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Defeating religious extremism

Guest Blogger

With religion snaking its way ever deeper into politics, Paul Cliteur argues that the best role for religion in the public affairs of the state is no role at all. In “The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism,” recently published by Wiley-Blackwell, Cliteur argues that religious extremism is a threat that can only be overcome by a secular approach in society and politics. Here, Cliteur, a professor of jurisprudence at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands, applies his theory to the questions that have dogged President Obama about his own religion.

By Paul Cliteur

A considerable portion of the American population (18%) believes President Obama is a Muslim, according to a poll by the Pew Center .

The religion of a president – whether he is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim – should not matter to Americans. The First Amendment makes that clear enough. But the separation of Church and State has eroded so much in recent years that you simply can’t escape a dose of religion in daily politics.

All of this argues more than ever for a strong commitment to secularism in the nation’s politics.

A state can take several approaches in trying to manage the role of religion in society. It can try to annihilate religion as the communists attempted between 1917 to 1989. It can decree that only one religion will be accepted as theocrats try to do. It can give preferential treatment to some religions at the expense of others, as happens in the United Kingdom and apparently, given the delusion over Obama’s beliefs, also happens in the United States. Another approach would be for the state to favor religion – all of them on an equal basis – and discriminate against unbelievers. Finally, the state can promote true religious neutrality.

In a religiously neutral state it doesn’t matter whether the president is a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim, because he and his constituents consider religion to be a private affair. In such an environment, the president will not even say what his religion is; he would also not say what religion he doesn’t follow. In a state tormented by religious divisions, religious neutrality seems the sole solution to prevent a tearing apart of society.

It should not be considered shameful to call yourself a secularist. Rather is should be a badge of honor. If President Obama truly wanted to defend religious freedom, he should avoid saying “I am a Christian” or “I am not a Muslim.” Rather, he should simply offer: “I subscribe to the principles of secularism.”

Religious neutrality in religiously pluralist societies like France and the United Kingdom – and the United States -- is the path to tolerance. The only question is: When will the American president and the American people acknowledge this?

By Steven E. Levingston  |  September 17, 2010; 10:55 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: religious secularism; religious extremism;  
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I think if we can step outside of our personal dogma, we can acknowledge that there is a core set of universal values in civilized societies everywhere, regardless of faith.

Agnostics and atheists can develop strict moral codes without the aid of a deity, or a church. Most of these values are supported logically, and might even be hardwired into our collective psyche.

The simple act of turning a situation around to evaluate its worth (aka, "do unto others...") is all that is truly required for any adult with a conscience to know the correct moral behavior.

In some ways, religious beliefs may encourage immoral behavior in some, by creating that "path to forgiveness" for their misdeeds. It might be easier to commit that crime, if you can say "sorry" later, and be forgiven the act.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | September 17, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

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