The religion of secular state: deChristianized Christianity –S.N.Balagangadhara

Assuming that the distinction I proposed between civic tolerance and religious tolerance is acceptable, let us proceed further to analyze the notion of civic tolerance more closely. (I am simply assuming that it is desirable and that, from now on, we are talking about religious matters.)


1. It is (logically) possible that there could be religious intolerance and yet the believers in such religions could have the virtue of civic tolerance. That is to say, even (a) if there is religious intolerance, believers in some religion or another could have a society where there is civic tolerance. As suggested earlier, (b) religious tolerance implies the presence of civic tolerance.

2. What do the above two statements suggest? That there could be a possible world (or a possible society) where both are true as a matter of empirical fact. Let us further assume that western democracies are examples of such a society.

3. We can now rewrite this as follows. Under certain circumstances, the existence of civic tolerance is indifferent to whether there is religious tolerance or religious intolerance. What are these circumstances?

4. Let us accept the story about Europe at face value. There is a neutral umpire with respect to religious maters (namely the state) that enforces civic tolerance. When does such a state come into being? Here, the stories about the western culture are of no use. Why? These stories tell us that (a) generations of religious strife results in the creations of such a state (because people get tired of religious strife) and/or (b) European psychology became ‘enlightened’. (a) is empirically false: Lebanon, Palestine, Ireland, etc. are examples that show us that generations of religious strife drives violence deeper into the body of society instead of generating some kind of ‘tiredness’. (b) is also false: Ireland tells us that much.

5. Consequently, a neutral state might be a necessary condition but it is not sufficient. What more is required? It appears that this umpire must be seen to be neutral by the participants. If it is not seen as neutral, then this state cannot enforce civic tolerance. In the case of Ireland and Lebanon, believers do not see the state as a neutral entity (with respect to religious matters) and, consequently, there is continuous religious strife. (To put it in the language familiar to us, a secular state cannot enforce civic tolerance in a society if the participants do not perceive the state as a neutral entity with respect to religious matters.)

6. What is required for the state to be seen as a neutral entity with respect to religious matters? Let us look again at the western history. (i) The state must not take any position regarding the truth or falsity of the religions. That is to say, the state does not say (a) religion is the revelation of God; (b) religion is not the revelation of God. (It does the same with respect to different denominations.) That is to say, the state must remain agnostic with respect to God and His revelation. (ii) It is not enough that state is agnostic but it must be seen to be agnostic as well. What does that mean? The participants must recognize agnosticism as a possibility they can countenance in their strife. That means, for both believers and atheists, agnosticism must appear as a reasonable option within their discourse. That is, in more general terms, agnosticism is a choice both within a theistic discourse and an atheistic discourse and, as such, is a part of such discourses. And, as such, is not an independent third choice that is above and beyond theism and atheism.

7. Let me introduce my research at this stage. I claim that atheism is secularized theism. If that is the case, agnosticism is a part of both theism and its secularized version (namely, atheism). Better put: agnosticism is one of the mechanisms in secularizing theism itself. And, in so far as the state is an agnostic entity, it suggests that the ‘neutral’ state that the western democracies speak of is one of the mechanisms in the secularization of Christianity itself. That is, it spreads dechristianized Christianity. Hence, it is acceptable both to the Christians and to the disguised Christians.

Christianity, as we know empirically, comes in different brands. Consequently, the ‘neutral’ state in western democracies not only spreads a dechristianized Christianity but also a particular brand of dechristianized Christianity. And this brand must be acceptable to all the citizens in that society.

8. This hypothesis, I think, is also sufficient to account for the failure for “western secularism” to take hold (a) in the Middle East, (b) in India, (c) in Ireland. This has nothing to do with the psychology of peoples in these cultures or the ‘genius’ of the Western people but do with what the so-called ‘neutral’ state is all about. The state cannot spread any brand of dechristianized Christianity in cultures that are not Christian; in Ireland, the strife is precisely about which brand of dechristainized Christianity the state ought to spread.

9. This is not the only reason why this hypothesis is worthy of further investigation. It also explains the perceptions of (some) people as well. In India, the “secular state” that Nehru dreamt of is not only seen not being neutral but also as something ‘alien’ to the Indian traditions. If the ‘secular’ state spreads some brand of dechristianized Christianity, then it is obvious that it will be seen as something ‘alien’ to the Indian traditions. Further, where a majority of people are not Christians (but, say, Muslims or Jews) then, it is also obvious that they will be against any brand of dechristianized Christianity. This might tell us a bit more both about the state of Israel and the fact that Muslims seem to reject the necessity of a “secular state”.

10. There is also another intriguing issue that this hypothesis can shed some light on. Despite claiming to be a ‘neutral’ state, the Indian state interferes in the Indian traditions. Of course, this is a British legacy. But is there also a logic to it? I do think so, and I think this hypothesis can also shed light on that issue. But that is for another post because this post has become very dense already.

For more, please check the article “The secular state and religious conflict: liberal neutrality and the Indian case of pluralism”

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