In rejecting secularism, ideologies have become new again

Jun 16, 2015

by E.J. Dionne

The rise of fundamentalism and religious ultra-orthodoxy has taken much of the West by surprise. But the shock is not limited to the world’s well-off democracies.

For most of the 20th century, secular and usually left-leaning advocates of national liberation in developing countries fought twin battles: against Western colonialism, and against what they saw as the “backward” and “passive” religious traditionalists among their own people.

Suddenly, those supposedly backward believers are no longer passive. They are fighting to reimpose the faiths of their forebears. And in its most extreme forms, the religious pushback is genuinely frightening. That the Islamic State is, in certain respects, even more extreme than al-Qaida justifies our alarm.

Ultra-orthodoxy in more benign forms is also on the rise in democratic countries with long traditions of religious tolerance. Marx derided religion as an opiate that was destined to fade away. What happened to make faith one of the most dynamic forces in the world?

Political philosopher Michael Walzer has spent an exemplary life grappling with the intellectual mysteries at the crossroads of modernity, religion, democracy and justice. His latest book, “The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions,” examines the history and trajectory of national liberation movements in Israel, India and Algeria. It could hardly be better timed. It asks why the secular revolutionaries, far from marginalizing religion to the private sphere through what they saw as “consciousness raising,” actually produced a backlash, calling forth often radical forms of religious assertion.

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6 comments on “In rejecting secularism, ideologies have become new again

  • The rise of fundamentalism and religious ultra-orthodoxy has taken much of the West by surprise.

    No surprise at all.
    These genius academics have not read the koran, know nothing of jihad and are therefore unqualified to comment.

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  • That axe grinding is deafening. The statement is also untrue. Every academic that I know who comments on these things has read the koran. So that is wrong. Besides, anyone may comment at any time and not just academics. No qualification needed. Since such books offer no falsifiable tenets that support their assertions nor offer any useful information that is not found elsewhere it seems that anyone, in fact, everyone should comment.

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  • Besides that: The basis of the koran (and the bible) is the assumption of a god, i.e. an unprovable hypothese with a plausability as close to zero as is possible. So, if the foundation is worth nothing, all that is built upon it also has no meaning whatsoever. Logical conclusion: You don’t have to read the koran or the bible to judge on these religions.

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  • Absolutely. and it’s not just the academics having a view, same goes for every victim begging for their life at the hands of Jihadist. how dare they have an opinion on what’s being done to them if they don’t understand the subtle complexities of the events leading to their torturous exocution? I bet half the allied leaders didn’t even once consult mein kampf before deciding to recklessly liberate europe

    I’d extend that view to all violent crimes. Many are carried out by people with psychological conditions that are utterly impossible to objectively understand as an outsider so why do so many laws frown upon the lone gunmen who commit atrocities without first understanding why a schoolyard full of children need to be wiped out?

    By the way if you don’t like my tone and haven’t read the same books as me please don’t think you have any right to respond

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  • SaganTheCat
    Jun 19, 2015 at 7:59 am

    By the way if you don’t like my tone and haven’t read the same books as me please don’t think you have any right to respond

    . . . . if we had pennies or cents for every fundamentalist who has turned up at this site, with zero knowledge of the history of the Bible, and not having read or understood most it, then telling other posters that THEY do not understand it!!!!! . . . . . . . .

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  • The book Dionne has referred to, by Michael Walzer, seems to be an interesting read.

    Secularism in India is now perhaps the most misused and misinterpreted concept.

    One the one hand, there is the rejection of secularism, and revival and spread of religious obscurantism. It is shocking to see more and more people taking to religion despite a general advance in scientific and technological innovations.

    One the other hand, there is the misuse of secularism by politicians for votes.

    A criticism of the misuse of secularism becomes an easy excuse for the right-winged critics to evade the concept of secularism as enshrined in the Constitution of India.

    Some go as far as arguing that secularism itself is not relevant to India, because secularism as a concept has its origins in the conflict between the Church and State in the West, and because India does not have an organised Church, the concept itself is irrelevant.

    There cannot be a more relevant concept than secularism in India today. Words undergo change and expansion in their meaning with passage of time. Nobody uses “Enthusiasm” in the narrow Christian sense anymore.

    Secularism, in today’s context, is closely allied to liberal, rational and free thinking and a scientific outlook. These things are incompatible with religion. Religion depends on indoctrination and mind conditioning for its survival.

    Religion fosters unscientific thinking, obscurantism, and blind faith.

    Secularism is one of the best antidotes to the malady called religion.

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