The Secular Experiment

iBrian

Peace, Love and Unity
Veteran Member
Messages
6,542
Reaction score
30
Points
48
Location
Scotland
Has the Secular Experiment of the past few years justified itself?

Meaning: has secularism really delivered a more ethical society than under religious doctrines?

Or has it merely replaced a set of potentially misguided attitudes for another set?

Let's take the epitome of secularism - the United States of America.

It remains a country that places more emphasis on individual freedoms and rights than any other - but does this really deliver an ethical society?

Is consumerism and the influence of the dollar really an ethical alternative to any determining set of controls from any religious system?

Is the issue of ethics even irrelevant when making a comparison between the aspirations of secularism against religion?

This thread is dedicated to the discussion of secularism and it's ethical state - the need or un-need - and though I appreciate we can touch on specific countries and very specific issues, I'd like to ensure this discussion relates to general points of secularism and society.
 
I said:
Has the Secular Experiment of the past few years justified itself?

Meaning: has secularism really delivered a more ethical society than under religious doctrines?

Or has it merely replaced a set of potentially misguided attitudes for another set?

Let's take the epitome of secularism - the United States of America.

It remains a country that places more emphasis on individual freedoms and rights than any other - but does this really deliver an ethical society?

Is consumerism and the influence of the dollar really an ethical alternative to any determining set of controls from any religious system?

Is the issue of ethics even irrelevant when making a comparison between the aspirations of secularism against religion?

This thread is dedicated to the discussion of secularism and it's ethical state - the need or un-need - and though I appreciate we can touch on specific countries and very specific issues, I'd like to ensure this discussion relates to general points of secularism and society.

I opine that under ideal circumstances secularism would infact flourish (ideal if the individual could maintain that their rights end at the tip of their nose), however the problem arises when the secular movement crosses the line and attempts to remove all aspects of "other" than secular thought. I do not think it is possible to "level" the social playing field, so that all are exact, identical and equal.

Man will always have those who aspire to something greater than themselves (hence greater than the social standard).

1984, THX 1138 and Gattica comes to mind.

my thoughts

v/r

Q
 
To be honest, I don't think that the value of a secular society is that it might create a more ethical society than a sectarian society might. I think the value of a secular society comes from the opportunity it offers to individuals to not have to pay lip service...and sometimes more than that...to a religious or spiritual set of beliefs and rules that they do not believe in.

Ethics are a pretty slippery concept anyway, I think. I remember that in a class once (might have been anthropology or psychology, but I'm not sure; it was a long time ago) we talked about how ethics are an ideal and not necessarily how individuals and institutions in a society actually conduct themsevles. So, even if a culture has a high standard of ethics, whether or not dictated by religion, that does not mean that most or many or even a few people will actually live by those ethical standards.
 
littlemissattitude said:
...Ethics are a pretty slippery concept anyway, I think. I remember that in a class once (might have been anthropology or psychology, but I'm not sure; it was a long time ago) we talked about how ethics are an ideal and not necessarily how individuals and institutions in a society actually conduct themsevles. So, even if a culture has a high standard of ethics, whether or not dictated by religion, that does not mean that most or many or even a few people will actually live by those ethical standards...

True, one only has to look at the United States Congress to see your point in action...;)
 
littlemissattitude said:
To be honest, I don't think that the value of a secular society is that it might create a more ethical society than a sectarian society might. I think the value of a secular society comes from the opportunity it offers to individuals to not have to pay lip service...and sometimes more than that...to a religious or spiritual set of beliefs and rules that they do not believe in.

Ethics are a pretty slippery concept anyway, I think. I remember that in a class once (might have been anthropology or psychology, but I'm not sure; it was a long time ago) we talked about how ethics are an ideal and not necessarily how individuals and institutions in a society actually conduct themsevles. So, even if a culture has a high standard of ethics, whether or not dictated by religion, that does not mean that most or many or even a few people will actually live by those ethical standards.

