European faith leaders debate: Is secularism the new terrorism?

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Father Aethelwine Richards

Photo courtesy Bashy Quraishy

Father Aethelwine Richards of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Europe

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Faith leaders and human rights defenders shared divisive views Wednesday at a conference in Brussels on religious freedom and Europe’s persecuted minorities.

  • Alz

    Secularism, like any belief, can become politicized and exploited by those in power to suit their own nationalist agendas and as usual its always the minorities that suffer first. The truth is, when combined with hatred & intolerance; secularism can become very ugly, intimidating and often evidently xenophobic.

  • Ari

    you mean in the same way religions discriminate against each other, and espouse hatred against those who do not follow ‘their’ beliefs? or did you mean this in some ‘other’ way?

  • Sly

    Religion is mind-toxin. But, I believe that drugs should be legal, so…
    But, same rules apply:
    Do drugs at home… Don’t do drugs in public or at your place of employment.
    Keep drugs away from children. If they grow up and decide to do drugs, their decision.
    The sales of drugs should be TAXED.

    You want to do religion… err… drugs?
    Keep that crap to yourself!

  • mike

    The religious leaders’ comments are absurd. The world has suffered a great deal more violence, injustice and persecution in the name of religion. As long as they keep making these inane comments, we Nones will continue to grow in number. Religion has the potential to do a lot of good, but dogmatic religious leaders seem hell-bent on keeping that from happening.

  • Frank

    Secularism is not terrorism, just the height of foolishness and a dead end.

  • tm17

    Religious freedom? Yes. It will be a glorious day when humans are free of all religion!

  • The EU’s problem is not the nature of its chosen religious theology. The EU’s problem is that it’s a tyranny. It would still be a tyranny if it were spreading Catholicism like its medieval Rome-based predecessor, and it would still be a tyranny if it were spreading Odinism like its 20th century Berlin-based predecessor.

    Always look at constants and variables. Three tyrannical empires had different religious flavors, but their inquisitorial behavior was the same. Thus the religious element is not the driving force; it’s just a pretext.

  • Craig

    Do you actually know what secularism means? Do you really want to live in a State where the Government can proscribe your religion and persecute, or help others to persecute, you for following another religion or indeed following none?

    Arguments carry no more weight if they are based in doctrine than those that are formulated through secular/humanistic paths and vice versa.

    Secularism protects the rights and freedoms of the minority religious or not

  • chairman bill

    The opposite of a secular society is a theocratic one. In a theocracy, there is one religion that determines the rules, and government is based on that religion. That’s a pretty tyrannical form of government, but if it’s what the religious want…

    So let’s have a EU-wide Wiccan regime. Christmas would be banned & instead we’d all dance around a bonfire at the midwinter solstice, wearing purple & black crushed velvet. Head of state would be a high priest & high priestess, wearing dirty great silver pentacles. No more Archbishops or Popes … actually, that might not be a bad thing, but I’m sure there would be some objections.

    Alternatively, we could go for an Islamic theocracy, with Sharia law. Think about that for a moment … not a pleasant thought, is it?

    If those options aren’t to your liking, you either want to impose your religion on us, or you really should go for a secular state, where everyone is free to practice whatever system of supernaturalist mumbo-jumbo they like, just not impose it on others, and not expect special privileges for their chosen ‘faith’. No religion in government, none in education (please) or any other sphere where the whole population is concerned – you get to do your praying & spell casting, invoking angels or pixies & all the rest of it, but the rest of us can be free of it.

  • Trubble

    Apparently the system whereby no one faith is promoted by authorities, all faiths and none are treated equally in the eyes of the law, all religious beliefs are protected, is not appreciated by the ignorant people who consider it to be akin to terrorism.

    Perhaps they would like disagreements to be solved by bombs and bullets like the “enlightened” theocratic parts of the world? I wish they would acknowledge that the vast majority of terrorism is theocratic in nature. Secularism is the cure.

  • quisquose

    I always sniggered when I heard Cormac Murphy-O’Connor keep banging on about how evil secularism was.

    His religion didn’t fare too well in the UK without it, so it seemed rather funny to hear him wishing for Henry VIII and all that.

