This post is slightly different, because this member would like to retain anonymity. We hope this serves to illustrate the difficulty many people still face talking openly and honestly about the importance of secularism and the place of religion in a democracy.
Hello! What’s your name and your current position?
Mark (surname anonymous), solicitor.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I have been qualified as a solicitor for three years and I practice civil litigation. I regularly advise clients in relation to property, commercial, trust and probate disputes.
I thoroughly enjoy my work and count myself as very fortunate to practise law in a jurisdiction which endeavours to resolve disputes using an objective and empirical approach – an approach which owes far more to the scientific method than is often given credit for.
Secularism as a concept is often misunderstood. If you had to explain it to someone in your own words, what would you say?
As a concept I consider secularism to be the recognition that the State can and should operate independently of both religion and religious institutions.
What’s the most common misconception that you come across about secularism?
Very commonly, people fail to understand that secularism has no interest in preventing the right of anyone to practise whichever religion they choose.
One of the more far-fetched misconceptions that I have encountered is that secularism in some way represents or constitutes a religion in itself. There is of course nothing supernatural or spiritual about it.
Why do you think secularism is important?
I am an advocate of the rule of law and the principles of democracy, and I do not know of any other legal or political models which can better ensure against oppression, corruption and tyranny, and better preserve equality, justice and fairness.
The objective of the law is to protect the people which it serves, but this can only be achieved if it is treated as the highest authority. The rule of law seeks to ensure that the law is treated in this way, and the mechanics of democracy ensure that the law can constantly evolve to best suit its objective.
In my view it is extremely difficult – if not impossible – to reconcile the rule of law with a society influenced by religion. Fundamentally, religion requires its followers to place their god/s as the highest authority. In order to preserve the rule of law and the principles of democracy therefore, I consider secularism to be extremely important.
As a secularist, what concerns you the most?
There are a number of areas where the absence or erosion of secularism is a cause of major concern.
I consider freedom of speech and the freedom to exchange and scrutinise ideas as being fundamental to equality, fairness and social welfare. These freedoms are regularly threatened, however, when they encounter religion. In some cases religion can be used to mandate the censorship of speech and to approve an active resistance to any criticism of its ideas and institutions. This, in my view, is a major concern: to immunise any idea or public institution from scrutiny is to foster opportunities for corruption and oppression.
A further area of concern is the prevalence of faith-based social education and the indoctrination of young people. Whilst in a secular society, individuals are free to choose to subscribe to or abandon religion at any time, the teachings of the church in my view are often absolutist, and if imposed upon individuals during their formative years the exercise of this choice can become far more difficult.
All societies must battle prejudice and discrimination to some degree, though in this respect huge strides of progress have been made across the world in the past few decades. Sadly, however, it is undeniable once again that religious authority can also be used to approve – and in some cases mandate – the unequal treatment of citizens. In extreme cases this inequality can turn into oppression. I consider myself very fortunate to live in a society which supports equality between the sexes and which is also – at least relatively – tolerant of same-sex relationships. There are many citizens of other regions of the world – particularly those living under autocratic regimes governed by Islamic law – who are sadly not so fortunate.
Complete this sentence: “I’m a secularist because……”
The law belongs to the people, and to nothing else.
Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS.
Follow the LSS on Twitter @LawSecSoc and stay up to date with everything the LSS is up to by signing up for email alerts on this website’s home page (you can unsubscribe anytime you want)