It's odd that Godwin's Law doesn't seem to apply in this context, isn't it?
I'm dubious about some of your final examples, though. Neither Ireland nor even Pakistan is a theocracy in the sense that Iran is, even if their main religious groups have what you and I might consider disproportionate influence. And Italy is a strange choice as a secular state, considering the intense Catholicism of its population. Sure, Berlusconi isn't a religious figure, but he's not an evil secularist either in the sense that he pushes secularism down people's throats.
For my money, if you want to see secularism being oppressive in its secularity, you need look no further than France. Although even there I can't help wondering how much of their supposed secularity is actually dsiguised racism and/or suspicion of Islam.
It was tricky to pick examples. Few modern states are unequivocally secular and only Iran- that I can think of- is an honest to God theocracy. I chose Berlusconi as an example of a democratically elected leader who is about as sleazy and undemocratic as a democratically elected leader can be- and Pakistan as a teetering democracy in which religious people have a lot more power than is healthy. As for France, I think- as you do- that the head-scarf ban is mostly about racism and Islamophobia.
Nazi Germany used religion (RC & Lutheran) to its own ends, it even tried neo-pagan stuff like Odin.
North Korea has cultism (Kim Jong Il as saviour) rather than a real religion.
Agreed. There was a lot of creepy mysticism around Nazism. Himmler, I believe, really did think of the SS as latter-day Grail knights.
Disagree, my reading of Himmler is that he was the MOST neo-pagan (it propped up his pseudo-science). As to Ireland, theocracy in 1981 secular 2011.
Well, yes, but the whole Arthurian thing is easily paganised. One of the brightest lights of the English Pagan scene is a chap who calls himself King Arthur.
My knowledge of Himmler's carryings on is fuzzy, but I believe he maintained a special castle for the SS elite. And didn't he have an obsession with the Spear of Destiny?
As I recall, Himmler had plans for a sort of neo-Pagan, Teutonic Vatican for the SS that was supposed to have been built in Bavaria, I think.
Trevor Ravenscroft got at least a book out of the supposed Nazi fascination with the Spear of Destiny or Spear of Longinus or Sword of St Michael or whatever you call it. I suspect that, like so many attempts to tie the Nazis to occultism, there is probably more smoke there than fire. Nazi magic consisted almost entirely of spectacle, symbolic pageantry and the deliberate exploitation of modern media, than it was about the arcane sciences.
Hitler couldn't give a rat's arse for the occult- but it's more fun to pretend otherwise.
I don't particularly disagree with this, but when it comes to "the evils of secularism" vs "the evils of religion", I think you need to distinguish between evil things that happen in a particular secular society and evil things that happen because that society is secular (and the same with religion). Berlusconi doesn't seem to me the kind of figure that could only have arisen in a society with a separation of church and state. Similarly, many bad things have happened in countries with some sort of state religion, where you'd be hard pressed to say that a state religion was necessary to their coming about. Only in the latter case would it be appropriate to cite them as examples of "the evils of religion".
I'd be interested to know whether you consider the UK (or more specifically England) to be secular or religious, by the way.
I can't think of any bad thing that could only happen in a society with separation of church and state, but I suppose a certain type of religious person would point to things like abortion rights. I find it much easier to think of bad things that could only happen in a theocracy, but that's because of where I'm coming from.
Interestingly the rights of minority religions are much safer in a secular State than they are in a theocracy.
I think England is deeply secular. Our refusal to get too bothered about head scarves is a sign of this. We tolerate the carryings-on of religions because we (secretly) despise them. Our state church and the presence of Bishops in the Lords are vestiges of a former dispensation. We allow them to continue because we don't feel threatened by them. It's been a long time since any churchman wielded any real power in this country.
*ponders* Offhand, I agreed with you, but I do think, to be fair, that one of the reasons that religious people fear the secular is the very possibility that human beings will be raised to god-like status. I think that's the interpretation of the whole "thou shalt have no gods before me" deal that I've heard from wise religious types.
(Honestly, it absolutely breaks my brain to say this, being as deeply an atheist and secularist as I am!)
A fair point, but rather a lot of Christians- and Christian leaders- covered themselves in disgrace under the Third Reich.
Starting, first and foremost, with the Most Reverend Bishop of Rome.
The history of the Papacy is one of infamy and cowardice.
one of the reasons that religious people fear the secular is the very possibility that human beings will be raised to god-like status
I suppose one of the reasons secularists fear religions is that this possibility has already come to pass!
This point you make -- it is a good point. Well thought-out, and nicely put. There is a very good probability that I will cite you on it when next I speak to my Texas friends on the concept of the growing American Theocracy.
It's odd to me how folks who are nominally pagan can comfortably fall in with the religious right's lockstep and not feel just a little bit threatened by the rhetoric. I mean, George W. Bush, back when he was only a state Governor, said to reporters that he didn't believe Wiccans deserved the same rights as Christians because 'they were just a cult.' And yet people who came to my home for Circle, and who had even had unfair legal and social problems related to their choice of religion, defended him whole heartedly at every turn.
*Doesn't get it...*
Thank you. I love to be cited.
