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The Trouble With Secularism

(or why I didn't vote for Dave Landau's motion)

Ben Drake

First, I've not met Dave Landau but I don't doubt his good motives: like
many on the left (and indeed many people of faith) he's committed to the
principle that all faiths should have equal treatment and no special status
in law.  Fine so far.

Trouble is, in the current political climate in Europe, the main danger
isn't the rise of an oppressive theocracy.  Quite the reverse.  Look at
developments like the headscarf ban in France and parts of Germany and you
see the real threat: an intolerant, oppressive, almost fanatical brand of,
well, secularism.

In the UK this trend has been thankfully less pronounced, the generally
accepted social principle here remains 'live and let live'.  Yet the UK is
technically a religious (C of E) state.  Which leads me to conclude,
regardless of philosophical logic, in practice I'd rather live in a tolerant
religious state than an intolerant secular one.

Now I'm not suggesting that Dave's motion promotes intolerance.  It's
clearly aimed at defending the rights of all.  But I suggest that by posing
the question as secular vs. religious, it risks playing into the mainstream
media discourse, whereas that really needs challenging in favour of the real
battle, tolerance vs. intolerance.

(Also, as an education authority worker, I've got to point out that
demanding the end of state subsidies to all faith schools is more drastic
than it might sound.  Think about it a minute: how many state schools in
your neck of the woods have 'CE' or 'RC' or 'St.' in the name?  That one
little clause would mean in practice shutting down about half of the state

As I say, I don't question the motives behind secularism.  But I'd just urge
comrades to think it all through carefully, there are complex issues in play
here, and we don't want to repeat the recent mistakes of sections of the
left in France.

January 2004


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