Recent conversations (and subsequent private email correspondence I have not published) with Dr. Robert Benne have gotten me thinking about the relationship between skepticism, secularism, and public policy. It is a subject of interest to me, and one I think will be interesting for the atheist community, and governments everywhere, in coming decades.
Today, I don’t want to try and address this issue in any detail, but I want to throw out a few questions I have been considering.
What is the relationship between skepticism and secularism? Does a skeptical analysis necessarily result in a secular worldview? To me, this is a similar question to whether skepticism, especially when properly applied, necessarily leads to atheism (I say yes). So, does skepticism, when applied to how we make decisions for the public, result in a secular process necessarily? I am leaning towards yes, and I think this is why I am so interested in the issue of Jeffersonian separation of church and state (or separation of religion and government, which might be a better phrasing) and the role of secular thinking in public affairs.
Further, skepticism is a set of methods which relies on scientific analysis in addition to logic. If skepticism leads to people being secular, does that mean that if we are to ask those who create public policy to use skeptical analysis in their decision-making, we are asking them to be secular? I think the answer is yes. I also think this is a good thing. For too long have we tolerated Congressmen making arguments based upon scripture, personal belief, etc.
I don’t know how religious opinion can survive such an environment, and I don’t know how to reconcile the issue of religious liberty with this. I am not interested in encroaching upon personal rights of belief. However, when those personal beliefs are to be implemented as policy or effect policy, they have to be vetted. I don’t want parochial views to be influential, without some secular support for them, upon public policy. In other words, I want public policy to remain secular. Allow people to choose how to live their lives, unhindered by scripture or parochial moral views which they do not subscribe to.
Those who try and argue that this is a Christian nation, or who want to apply sharia law to places like Britain, must demonstrate reasons why the ideas which emanate from their worldview should be prescribed to society at large. I don’t envy them that task, because I think it is fruitless. In the long-term, perhaps the very long-term, those religious opinions may disappear. Until then, we need to make sure that those opinions don’t work their tendrils into the lives of the rest of us.