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Tony Grist

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Defining Secular [Jun. 20th, 2011|03:29 pm]
Tony Grist
A secular society separates Church and State. It's a society in which the priests don't get to make the rules. That is all. Secular does not mean atheistical or irreligious or anti-clerical.  Religion flourishes in the western democracies- all of which are essentially secular. The USA- one of the most religious societies on earth- has a secular constitution. 
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: baritonejeff
2011-06-20 02:33 pm (UTC)
For me, embracing a secular society is easy. Simply put, it's the only way to be as fair as possible to everyone.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-20 04:29 pm (UTC)
Yes. In a secular democracy, freedom of religion is guaranteed
provided it stays within the law.
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2011-06-20 03:23 pm (UTC)
Bit of a disagree. The best democracies we have are Scandinavian not much church there.
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[User Picture]From: airstrip
2011-06-20 04:30 pm (UTC)
Actually, the history of state sponsorship is important. Scandinavia had sponsored national churches, so that's probably the main issue. In the US, without such sponsorship, you have a lot of religious competition and so the "market" in Jesus is very robust and... uh... customer-focused.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-20 04:38 pm (UTC)
Good point. National churches- like the dear old Church of England- tend to be smug, complacent and boring.
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[User Picture]From: airstrip
2011-06-21 04:52 am (UTC)
I dislike the Church of England, or maybe just Rowan Williams. The notion of making Christianity a viable alternative to unbelief through academe is grating. I think intelligent people are looking for a sense of community, meaning and a font of "classical values" in a society awash in narrow self-interest.

Even in America, Christianity is fading amongst the educated, even as it becomes the self-help solution for the poor. What's funny is that there is a resurgence in Judaism, driven by a desire to recapture culture. I think that, for thinking people, the salvation of Christianity would lie in its rituals and traditions but I think the clergy, being too old to understand this, remain convinced that they should "modernize".
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-21 09:11 am (UTC)
I agree; modernization doesn't work. I lived through a period when the Church of England ditched its old scriptures and rituals for updated versions in flat "modern" English- and lost people in droves. Mind you, it would almost certainly have lost them anyway.



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[User Picture]From: airstrip
2011-06-21 12:09 pm (UTC)
When was that?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-20 04:36 pm (UTC)
My knowledge of Scandanavian church life is entirely derived from Bergman.

If church attendance is dwindling there it's because of a lack of interest, not because of persecution.

Religions thrive on persecution.
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2011-06-20 06:21 pm (UTC)
Or on persecuting others?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-20 07:16 pm (UTC)
Both. But as Tertullian said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church".
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2011-06-21 04:15 pm (UTC)
Tertullian also said "Man is conceived between piss and shit" AND "When one embrasses a woman it is like embrassing a sack of shit". Somehow I do not think Mr T would be a "fun date".
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2011-06-22 03:50 am (UTC)
Sounds like Tertullian was a shit himself!
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2011-06-20 06:48 pm (UTC)
Well, technically speaking the Church of Denmark has never been disestablished, and church tax is still paid via the regular PAYE tax and collected via the Danish version of the IRS. The opening of parliament has a service in the palace chapel as one of it's highlights, and religions - including cultural religion - is very much a part of the national political discourse, perhaps because of the rather-too-prominent xenophobia.

Oh, and the Church of Denmark has the Queen as it's head, but is governed by parliament. So actually we're not really all that secular, given the intertwining of church and state. Our constitution (back in 1849) stated that the relationship between church and state should be finally determined in separate legislation, but as this has never happened... Well...
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2011-06-21 04:16 pm (UTC)
Same in Germany, Sweden, Norway?
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2011-06-22 03:52 am (UTC)
Sweden celebrates certain religious days as national holidays. They also celebrate midsummer complete with pagan rituals. One could never say that Sweden is not religious.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-06-20 06:04 pm (UTC)
Religious life can only exist in a secular society, actually. Theocracy destroys religion -- nobody can have a genuine religious experience from within when it's imposed from without.

