Habermas and Taylor, Part 3: Radical Secularism

This is part of my blogathon for SSA Week. Donate, and suggest topics for me, here!
In two previous posts, I have laid out the arguments as they stand from Jurgen Habermas and Charles Taylor, two of the more prominent philosophers of religion working today. The former laid out a type of secularism that incorporated religious notions of community and such into an overall “postsecular” mode that would define society, while the latter proposed a total redefinition of secularism, a new variety that is not primarily concerned with religion, but one that is devoted to serving the absolute needs of its people while maintaining equality of voice as greatly as possible. In this post, I will lay out my own view, such as it is at this moment.

While I do not think he would necessarily agree with how I would like to characterize it, from these two men I take Taylor’s redefinition of the secular to be the most important step for me here. This is not to say I discount Habermas: far from it, I agree wholeheartedly with him that the return to political theology is a dangerous turn (though I disagree with him on the importance he believes religion plays in culture; another post for another time). But, I think, as Taylor does, that his solution does not adequately deal with the “fetishization” of religion in western secular democracies, which I believe is possibly the strongest opponent to the removal of reactionary and regressive tendencies from our governments. Religious privilege is amongst the most odious in our society; as Greta has written on before, religion tends to get a free ride from those with the power to check it. To criticize religion or religious belief in our day and age is still a massive taboo.

Hence why a redefinition of secularism is in order. Taylor writes of the new secularism not referring primarily to being a “bulwark against religion,” but creating equality of voice across a society, so that, as he wrote in A Secular Age, to celebrate the integrity of not just one, but many ways of life; sex and celibacy, war and peace, dogs and cats. This is a noble sentiment, and one I agree with, but the question becomes of how such a redefinition becomes possible.

It is tempting, if for but a moment, to take the Marxist view and demand immediate action, a revolution to overthrow the established order and install one based on, as Adorno put it, a perfect mixture of theory and practicality. This would, however, be committing the same crime that I mentioned earlier; that we would be creating a hierarchy of value, where one way is right and all the others are wrong. This will lead to disaster.

So what, then? I still think secularism as an overarching ethical is needed, but revolution of rationalism is not going to cut it. Any redefinition of secularism must, I feel, have a progressive, humanist ethics at its core. This is an ethics that demands action and stances that support true equality for women, full and equal rights for queer people, access to complete medical care and housing for those who want it, the decriminalization of drugs and sex work, and an end to state violence, to name just a few. Secularism must be about fighting oppression, not creating a new privileged class; and in this fight, we fight against all oppression or we fight against none of it.

These three posts should serve as an introduction to my thought on politics and the secular. Throughout the summer and beyond, I will be developing in full the ideas and claims I have laid out here in greater detail. I hope you have found these posts interesting, and if you have questions, objections, or general comments, please put them below and I will answer them as soon as I am able.

And now, for the rest of the night, I may just harp on phenomenology to taunt my rationalist readers. Stay tuned.

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