This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

The spectre of militant secularism

At the weekend, I was honoured to award the Secularist of the Year prize to Peter Tatchell on behalf of the National Secular Society. From the stage, I looked across the restaurant where the celebratory lunch was held and saw only intelligent, polite people (if by that stage of the proceedings, intelligent, polite and slightly tipsy people). I had to break the news to them that according to respectable society they were fanatics; the moral equivalents of religious bigots. On the one hand, conventional commentators held, there were Islamist militants who slaughtered without compunction, Jewish Orthodox militants who persecuted freethinking women, Hindu nationalist militants who drove artists out of India, African Christians who murdered homosexuals, Protestant militants who attacked Catholic homes in Belfast, and Catholic militants who responded in kind.

On the other hand, there were ‘militant secularists’, who… well, what? No one can say.

‘Militant secularist’ has become the ‘neo-con’ of the 2010s: a know-nothing label that signifies extremism, without explaining where the extremism lies. Radio 4 broadcasters prove that their bias is not always squishy liberal by allowing the religious to denounce the supposed militancy of their critics, without allowing the critics to reply. Like the small-c conservative columnists in the broadsheets, they forget to tell you what is ‘militant’ about ‘militant secularism’ because if they did, they would expose their own fatuity.

Militant secularism or atheism has a specific meaning. From the Jacobins through to the communists, militants murdered priests or sent them to camps, and destroyed churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. Militant secularism still exists in communist China and North Korea. I and every other British secularist I know oppose it because we believe in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

A reasonable principle to hold? Not according to polite society. The request for ‘freedom from religion’ causes it to forget what few manners it possesses.

In this morning’s Telegraph the Bishop of Oxford says the Church of England wants the taxpayer to pay for at least 200 new primary and secondary schools to combat the influence of secularism. Notice that the bishop does not say that he wants to combat secularism by proselytising his religion, winning converts and engaging in the free arguments of a democratic society. He must know that that game is up.

Read on

TAGGED: COMMENTARY, FAITH SCHOOLS, RELIGION, SECULARISM


RELATED CONTENT

Challenging Religious Privilege

- - National Secular Society Comments

Atheist group targets presidential...

Dan Merica - CNN Comments

A prominent atheist group is using next month's Democratic National Convention to take aim at the presidential candidates' religion, putting up billboards targeting Mormonism and Christianity in Charlotte, North Carolina.

An 'atheistic, rationalist, secular...

Sheryl White - NZ Herald Comments

Sheryl White speaks out against a planned Christian teaching program in New Zealand schools

Atheist Chaplain’s Assistant delivers...

Justin Griffith - - Comments

Atheist Chaplain’s Assistant delivers powerful speech

Nones” climb to 19%

- - Freedom From Religion foundation Comments

Nones” climb to 19%

Letter to Trevor Phillips, Chair of...

- - Maryam Namazie Comments

Letter to Trevor Phillips, Chair of Equality and Human Rights Commission

MORE

MORE BY NICK COHEN

The racism of the respectable

Nick Cohen - The Spectator Comments

To be a racist in Britain, you do not need to cover yourself in tattoos and join a neo-Nazi party. You can wear well-made shirts, open at the neck, appreciate fine wines and vote Left at election time.

The secret scandal of Britain's caste...

Nick Cohen - guardian.co.uk 11 Comments

Science has vanquished religion, but...

Nick Cohen - Guardian.co.uk 31 Comments

The Pakistan killings are not about...

Nick Cohen - Observer 41 Comments

The Pope's unholy alliance with the...

Nick Cohen - guardian.co.uk 29 Comments

Alexander Lukashenko, still president of Belarus thanks to a rigged election, has found an ally in the Vatican

Only religious thugs love blasphemy laws

Nick Cohen - Observer 95 Comments

MORE

Comments

Comment RSS Feed

Please sign in or register to comment