Religious Reasoning for a Secular State

A Golden Rule argument for secularism.

Posted Aug 28, 2018

 Art4TheGlryOfGod by Sharon/Flickr
Source: Art4TheGlryOfGod by Sharon/Flickr

Many religious people in the United States see secularism as evil, as an enemy not only of their faith but of the nation as well. But when we focus on creating what can be called a secular society, we see that this form of secularism is the friend of religion, not its enemy.

In his book, How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom, Jacques Berlinerblau characterizes secularism as follows:

  • It seeks a balance between a stable social order and religious freedom.
  • It seeks to protect freedom of conscience in matters of religion.
  • It tolerates all forms of belief, but not all actions based on those beliefs.

On this understanding, secularism is a political philosophy that seeks to protect religious freedom while avoiding religious strife. It allows people the freedom to live, worship, and believe as they choose, but forbids the government from coercing others to do the same. It tolerates all sorts of beliefs, but limits religious freedom when a significant enough harm to others justifies such limits.

Religious people should embrace this kind of secularism. One primary reason, from the Christian tradition, has to do with treating others as you would want to be treated. Christians should seek to put themselves in the shoes of those who believe and follow other religions, or no religion at all. Then they'd easily see that using the state to coerce belief (or non-belief) is simply wrong. This is a simple and straightforward application of the Golden Rule.

Do you want the freedom as a Christian to practice your religion, according to your conscience? Then upon pain of logical and moral consistency, you should allow others to do the same, as long as no significant harm is the result. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, agnostics, and atheists have many differences. But we all have one thing in common: We should care about and work toward a just state, where maximum freedom of conscience is a central moral, social, and political value.