Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Religious Belief and Secularism

Larry Siedentop in The Times in an article entitled "Do you realise Europe is in the throes of civil war? A battle of ideas that is blinding the West" discusses the relations between secularism and religious belief.

He writes:

"Europe is in the midst of an undeclared “civil war” — a struggle that has been boiling away since the 18th century. It is a war between religious believers and secularists.

The French Revolution was the decisive moment in this clash between Church and anticlericalists. It created two hostile camps across the whole of Europe — pitting the followers of Voltaire, who sought to écraser l’infâme, as they described the Church, against those who saw the separating of Church and State as an insurrection against God.

Over the past hundred years the religious camp has come, by and large, to accept civil liberty and religious pluralism. The anticlericals have — with the exception of hardline Marxists and writers such as Richard Dawkins — given up on the attempt to extirpate religious belief.

But the old antagonism still lurks under the surface. It resurfaced over the debate whether the proposed constitutional treaty for the EU should recognise the Christian roots of Europe. The visceral reaction of the French Left has its counterpart in Church rhetoric deploring the growth of “godless” secularism. Even Pope Benedict XVI, the most learned pope for many years, recently called for an understanding between religions in order to combat secularism.

This split is as tragic as it is unnecessary."

Full article is at

A great deal depends on the definition of "secularism": a notoriously vague word which a variety of definitions.

For a discussion on the differences between "hard" secularism and "soft" secularism, see Kosmin, Barry A. "Hard and soft secularists and hard and soft secularism: An intellectual and research challenge."

It is a .pdf file at