The Soul of Secularism and Religion in Public Life

After recently getting into an argument about the pros and cons of Ali Shariati, the Iranian Muslim modernizer who died in 1977 at the hands of the SAVAK, I came across this paper by Austin Dacey at the Center for Inquiry, which “promote[s] and defend[s] reason, science, and freedom of inquiry in all areas of human endeavor,” on how secularists should engage the matter of religion in public life.

“American secularism has reached an impasse. In a post-theocratic but religious society, the project of ‘privatizing’ conscience can lead nowhere but into strategic blunders and intellectual incoherence. With its ambiguity between the personal, the sectarian, the subjective, and the non-governmental, the concept of privacy is too crude a tool to properly frame secularist arguments. By relegating conscience to the world of subjectivity, the philosophy of privacy insulates it from due public scrutiny. If they want to resist the social agenda of theological conservatism, liberals will have to do better than asking the devout to please refrain from speaking their minds. Better to look to the philosophy of our church-state fathers, and the democratic hopefuls of Islam. They remind us that for secularism to hold sway in a religious society, it has no choice but to engage with the substance of conscience.”