The issue of religion and modernity has suffered increasing confusion from secular humanists, now the new atheists, and in light of the previous post about a Reformation in Egypt/thence Islam, we can see that the term ‘secular’ has turned into a minefield due to its botched re-definition in terms of ‘atheism’. The secular can’t be equated with atheism, or any of the narrow viewpoints of the new atheists.
Ironically, the term ‘secular’ arose in the sixteenth century in terms of the word ‘saeculum’ or ‘age period’ as people sensed a new era coming into being, one, we should note, ignited by the Reformation.
The secular has to be taken broadly as a constellation of innovations in religion, science, philosophy, politics, art and general culture. Atheism emerges in the eighteenth century but never became a dominant viewpoint. Because of the reactionary character of the Catholic Church in the French Revolution an aggressive atheism started to emerge in the nineteenth century. But we should not forget that religion and revolution became associated in the Reformation and the English Civil War shows the connection to democracy’s birth, while the classic liberals like Locke were actually coopting the issues.
The attempt by the new atheists to equate ‘secularism’ with atheism is thus misleading and a form of presumption that can only cause more confusion.
And the transition beyond religion has a deadly catch-22: if Mr. Maher is so against religion why hasn’t he assimilated? Being Jewish is a religious category and allegiance even when it is not a religious belief system at work. Figures like Maher are really in an ambiguous hybrid that ends up cloaking religion behind attacks on religion in general. If this seems odd, consider the reality in Israel where a new and deadly set of hybrid categories plays both sides of the fence, and has wrecked the democratic foundation of the Israeli state.
I think it is true to say that a religion like Judaims/Xtianity will not go away as long as ‘Jews’ refuse to assimilate. Strange, but true. What a harebrained and dangerous terrain. But the history of Israel shows the confusion created by thinking an atheist jew to be a non-religious person. The double whammy of playing both sides of the fence is clear in figures like Maher, and has produced hopeless confusion in Israel.