I recently attended the Netroots Nation panel in Pittsburgh on the proposal for a “New Progressive Vision of Church and State.” The proposal, which I criticized last week, was written by Bruce Ledewitz, an atheist himself and author of “Hallowed Secularism.” The panel wasn’t as bad as I had feared, as he had invited staunch defenders of the separation of church and state like Fred Clarkson of Talk2Action. For a more complete description of the panel, check out what Greta Christina wrote, whom I met there.
After the panel, I spent about an hour talking to Ledewitz and Clarkson about secularism. Ledewitz writes in his book that his goal is to “suggest why Hallowed Secularism, which establishes a closer relationship between secularism and religion, is necessary.” It’s a very fuzzy attempt at middle ground, taking part of religion to stave off the so-called failures of secularism. Here’s a passage from the introduction:
What is needed is a source of power, order, and beauty outside humans themselves – in fact, outside the visible order altogether but not outside human experience. This is precisely what Our Religions give to those who are open to them. Can secularists have this without the traditional God?
Yes. Even without Our Religions, human beings can encounter a mysterious otherness, both personally and historically – an otherness upon which we can build our lives and a civilization.
I’m not done with the book, but anytime someone talks about a “mysterious otherness” it pays to be wary. What, exactly, is he talking about? I don’t know. In our conversation he said he wanted to tap into the power outside humans – but was unable to tell me quite what that power is. He insists that we secularists need to be more ‘religious’ but couldn’t define for me what he meant by religion, even when I asked him directly in person.
As an example of the ‘otherness’ he goes on to cite a woman who had a freak spiritual experience and says:
Hallowed Secularism can, however, acknowledge that human life has this aspect and that it is meaningful. [A spiritual] encounter might even be authoritative in one’s life; that is, such experience might teach me how to live. Such experiences are not merely subjective.
Another word I would love to have defined is “meaningful.” Yes, the human brain can go haywire and stimulate the temporal lobe to give an awe-inspiring feeling of oneness. How can this teach you to live? How is it objective?
I won’t put words into his mouth – maybe he answers my questions later in the book or in an email correspondence. I’ll keep you posted.