Secularism is an ideology.
I wish to begin my defense of secularism - which I will continue through several posts - with this because I have heard many people describe secularism as something that transcends ideology - as something that sits over the top of all ideologies and gives us instructions on their use in political debate.
This conception holds that secularism is all about having different people with different ideologies come together at the political table, setting their ideologies aside, and making decisions for the good of the community independent of ideology.
The first thing I am going to say about this is that it is not secularism.
It is not even coherent.
Much of its incoherence can be brought out through this question: If we are going to set all ideologies aside, then do we also set aside the ideology that says to set aside all ideologies?
It does not matter how we answer this question, we enter into problems.
If we answer "No. People who come to the political table must not set aside this ideology," we must ask why this ideology is permitted at the table while all others are prohibited. What makes it special?
If we answer, "Yes. People who come to the political table must set aside all ideology including this one," then we have left behind our foundation for saying that all (other) ideologies must be left behind. We also do not have anything we can use to make any political decisions.
This is the same incoherence we find in the claim that we must not indoctrinate our children - that we must leave them free to make up their own minds. When I hear this, My next question is, "Is it wrong to indoctrinate children into the belief that indoctrination is wrong?"
If children are free to grow up to be parents who hold that it is free to indoctrinate their children, then on what basis do we condemn the practice? If, on the other hand, we hold that all children must be indoctrinated into the practice of no indoctrination, we have an incoherent and self-contradictory rule. Consider the proposal, "We are not going to indoctrinate a child into any language. Instead, we are going to make sure that a child's mind remains uncontaminated by any language, so that the child can choose his or her language rather than having a language foisted upon the child."
I suspect I do not need to go into a long explanation as to why this proposal is simply nonsense.
Or, what amounts to a very similar proposal that is very close to the issue of indoctrination, "We are not going to provide a child with any beliefs. Providing beliefs to a child violates the child's autonomy. Instead, we are going to make sure that the child grows up without any beliefs, leaving the child free to choose his or her beliefs when that child is ready to do so."
Really? Explain to me how that is going to work.
The claim that we are not going to indoctrinate children is ultimately a claim that we are not going to provide them with an initial set of beliefs against which they will evaluate all future beliefs. That is simply not an option. It is just like the option that we are not going to indoctrinate children into a language but allow them to choose their own. How are they going to choose?
Like it or not, we are going to have to answer the question of which initial beliefs (or language) we are going to give to a child - and "none" is not a possible answer. Similarly, we are going to have to ask, "What ideologies may people bring to the political table?" "None" is not a possible answer.
This is a fact - like it or not.
So, I am not going to defend the idea that secularism demands bringing no ideology to the political table - I find that option absurd. Secularism itself is an ideology - and it is the correct one to bring to the political table. All competing ideologies are flawed in some way - though I hasten to add that it is NOT the case that all other ideologies are competing. There are a lot of ideologies compatible with secularism and can easily fit beside it.