Theocracy is bad news for minority religions. Secular societies are happy to tolerate any religion that stays within the law, whereas theocracies are prone to view religious difference as treasonable.
I guess the worry is that people have to have a "cause" to believe in and base their life around. It used to be religion, then it was political systems, and we are coming to the tail end of that now in the West at least. The in thing right now is environmentalism, which I suppose is a good thing if not taken to extremes - and I'm a anthropogenic global warming rather-sceptic so I know something about the way the science can be twisted on both sides.
Personally I'd like to put my faith in Action for Happiness, that's a cause I can believe in.
I don't see a lot of difference between the cult of Jesus and the cult of the "dear Leader" (whoever he might happen to be). Totalitarian personality cults are religions with the supernatural element subtracted.
I'm beginning to have my doubts about environmentalism. As Richard Ingrams pointed out the other day, its leading lights sometimes give the impression of being anti-human.
These weren't secular states, however. As you note, they were militantly atheistic and admitted religion only under their direct command. I think the difference here is that a secular state largely ignores religion altogether.
I think that the danger with religious states is that it can always refer to some legitimacy external to whether it serves the people in an identifiable way. It's a powerful way to do it, too, since it's a nascent part of all societies. A secular totalitarian order has to at least partially deliver and all of them have, though usually vis-a-vis occupying European imperialists.
Exactly. The mature democracies have largely risen above religion.
Theocracies appeal to an ultimate Power that is unaccountable and unquestionable- something that is irreconcilable with democracy.
Good point about atheistic countries not being secular.
In the U.S., the founding fathers established a separation of church and state to protect religious beliefs, not to do away with them.
Of course today's "Christian Right" likes to twist that around in support of their own theocratic aspirations.
Yes, and that's exactly how it works. A seculat state doesn't play favourites- and anybody's faith is as goiod as anybody elses- which is why the US has such a vibrant culture of do-it-yourself religion.
No, not at all. The US has such a vibrant culture of religion because of ignorance, due in large part to you folks sending groaning ship loads of Puritans and other undesirables over here and letting them breed all over the place. A second wave of belligerently ignorant Scots Calvinists, also courtesy of the British Empire, essentially sealed our fate.
Today, the US is nominally secular, at best. True religious freedom exists mostly in urban areas. Where I live, they have Christian prayer in schools and every morning school children are forced to pledge their allegiance to the flag and the "one nation, under God" that it symbolizes. Both activities are illegal under Federal law, but they just do it anyway and no one does a goddamned thing about it.
Well, yes, there's that as well.
Question: WHY are some Americans so threatened by "one nation, under God"? Or perhaps, "In God we trust" on the money? If I wanted to nitpick and be completely literalist, I could say that a pledge of allegiance with or without "under God" amounts to idolatry, not to mention the mobs that turn out for sports victories or rock concerts while churches are nearly empty on Sunday mornings. Or the sometimes many hundreds of dollars people pay to go to sports events or rock concerts yet begrudge the churches a weekly "widows' mite"?
Therefore, I do not see that religion poses much of a threat to American "constitutional fundamentalists".
Jefferson explicitly believed that, without the separation of church and state, religion would corrupt the republic. So, while some founding fathers may have supported the idea for religious reasons, Jefferson was protecting secular society from religion and certainly not the other way around.
As for what the American Taliban claim, the truth is polluted in their mouths.
I went off Jefferson when I found out he was shagging his slaves, but I'll grant his thinking was usually sound.
A Brit that's gone off Jefferson? In light of the simple facts of history, I would be much more surprised to find the reverse.
Judging the men of one era by the mores of another is easy. Wresting the Colonies from the British crown and successfully founding a secular republic was hard. Jefferson was a flawed man. I think he failed in his struggle with slavery, though whether he was in fact the father of Eston Hemmings is far from clear. He was also a failure as governor of Virginia and went on to become a more-or-less failed president of the United States. He died in poverty and would have died homeless, had it not been for the kindness of friends.
More important for me is Jefferson's one inarguable success: laying the foundations of this democratic republic, both in theory and in fact. Flawed as it was -- and is -- it was still a tremendous step forward, at least for those of us that value individual liberty. While your forefathers were still bowing and scraping before some inbred German half-wit, my forefathers had fought and tolerably freed themselves from both God and king and were groping toward new instruments of self-governance, something the world had scarcely imagined before their time. A little humility on our part before such audacity on their part might serve us well.
I have never come across that argument before, and never thought of things that way. But I am in full agreement with you and in my view you make perfect sense. I feel you have armed me with more defences in my occasional battles with believers, haha.
Good. That makes me happy. :)
2011-06-21 12:08 pm (UTC)
Keep religion well away from politics
Aye, keep religion well away from politics.
As B.J. Vorster said to Bill Burnett, and P.W. Botha said to Desmond Tutu.
And MI5 said to Maggie Thatcher about Rowan Williams
There are also some well-known examples from Nazi Germany, but I won't mention them, since you've asked us not to.
2011-06-21 01:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Keep religion well away from politics
Yes, but how many Tutus and Bonhoeffers have there been?
2011-06-21 01:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Keep religion well away from politics
Yes, but how many Tutus and Bonhoeffers have there been?
I find that response incredibly scary.