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On Faith and Reason: The Progressive Imperative of a Truly Secular Society

The first from my “letters” series. Some ideas about why the philosophical foundations of secular society are essential for religious tolerance.

Secular society helps us strike a balance between the rational and the mythological mind

Since the election, I’ve been putting effort into having conversations with people from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

These conversations—whether they happen via phone, in-person, text or email—have been helpful. I’m clarifying my thoughts, finding common ground, revising my opinions and questioning my assumptions.

I wanted to post some excerpts here for two reasons:

  1. To do my part use the internet for good to fuel healthy debate and discussion
  2. To provide some inspiration and possible jumping-off points for other looking to do the same

I hope you enjoy! As always, feel free to comment and challenge me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Re: science. I don’t have an out-of-the-box problem with skepticism of science (I am a huge proponent of skepticism in all of its forms!). But it seems to me that a free-thinking and democratic society can only be structured around things that are demonstrable. Otherwise, you’ve got Islamists saying “I know that giving my life for the establishment of the caliphate will be rewarded in Heaven”, Christians saying “I know that the Bible was written by the only God that matters”, and Buddhists living in an imaginary world of “non-harm”, while being okay with other people killing their food for them.

And all of them want to see their untestable ideas underwrite the whole of civil society. Which can only result in bloodshed.

Also, and even more frightening for me, is the fact that the extent to which each group’s beliefs are protected from scrutiny is the exact extent to which it is okay for another to go on blowing people up for religious reasons.

I’m fine with whatever people want to believe in their homes.

But the distinctions that will give us the kind of world where all of these people can live without killing each other can be established through some version of the scientific method.

Some examples:

  • Exactly what extent and form of gun control helps us meet the goals of self-protection, sovereignty, and harm reduction? Testable. Answerable.
  • Exactly what types of tribalism and traditional social norms are required to maintain civil society and simultaneously allow for a growing population that is necessarily more pluralistic? Testable. Answerable.
  • Exactly when is a human a human in development and what do we want to decide about when it is okay/not okay to take that human being’s life? Testable. Debatable. I would argue answerable, but probably not on a national scale since values vary from locale to locale.

It seems like anything short of this requires imposing some form of state-sponsored totalitarian religious regime.

Isn’t hiding behind the ideology of political correctness really similar to hiding behind a religious ideology? Both are unprovable, both oversimplify things, both take some sort of high ground that seems to exempt them from scrutiny and debate. Thoughts?

Featured art source is unknown. Sculpture is of the Hindu god Ganesha. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom.