Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Brief History of Modern Secularism

The American Heritage Dictionary defines secularism as: “The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.” The word secularism was coined (1846) by George Jacob Holyoake to denote "a form of opinion which concerns itself only with questions, the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life."
"Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable. Its essential principles are three: 1) The improvement of this life by material means. 2) That science is the available providence of man. 3) That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good" (English Secularism, page 35).
Holyoake fought to abolish oaths required by law, to disestablish the Church, and to secularize public education. He advocated socialism, and widely published the propaganda of “free thought” through magazines and books. Holyoake was an agnostic, and presided as President over the London Secular Society. His successor in that society, Charles Bradlaugh, was a member of the British House of Commons. He had become an atheist as a result of his conclusion that the articles of the Church of England and the four Gospels differed. Holyoake “held that secularism is based simply on the study of nature and has nothing to do with religion, while Bradlaugh claimed that secularism should start with the disproof of religion.”

The ideas of Secularism are obviously not new. A Godless universe, or even a cosmos independent of God, are things that thinkers have speculated about for all of recorded history. One such thinker, Ibn Rushd (1126—1198), otherwise known as Averroes, was a philosopher and scientist. He was born an Andalusian-Arab in Cordoba Spain, and is believed by many to be the father of secular thought in Western Europe. Besides writing original works of his own, Averroes commented extensively on the works of Aristotle and Plato, including The Republic, which is deemed to be one of the cornerstones of Western Thought.

Siger of Brabant (1240—1280’s) was the main torchbearer of Averroes’ teachings in his time. He taught Aristotelianism in its original form, not reconciling it to Christian understanding. Siger essentially said one thing could be true through reason, while the exact opposite could be true through faith; this “double truth” suggested hard facts are reached through science and philosophy, whereas religious truth is reached through faith. In Siger’s view, faith might just as well have been based on J.M. Barrie’s "Neverland" (in his play called Peter Pan), than in the spiritual reality called Heaven.

Siger’s two realms of truth are incongruous; this recycled philosophy of his became known as Averroism. The ideas of Averroism (separation of science and philosophy from religion) influenced the idea of secularism that we have today. Important to note is that the Hebrews had no such dichotomy of secular and spiritual. They did, however, differentiate between the clean and the unclean (Ezekiel 44:23).

Freethinkers developed theses from Siger’s views, which concluded philosophers (such as themselves) are superior to common people. In a very arrogant sense, these secularists hold to the belief that the philosopher, or even the philosophical scientist, is purely objective. While most men do not know what to think for themselves, they know. While one misunderstands his own experience, it is understood and categorized by them. In their view, the secular philosopher/scientist is able, more than any other, to decide what is true or false. The common man might believe the witness of the stars; he may believe the testimony of spring and autumn, but the secularist will know better.

In reality, however, to become secular is to turn off the lights; it is to try to study microscopic organisms with no microscope, and practice astronomy without a telescope. Worse than this, it is to speculate about what one sees, and make fabrications about what one doesn’t. Secular education is a travesty. It is to insist the earth is flat, to demand belief in bottled-up genies, and to reject the idea that the grass is green, or that it is even grass. It is to silence nature by stopping one’s ears and gouging out one’s eyes. It is to forgo the bread by plugging one’s nose to the bakery.

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