut off from the world and society around them.

Some monks, called hermits, live completely alone; however, most monasteries house many monks and are governed by their own rules and regulations. The third and last dimension deals with cultural rejection. Cultural rejection refers to the denunciation of cultures that are not indigenous to the religion. Strict extremist sects usually follow this path, as it restricts them from the media and various other modern-day items. The greatest example of cultural rejection is seen in the Amish culture where technology, media and any modern advancements are shunned as irreligious and unfaithful to their religious teachings and culture.

In order for extremist groups to retain their original culture, they cut off channels of cultural exchanges.

Religious Experience and the Modern Self

Meeting new people in academic institutions is an example of this; education is devised within the group to avoid a flow of differing cultural views. Similarly, media, the internet and various other global communication channels are avoided which allows the society to live within the confines of their own culture while openly rejecting and usually condemning those other their own. It is perceived as a violent struggle of an ideology against the moderate masses. The link between religious extremism and terrorism is one that is commonly referred to.

Many religious theological groups sanction violence in the name of God to attain their aims for a proliferation of their own religious doctrine. Since a country cannot be completely purged of religion due to multicultural societies, a more secularist country policy focuses on the ban of religious symbols and practices that are not in accordance with the general majority of people, as norms and values in a country are set according to leadership and the majority of the population.

In the past few years, the rise of Islamophobia in the Western countries has caused a change in country policy that included the banning of certain religious symbols in Islam. In July , a Norwegian massacre claimed 77 lives including those of many children as an outcry against Muslim immigrants in the country and growing xenophobia Bangstad, In Western countries such as France and Switzerland, there is a sizeable Muslim population. Muslims, though still a minority, have been integrated in various aspects of social life.

Since Islam is commonly referred to as the fastest growing religion, many Westerners fear the rise of Islam in their own society as an inevitable future unless Muslims are deported or their religion is contained.

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Many Muslims living in these countries are born in the region though their parents or perhaps grand-parents were migrants, so deporting them is not possible under stricter human rights laws; the immediate solution is containment. There are many countries that have acted on growing Islamophobia, containing Islam by banning its symbols.

France has seen a growing trend in Islamophobia that is both alarming and worrisome. However, France also faces extremism that has launched the society into a moral panic, and in return has French society fearing a Muslim attack by these extremists. France does have a base for Muslim extremists, most of whom are found in prisons.

Since France is fiercely secular, the governmental tolerance towards religious extremism is very low; and what is worse is that civilian tolerance towards Muslims is then not only motivated by fear, but also by nationalism. In , the French Interior Ministry deported five Muslims, one of which one was a radical militarist involved in Algerian wars, and another an extremist Imam who preached against the West and the Jews Global Post , In April , the French levied the veil ban.

This forbids the niqab, which is used by Muslim women to cover the entire face, leaving only the eyes in view. Though it sparked protests by the entire Muslim community, the ban was popular amongst the French civilians. Erlanger, Since France is highly secular, it does not conduct religious based surveys, so it is highly impossible to state whether the secularist ban has led to any changes in extremist tendencies. In Switzerland, another secular and rather neutral country and one that has not joined the United Nations also fears a growth in Muslim extremism. According to Swiss authorities, Switzerland is being used as a base for Islamic jihadists to coordinate extremism all over Europe via the internet.

The extremists in Switzerland encourage and support acts of terror and violence and instigate others to commit them. Swiss authorities have observed ten trips to jihadist camps by Islamists residing in Switzerland Kern, In the wave of Islamophobia spreading across Europe, Switzerland banned the construction of minarets in an effort to reinstate the word of secularism in the country. In a national referendum, Swiss voters put forth the ban proposal. The ban campaign was led by a poster with minarets shaped as missiles, clearly showcasing the militant side of Islam. Many other European nations have encouraged a secularist crackdown against Muslim extremism due to a rise in Muslim militancy in the European region.

This militancy is no longer a terror attack by a large terrorist group, but instead the formation of smaller groups that wish to see Europe implementing Shariah law and converging to a more Muslim empire. Shariah4Holland and Shariah4Belgium are too groups that are campaigning for the implementation of Shariah law in Western states. The Muslims will [confront] this cancer of man-made laws called democracy and eradicate it.

Destroy it root and branch, as far as Islam allows us, or Islam orders us to. Shariah is by far the only solution, it is the only rival left to topple democracy. Europe has seen its fair share of Islamic extremist attacks as well. The Madrid bombings, which killed people, were carried out by a Moroccan group closely associated with Al-Qaeda. The London bombings that killed 52 people were carried out by British-born terrorists; however, three out of the four terrorists had recently travelled to Pakistan, which homes many Jihadist training camps.

The December car explosion in Stockholm, which killed none but injured two people, was carried out by a Swede of Iraqi descent. A March firing at a bus by a Kosovo resident in Frankfurt injured many and killed two people. The murder of film director Van Gogh was motivated by extremists who were against his work on violence against Muslim women by Muslim men in Europe Congressional Research Service, Secularist policies in Europe have not made much progress against Muslim terrorism within the state, largely because not all terrorism is motivated by religious fundamentalism.

This act of interpretation keeps faith with pre-existing values and provides a necessary starting point for subsequent discussion and debate from a variety of perspectives. It also allows ideas to be challenged and discussed in a rational environment that need not fear treading on faith-based moral views.

In such a way, secular discourse opens a channel that facilitates the discovery of shared human values. It is astonishing that a careful reader of Smith such as Neudorf could express so much personal trust, even eschatological hope, in secular discourse:. While people can disagree as to what human dignity means and how it is best achieved, such debate is encouraged by secular discourse as the means to further refinement of views and, ultimately, the best possible interpretation.

Neudorf seems to adopt the common notion that the best way to evaluate an idea in a democratic society is to give it some air. Bad values will, he trusts, be winnowed away; they will evaporate in the sun eternally shining on the public square. But without a value system that exists prior to and above the winnowing and evaporating, how can we know when we have chaff instead of wheat kernels? Surely we cannot say that everything the majority votes for is good.

Neudorf does make one more telling criticism of Smith: he notes that the concluding diagnosis of the book, the opening of the bars—openness—is just another neutral and empty principle.

The City of Mensch

But it is difficult for me to see how keeping the bars closed and sticking with secular empty principles is any better. It just privileges people with the system of values Neudorf likes. In the end, the most substantive point Neudorf can make is the empirical one: encouraging people in the public square to advertise their values has historically brought bloody conflict. The jury is still out as to whether political systems completely unmoored from religion are truly the best hope for avoiding conflict in North America their record in other nations—Russia, China—is not quite so positive.