Some good points there.

I was under the impression that an originating ideal of secularism was freedom from oppression by religion - which, if construed rightly to any degree, implies an ethical dimension to the concept of secularism itself.

My question, I guess, is asking what secularism delivers that is ethically superior to religion - especially as religions usually have an in-built ethical model (whether agreed with or not), whereas secularism seems to struggle to deal with ethics, especially with regards to individual rights over the rights of society.
 
I'm under the impression that the secular government here in the US was founded with the idea of freedom of worship, which in a way is related to freedom from oppression by religion. Many fled to America from Europe to escape oppression by the dominant religion so they would be able to worship in their own way, not necessarily so that they could be free of all religion. I must admit that my knowledge of the history of all this is kind of sketchy.

However, I would say that the strength of the idea of a secular democratic government, besides removing the danger of a potentially oppressive religious influence, is in its flexibility. Laws can be changed as new insight is gained about science, economics and society. For example, science can proceed unfettered, slavery can be abolished and women can be given the right to vote. Not that religion is unable to accomodate such advancements in our understanding, but it seems that when we are dealing with ordinances that the majority believes to have come from God it takes a lot longer to move.

Unfortunately the weakness of a secular democratic government is also in its flexibility. With little resistance against the influences of wealth and power, ethics are much more slippery and so, in a way, weaker.

The dangers of both theocratic and a secular government lie in the fallibility of humans, our pride, shortsightedness and greed. I don't think either is ethically superior in the present forms observable today. But, I give our secular democracies the edge in that they are less oppressive than the theocracies I know anything about. Correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn't communism be considered secular?
 
lunamoth said:
Correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn't communism be considered secular?
In a sense, though many consider communism to be an outgrowth of Christianity i.e. the radical egalitarianism, wealth redistribution etc. I would have thought Jesus a commie infact.

I liked your post lunamoth.
 
Jaiket said:
In a sense, though many consider communism to be an outgrowth of Christianity i.e. the radical egalitarianism, wealth redistribution etc. I would have thought Jesus a commie infact.

People who consider communism to be "an outgrowth of Christianity" would be deluding themselves. Communism is a political system based on the empowerment of the working class proleteriat within industrial society.
 
I said:
People who consider communism to be "an outgrowth of Christianity" would be deluding themselves. Communism is a political system based on the empowerment of the working class proleteriat within industrial society.
Delusion? That's a bit strong. I'm sorry if it sits ill with you, I was merely forwarding a viewpoint I find interesting. You can argue with the scholars.
 
I said:
I was under the impression that an originating ideal of secularism was freedom from oppression by religion - which, if construed rightly to any degree, implies an ethical dimension to the concept of secularism itself.

My question, I guess, is asking what secularism delivers that is ethically superior to religion - especially as religions usually have an in-built ethical model (whether agreed with or not), whereas secularism seems to struggle to deal with ethics, especially with regards to individual rights over the rights of society.

I guess I never got that myself, Brian. I always just assumed that a secular society just stood back and trusted that each individual's ethical standards from their personal belief system would blend enough that the society as a whole would be an ethical one. The assumption was there, I suppose, that most systems of religion - or at least the stereotypical Judeo-Christian tradition, which was all that were acknowledged officially for a very long time in the US - have similar enough ethical systems that there would be no serious conflicts. You know...murder isn't good, stealing isn't good, fooling around with one's neighbor's spouse isn't good...the usual list.

I suppose that if I had to assign an ethical stand to a secular society that I would consider superior to a religiously determined ethic, it is that a secular society does not force a particular religion, or any religion at all, on its citizens. My own personal feeling is that this is superior because religion is a matter of conscience and I believe it is wrong to force someone to profess a religious belief or set of beliefs that they do not, in good conscience, hold. This, of course, has been the rule in many times and places in world history, and still is the way it is today in some places. The populace is expected as a matter of course to adopt the beliefs of the leaders.

