Hunter Baker on Secularism
Date: May 28th, 2012
What role should religion be allowed to play in the public square? With a presidential election heating up, this question will undoubtedly be debated time and time again. Research on Religion jumps headfirst into this debate with Prof. Hunter Baker, an associate professor of political science and the associate dean of Arts & Sciences at Union University. Prof. Baker discusses his recent book, The End of Secularism.
We start with a bit of revealing banter about the cover of that book but quickly turn our attention to more academic discussion of secularization theory and its ideological outgrowth, “secularism.” Hunter defines “secularism” as an ideological position wherein religious practice and discourse must be removed from public visibility, either physically in terms of the display of religious symbols (e.g., creche scenes) or rhetorically in terms of how religious ideas influence policy. He argues that while many people feel that a secular public square provides a neutral ground for persons of all different creeds, in reality such a view privileges this specific ideology of secularism and thereby excluding alternative voices from being heard. Hunger further notes that secularism is often applied selectively depending on what political or economic issue is at stake. This is aptly illustrated with a comparison of how Judge Roy Moore was vilified when he tried to display the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, whereas the efforts of Susan Pace Hamill and Governor Bob Riley explicitly used religious justifications for implementing a progressive tax structure in Alabama.
When pressed as to whether secularism as an ideology is gaining an upper hand in America, Prof. Baker acknowledges that it may be in terms of displaying Nativity scenes on public property, but that attitudes towards rhetoric are changing so as to consider religiously-influenced speech to be more acceptable today than compared to the past few decades. A spirited discussion over whether city hall should display a creche around Christmas reveals some interesting insights, with the conversation then veering into the realm of public education, John Stuart Mill, and school choice.
Prof. Baker then reviews and critiques a number of arguments that have been advanced for supporting a secularist vision of governance over one that has religious mixed in, including ideas that religious conflict gives rise to violence, that science is a much better guide for life than religious faith, and whether or not secularism can generate its own moral code of behavior without relying upon Christian foundations. This leads to a discussion of moral relativism and Prof. Baker noting that those who claim relativism are not as relativistic as they seem. Tony then asks Hunter what a world without secularism as a guiding principle looks like and he answers that we already have a working model of that world here in the United States, which in turn generates an interesting comparison with other nations, most notably Sweden. We discuss education policy and health care mandates along the way to our concluding segment wherein Prof. Baker gives his prognostication about the future of secularism and religious liberty in the U.S. Recorded: May 9, 2012.
Hunter Baker’s biography at academia.edu, Union University.
The End of Secularism, by Hunter Baker. Click on this site to see the cover, which we talk about early in the interview.
“Reflections on the Spirit of the Age,” a blog by Hunter Baker.
Political Thought: A Student’s Guide, by Hunter Baker (available July 2012).
Phillip Muñoz on Catholic Bishops, Religious Liberty, and Health Care Mandates.
Luis Bolce on the Media and Anti-Fundamentalism.
Douglas Baker on Dominionism, Michelle Bachman, and Rick Perry.
William Donohue on Secular Sabotage.
Jon Shields on Democratic Virtues and the Christian Right.
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