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The word secular means not relating to religion or a religious body, or worldly rather than spiritual. Secularism generally means a belief that religion is somehow separate from reality, and should be kept separate from important human systems such as government, education, ethics, and the economic system. Proponents of secularism emphasize reason and science as more valid foundations for civilization than religion. However, in denying religion, secularists often underestimate the need in human systems for meaning and purpose, community, and a sense of humility before a greater power. American society currently faces a crisis in which a fanatical "religious right" has started growing in power through being paradoxically allied to a secular, corporate culture devoid of purpose and meaning. I will argue that the religious right is essentially a secular movement and is fueled by and allied to secularism. This is in contrast of the reaction that many have against the religious right, which is to reject religion and push for stronger separation of church and state. I believe that the solution to the current crisis in America lies in a restoration of true religious freedom, and and end to a society that forces secularism on people (both on its own and under the guise of "religion").
Freedom of Religion vs. Secularism
Many people fail to make a distinction between religious freedom and secularism, erroneously believing that in order to acheive religious freedom, we must purge the public sector of anything religious. Yet, many of the problems that exist in our society exist precisely because of this purging of religion, which has systematically shut out a sense of meaning and purpose from our educational system, our legal system, and our economic system. America does not have true religious freedom because many peoples' religious beliefs cannot be freely expressed through their actions in their careers, in the laws of their government, and in their choices of day-to-day life. American society has become the pinnacle of materialism and greed in the world: it is in dire need of religion to reinstill a sense of purpose in the lives of individuals and the functioning of social and governmental institutions.
Individuals can embrace religious freedom while having religion play an active role in their lives: there are many who are deeply religious, yet respect and sometimes even study and participate in religions other than the one(s) they identify with. As a society, we can also embrace these ideals: instead of separating religion from education, we can teach about different religions and encourage students to share their experiences, traditions, and beliefs with each other in order to build a greater understanding; in government, we could bring religion into the dialogue and use religious principles to impart a sense of purpose and direction to our policies. Too often the only way that religion enters into the public arena is in the form of the religious right, which I believe is neither religious nor right: instead of reacting by pushing for greater secularism (which feeds the religious right as I will argue below) we should be working to include other kinds of faith in the dialogue.
Secular Religion: ChurchOne?
I often jokingly talk about how I am going to start a for-profit, corporate religion named ChurchOne, named in the spirit of Bank One, Realty One, CharterOne Bank, RadioOne, and the latest corruption, ProduceOne. Yet the spirit of ChurchOne already exists. There are countless churches that exist merely as self-perpetuating social systems, devoid of a real sense of meaning, purpose, and humility before God. These are the churches where people talk about "Accepting Jesus into your heart" but are unable to answer in any meaningful way when you ask them what it means to believe in Jesus. These churches often serve political ends: the religious right is strongly allied with a political force that serves the secular interests of large corporations. The religious right is more about an us/them mentality than it is about a search for purpose and meaning, and the accompanying political machine certainly wants to supress any widespread discussion of purpose and meaning, for it needs to mask the fact that its sole goal is profit for a small group of privileged people. The religious right also has no humility whatsoever--they believe that they are right and all others are wrong. Although the religious right uses the language of religion, at its core it is a secular entity that is driven by politics (see language in religion). Yet the reaction that many have against the religious right is to reject religion and embrace secularism even more strongly, which ironically just fuels the religious right more.
Secularism is easy to overcome; the problem is that up until now we have been actively embracing it instead of properly identifying it as a problem. Once we recognize the link between secularism and the religious right, and the ways in which secularism can stifle religious freedom, we can start to move from promoting secularism to offering a more constructive alternative. We do not need to embrace religion as it has been presented to us by others around us who identify as "religious", but we absolutely must build something to fill the voids in our lives and in society: we must find a sense of purpose in our lives, search for meaning in the events around us, develop an appreciation for a power and purpose that is greater than our own selves. Ultimately we must develop cohesive value systems and religious communities, and begin integrating these structures into the fabric of society in a way that promotes religious freedom by allowing sometimes similar and sometimes differing religious ideas to participate in all aspects of society. We may start new religions, new sects of existing religions, we may return to old and abandoned traditions, we may develop individual belief systems and we may form religious communities of all sizes. But whatever we do, we will be helping to mend our broken society.
Return to religion.
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