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weakness of secularism

Reader comment on item: Secularism - Will It Survive?

Submitted by roger wilkinson (Australia), Oct 13, 2005 at 01:20

Dear Mr Pipes,

I follow with interest affairs on this site - thank you again for your valuable work.

I have struggled with your idea of 'moderate Islam'; I can just about accept the idea of viewing some muslims as 'moderate' by virtue of their behaviour; however I think that if 'secularism' is held up as an alternative or as the alternative ideology to Islam then sooner or later the notion of moderate Islam will have to be thrown away, because Islam is implacably opposed to secularism, and will not fit a secularist idea of moderate.

Furthermore, secularism is a weak ideology; to propose that individual belief systems are a private matter and can be divorced from public life may historically have had some pragmatic value so long as the state was dealing with a (Christian) faith which broadly speaking formed the basis of consensus in society and was not disagreeable to a non-religious government. But it is a feeble proposition pragmatically, never mind its philosophical difficulties, in today's world. The more 'secular' a state and people are, the more devoted they are to the pursuit of 'secular' interests, and the less interest they have in the pursuit and maintenance of freedom etc., or in the defence of good values.Indeed secularism may actually become opposed to the best values the moment these are in some way perceived as 'religious'. Something rather stronger than secularism is needed as a social lodestar. I think the folly of 'secularism' is amply demonstrated by the apparent failure of the well meant US attempt to bring 'democracy' to Iraq. People simply don't live in a value vacuum; democracy is a way of life with a profound moral underpinning, not merely a system of government. Mr Bush, I think, evidences the peculiar division often to be seen in the US - private faith attempting to cohabit with public secularism - and there are subsequent confusions and lack of clarity, such as you note in the attitudes taken towards Israel.

I hope these comments are of interest to readers. May I recommend, having myself previously made good use of your bibliography, the reading of Mrs Thatcher's books, in particular her most recent, entitled 'Statecraft'? On the whole I think she would tend to see 'secularism' as ultimately destructive of democracy, which is the way I am thinking.

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