Monday, September 06, 2010

A pretense of secularism

Constance Singam's article 'A Secular Society Interrupted' advocates secularism explicitly. She introduced secularism through the work of George Jacob Holyoake. Here's what Constance wrote:
"George Jacob Holyoake, who coined the terms ‘secularism’ in 1851and ‘jingoism’ in 1878, defines secularism as ‘a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human. 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 here in this world.’"
Indeed, it was Holyoake who coined the term 'secularism'. But the concept of a separation between the religious authority (church) from the non-religious authority (state) in the public space is not originated from Holyoake. It was first articulated by Augustine in the fifth century in his famous work The City of God.

Augustine wrote the book as a response to the political and theological turmoil of his time when Rome was plundered by the Visigoths under the command of Alaric in 410 A.D. In it, Augustine distinguishes on theological ground the differences between the earthly city and the heavenly city (Book 1, chapter 35; Book 19, chapter 28). These two cities co-exist with one another in our temporal history called the 'saeculum'.

Hence secularism in its current modern manifestation as a space where the church and state as separate entities has its root as a theological concept. Which secularist is ready to admit this?

Anyway, back to Constance's reference on Holyoake. Any sensible person would immediately note the serious problem in Holyoake's third principle of secularism. It simply begs the question what is 'good'?

At this question one may either go to Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism or Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative.

Yet Kierkegaard has so effectively demonstrates the inadequacy of both system in Either/Or. The utilitarianism is relatively portrayed as the 'aesthetic' life, while categorical imperative as the 'ethical' life. To Kierkegaard, both lacks authenticity and hence meaningless.

I am not at all suggesting that religion can provide the answer to the question "What is good?" But at least I don't pretend that it can.

Secularism can't provide the answer too. But the problem is that secularists who promote secularism often pretend that it can. An obvious case is Holyoake himself, as seen in his third principle of secularism. Hence, it simply baffles the mind that people, like Constance, are so readily endorse Holyoake's dubious thoughts and think that it is a 'good' one for public policy. Unless one settles what is meant by 'good', then it is meaningless to say what's 'good' for the public.

I mentioned that I am not here suggesting that Christianity can provide the answer. Indeed I am not. It is Slavoj Žižek, the world's hippest philosopher and an atheist, who suggests otherwise: "It thus seems both theoretically productive and politically salient to stick to Judaeo-Christian logic." (The Fragile Absolute: Or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for? [USA: Verso, 2001], p.107. Emphasis added)

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