Religious views in the secular sphere

There is an interesting article and an entertaining discussion ongoing at Cif belief, The Guardian's opinion site on religious issues. The piece is an article by Jonathan Chaplin that criticises the view held by some secular humanists according to which religion should play no role whatsoever in democratic discourse. Chaplin's point is that the democratic debate should take in as many faith-based and moral views as possible.

Chaplin makes his case against secular humanism by debunking the three main points made against religion in the public square:

  1. Faith-based discourse will cause religious views to be legally imposed on secular citizens.
  2. Faith-based arguments are unintelligible or inaccessible to most citizens, whereas secularist moral arguments can be embraced by everyone.
  3. Religious faith is just irrational and so can never be the basis of democratic reasoning.

According to Chaplin none of the three stand up. He concludes:

If we want a truly pluralistic democracy which builds consensus by honouring difference rather than suppressing it, we should ensure that democratic debate remains open to as many moral and faith-based standpoints as possible. In a pluralist democracy pretty much everyone at some point is going to feel imposed on by some legislated moral standpoint they deeply repudiate. So for exclusivists to single out just one class of moral standpoints – religious ones – as unacceptable cannot be justified.

I find Chaplin's argument very compelling and agreeable. What I find baffling is the hard time he gets from the commenters. Atheists can be a vicious lot sometimes. Only a handful of commenters who attack Chaplin seem to have read what he is actually saying. He is not saying that faith should be given more influence in public life than any other standpoint, but that it should not be denied influence merely on the grounds that it is faith-based, i.e. "non-rational" knowledge.

I'll leave the final word to the Gaping Void.



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