Great Britain and most of the Scandinavian countries are not secular, because you all have state religions. Which everybody ignores, but the Nordic countries are Lutheran, the British commonwealth is Anglican. This is the relationship that the United States explicitly rejected when we founded our country -- which is why the United States is one of the most religious societies on Earth.

Having a state religion restricts your interactions with religion to only two binary options: accept or reject. In most of Great Britain, in most Nordic countries, and among the majority of people in Israel, the prevailing choice has been "reject". When the prevailing choice is "accept", you end up with a theocracy -- which ALSO is an unhealthy interaction with religion, from a religious point of view. When society compels religious expression, either by law or by overpowering social pressure, it eliminates the ability to have "genuine" religious experiences and practices.

And in the bizarre case of Israel, you have a society which is mostly aggressively rational and a-religious, but which has a theocratic strain built into its legal system. I personally believe that this is among the reasons that Israel is so fucked up.

I tell people -- accurately -- that the assistant Rabbi at the shul where I taught came to the United States so that she could freely practice her religion.

She comes from Israel. And she quite literally could not practice Judaism freely and without religious oppression in Israel.

Because Israel is insufficiently secular. Judaism cannot flourish in a place as non-secular as Israel. Israelis can either be Jewish in name only and have NO religious practice, being, in effect, a-religious, or can be dogmatic theocrats and have no connection to modern Judaism.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-20 07:40 pm (UTC)
That's fascinating about Israel.

I don't think the possession of a national church prevents a society from being secular. The Anglican church in England has very little power and influence- and has been viewed with affectionate disdain for generations. It has never- even in its days of power- stopped us having spiritual experiences. We have a grand tradition of inventing religions and sects from The Society of Friends to Wicca.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-06-20 07:46 pm (UTC)
The thing is -- having a state religion allows, and encourages -- someone to define themselves by what they are NOT, rather than by what they ARE. But, yeah, that is a good point that England has come up with a fair number of non-Anglican religions of its own devising.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-06-21 11:26 am (UTC)
I don't think the possession of a national church prevents a society from being secular.
I think it's much more than that and agree with xiphias: in practice, a national religion kills religion. France is the most obvious example. Making Roman Catholicism the official state religion was the death of Roman influence in France.

Religious freedom in the US, however, is nominal, at best. Where I live, every meeting of the town council begins with prayer and a mass "Pledge of Allegiance". I actually feel discouraged from attending. It feels really awkward to dissent and refuse and I feel sullied by playing along, for the sake of appearances.
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2011-06-22 04:00 am (UTC)
We have a propaganda outfit operating here in the states that calls itself "Freedom From Religion". Their aim is apparently to drive religion out of America altogether. As I see it if their movement bears fruit it will ultimately deny everyone freedom OF religion. They have been sending me emails of late asking me to donate money to their campaign to block the appeal that might reverse the court's abolishing the National Day of Prayer. Note here that there is no "prescribed" prayer on the national day. This means that pagans may perform their rituals, Jews may chant in their minyans, Christians of all denominations may pray according to their conscience, and yes, Muslims may address Allah. Oh, yeah, and atheists may abstain! This is true freedom of religion, as far as I can tell. When courts ban encouraging people to pray, that is not freedom.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2011-06-23 12:26 am (UTC)
I've been reading some of Sarah Vowell's books--"Wordy Shipmates" is all about the Puritans, and she makes the point that in the early days, Church and State were hand-in-glove--though technically separate. (The magistrates administered punishments for religious violations, for example.) It was Roger Williams, who was forced to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony and who established Rhode Island,was really hot on separating the two, but he was actually a minority (for a lot of reasons, not just this).

When I taught at a state university in Missouri, I was horrified that prayer was required on various occasions, but after reading Vowell's book, I can see that their attitude at this university was very much like that of the Puritans.
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2011-06-24 12:38 am (UTC)
This is the best definition of a secular society that I have read anywhere. I have copied it into a text document and saved it in my documents file for later use where needed. Thanks!
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