“I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look round for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the Churches in all these centuries have made”
– Bertrand Russell.
Secularism is the natural and logical human reaction to the oppressive Patriarchal, Theocratic, Despotic, irrational, dogmatic, anti-human values that are so disagreeable to the human desire for freedom and equality.
Indeed, at its core, secularism is a level playing field, a natural system free from dogma that is conceived for the sake of anti-institutional-prejudice. That is why secularism is superior. It is that simple. Anything other than secularism tilts the playing field in one particular direction, thus becoming radically unfair. It then follows that anything other than secularism, is the advocation of the supremacy of one particular faith; a system of unjustifiable privilege and power.
I maintain that any system of power cannot be justified without enshrining equal rights for all under a legal framework for protection of those rights; gender equality, sexuality equality, race equality, and the right to believe, think, and express however you so wish without threat. All of those notions of equality are not compatible with any other system of power thus conceived by human beings, other than secular democracy. By enshrining these rights and noting that we are all born equal regardless of gender, sexuality, race, or belief; we maximise the possibility of human social advancement, understanding, and compassion by enfranchising those who would otherwise be held back, and treated less than equal under any other system. This is secularism and democracy.
The fact that we reached a stage of social evolution where it became necessary to separate church from the power of state in order to secure basic rights, is evidence of the cruelty that religion imposed upon the people when it did have power. One only need look at states that are still Theocratic, to see a continuation of that cruelty and oppression in 21st century. See my article on the treatment of homosexuality in Saudi Arabia. Secularism is the forward march of rationality and progress that must be combined with democracy for the sake of the rights of all. Religion when mixed with politics and law is cultural stagnation – usually anchored to far more violent periods of history – based on unverifiable dogma masquerading as universal truth and beauty for the sake of the social supremacy of those who believe over those who don’t. One read through a religious text quickly teaches us that we have in fact progressed since the barbaric days in which they were written.
Imagine secularism as a line of power. A line on which stands all genders, all sexualities, all races, all faiths. The line ensuring all are considered equal. No one group above another. A line that transcends generations. If any one of those groups deviate and raise above the line, or choose to push others below the line, we suddenly find ourselves in a situation in which secularism has been replaced by an illegitimate authority that has no right to do so (or no right thus rationalised adequately). The maintaining of that line, is necessary to protect against dogmatic injustices that appear as a result of one group raising above the line.
Secularism allows for the religious to believe and express the violent notion that we non-believers are cursed to spend eternity burning in the unforgiving flames of hell. That is your right to believe and to say. Similarly, I have a right to say that I find that disgusting, worthless, outdated, and worthy of nothing but ridicule and condemnation. Under a Theocratic system, believers would be free to believe and express the violent notion that we non-believers are cursed to spend eternity burning in the unforgiving flames of hell, but we non-believers would have no protection under the law to criticise and ridicule and hold those views to be contemptuous and cancerous. The level playing field of secularism is the protection of all ideas regardless of how insulted we may be by them.
When George Wallace was sworn in as Governor of Alabama, he stood on the same spot that Confederate President Davis stood 102 years earlier, and swore:
“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”
– He was arguing and fighting for the perpetuation of the supremacy of the colour of his skin, enshrined into law. Individual liberty, and the realisation of ones dreams and hopes and ambitions were severely limited to what colour your skin was. It takes a very long time to undo the vicious chains applied by the power of the supremacy of one particular race, but it is necessary and rational to foster a system that breaks those chains and levels the playing field, and whilst the UK and US still has major roads to travel until the ideals of secularism and equality are realised, they are on the right path. There are also some wonderful secular Muslim groups working to the same end – ‘British Muslims for Secular Democracy’ for example – who must be supported and defended against all those who wish to subdue them.
Speaking of those who wish to subdue others. Religious supremacy also tends to have male supremacy, and heterosexual supremacy built into its very foundations. A critic of mine, the increasingly Patriarchal Hakeem, when rather putridly attempting to defend grown men marrying children, says:
“Due to being moral relativists, the critics of Muhammad must judge him precisely as they would judge anyone else who lived in that time period; they cannot morally condemn him if, in his day, it was the norm to marry someone who is younger than today’s age of consent and consummate the marriage later. The only way to provide an objective basis for morality is to believe in a transcendent being (God) which, as atheists, the authors of “Does God Hate Women?” deny.”
– And here, for once, I absolutely agree with him. There is no God. Therefore the Prophet – when it comes to his marriage to a young girl – cannot be judged entirely by today’s standards. He is anchored to the cultural context of the period in which he lived. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that had I lived back then, and in that region, I would have felt the same way as I do today. Of course I wouldn’t, because I am constrained by the context of the time. But Hakeem fails in his basic premise, when we flip the argument back around to face him. The Prophet Muhammad, to Hakeem, was in touch with the eternal. He was in touch with a being that transcends time. He is not restricted by the cultural context of 7th Century Arabia, and in fact for Muslims, the Prophet is there to change the context of the time period. He certainly isn’t restricted by it.
