Secularism, religion and freedom

Secularism as understood by advanced democracies is not a religion, but an attitude of the State towards the religious phenomenon.

March 5, 2021-Reading time: 2 minutes
Secularism, religion and freedom

Photo credit: Jason Hogan / Unsplash

The Minister of Culture and "secretary of secularism" of the Socialist Party has recently sent a letter to the provincial executives of the party under the slogan "secularism, religion of freedom".

The document has been published in various media. I must admit that as a slogan it sounds good. At the same time, like many slogans, it contains in a few words misunderstandings, simplifications and contradictions. In this brief commentary I will refer to three of them. 

In the first place, to understand secularity as religion. The Enlightenment writers of the 18th century, beginning with Rousseau, proposed secularism as a civil religion, with dogmas set by the ruler, which the French revolutionaries sought to impose on society as a whole by means of violence. This secular religion has manifested itself at various historical moments as intolerant (thus designed by Proudhon, Marx, Feuerbach, among others), because it is understood as the only true religion. 

Fortunately secularism, as understood by advanced democracies, is not a religion, but an attitude of the State. to the religious phenomenon. Laicity is above all neutrality. Neutrality is not equidistance between believing and not believing.

It consists rather in respecting and not taking sides in the face of the different beliefs and lifestyles that citizens decide to follow. From neutrality it is not possible to promote a policy based on a specific religion, not even the civil one, with the intention of imposing it on everyone by means of laws. 

The second fallacy of this secularism understood as "civil religion" is its claim to be the only truly free religion. Since when is freedom the monopoly of anyone? Neither is the layman freer than the believer; nor does the layman cease to be as much a slave -as the believer can become one- when he tries to turn his dogmas into dogmatisms. Freedom, quite simply, does not belong to anyone but the human being who does not abdicate it. 

At third placeThose who turn secularism into religion end up falling into a demagogic and inconsistent discourse which, while advocating secularism as an "antidote to value monism, fanaticism or dogmatism", try to impose on everyone a single vision (their vision) of the world.

A world in which God counts for nothing, or almost nothing. A world in which it does not bother to have some semblance of plurality, as long as none of these other religions contradict the dogmas of the civil religion. 

The authorMontserrat Gas Aixendri

Professor at the Faculty of Law of the International University of Catalonia and director of the Institute for Advanced Family Studies. She directs the Chair on Intergenerational Solidarity in the Family (IsFamily Santander Chair) and the Childcare and Family Policies Chair of the Joaquim Molins Figueras Foundation. She is also Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Law at UIC Barcelona.

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