Sunday, November 7, 2010

Regarding Secularism and Government

The curiously named Newt Gingrich enjoys referring to something called "secular socialism", primarily in reference to what he seems to consider the goal or nature of government as conceived by the Obama administration or, perhaps, liberals in general.  I'd like to focus on his use of the word "secular" for a moment, putting aside the question of socialism.

One wonders just why reference is made to secular socialism.  Is there some religious kind of socialism to be distinguished from the secular sort?  Christian Socialism, perhaps?  This seems a necessary consideration, given the definition of "secularism" one finds lurking in dictionaries.  Is Mr. Gingrich a religious socialist, socialist in the sense that some have claimed Christianity is socialist, to reserve his scorn for secular socialism?

I doubt it.  I think it's more likely that Mr. Gingrich either associates socialism with secularism (or knows the meaning of neither term; which is I suppose to say much the same thing) or is asserting that government should not be secular.  I think it most likely he feels government should not be secular.

It's troubling that some think secularism in government is somehow inappropriate.  That government is secular does not mean that those in government, or those subject to government, must be atheist or in some other sense irreligious.  A secular government is, however, not a religious government.  We've had religious governments before, of course, and there are those who apparently think government should be religious now.  Thus we have nations which have what are called Islamic governments--the rule and law they impose are purported to be Islamic.

If Gingrich and others believe our government should be a religious government, then they could be said to favor a form of government which can fairly be described as un-American.  Our revered Founders quite deliberately and wisely sought to assure that our government would not be a religious government in the sense that it would not be a government dominated by any organized religion.  One doubts even the more extreme of our so-called conservative politicians and pundits (including Gingrich) would deny this fact.  But what could they otherwise mean by criticizing secular government?

Do they feel that if our government representatives would merely invoke God more often, or pray more often, publicly, our government would lose the taint of secularism?  If that's the case, it seems that they would like our government to at least have the appearance of being religious in some sense.  Do they desire that Christ in particular be publicly invoked?  Do they contend that liberal policies are necessarily secular, while conservative policies are necessarily non-secular, if not religious?

None of these seem likely.  If this is the case, though, the probability is they want something else, something which would render government religious in substance and not merely form.  And that is a disturbing thought, for those whose idea of religion may differ from those controlling the government.

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