    Minority religions can only exist precisely because of secularism, so they should be careful about what they wish for.

  • Frank

    How can you take any heed of people who don’t even understand what secularism means? It’s only through secularism that you can have real freedom of religion (and from religion).
    Unless of course what you really want is a theocracy where you can impose your pet belief system on others?

  • GordonHide

    When one considers the amount of real religious persecution going on in the world with people being killed, tortured, imprisoned or forced to flee, one can’t help being embarrassed on behalf of these petty complainants.

  • Hominid

    The vast majority of humans are given to delusional thinking of one kind or another. You can wish it weren’t so, but you can’t change it. Are YOU free of ideology, philosophy, epistemology? Are YOU endowed with infinite cognitive acumen? Do you not feel emotions and are not your emotions important to you? Do you not feel pain – a total delusion, you realize? – and seek to avoid it? Do you think a world in which all humans were highly intelligent and guided exclusively by reason would be a ‘better’ world? I, for one, am not at all sure. Anyway, it’s a moot question because to be human is to seek knowledge, to doubt, and, for most, to embrace grand fantasies of one kind or another.

  • Hominid

    All government is tyranny – different governments differ only the degree of tyranny the governed will accept.

  • Hominid

    That argument applies to any and all ‘isms’ and is, therefore, both obvious and irrelevant.

  • Hominid

    Your opening statement presents a false dichotomy. In America, we have freedom of conscience – you can follow the religion of your choice or no religion at all. You can be a capitalist or a communist. You can be a scientist or a scientologist. You can be a hawk or a dove. You can believe in space aliens, sasquatch, or the Loch Ness monster. I like it that way.

  • Richard Maloney

    I think this article failed around the time the title got typed out.

    ‘European faith leaders debate: Is secularism the new terrorism?’

    Let’s try retyping that.

    ‘European religious people: is not religion the new terrorism?’

    Basically, it’s just dumb. The article is a bunch of bloviating bearded people all collectively dropping their monocles in their teacups because France (correctly) treats Scientology as a cult and won’t allow schoolchildren to wear dumb religious costumes. “God will love you more if you wear a hat!”

    And apparently, that’s exactly the same thing as flying a plane into a building for God.

  • Carl

    Secularism ensures religious freedom. It ensures that no one group is given special treatment. How on earth is can that be described as ‘terrorism’ who can be ‘terrified’ of that.
    It really it an insult to those people who DO suffer from terrorism and persecution to call it that.

    What these people are complaining about is losing special privileges and being treated the same as everyone else.

  • Blackadder

    “Paul Herzog Von Oldenburg, a conservative Christian from Germany and coordinator of Pro Europea Christiana, didn’t parse his words: “We are supposed to be living in a tolerant human rights era. Instead, we live in a dictatorship of relativism, the worst form of religious persecution.”

    Really? The WORST form of religious persecution is relativism? Oh boy, I guess the Inquisition, the Pogroms, the Holocaust, the Crusades, the flight of Huguenots and the disenfranchisement of Irish Catholics were just minor disagreements? And we are supposed to take lessons in how to organise our society from people who utter drivel such as this?

  • Slow Learner

    In America you have a secular state…de jure, at least.
    So you aren’t contradicting Chairman Bill at all. You’re saying you like secularism.

  • Ed Godwin

    Reading through the replies … I see this time and time again: the idea that intolerance is the sole purview of religion, and that education, science, or politics are somehow immune. The flaw lies in our perspective. Intolerance (read:fear) is a human condition, and can infect any institution when we fall into the trap of pigeonholing groups of people. Until we realize that all of us, regardless of what public or private institution we belong to, must guard against this way of thinking, the walls between us will only grow higher.

  • Calilasseia

    The individual who erected the frankly ludicrous statement that “secularism is the new terrorism” manifestly does not know what secularism IS. Allow me to provide the requisite education.

