Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Religion of Secularism

In a recent debate I've been having with an atheist, we have sparred several rounds on the nature of morality and the definitions of words like secular, sacred, and religion.

This was my last post in that debate.

"You have made secularism – the very absence of religion – out to be a religion itself."
Look. Any clear thinking person can easily see that the lines are extremely blurred when you start talking about morality, philosophy, and religion. Take the concepts of justice and righteousness for example. Are these religious concepts? Certainly. Are they philosohical concepts? Absolutely. Are these moral concepts? Of course. Does science have anthing to say about justice? Not really. Science might cause us to observe that some species appear to practice some forms of altruism, but it says nothing about the inherent "goodness" or "righteousness" or "justice" of altruism. Questions of morality are not answered by science, but by theology and philosophy.

"Science is most certainly worthy of respect, but most importantly, science is worthy of veneration."

I happen to agree with that. But I would point out that you have reached such a conclusion because you have presupposed the exact same thing. The presupposition has nothing to do with science. You can't prove the presupposition via the scientific method. You merely presuppose the truth (in this case) and then assert it.

In point of fact, you also presuppose the rules of logic before you use the rules of logic.
I would also argue that very often, the multiple related definitions of the same word can often be triangulated in a sense. By defining a word several different ways, you get a good sense of how the words are used in society. It is worth noting that the word sacred doesn't have multiple entirely different definitions (like the word "right" does), but multiple related definitions.

In other words, the dictionary people were smart when they decided to make a distinction between words with multiple entirely different definitions and words with various related definitions. There is all kinds of gray area here, and plenty of room for debate.
While we are defining words, why don't we go back to the word religion.
My personal definition of religion is "a set of beliefs, doctrines, creeds, and values that command a certain measure of allegiance and respect." Given that definition, secularism is most certainly a religion. But several people don't particularly care about my definition of religion. While I contend that my defition is a good one, I understand that people don't want me to redefine the English language. Fair enough.

So, let's see what dictionary.com says.

re‧li‧gion –noun 1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. 2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion. 3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions. 4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion. 5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith. 6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice. 7. religions, Archaic. religious rites. 8. Archaic. strict faithfulness; devotion: a religion to one's vow. —Idiom9. get religion, Informal. a. to acquire a deep conviction of the validity of religious beliefs and practices. b. to resolve to mend one's errant ways: The company got religion and stopped making dangerous products. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[Origin: 1150–1200; ME religioun (< OF religion) < L religiōn- (s. of religiō) conscientiousness, piety, equiv. to relig(āre) to tie, fasten (re- re- + ligāre to bind, tie; cf. ligament) + -iōn- -ion; cf. rely]

Now, is secularism a religion?

Look again at definition 1. Secularism certainly has ideas about the cause and nature of the universe (some accurate, some inaccurate), and many secular philosophers have ideas about the purpose of the universe. Furthermore, secularists rely on these secular ideas in order to determine a moral code that ought to be used to govern people. It is worth noting that a belief in superhuman agencies is not required - according to this definition of religion - in order for the belief system to qualify as a religion.

So, my definition of religion aside, if we accept the first definition of dictionary.com, then it is clear that secularism is a religion - one that is no doubt full of absurdities and contradictions.
And so, according to definition 1, the government certainly is sponsoring religion.

A similar analysis of definition 2 leads to the same conclusion.

Clearly, according to defintion 6, secularism is a religion.

If we look at definition 8, then it is reasonable to say that people are religiously devoted to the religious ideas of the Constitution and the 1st Amendment.

Depending on how you define "faith," secularism may or may not be a religion according to definition 5.

Definition 7 - Depending on how you define "rites" secularism may or may not be considered a religion. I can see how things like being promoted to the next grade in school is kinda like going through a "rite" as is graduating high school, graduating college, getting married (legally), receiving certain awards on the job, retiring, dying and being given a funeral. Secularism certainly seems to have its gammit of rites. So, once again, we see the religious nature of secularism.

And when we triangulate all of these related definitions together and observe the nature of secularism, it would appear that secularism qualifies as a religion.

Have a good day.

2 Comments:

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