The truth is, we haven't actually reached the secular ideal in US society yet. It is a fact of political life that it is almost impossible for someone not professiong to follow a religion to be elected to office here, especially at the state or national level. It isn't that anyone goes around checking to make sure all the politicians go to church, or synagogue, or mosque, or wherever on their traditional day of worship. But if there is no profession of some kind of faith in God, they are not very likely to be elected.

As an illustration of that principle and its nearly universal acceptance, after former President Reagan died a number of people in the media noted that his younger son, Ron, Jr., was as articulate as his father and that he conducted himself with a great deal of grace and dignity during the period after his father's death, including when he spoke at the funeral. Some suggested to him that he should think about running for office himself. In at least one interview I saw, he just laughed at the suggestion and said something to the effect that, "I'd never be elected. I'm an atheist." And the fact is, he is right.

The thing that has to be said, too, is that there is a funny thing about that "freedom of worship" thing in relation to the founding of the colonies in what is now the United States. Lunamoth said:

Lunamoth said:
I'm under the impression that the secular government here in the US was founded with the idea of freedom of worship, which in a way is related to freedom from oppression by religion. Many fled to America from Europe to escape oppression by the dominant religion so they would be able to worship in their own way, not necessarily so that they could be free of all religion.

A good number of those folks who fled Europe so that they could have the freedom to worship as they chose proceeded to establish their own way of worship once they got here (different rules in different colonies, but the effect was the same in most of them), and there was a considerable amount of persecution of those who wished to worship differently from what they had established. On occasion, dissenters were banished from these colonies, not an inconsiderable hardship in what was mostly wilderness at the time and where the native inhabitants were not necessarily always friendly to the colonists (for understandable reasons, I might add).

Massachusetts was especially active in kicking out dissenters, including a man named Roger Williams, who was banished for -among other things - advocating the separation of church and state, and Anne Hutchinson, who just didn't interpret the Bible in the same way as the religious leaders of the colony and wasn't shy in saying so. Roger Williams went on to found Rhode Island. Anne Hutchinson came to a rather more violent end. And it wasn't just a colonial thing. One state - I think it was Connecticut, but I'm not sure, as it has been a long time since I took US history - still had an established church well after the founding of the United States.

Anyway, after this whole long ramble, Brian, I'm not sure if I answered your question or addressed your concerns about what I said about secular versus religious cultures and ethics. Sorry. This is all I have right now.:)
 
I said:
People who consider communism to be "an outgrowth of Christianity" would be deluding themselves. Communism is a political system based on the empowerment of the working class proleteriat within industrial society.

I'm with Jaiket on this. The parallels between modern totalitarian ideologies like communism on the one hand and biblical ideology on the other are well established, summed up in that famous phrase referring to communism as the "God that failed". I don't want to get into a longwinded recapitulation of all this - you can do your own research - but would only suggest you take a wider view of the problem. Totalitarian ideologies, whether of the right or the left, are certainly tied to the rise of industrial capitalism and its unprecedented new instruments of social or state power. And it's true that the surface language is dominated by terms based in these changed social conditions, modern economics & ideas of class struggle. But it's also true that at a deeper level the old biblical ideological template is alive & well: the idea that we can (or should) organize all of human life around a single conceptual order, a single rationalization of power, i.e., an absolutist, non-pluralist system.

My sense is that it's impossible to understand the appeal & persistence of these systems without understanding their deep emotional ground and their roots in habitual modes of thinking. Modern totalitarian ideologies find their roots in Europe, the matrix of both industrial capitalism and Judeo-Christian culture, both of which need to be kept in view, I believe, if we're to develop any reasonable understanding of these phenomena.

