There have been many views about the philosophy of secularism. Secular is often defined as meaning “not specifically religious,” but this definition is not complete in understanding secularism as a philosophy. In this article, the term, the most common definitions, and the historic model of secularism, together with the various views on this subject, and some quotations and a few poems about secularism will be briefly introduced and studied.
The Term: The term “secularism” is a derivative of secular. The word ‘secular’ is derived from the Latin word “Saeculum” meaning “present age” or “this world”. It was first used in 1648 in the treaty of Westphalia at the end of religious wars in the west. At that time it denoted “the removal of territory or property from the control of ecclesiastical authorities”. George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906) was the main exponent of this doctrine and in 1851 he defined it as “well being of mankind in the present life to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God and a future state” (SikhWiki, 2012). According to Professor Edward Jayne, Secularism may be also described as “Freethought” (Jayne, 2004).
Most Common Definitions: Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines Secularism as “the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country”. Oxford Dictionaries Online refers to Secularism as a derivative of Secular, for which it gives the meaning of “not connected with religious or spiritual matters”. Webster Dictionary describes Secularism as the “Belief that religious influences should be restricted, and in particular that education, morality, the state, etc. should be independent of religion”. According to the Free Encyclopedia of Wikipedia, the “Secularism is the principle of separation between government institutions and the persons mandated to represent the State from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. In one sense, secularism may assert the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief”. In Persian, Secularism may be translated as Donyaviyyat, Donya Graaii, Jodaaii-e Deen Az Dowlat, Aazaad Fekri, etc.
The Historic Model of Secularism: This is the historic model of Secularism as suggested by Professor Edward Jayne: The model begins with the achievement of ancient Greece, whose impact lasted perhaps eight hundred years, followed by a thousand-year reaction utterly dominated by Christian sacerdocracy. Then came the Italian Renaissance followed by almost a hundred fifty years of turmoil now identified as the Reformation, and then the French Enlightenment followed by just a few decades of conservative adjustment inspired by Metternichean diplomacy buttressed by German metaphysics. Freethought came alive once again in the late nineteenth century inspired by Darwinism, and today there seems to be a compromise between a large majority of believers and a small intellectually advanced coterie of freethinkers ignore each other as well as possible (Jayne, 2004).
Various Views on Secularism 1. According to T.N. Madan (1999) the modern ideology of secularism emerged in the late Middle Ages as a result of the conflict between religious faith and human reason. While serious scholars did not reject religion completely, they sought to bind it within the “limits of reason.” It was also cast as a call for and a cause of “human emancipation.” Madan thus believes that secularism can be defined positively as “a reasonable theory about human agency” rather than just as an “anti-religious ideology.” The Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther led to the privatization of religion. What is meant by this is that the individual no longer needed the Church to be his agent for salvation. So, what was a matter of faith, i.e., the individual should be responsible for his/her salvation led to the secular notion of the “perfectability of humankind.” This individual responsibility and indeed challenge to seek God did not mean it should result in a “non-religious” less so an “anti-religious” nation/state or body politic. Madan thus says, “Luther and Calvin helped to usher in a modern, secularized age that they themselves would hardly approve of” (Ramesh N. Rao, 1999).
2. Christian apologists argue that “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution, and Jefferson proposed it to keep government out of the church (not the church out of government). Thus, apologists may argue that the vision of secularism is propaganda.
Apologists may argue the term secularism was an idea of the Bible, when coined by a Christian St. Augustine of Hippo, and the separation church and state also has biblical origins when God would not allow kings to become priests to corrupt the people through the church (although the priests could influence the king). Therefore, secularism was an idea born of the Bible not the Enlightenment. Some apologists go as far as believing that present day secularism between church and state has become a form of totalitarianism, which may will lead to eugenics. This leads apologists to argue that the only way to save secularism is the Church, since they are the ones who came up with it, because once we lose the Christian values and traditions will lead to a world far worse than anything Hitler could have ever conjured (Wiki, 2012).
3. Counter-Apologetics: While it is true that the Constitution does not specifically say “separation of church and state” nor does it say any of the following: God, Jesus, Christ, Bible, Christianity, Trinity, Paul, disciples, etc. Apologists may point to that the Constitution was dated with the words “in the year of our Lord” but the tables can easily be turned by pointing out that the Constitution says Thursday, which is the date of worship for Thor, the god of thunder.
Apologists who make this argument are very unlikely, and perhaps unwilling, to look at history beyond their holy book. This is because they base history and their view of the world through the Bible as an accurate calender and historical text. Ignoring that the Bible was wrong about many historical events (such as Jericho, the consensus, Nazareth, etc) looking further back we can see that secularism did not start with the Bible. Tasmanians, Aetas and Negritos of the Philippines, Yaghans of Tierra del Fuego, the Veddahs of Ceylon, and African Bushmen all lived in secular societies before religion was introduced.
Many eastern societies lived under secular philosophies for centuries before Jesus was born (Wiki, 2012).