Therefore, the ‘objective’ moral base from Hakeem’s God – who sees fit to intervene to demand which direction people should pray toward, but doesn’t see fit to intervene to suggest marrying a child might be wrong – has no problem with grown men marrying children. The Prophet today, would be absolutely fine with marrying a 9 year old girl, because his God permitted it not just for the 7th Century, but for all time. This is the absolute epitome of Patriarchy and abuse and very very dangerous. And Hakeem wishes to uphold it. His article is one long pointless ramble that could be summed up with “It’s fine to marry kids! Aisha loved it! And all those who say otherwise are white supremacists blah blah incoherent rant.”
However, whilst Hakeem is right to claim that we Atheists – in order to be consistent (unless we argue from the Muslim perspective) – cannot tie the Prophet to anything but the context of his time, Hakeem is wrong in suggesting that we secular Atheists believe we have an “objective” base for our moral understand. No Atheist will tell you we have an “objective” base for our moral values, when “objective” is defined by the religious. I simply say, that human basis of right and wrong – whether you’re an Islamist like Hakeem, or an Atheist like myself – has never been defined by religion, that we have always used our rational judgement to make a moral decision based on our understanding of the World at that moment, and that that ability to rationalise is key to the evolution of our collective understanding of right and wrong. Sometimes we have got it wrong, but we learn and we improve, as an in-built species survival mechanism derived from a group mentality that has shaped our evolutionary history. This is a process of necessary cooperation, conflict resolution, altruism, and the part of our brain that deals with empathy. I maintain that all religions simply grabbed on to the moral context of a time that they were born into, and try continually to compel us all – by force of religious supremacy – to lay stagnant in that context, on fear of punishment.
Similarly, we see primitive forms of “morality” in the nature of our primate cousins. They appear to recognise the situation of their contemporaries and act accordingly. They (what we might call “anthropoid apes”) show evidence of empathy, and group cooperation. There are some excellent studies into the empathetic displays by certain primates. I would argue that to dismiss the evolution of empathy within primates, as a key ingredient to human morality, would be to suggest that it has no bearing on our decision making, and to dismiss all understanding derived from scientific observation and experimentation, instead putting your hands over your ears and saying “la la la I’m not listening! Allah did it!!”.
Another key ingredient, is the accepted scientific method of observing and evaluating what works, and what doesn’t work; what helps humanity and the individual within the society (both important factors) and what doesn’t. Again, this is a product of our evolution as a species. If I put those two together; our evolved sense of “morality” and our socially evolved sense of empirical evidence gathering; this is where that which we have labeled “morality” stems. Human beings are wonderfully reasoned primates.
Regardless of the way Hakeem twists the words of his faith to appear less vicious, less supremacy-driven, less Patriarchal… it cannot be escaped. Religious supremacy, at its core, is no different and no less oppressive than any other form of supremacy. It demands subjugation of others. The Qur’an makes quite clear:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.). Regarding the woman who is guilty of lewd, or indecent behavior, admonish her (if she continues in this indecency then), stop sharing her bed (if she still continues doing this lewd behavior, then), [set forth for her the clear meaning of either straighten up or else we are finished and when she returns to proper behavior take up sharing the bed with her again], but if she returns in obedience (to proper behavior and conduct) then seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.”
– Indeed, the website “Islam Tomorrow” explains this verse:
“Now we can properly understand that Almighty God has commanded the men to provide for the women and allow them to keep all of their wealth, inheritance and income without demanding anything from them for support and maintenance. Additionally, if she should be guilty of lewd or indecent conduct, the husband is told to first, admonish her and then if she would cease this lewdness. If she should continue in this indecency, then he should no longer share the bed with her, and this would continue for a period of time. Finally, if she would repent then he would take up sharing the bed with her again.”
– There is no sense of equality here. There is only the sense of an owner (the man) and his animal (the woman). The woman is treated like property that requires a man to keep her in her place, on threat of punishment. This is Islamic supremacy, & male supremacy. Secularism ensures this kind of poison does not infect the lives of those of us who believe in the beauty of equality. I am quite sure that Emily Pankhurst wasn’t fighting for the right of a man to “admonish” her if she freely chose to act “lewd” according to a man’s interpretation of that term.
