Hello! What’s your name and your current position?
Dr Peter Bowen-Walker, lecturer and student!
Tell us a bit about yourself
In my “past-life” (calm down reader!) I was a Chartered Biologist and fellow of the Society of Biology, a teacher and fellow of the College of Teachers, and an author. Now I’m a part-time lecturer and part-time law student.
My areas of interest are animal welfare law / wildlife crime, and the law generally as it relates to science, the environment, education and child welfare.
Secularism as a concept is often misunderstood. If you had to explain it to someone in your own words, what would you say?
Secularism is a principled stance which does not support religious privilege. As a logical corollary the state should not support, favour, empower or resource any religion. In addition the state should be entirely separate from religion which nevertheless it should respect as a legitimate personal and private endeavour. The only role of the state in relation to religion should be to uphold Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides that everyone is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and to change their religion if they so wish.
What’s the most common misconception that you come across about secularism?
That secularists are “aggressive atheists”, that they do not respect religion, and that they do not appreciate religion has made many significant and positive contributions to humanity. This perspective is propagated by less moderate religious voices and is used as a lazy tool to discredit secularism in the mind of the public at large who tend to identify as being religious (by culture) rather than because of deeply held and informed convictions.
In my experience, when secularism is understood correctly it is not perceived as negative. Indeed it is often conceded to be a logical and fair mindset given our multicultural society and the impossibility of resolving the question concerning which mutually exclusive religion is the correct one!
Why do you think secularism is important?
Lending support to any one faith, or indeed any faith (none of which can successfully and unproblematically explain the entirety of the human condition, or the meaning of life, or have an unequivocal and overriding claim to moral authority, despite their best attempts so to do) is naive. At best it serves a limited cultural tradition. At worst it serves to divide multicultural communities and discriminates at the level of the state against some members of society given the inevitable claims to truths or moral authority. Secularism puts an end to this divisive situation, but it still provides a safe environment for people to develop their conscience and understanding of things greater than themselves.
As a secularist, what concerns you the most?
I am deeply concerned by ritual slaughter of animals without prior stunning to limit the pain and distress they suffer during slaughter. I contend that religious privilege has gone too far and society has lost sight of what is real (actual animal pain and suffering) to appease a superstitious and unnecessary minority ritual. I believe a secular state could more robustly delineate its standards and limit such practices.
Subsidised religious school transport at the taxpayer’s expense also bothers me! (Stop it!)
I also resent the fact that Parliament did not have the courage to clearly tell the Anglicans and Catholics that they do not “own” the definition of marriage. The whole debacle of the debate surrounding the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was an embarrassing mess which could have been avoided if we had less innate deference for some religious groups with deep pockets and powerful seats in the Lords!
I have the same sense of contempt for the injustices which are “forced marriages”, “female genital mutilation” and other sickening religio-cultural horrors which successive governments have struggled for far too long to address robustly.
Complete this sentence: “I’m a secularist because……”
Because no one claim to “universal truth” or the divine should be given any more support than any other competing claim. In the twenty first century public money should not be allocated to supporting religion. (Neolithic elders can be forgiven for hedging their bets and sacrificing the odd goat to appease the many unpredictable gods of nature….but where have all those other gods gone?)
Anything else you want to say while you’re in the spotlight?
It would be fair to end by saying that I have profound respect for some of the more significant individuals who have emerged from the narratives of the great world religions. Who can but respect the courage, compassion and humanistic principles of individuals such as Jesus! Similarly, great art, architecture, charity and important acts of human kindness (such as the abolition of slavery and the establishment of the RSPCA, NSPCC etc) have been inspired by religious convictions.
Unfortunately the other side of the religious coin is fanaticism, terrorism, misogyny, homophobia and intolerance. It is a dangerous coin to play with, and not one the state should be flipping!
You can read Dr. Peter Bowen-Walker’s blog posts here.
Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS.
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