    The fundamental principle upon which secularism is based, is that you are free to adhere to whichever mythological fantasy you choose, and that others cannot coerce you to make a different choice. The very reason secularism was brought into being, was because supernaturalists demonstrated repeatedly that they were incapable of behaving themselves , whenever they had the power to enforce conformity to doctrine, and frequently, engaged in brutal and murderous repression against other, rival supernaturalists. It’s thanks to secularism that many no longer have to face an Inquisition, because they happen to adhere to a different mythology. Far from being “the new terrorism”, secularism has prevented supernaturalist terrorism from turning the planet into a charnel house.

    It would help matters if supernaturalists engaged in a little elementary fact checking, before disseminating manifest nonsense in the public arena of discourse. But of course, they probably applied the same level of rigour to this matter, that they routinely apply to the assertions of their pet mythologies, whilst insisting that the rest of us treat said assertions as purportedly constituting fact.

  • Calilasseia

    “Reading through the replies … I see this time and time again: the idea that intolerance is the sole purview of religion”

    No, what you see, if you take off the supernaturalist blinkers, is recognition of an elementary principle. Namely, that when adherents of a mythology use conformity thereto as a benchmark for determining whether or not to treat others as fellow human beings, and erect manifest caricatures of those who don’t thus conform in order to portray them as purportedly “deficient” for not conforming, then intolerance arises from this practically by definition.

    “and that education, science, or politics are somehow immune.”

    I don’t recall ever hearing a scientist proclaim that anyone failing to understand general relativity is deserving of the death penalty. Or branding proponents of rival theories as “heretics”. The worst thing you’re ever likely to hear from a scientist is “show me the evidence for your assertions”.

    But I’m minded to note how supernaturalists all too frequently regard an entirely proper demand for evidence as an unwarranted imposition.

    “The flaw lies in our perspective. Intolerance (read:fear) is a human condition”

    No kidding? Isn’t that what supernaturalism is all about? Concocting comforting stories to hand-wave away a fear of death? Unfortunately, all too many of those stories involve assertions that we should all behave in a certain manner, or else the cosmic Big Brother in the sky will subject us to eternal torture. Hardly an exercise in dispelling fear through understanding.

    ” and can infect any institution when we fall into the trap of pigeonholing groups of people.”

    Oh, you mean the way religions have a habit of pigeonholing people into a self-appointed “elect”, and the rest of us?

    “Until we realize that all of us, regardless of what public or private institution we belong to, must guard against this way of thinking, the walls between us will only grow higher.”

    Except that once again, the evidence for religion doing precisely this is voluminous. Consequently, it’s a bit rich to see religious leaders complaining about intolerance, when their doctrines have done much to promote the very intolerance they’re purportedly railing against.

    But then, what religious leaders are ACTUALLY complaining about, is no longer being granted discoursive and policy making privileges not extended to other fields of human endeavour. For too long, mythological assertions have had a free pass in this regard, and what religious leaders are REALLY upset about, is having that free pass taken away from them, and being told to get in the queue with the rest of us, with respect to providing EVIDENCE for their assertions.

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  • I am an atheist, and I believe in secularism, but what many European countries, like France, are doing is just wrong. The laws they put forth and enforce are ridiculous and anti-religious freedom.
    All this does is make secularism a harder goal for America and Americans, like myself, to achieve, because conservative Christians will look at France and say, “Ha! Look at what secularism turns into! We can’t have that here!”

  • Amor De Cosmos

    Waiiiiit… what… “Secularism is the new terrorism”? So that means the Muslims who do suicide bombs are really atheists? The Islamic imams who advocate destruction of Israel are actually atheists? The American Christians who put bible verses on their bullets are atheists? The Christian Fundamentalists who shoot abortion doctors are atheists? The Russian Orthodox Christians that beat gays are really atheists?

    Silly me, I thought they were all religiously motivated terrorism… but it must be the atheists…

  • Ben

    I think you mean Xenuphobic 🙂

    Secularism does not mean that every religious group can practise their faith any way they like. It is a protection of their right to hold and voice their beliefs. They still need to take their children to see the doctor rather than faith healers, they still can’t cut the genitals of their daughters (and hopefully soon neither the genitals of their sons). What they can do is have consenting adults who practise the doctorines of their belief that are also legal and that no other religion’s doctorine to surpress them or kill them.

