I hadn't been a posting member at Cliopatria for long before I seem to have blithely (and unintentionally) stepped on a few toes. There's been a very fine -- albeit impassioned -- discussion going on over at Butterflies and Wheels , especially here and here. Lots of this seems to have come in response to what I wrote earlier this week here. At B&F, the following comment was posted:
If I flaunt my atheism... then in certain contexts this is considered hostile, aggressive, bad mannered, etc. But it just doesn't work the other way around. It doesn't seem to occur to the religiously minded that just occasionally we'd rather not be confronted with their faith. This is not to say that we don't welcome debate with the religiously minded. But it is to say that we expect them to respect our atheism in the same kind of way that in certain contexts we're expected to respect their theism. And that means not flaunting articles of their faith in our faces.
There's been a lot of fine talk about what it means to "flaunt". I quoted Stephen Carter, who wrote:
...serious religion understands that the life lived without attention to the basic question is life not worth living. In traditional Christianity, discerning God’s will and doing it is prior to everything else.
What that means is that my Christian faith informs my scholarship as well as my politics. Many of my friends, colleagues, and students don't share my faith. But they also deserve to know where it is that I (as they say) am "coming from." What some have called the flaunting of faith is, to me, my attempt to explain the set of beliefs about reality that undergirds my entire worldview. My Christian faith does not prevent me from using good epistemological techniques when I am hunting around for resources in the archives, but it does mean that I will only truly understand the ultimate meaning of what I find in those archives through the lens of my faith and my church. I've got a feeling that annoys some of my fellow historians. (I'd like to stress what I am sure everyone already knows, that the university systems in which historians work were all modeled on what were once explicitly Christian institutions, after all. The arrival of "militant secularism" as the dominant force in the academy is a fairly recent development!)
First Things (I do like it so much) has this fine article in its May online issue: The Politics of Partisan Neutrality. Some of it is relevant to the discussion that is raging on. I post here the first three paragraphs:
Americans who want to understand conflicts between Democrats and Republicans during the election season have received precious little help from the media. While reporters usually recognize that there is some sort of problem about “values” and about “faith-based” principles, and that the Democrats and Republicans are often on opposite sides, writers and editors tend to publish news and analysis as if the situation were as follows: The Christian right, having infiltrated the Republican Party, is importing its divisive religious ideas into our public life, whereas the Democratic Party is the neutral camp of tolerant and pluralistic Americans.
This way of framing the matter predominates, not only because it reflects the personal beliefs of many journalists, but also because it draws upon a long American tradition of suspicion and fear of committed Catholics and evangelical Protestants. (In the elite newspapers and magazines, the number of journalists in either of those groups is tiny.) It is thus comfortable for journalists to conceive of religiously based political conflict in terms of an aggressive Christian right advancing upon a beleaguered neutral and pluralistic center and left.
What the journalists leave out of their accounts is the fact that the nonreligious have also become aggressive actors on the political stage and that they possess and promote, in fact, an overarching religious worldview of their own—one that can fairly be called secularism.
It's brilliant. And I think it is high time to start using the term "secularism" more frequently, and to use it to describe one particular (and often quite aggressive) doctrine that seeks to protect and expand its dominant influence in the academy, the media, and the public sphere. It's only fair.