Jan 5, 2012

"Secularism" signifying nothing

But who actually is a secularist? & what do they say that means? What do they say secularism -- that alleged ideology -- actually is?

Secularism is decried, bemoaned, & railed against daily. The Pope regularly names "secularism" as the enemy. American politicians on the right make it their business to regularly oppose themselves to secularism: which is creeping over America, replacing Christianity, responsible for all the problems in America (just to mention one GOP presidential nomination contender).

In all that, though, "secularism" seems to be a empty signifier, not actually referring to anything out there in the world.

As it's used, the word most often means an imagined enemy, an invisible cultural army of hypothesized people that no one has ever actually met.

I won't go so far as to say there are no secularists -- those who embrace and articulate and propagate and ideology of secularism -- but those who oppose secularism can't seem to actually name people who actually agree with the thing they're disagreeing with.

David J. Theroux, e.g., writes: "We live in an increasingly secularized world of massive and pervasive nation states in which traditional religion, especially Christianity, is ruled unwelcome and even a real danger on the basis of a purported history of intolerance and 'religious violence.'"

Who does this? Where is this ruling? Even if one just intuitively agrees with Theroux, recognize it's intuitive. There's no support for this, no evidence. As if it's something everyone just knows.

He continues:
"This is found in most all 'public' domains, including the institutions of education, business, government, welfare, transportation, parks and recreation, science, art, foreign affairs, economics, entertainment, and the media. A secularized public square policed by government is viewed as providing a neutral, rational, free, and safe domain that keeps the 'irrational' forces of religion from creating conflict and darkness. And we are told that real progress requires expanding this domain by pushing religion ever backward into remote corners of society where it has little or no influence. In short, modern America has become a secular theocracy with a civic religion of national politics (nationalism) occupying the public realm in which government has replaced God."
There are, by all appearances, no people involved in this take over, this tyranny of "secular theocracy." This is an entirely free-floating enemy, which one can "recognize" or not, or, better, imagine one recognizes by responding with an emotional identification or at least an assent to the matter of sides, without having to actually ever recognized in terms of people, details, facts or anything "out there," in the world.

One can say "amen," as Jordan J. Ballor essentially does, without actually having to identify any examples actual secularism.

"Secularization" means something, and can be named, measured, explained, articulated. One can believe in it, actually, without having to take a position on it's value. One can say it happens and it's bad, or that it's good and we should be thankful for it, or that it's neutral. "Secularization," as a process, as something that happens in certain societies, actually refers to something.

"Secularism," though, the ideology, seems to be basically a bit of rhetoric, a fantasy, a shadow monster under the bed.