I think it's particularly essential right now to understand these roots, since that's precisely what we're looking at in the rise of Islamist parties of all descriptions, from the Iranian revolution, to the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda & Hamas, among many others in the past decades. All these movements exhibit the same fusion between modern totalitarian ideologies and ancient biblical (Abrahamic) absolutism. And just as in the case of European totalitarian thought, the idea of an "Islamic State" can't be understood as a mere outgrowth of Islamic tradition, for the simple reason that no such state ever existed before the Iranian Revolution.

So, while I respect your opinion that Communism as an ideology is purely a modern, secular affair, and I'm sure you can find sources that take the same position, I'm of the opinion that there are deeper roots to modern ideologies, and that it's hardly "delusion" to think so.

(Note: I'd like to add that for many Christians, Jews & Muslims, the problem is not biblical ideology but its perversion & misuse. I respect that position, but hold the opposing view that the texts, while worthy of respect, are problematic in themselves.)
 
I said:
Has the Secular Experiment of the past few years justified itself?

Meaning: has secularism really delivered a more ethical society than under religious doctrines?

Or has it merely replaced a set of potentially misguided attitudes for another set?

Let's take the epitome of secularism - the United States of America.

It remains a country that places more emphasis on individual freedoms and rights than any other - but does this really deliver an ethical society?

Is consumerism and the influence of the dollar really an ethical alternative to any determining set of controls from any religious system?

Is the issue of ethics even irrelevant when making a comparison between the aspirations of secularism against religion?

This thread is dedicated to the discussion of secularism and it's ethical state - the need or un-need - and though I appreciate we can touch on specific countries and very specific issues, I'd like to ensure this discussion relates to general points of secularism and society.

In the Communism and Christianity thread I tried to distinguish between the negative side of the secular society as mere narcissism, self-indulgence, consumerism, individualism, etc., and the positive side of the secular society as pluralism and freedom (including metaphysical freedom) in the best senses of those terms. I don’t know that anyone seriously defends mere consumerism as anything noble, or having anything to do with ethics. In that sense, “secular” and “religious” ethics really have no points of comparison. On the other hand, I do believe that the pluralist ideal – only partially realized in our liberal democracies – is potentially the most ethically advanced state of affairs we’ve yet devised.

And it seems to me that religious institutions themselves would ultimately benefit from a more perfectly realized pluralism, one that allowed every valid spiritual path to be cultivated. My lament has been that by resisting pluralism, by demonizing secularism, by adhering to dogma, to literalism, to particular metaphysical expressions, established religions only hasten their own demise and help create just the kind of spiritually empty secularism they condemn.
 
i dont see all the answers in pluralism. you would have to dump millions of personal beliefs to get that bungy cord stretched around all this. then SNAP
 
Bandit said:
i dont see all the answers in pluralism. you would have to dump millions of personal beliefs to get that bungy cord stretched around all this. then SNAP

Hi Bandit.

In the kind of pluralism I'm talking about one's personal beliefs, concepts, vocabulary remain as valid as ever. The only "beliefs" one would have to dump are that one's particular concepts, vocabulary, etc., are privileged above all others in the description of what is after all beyond all words, and the connected belief that one has a right or duty to conform others to one's own beliefs, or the beliefs of one's sect.

But maybe the larger question behind your rubber band metaphor is that of authority and whether we need it to keep ourselves in line. That's essentially a political, social question, I think. And you may be right that we as a species can stand only so much freedom.

Lunamoth has made this point very well regarding the importance, even inescapability of institutions. Institutions, of course, bring coercion of one form or another, and the fetishizing of everything from concepts to individuals. To me, the support of institutions, like the support of the use of force in society and internationally may be pragmatically justifiable, but that doesn't mean that we can't, in our best moments and in safe places like this forum, look beyond them. Institutions can be instruments of compassion & wisdom, but they are only instruments; when we arrive at compassion & wisdom there are no distinctions and no need of instruments. (Or at least this is what wiser people, east & west, have told me through their writings; personally, I'm far from that arrival.)
 
Back
Top