Why Warsi is wrong: secularism does not share the traits of totalitarianism
|February 24, 2012||Posted by Jeremy Dobson under national|
In Britain, the debate over secularism has started to permeate into the political classes. The unelected Baroness Warsi, an influential Muslim and the coalition’s “Minister with Portfolio” (whatever that title means), has denounced secularism in her recent speech to the Vatican, calling it “militant” and “aggressive.” Is she right? I wonder when the tabloids will reveal that the National Secular Society and British Humanist Association, with Dawkins as leader, are going to storm London as part as of some military Whitehall putsch. Damn it, I gave the game away!
Embedded within her dry shameless prose, she declared: ” … [Secularism] demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity.” This, her most sordid innuendo, displays the qualities of a school-yard snitch. She unfairly insults the secluded child, and then hides behind weightier allies; in this case the Vatican, the cabinet and the party.
A politically secular agenda, as opposed to politically atheistic one (that not even the most prominent members of the “new atheist” movement would support), includes religious freedom and equality, and not specific privileges for particular religions. Contrary to popular belief, this ideology does not exclude any one denomination of faith: you can be Catholic and secular, or Muslim, or Protestant, etc.
Talk of secularism preventing pious believers from wearing their crosses in the public sphere is not secularism, not even a perversion of secularism, but a war of attrition against civil liberties. This was never advocated by Thomas Jefferson – a man whose principles are shared by the secular movement and whose secularist ideals never once conflicted with his libertarian streak.
Likewise, a secular government does not put the interests of the irreligious ahead of the religious but, instead, is equally ignorant to all people’s attitudes to the “supernatural dimension.” (However, most secularists are non-believers rather than vice-versa because many hardened believers can’t accept the fact that they should not have privilege in political matters, as god is on their side.)
To be a secularist is an acknowledgement that society works most effectively when the state refuses to favour a particular religion or succumb to the more depraved teachings and impulses espoused by holy texts, fanatics and right-wing religious lobbyists. A totalitarian message it is not. It is positively anti-totalitarian.
A totalitarian regime, being a step further than your average dictatorship, would wish to not only have control of your money and elections, but also to control thought and manner. Warsi’s allusion to the Stalinist and fascist regimes of the early 20th century was particularly distasteful since the Roman Catholic Church (the church she spoke to) kept good relations with most European fascist despots – Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, you name it. It is to the Church’s shame that it did not excommunicate any Nazis on political grounds (only ever excommunicating Goebbels for marrying a protestant) and remained on good terms, even during the Holocaust, often through the diplomacy of Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo.
Christopher Hitchens revealed that early 20th-century fascism, the original totalitarianism, is largely synonymous with right-wing Roman Catholic political activity. This is a particularly luminous fact in cases of notorious Catholic dictators such as Franco (Spain) and Salazar (Portugal). It was such regimes such as these (particularly that of German National Socialism) that would favour some religions, usually selected branches of Christianity, and oppress others – often Jewish traditions. This runs counter to the all intuitions of secularism which look to eradicate favouritism.
Moreover, prominent figures, notably Einstein, escaped from fascism travelling westwards thanks to America’s rich traditions of religious freedom and a constitutionally secular government. I wonder, Baroness, whether the secular nation of America has lost their “religious identity” or is any less “confident in its Christianity.”
Warsi’s ignorance becomes ever more twisted and sickening when one realises she is directly addressing the Vatican, an institution that oppresses their followers regarding sexual freedoms, contraception, women’s rights and homosexuality – essentially, an institution which tells people what to think about sex and morality. This sounds awfully “totalitarian” to me.
Furthermore, she alludes to the Stalinist regime; the namesake was no doubt an athiest, but a secularist? Is the secularism of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell or George Holyoake, who have inspired British secular movements, actually congruent with Stalin’s position? Warsi’s next point was less disputable: ” … in the 20th century, one of the first acts of totalitarian regimes was the targeting of organised religion.” This is true enough – Stalin did attack churches and Hitler did attack synagogues – but was this born out of a secular ideology or a form of state religiosity combined with wicked opportunism and an evil nature?
The answers are obvious, and as such secularism strengthens democracy since it prevents the tyranny of either a religious or irreligious majority or minority. Britain is not a theocracy, but we do still have unelected bishops in the Lords as well as a hereditary head of state who is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Furthermore, Britain contains approximately 7,000 faith schools to help segregate children based on their parents’ religion.
Warsi isn’t just wrong, she lives in the “opposite land” of my pre-school days – a fitting place given her naive, romantic, sepia picture of conservative idealism. Secularism prevents totalitarianism by stopping a single religion from monopolising government. If the trend of secularism in Britain is “aggressive,” “militant” or “totalitarian” than such words have lost all real meaning – or, more likely, it is vapid propaganda.