And then Hakeem moves onto a complete misunderstanding of secularism (though this is from a man who, when he cannot provide any logical argument – which is all the time – resorts to calling all those who disagree with him, a white supremacist):
“A perfect example of this is the issue of homosexuality. If you read literature by early secular socialists, they were vehemently against homosexuality, some arguing it was an unnatural behavior that was a product of capitalism. In the modern era, however, socialists are among the most vocal of advocates in normalizing homosexuality. Now some would give them a pat on their back for their more tolerant and progressive views. The question is, based upon what criteria are they progressive? And who is to say they won’t flip their views a couple of decades from now, believing once again that homosexuality is an elitist lifestyle of the capitalist upper-class, as they once argued? And then they would get another pat on the back for being progressive, when in reality, all that happened is they allowed their morality to be fluid, rather than based on a solid foundation.”
– Firstly, he is correct that early Communists violently disapproved of homosexuality. That’s where his “being right” ends. He fails to note how viciously his own religion treats gay people in Islamic countries, and how mainstream Islamic opinion is entirely negative toward sexuality being anything other than “straight = right, gay = hell bound!”. I would argue that the reason gay people have been so mistreated and abused for centuries, is down exclusively to the heterosexual supremacy of religion. Hakeem is wrong to use the term ‘secular’ to describe anyone who disapproved or may in the future disapprove of homosexuality. To disenfranchise, punish, or single out homosexual men and women for abuse or second-class rights, is the antithesis of secularism, and the establishing and ensuring the supremacy of heteorosexuality enshrined into the cultural fabric.
He seems to not understand the term “progressive”. We have moved from a stage of not understanding sexuality in the slightest, because our understanding up until very recently was based on Biblical prejudices that have endured for centuries…. to a position upon which we have based our understanding of sexuality on research and reason. And by doing so, we notice that heterosexuality and homosexuality are just two points on a spectrum, with neither being “better” or “natural” and thus “supreme” in comparison to the other. Thus, progress. To then suggest we might one day decide otherwise, can only be true if we suddenly decided to reintroduce religious considerations into the debate. Or, regression.
The misrepresentations are rather malodorous at times to say the least. One common misrepresentation is that secularism necessarily leads to eugenics, and the rise of Nazism. To suggest that the Nazi Party – which based its ideology on the advancement of one particular race, and worked to destroy the Jewish identity – was the result of secularism, is a catastrophic misunderstanding of secularism. The narrow frame upon which they tend to establish what led to the rise of Hitler is so intensely flawed that a response is largely unnecessary, but given the point of this defensive article, I thought it worth mentioning to highlight the basic flaws in anti-secular thought (I use the word ‘thought’ in its loosest possibility). Firstly, let’s point out that those – like Hakeem – obsessed with the idea that Atheists have no “objective” base (by which they mean, metaphysical base) for their morality echo the thoughts of Hitler, who in April 1933 said:
“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith …we need believing people.”
– Secondly, the economic situation in Germany along with the humiliation of the Treaty at Versailles and centuries of anti-Jewish rhetoric spewed by the Catholic Church, led to the rise of Hitler and the horrendous genocide that followed. As a young man, Hitler read a lot of works by Martin Luther, the German Protestant reformer. One of which – “On the Jews and their lies“ – calls for Jews to be put to use as slaves, and Jewish schools burnt to the ground. This is the antithesis of secularism. It is the perpetuation of a system of privilege based on one particular race, and the conclusion of 2000+ years of Christian inspired anti-Jewish hate. Hitler wasn’t reading Thomas Paine or John Stuart Mill… Hitler was reading Luther.
And thirdly, supremacy. The Nazis were fighting to place their particular race above the aforementioned line of equality and establish racial supremacy. The illogic is no different to Hakeem attempting to place his religion above the aforementioned line of equality and establish religious supremacy. Only secularism ensures they cannot oppress, and that irritates both Islamists, and white supremacists. Hakeem’s dream for an Islamic-controlled state, is the reintroduction of Jim Crow based not on white supremacy, but on Islamic supremacy.
Secularism – as mentioned above – advocates a level playing field upon which no single gender, race, religion, or sexuality has a natural right to supremacy over any others. No one gender can rightfully be considered the “maintainers” of another. No one race is “greater” than another. No one sexuality is more “natural” than another. No one belief deserving of authority over others. No one is free to oppress another if the other is an apostate. Secularism allows for the ingenuity of everyone regardless of trivial differences to work to their full potential, the freedom to excel, to argue, to reason, to create, to live, to love, and to experience life in their own way, to their own beliefs. If you wish your particular gender, or sexuality, or race, or religion to deviate from that line of equality, you are going to have to work particularly hard to convince the rest of us to bow down in unquestioning subordination to your new found desire for supremacy, with reasoned and uncontentious points that stack up to more than “Well if you don’t give us power over your lives, you’re basically Hitler”.
For further reading, see my article on the right to blaspheme.
For more further reading, see my article on Hakeem Muhammad and his ludicrous claim that Atheism is a product of white supremacy.