June 27, 2006

Are We "Secular Fundamentalists?"

I just started reading God's Politics : Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. Admittedly, this is a bit of a change of pace from the books I usually read. It was written by a Christian who wants more faith in politics but opposes the co-opting of religion by either political party. While I find all the pro-faith stuff rather sickening, I am determined to give it a chance.

In the first few pages, I encountered the term "secular fundamentalists" in the context of right wing Christian conservatives. The author used this phrase to describe people who want to keep religion out of politics and public life. The author feels strongly that faith has a central place in both politics and public life and that both extremes (i.e., Christian fundamentalists and "secular fundamentalists") are problematic.

I argue here that the term "secular fundamentalist" is a meaningless distortion. Fortunately, we have a widely accepted definition of religious fundamentalism from which to start our comparison. As researched for a previous post, religious fundamentalism includes the following components:

1. Biblical Inerrancy
2. Evangelism
3. Premillenialism (expectation of second coming, rapture, etc.)
4. Separatism/Sense of Persecution
5. Biblical Literalism (at least with regard to creation)

Note: The research through which I arrived at these 5 components included mostly Christian sources.

Are there analogues for any of these components in the secular community (so far as there even is a secular community)? There is no core secular doctrine, so #1 and #5 have no bearing. I also see no analogue for #3. We are focused on this life because we recognize that it is the only life we have. The closest thing we might have to #2 are efforts by some atheists to combat the negative image of atheists held by much of the public. Certainly there are those among us who seek to foster the spread of atheism, but we are not really trying to spread a doctrine as much as we are encouraging people to embrace reality and give up superstition. I do see an analogue to #4, but our sense of separation/persecution is based in modern reality. We are a hated minority; this is not a point of controversy. Some of us also foster this sense of separation by continuing to mount an assault on the religion.

The closest label I can identify to what might be called "secular fundamentalist" would be something like "atheist activist." By this I mean an atheist who takes an activist stance about his/her atheism. Yes, I would put myself in this category. However, I don't see the necessary components of fundamentalism in this label.

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