Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Of false debates and Baronesses

One of the most popular and dubious techniques in debate is to create a false polarisation of subject in order to insert your view as the rational mid-ground. Baroness Warsi has done exactly this with the debate of religious freedoms vs militant secularism.

The two extremes of this imagined debate are a theocracy (where state is ruled by religion) and militant secularism. But what is militant secularism?

In order to be the opposite of a theocracy, we can only presume that militant secularism is supposed to represent a system whereby the state defines religion such as the banning of all religious thought i.e. none. No freedom of religion, no discussion of religion, no right of worship … nothing.

However such an approach would be opposed ferociously by secularists because secularism has never been about state interference or denial of religious beliefs but instead separation of the church from state.

But let us take up this inferred axis of theocracy (where religion governs state) vs a militant position (where state governs religion such as denies all religious belief). In such circumstances secularism is the mid-ground. Tolerance and acceptance of a wide range of religious beliefs whilst ensuring separation between the state and any church.

From the National Secular Society - "we campaign from a non-religious perspective for the separation of religion and state and promote secularism as the best means to create a society in which people of all religions or none can live together fairly and cohesively."

Baroness Warsi's entire debate rests on creating new extremes and attempts to portray secularism as connected to one of those extremes. It isn't. There is no secular group who wishes to outlaw all religious thought or wishes the state to define religion. There are no militant secularists.

Certainly you can probably drag up some loon who is willing to call themselves a secularist and say that they want to ban religious thought but then that person is not a secularist and never will be. That person would deny religious belief and that's not what secularism is all about.

Intellectually, the debate is dishonest - shame on Warsi, you're supposed to be a cabinet minister and above such things.