Last night I read an article by David Niose in Psychology Today, claiming that the secular movement is here to stay. Over the last few decades, this movement has been building and gaining momentum, organizing itself globally. It is indeed unlikely that this movement will suddenly be gone any day soon. However, does this really mean that the movement is here to stay, permanently? Personally, I don’t think so.
First of all, a distinction must be made between secularism and the secular movement. These are not the same thing. I don’t doubt for a second that what is now called secularism is here to stay, permanently. The world will not suddenly revert itself to the dark ages. A new kind of dark age may be on the rise, I’ll return to that issue later. But first, lets have a look at why the secular movement exists.
The secular movement does not exist because a lot of people believe in freedom of thought and separation of church of state. The secular movement does not exist because a lot of people do not belong to any religion or because a lot of these people don’t believe in any higher power at all.
* The secular movement exists because there are a lot of people who condemn freedom of thought, demanding that their religion becomes more or less mandatory for everyone.
* The secular movement exists because a lot of people are trying to turn democracies into theocracies and prevent theocratic countries from becoming more open and democratic.
* The secular movement exists because people keep killing and otherwise harming each other over dogma, accusing each other of blasphemy and heresy… leaving other people with an urge to scream that both sides are wrong and shouldn’t take themselves so destructively serious. Letting either side win would be horrible, and balancing them against each other would also be a bad idea.
* The secular movement exists because some people believe that everyone who doesn’t believe the exact same things that they do will be tortured in hell forever, should be tortured in hell forever. These people despise and belittle everyone except themselves, and are convinced that the universe was created by someone who share their hatred and prejudice.
* The secular movement exists because secular people gets discriminated and marginalized, even jailed and executed, in spite of being good people who are not harming anyone.
* The secular movement exists, not because some people find meaning in belief in a higher power, but because some of these people keep preaching that it is impossible to find true meaning in life in other ways.
* The secular movement exists because some people keep arguing that it should be okay to bully and discriminate as long as it is done in the name of religion.
In conclusion, the secular movement is not about secularism, and it is not about being against religion. It is about defending mankind against those who would use religion as their motivation or excuse for totalitarianism, fascism, discrimination, bigotry, imposing unwanted stupidity and prejudice on people, and so on.
Take for example Richard Dawkins, one of the most famous advocates of secularism. Before he started arguing against religion, he spent decades studying biology. I am quite certain that his secularism in itself guided him only to seek knowledge on evolution and biology. What inspired him to start crusading for secularism was not his secularism as such, but the fact that the knowledge about life was under attack by creationists. All the carefully gathered knowledge about what life is and how it works was to be pushed back, replaced with shallow dogma. The creationists were demanding that a bronze age myth should replace all the knowledge of science, or at least be given “equal time”. Not that religion and science should be given equal time in school, mind you, but that scientific knowledge and religious dogma should be given equal time in the biology class. Dawkins started to fight for secularism not just because secularism is reasonable, but because the reasonable secularism needs to be defended against those who crusade against it.
Niose argues that the secular movement is here to stay for five reasons. Their first reason is that the secular demographic won’t disappear. While correct, this argument neglect the fact that a lot of religious people support the secular movement as well. Not only does a lot of religious people believe in equality and freedom of thought, but religious people need secularism for their own protection. When religious beliefs are a private matter, religious groups are protected from each other.
The second and third agument is that the the Internet makes it easier to connect to each other, and that the secular movement is organized. Yes, this is evident. Pushing the secular movement back underground cannot be done in an open and democratic society. The development in states such as Indonesia and Egypt may still be another matter, however.
The final two arguments are that the ideas of secularism are modest rather than radical, and that secular people are finally demanding equality. These arguments are not really signs of a movement becoming permanent, but rather the signs of a movement that will last for as long as it is needed.
So, the real question is, how long will theocratism and fundamentalism continue to be a serious threat to people? How long will the secular movement still be needed? Sadly, probably for a long time. Niose proves that the theocrats will not suddenly win on walk-over, but it is not enough that those forces will not suddenly win an unexpected and easy final victory.
The secular movement is a movement for liberation, a movement for freedom. The freedom to believe whatever you want without being branded a blasphemer or heretic. The freedom to exist regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, without people being allowed to harass you and discriminate against you simply because they have decided upon the Belief that people like you are less worth than them. The freedom to argue about the facts regarding the world, and have your arguments judged by their merits rather than be dismissed or approved by the whim of a mob rule. The freedom to not have to suffer through the emotional torture of people creating hell on earth by imposing on you that you and everyone else who isn’t exactly like them deserve to be raped and tortured forever, that you will be raped and tortured forever for the crime of not being exactly the person that they decide for you that you must be.
How long will this liberation movement be needed? Probably for quite some time. As theocracy melts away in the democratic world, theocratic forces in these countries fight to fortify their oppression elsewhere. Meanwhile, dictators and oppressors of all kinds are scared of secularism, doing their best to stop the secularization. Here in Indonesia, the religious parties lose votes and relevance with each election. Meanwhile, hardline religious groups are asserting their relevance through violence, and many are afraid that there will be an islamist-backed military coup in the future.
The struggle will continue for decades to come. Maybe centuries.
Ultimately, however, it will become obsolete and fade by merging into more relevant struggles. Just like we no longer have abolitionists and suffragettes.