    Yes, people like to bring up ”radical secularism” but generally the areas that have had this have disqualified themselves by enforcing supernatural doctorines/beliefs on their people which is by definition, you guessed it, not secular.

  • Ramon Casha

    I sincerely hope that the quoted religious leaders are not typical of all religious leaders around the EU.

    Secularism is the best thing that can happen to any society – including its religuous people – which is why in Pakistan, where they are in a minority, Christian bishops are lobbying for a secular constitution and the Vatican is adding its own pressure. It is thanks to secularism that Muslims and Jews and Sikhs and others can live with equal rights. Secularism is “the worst form of religious persecution”? Really? Worse than being burned ailve? Worse than being beheaded or stoned to death? These things are happening today and guess what, it’s not the secularists who are doing them.

    Religious freedom means the freedom to believe what you want. It does not mean a right to tax exemption. It does not mean the right to have the laws bent for you.

  • Charles Freeman

    Terrorism is a violent act against political or religious enemies. The nonreligious and non-affiliated haven’t committed such acts. What institutions were responsible for the crusades, European pogroms killing Jews and other folks who didn’t adhere to Church dogma, and the present monstrous Islamic war on the rest of civilization? The answer is obvious! There is an apt analogy to the cries of “foul” from the U. S. Christian fundamentalists when they try to encroach on human freedoms emanating from the U. S. Constitution. Is there really a conflict between these evangelical/fundamentalist Christians and those who don’t speak in the same “tongues”? Certainly, there is. It is a battle for the welfare of human existence and well-being. However, unless the religous radicals initiate violence, there won’t be any.

  • Mazamba

    Sorry to tell you this but humanity as a whole is xenophobic. We just can’t help it.
    Our branch of the tree survived for so many millions of years due to this now-obsolete adaptation that’s its nearly impossible to stop the us vs them mentality that is genetically ingrained into our brains.
    That said, I do see where they’re coming from but I really don’t see much of a problem. Unfortunately, religion will always exist in some form.

  • jrose

    The idea in this event was not that secularism was terrorism in itself. But that secularism, when used as a weapon to discriminate, stigmatize and forbid some religions or religious expression, with the very example of France, could become a form of intellectual terrorism. For example, having atheism as State religion is not secularism, but is done in some countries in the name of secularism. It is not that secularism in itself is bad, and it’s not, it is when some anti-religious extremists use it to forward their agenda.

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  • Chairman Mao

    Comrade Josef Stalin said hello.

  • What an insane and unethical abuse of the word “terrorism” in this column’s title.

    Terrorism is when Muslim fanatics behead apostates in public in London or when Islamists murder and torture non-Muslims systematically in the mall in Nairobi.

    Yes, Christians and Jews too are guilty from time to time of terrorism in this sense of the word — but the preponderance of terrorism today owes to Islam.

    Europe is struggling to maintain a civil order against enclaves that attempt to enforce honor killings and mete out physical punishment to apostates. It does not always get the balance right, but to call a ban on the veil “terrorism” is to insult every woman who has ever been killed in the name of Islam.

  • zengardener

    Humans are emotional. It’s how our brains a wired, just like every other creature. We laugh and dream and make up ridiculous stories about wizards and dragons.

    The key is knowing that our fantasies are not real.
    There is no free will, or God, or luck, or truth in astrology.

    People can enjoy their emotions of Love and friendship and happiness, because they are subjectively real. And unfortunately, pain is subjectively real too.

    A delusion is when someone believes that a fantasy is real. That is harmful because it prevents us from dealing properly with the real world.

  • zengardener

    Well put, as always.

    I haven’t seen your posts on RDFRS in a long time.

  • Twitless

    Funny how when the religious want to get their way they claim to be in the majority and when they don’t get their way they claim to be a victimised minority. Well which is it?

  • Tom Atkins

    Is secularism the new terrorism?

    This really ought to have been the shortest conference in history.

  • Earold Gunter

    Brian, Another excellent, thought provoking article. It would serve everyone well to understand that the author took no position in his article. Rather he offered up an opportunity for public discourse on religious freedom, which was for the most part was taken advantage of in a civil manner. Thanks for all the comments, I’ve enjoyed reading them.

