Secularism has two major features that separates it from other parallel but rather dissimilar tendencies. In this category, one can easily mention religious fundamentalism, agnosticism and atheisms. The main feature of secularism is that it doesn’t prohibit the wider practice of religions in their institutionalized forms. Secondly, it insists on making the state a secular entity. In other words, the pinnacle of all social organizations, i.e., the state, cannot side/affiliate itself with clearly spelled out religious doctrines. In its essence and practice, secularism is a collective endeavor (constitutional), as opposed to others like atheism/agnosticism, which preside mainly at the individual level. Of course, pure secular states hardly exist, since societies are a mix of traditional/historical legacies imbued with values imported from modernity! Many of the current global states that consider themselves pretty secular are actually situated in a more nuanced spectrum!
By modernity we mean the tendency to question all and sundry with a view to analyze/synthesize rationally and logically. Even if there are no readily available answers to many of the queries in this universe, modernity still insists on approaching such challenges fortified with its principled methodology or what we can loosely call the ‘scientific method.’ By and large, our modern world system has leveraged, for good or evil, science and technology to create our prevailing reality. It is because of the ascendance of this rational/logical attitude, secularism flourished as a declared state ideology all over. That is why we say; secularism and modernity have been occupying the same feed back loop lending a coherent/collective impetus to the whole enlightenment continuum. Be that as it may, we are now facing scenarios where secularism is challenged while fundamentalism (of one sort or another) gain ascendance. Why?
When the general beast (human mass) is concretely undermined by all kinds of political/social/cultural, etc., schemes, (compliment of the rigged modern world system) it will inevitably resort to any ideology, so long as the new dogma promises liberation from existing oppression. It also helps when the new galvanizing creed promises a better life after this one! To a large extent, the extremism we are currently witnessing in MENA (Middle East & North Africa) belongs to this category. In the recent past, adherence to political secularism did not bring desired changes in the state of affairs in many places, including Syria, Iraq, Egypt, etc. As a result, the beast started to take to the street and more, but nothing doing. On top of this, empire didn’t like the attempt of secular states to reposition and renegotiate their status within the prevailing modern world system, mostly by leveraging their natural resources! From Ukraine to East Asia (China, etc.,) from Libya to Egypt, from Nigeria to Kenya, the world system is now facing protracted chaos, ‘Empire of Chaos’!
When the fruit of secularism consists of a market that is synonymous with greed and corruption; politicos on the payroll of the criminal oligarchs; phony education that is indoctrinating (not enlightening & liberating); parasitic professions rife with cog-in-the wheel zombies; foreign funded social activism peddling camouflaged slavery and self-hate: ethnic/religious fundamentalism will become inevitable, may be not entirely justifiable and certainly not desirable! It is such vacuous secularism that is currently creating havoc all over the world, undermining what has been achieved by the enlightenment project eons ago! Vacuous secularism that facilitated the ascendance of psychopaths to the fore will not last long, whether such secularism is located in the North, South, East or West.
For secularism to succeed as a stable state ideology, the average/general beast, must solidly understand and internalize its core values. Otherwise, the tendency will be to look backward and ultimately resort to ethnic/religious affectations, thereby shredding the secular constitutions of modernity to pieces. Secularism must be seen to benefit all, and not only those who cunningly leverage the stupid and worn out gimmicks of the world system under the lofty pretext of secularism. When secularism becomes unjust and corrupt, the reactive antidote is bound to be ethnic/religious fundamentalism! Value laden (meaningful) secularism coupled with progressive developmentalism (pro-people & pro-nature) might save the day, if committedly executed! Hardly a handful of countries on our continent understand the seriousness of the problems associated with vacuous secularism. The majority of African countries that have completely undermined value-laden secularism, fooled by frivolous growth & superficial peace, are now paying the price. Think Nigeria! Think Cote D’Ivoire! Think Kenya! .
To be sure and throughout the ages, moral values have been derived from the various religious teachings. On the other hand, the philosophy of secularism, which leaves ample space for individual reflections, (outside of established dogmas) has also allowed the development of humanistic values based on its own internal principles. Moral and humanitarian values are not the exclusive domain of religious orientations. Open mindedness and respect to all as well as the principle of live and let live (don’t do to others what you don’ want others to do onto you) all resonate with the teachings of all the great religions. We believe, value-laden secularism must be passionately promoted, if the world is to have a more peaceful & enlightened future. Here is one of humanity’s supreme moral teachers: “I do not expect India of my dreams to develop one religion, i.e., to be wholly Hindu or wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another.” Mahatma Gandhi. Good Day!