Skip main navigation

The case for secularism

Watch Andrew Copson describe the arguments for secularism and explain that you don’t have to be a humanist to be a secularist.
6.6
The case for secularism is quite simple, and is built on three main pillars: the argument for freedom; the argument for fairness; and the pragmatic argument, or peace argument.
24.3
The argument for freedom starts on the assumption that we all want to have a certain element of autonomy and self-determination in our lives. This argument comes in large part from the liberal humanist tradition of
39.1
political thought: thinkers like John Stuart Mill, who made it a cornerstone of his philosophy, his ideas, that for human beings to be complete; for them to flourish and have fulfilment in the way that most human beings want to, they need the freedom to pursue their own goals and dreams and ideas. And the argument for secularism rests on the argument for freedom because it says only in a secular state, in a state that doesn’t try to tell you what to believe or what to do or how you have to live, can people really have the freedom that they need.
74.4
The argument for fairness is really about justice, about equal treatment. It rests on the assumption that, as far as possible, we all want to be treated fairly and we should expect as a result to have to treat other people fairly. Equal treatment is in the end to everyone’s benefit. And in the case of religion and state, obviously the secularist approach is the most equal.
106.5
So that’s the argument for freedom, the argument for fairness- the argument for peace or the pragmatic argument is really the simplest
112.3
of the three: it says, ‘look around the world, look into the history of Europe and of Asia very obviously’. When religion is in power, when states take on religious goals, when they adopt official religions, what happens is persecution, discord, civil war, inquisitions, torture and violence; and the only way to avoid an ongoing war of ‘everyone against everyone else’ is to have a state that tries to mediate that diversity by securing a fair and open society for all groups, so that no one group or individual will feel alienated to the extent that they get pushed over into violence or conflict.
156
Almost all humanists are secularists; it’s in the nature of their beliefs about the world or their values, to agree with a secular state rather than any sort of religious state. But by no means are all secularists humanists. Many religious people are also secularists, and secularism itself is a concept that was, in part, invented by religious people. It was Protestant denominations in Europe, and the United States of America, that first fully formed the idea of freedom of religion and belief; the idea that an individual’s conscience was between them and God, and that the state couldn’t and shouldn’t interfere with that.
192.6
And, very religious people in the history of India, people like Gandhi himself was an ardent secularist - not for humanist reasons, but for religious reasons. He believed that People’s spiritual paths were their own, and the state didn’t ought to interfere in that. And there are arguments in every religious tradition, from Islam to Judaism, from Hinduism to Buddhism, that make that same secularist argument.
Andrew Copson describes the arguments for secularism and explains that you don’t have to be a humanist to be a secularist.
Question: Given none of us can choose the religion or beliefs of the families into which we are born, what laws on religion and belief should the state impose and what freedoms should it guarantee?
This article is from the free online

Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education