Knowing that all people are born equal entails certain responsibilities, including allowing others the freedom to choose their religion (or absence thereof). Traditionally, secularists protected religion from the state. As it often does, this evolving dynamic has recently presented new challenges: Islamic extremism, the U.S.A.’s Christian Right, and the revival of old issues such as the Catholic lobbying of European governments.
A proper analysis of European secularity, and its value, must begin with an exposition of the greater context. Religious influence of government has a long history, one that posterity does not look fondly upon. Whilst one must keep in mind that totalitarian regimes have often used their religiosity (or lack thereof) for political purposes, we cannot ignore the occasions when religion has inspired discrimination and subjugation.
As far back as the earliest civilisations, established religion has justified the prevalent hierarchy. Ancient Egyptian pharaohs and Roman Emperors were deities, due unyielding loyalty. In the cradle of civilisation, the early Sumerians married the state and church in a fusion which made religious structures the foci of the first cities. The Chinese emperors possessed the Mandate of Heaven, and surmounting the Indian caste system were the Brahmin.
Proto-Enlightenment ideals were born in ancient Greece, with the advent of Athenian democracy and the materialist schools of thought. This movement, after the spread of Christianity, hibernated in the Middle East during the Islamic Golden Age and was preserved by monastic orders.
In the centuries that followed the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the discovery of the New World lived the first Enlightenment thinkers. John Locke, David Hume, and Thomas Paine were some of the people that challenged the role religion had traditionally played in medieval Christendom. Instead of believing that the Divine Right of Kings was the foundation of leadership, ideas like the will of the people entered the public consciousness.
So, instead of viewing secular governance as the orthodoxy, it is important that we who wish to defend it recognise its status as a radical notion. Dwarfed by the number of years mankind has lived under ‘godly rule’, like a child its youth makes it vulnerable and due protection. As the popular maxim states, “freedom isn’t free”.
Even now, there are those who wish to open free schools under Michael Gove’s new policies that replace evolutionary biology with young earth creationism in science classes. As a percentage of British state schools in 2011,19% of secondary institutions and 37% of primary institutions are faith schools.
The Catholic Church has repeatedly attempted to cover up, or shelter the perpetrators of, paedophilic crimes committed by its clergy. Not to mention the support the Catholic Church is lending,and has lent, to political parties around the world that have right-wing social agenda.
As has already been made clear attacks on secularity have not been restricted to Britain, or Europe. Very recently the 4-day GOP convention came to a close, one that showcased a theistic rhetoric unbecoming of the second largest party in the world’s most powerful democracy.
Of course women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of non-heterosexuals, are not just subverted in the United States. Russian legislation has outlawed ‘pro-homosexual’ language, not to mention the fact that in Near Eastern and African theocracies (Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.). homosexuality can earn someone the death penalty. This is all on top of the infamous human rights abuses we’ve all heard of, banning women from driving cars and persecuting those who make ‘heretical’ tweets.
If what has already been mentioned isn’t enough, those suffering from HIV as a result of the Catholic propaganda in places such as Africa that forbids contraception, and tax-exempt religious organisations during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression should be enough to spurn people into action.
In the defence of liberty every threat warrants a response, and if that means taking to the streets and marching in the name of a secular Europe, so be it. Secularism, like flora of Spring, has to maintained if it is to survive the opposition that would destroy this experiment of justice and diversity in its infancy.