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- Published on Amazon.com
Secularism is one of those concepts that are widely used without having a clear notion of what it is. Dutch humanist philosopher Paul Cliteur's book The Secular Outlook gives the theoretical clarification of what secularism is and what it is not.
Cliteur takes the reader on an intellectual journey in the history of ideas, especially to the, nowadays not often read, 19th century freethinkers, like Holyoake and Clifford. He sees four aspects of the secular outlook: atheism, criticism of religion, freedom of expression and moral autonomy. So, to make it more concrete, when you are an outspoken liberal atheist you have, what Cliteur calls, `a secular outlook'. Cliteur shifts focus from atheism to secularism, and atheism is not secularism.
Atheism is an intellectual position about the non-existence of god. Secularism is in an intellectual position about morality (moral secularism) and politics (political secularism). Cliteur begins a helpful distinction between secularization and secularism. Secularization is description of how much of social and political life is influenced by religion. It is the process of a decreasing influence of religion on politics and society. Secularization and its causes are much studied by social scientists. Secularism, on the other hand, is a normative notion. It is about how ethics and politics should be, and what the relation between and religion should be.
The secular outlook means having a nonreligious outlook on ethics and politics. The private sphere is the domain of religion, according to Cliteur. Religion is like a hobby. Cliteur is a liberal; that means he holds that, in the Millian tradition, freedom of the individual is the ultimate value. Individuals are free to think and do what they like, as long as they do not harm others. Political secularism is about how the state should be organized. It won't come as a surprise that Cliteur pleas for a strong form of separation of religion and state.
Cliteur shows that in the texts of the Abrahamitic religions, there are passages, which justify and encourage violence and terror. In other words, terrorists can find justification in the scriptures.
`The problem is that if Scriptures are, indeed, considered "holy", even though they contain only a small number of passages that incite violence, they can still cause much harm.' (p. 121).
Cliteur criticizes many political correct `thinkers', such as Tariq Ramadan and Karen Armstrong, who deny that there is anything wrong with religion (especially Islam) per se. A well argued secular outlook is the cure for the problem of religious inspired and justified terrorism and subjection of freedom. The secular outlook is the moral and political ideal for the open society to protect itself from the enemy of religious terrorism.
Floris van den Berg teaches philosophy at Utrecht University, the Netherlands.