Secularism is generally defined as the separation of state from church (or any other religious institution). In other words, the state will either stay neutral or favour/condemn all religions equally. As we shall see, this ideal is an impossible one to achieve.
Let me explain with the help of an example. Consider a society which has two sets of people: Religion A and Religion B. Below are some of the fundamental beliefs of these two groups of people.
Religion A is that of polytheists. All kinds of diets and drinks are allowed in this religion. All humans are considered equal and at a superior level than animals.
Religion B is monotheistic. The followers adhere to a strict plant-based diet — no meat, no alcohol allowed. All animals and humans are considered equal.
Now let’s imagine a secular state for this society. The state claims that it holds secular values and does not favour any particular group. However, you’ll soon notice that secular values are still values and will either favour or condemn either group. Consider the following scenarios.
- On the fundamental question of god and theology, the state decides to stay neutral. “To each his own,” it says. Notice how this neutrality favours A over B.
- On the question of food choices, once again our secular state suggests that people should be allowed to eat whatever they want as long as it does not harm a person. Once again, this goes against B’s belief which puts animal rights on the same pedestal as human rights. Favouring A, Offending B.
You can keep doing this exercise and the outcome would still be this: whatever a secular state decides to do or not do, it will follow particular values, favouring one set of values over the other. Upon close observation you will find that these are simply modern, western values (influenced by Protestant Christianity and Europe’s history). That is all there is to modern secularism. It’s a religion in itself, giving you an illusion that it is keeping you away from one.