4 Secularism and, more comprehensively, modernity itself have sometimes been depicted as the consequence of apostasy from the Christian faith. That was the view of, for instance, the great Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth. According to Barth, modern culture has been a revolt against the Christian faith aimed at putting the human being in the place of God. There is much to be said for that interpretation, for the human reality has indeed become basic in modern culture in a manner comparable to the religious foundation of earlier cultures. The concern for human rights is but one aspect, although the politically most important aspect, of modernity’s preoccupation with man. Thus it came about that the human individual was seen as the highest value and criterion of good (W. Pannenberg, 1996).
5. Secularism in the Muslim countries refers to the ideology of promoting the secular as opposed to the religion. It is often used to describe the separation of civil/government matters from religious theocracy. Secularism is often condemned by Muslims who do not feel that religious values should be removed from the public sphere, though Muslim theologians have long distinguished between matters of deen, religion, and dawlat the state (Oxford Islamic Studies Online, 2012).
6. The phrase Novus ordo seclorum (Latin for “New Order of the Ages”) appears on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, first designed in 1782 and printed on the back of the United States one-dollar bill since 1935. The phrase also appears on the coat of arms of the Yale School of Management, Yale University’s business school. The phrase is also translated as “New World Order” by many people who believe in conspircacy theories; however, it does directly translate to “New Order of the Ages” (Wiki, 2012).
7. Plato’s Thoughts on Religion : In the republic, Plato advocates censoring “any story,” such as told “by Hesiod and Homer and the other poets,” which “gives a bad image of the nature of the gods,” portraying them as petty, devious, or “warring and plotting and fighting against each other.” The Gods, in Plato’s eyes, should only be represented as good, and pious, because it is the nature of divinity to be good.
Plato tells us what how he thinks the universe was created, but he warns us that his story is just a tale, because we being mortals could never understand. He says that the creator, created the universe from his likeness, out of the preexisting chaos (this is different from the Christian view that God created the universe out of void
Some Quotations about Secularism: “welfare, health, communications, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not your or my religion. That is everybody’s personal concern”: Mahatma Gandhi
“My people are going to learn the principles of democracy the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow men”: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
“Some people believe the alternative to bad religion is secularism, but that’s wrong. The answer to bad religion is better religion: prophetic rather than partisan, broad and deep instead of narrow, and based on values as opposed to ideology”: Jim Wallis
“But the West is trying to weaken Islam from outside and inside. They attack our people and invade our countries from outside, and they weaken us from within with ideas like secularism, liberalism and democracy. This is all designed to contaminate our pure Islam”: Abu Bakar Bashir
“I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution”: Francis Schaeffer
“It seems true that the growth of science and secularism made organized Christianity feel under threat”: Mary Douglas
“To imply that religious believers have no right to engage moral questions in the public square or at the ballot is simply to establish a Reichian secularism as our state faith”: Maggie Gallagher
“Unhappy, let alone angry, religious people provide more persuasive arguments for atheism and secularism than do all the arguments of atheists”: Dennis Prager
“Unity and secularism will be the motto of the government. We can’t afford divisive polity in India”: Manmohan Singh
“Those who use religion for their own benefit are detestable. We are against such a situation and will not allow it. Those who use religion in such a manner have fooled our people; it is against just such people that we have fought and will continue to fight”: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
“In a secularising world, art has replaced religion as a touchstone of our reverence and devotion”: Alain de Botton
Listen to more quotations about Secularism: A Short Film by David M. Beadle
Poems about Secularism
What love is and what is hate
What is destiny and what is fate
Think not of such ethereal things
Be carefree and carry on the binge
Of thy heart not of your mind
Live a life of special; kind
If you ponder over your fate
Abhorrence for highs it will create
About your destiny if you think
Animosity for usurpers it will link
Arms and ammunitions of thy emotions
Waste not on the futile notions?
Look around you and find love
Live a happy life like that of a dove : Akram Saqib
First dentistry was painless,
Then bicycles where chainless
And carriages where horseless,
And many laws in-forceless.
Next cookery was fie-less,
Telegraphy was why-less,
Cigars was nicotine-less
And coffee caffeine-less
Soon Oranges where seedless
The Putting Green was weed-less
The college boy was hat-less
The proper diet fat-less
New motor roads are dust-less
The latest steel is rust-less
Our tennis courts are sod-less
Our new Religion is God-less : Unknown Poet
Epilogues 1. It should be noted that quoting various views, remarks, and poems about Secularism, does not necessarily mean that this author agrees with all of them.
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Brainy Quote Website (2012): Online Quotations about Secularism
Cambridge Dictionaries Online (2012): Online Note on the Definition of Secularism
Good Reads Website (2012): Online Quotes About Secularism
Jayne, E. (2004): Online Article on A brief History of Secularism
Madan. T. N. (1999): “Secularism in its place”: Journal of Asian Studies
Oxford Dictionary (2012): Online Note on the Definition of Secular
Oxford Islamic Studies Online (2012): Online Note on “Islam and Secularism”
Pannenberg, W. (1996): Online Article on How to Think About Secularism
Rao, R. N. (1999): Online Article on Secularism and Its Discontents
Saadat Noury, M. (2012): Online Poems as related to Secularism
SikhWiki Website (2012): Online Article on Secularism
Saqib, A. (2012): Online Poem on Secularism
Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary (2003): Note on the Definition of Secularism
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2012): Online Articles on Secularism, Christianity invented secularism, and Novus ordo seclorum
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