    Consider living life and loving people without the need for the belief in a carrot, of the fear of a stick.
    Good day!

  • Graham

    By what stretch of the imagination could these people be regarded as European faith leaders? Somebody really needs to check the dictionary definitions of ‘religious leader’, ‘secularism’ and ‘terrorism’. These guys are living in a world of their own.

  • Keith Whiteley

    I used to find nonsense like this amusing – a bunch of self important nobodies prating about beliefs most suited to stone age primitive societies where patriarchal, misogynist and genocidal behaviours were the norm.

    Now they just make me angry.

    If you look at what is happening in the UK ; 50% of schools run by religious organisations and funded by the taxpayer and a government that is desperate to increase the influence of these dogma-factories; unelected Bishops and other hangers-on in Parliament able to influence legislation – the list goes on.

    At least in France the prohibition of religious garb in state schools will make children realise that nothing dreadful is going to happen to them if they don’t follow the silly rules of their parents and, hopefully, the cycle of brainwashing may even be weakened.

    As for “secular terrorism” – these people really need to grow up.

  • Mick Hailey

    When I saw the picture of that lot with funny hats, beards and skirts I thought it was something out of Monty Python.

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  • revjimbob

    Secularism just means that no one religion should have precedence over another. I would have thought that the religious would embrace religious freedom, but it seems they do only when their religion has the whip hand. Sheer hypocrisy.
    Nationalism, abuse of minorities, hatred, intolerance and xenophobic? Religions seem to manage all that themselves quite readily.

  • Perhaps Brian Pellot’s good article did not point out clearly enough that EU-states are using the fear of dismissal from one’s job, and of having one’s children taken into care – as well as the sequestration of one’s organisation’s assets – to suppress the expression, or transmission, of state-proscribed opinions and beliefs.
    Such actions are indeed the terrorism of authority, just as crude outrages are the terrorism of rebels, and it is none the less terrorist and oppressive for that. Quite the reverse.
    Terrorism of this sort is also characteristic of the EU, in its appalling drive towards “harmonisation” (homogenisation) and “unity” (central control) and, consequently, it came as no surprise that the “European parliament” (puppet-assembly) refused to allow Godfrey Bloom to hold the Conference there, in his capacity as a member.

  • obzen

    “Perhaps Brian Pellot’s good article did not point out clearly enough that EU-states are using the fear of dismissal from one’s job, and of having one’s children taken into care – as well as the sequestration of one’s organisation’s assets – to suppress the expression, or transmission, of state-proscribed opinions and beliefs.”


  • Charles Freeman

    Don’t try to explain away the biased and inaccurate statement regarding “secularism as the new terrorism”. This is a statement of privilege and prerogative by an ideologue. It is part of the tone and assumption of power by religious figures throughout history. These minority religions need a scapegoat and secularism is handy, just as Cathars, Jews, and other heritical groups were to the Catholics over the centuries. Secularists try to use reason and evidence in arriving at critical decisions, not the maunderings of theologians who base their opinions on “authoritative” revelations. This doesn’t make secularism a religion. Quite to the contrary, non-believers can change direction and discard outmoded conclusions if sufficient empirical data exists. Secularists become anti-religious when fairy stories, or science fiction, lead religious authorities to direct societal energies towards encroahments into the lives and well-being of others.

  • Charles Freeman

    Well said. Thanks.

  • Charles Freeman

    What facts do you have? Which European countries? France seems to be reacting to overt attempts to establish religious privilege in their culture. The U. S. should follow this lead and reject public financial support of religious institutions, as well as religious displays of clothing and customs not conducive to societal well-being. It may well take some time, but the end of traditional religious institutions is arriving.

  • Charles

    Is an “atheocracy” any better than a theocracy? Trying to impose a uniform belief, or trying to impose a uniform non-belief – are they not equal and opposite errors?

    Secularism at its best is defined very succinctly in the First Amendment: the State cannot force a religion on anyone, NOR force anyone to do anything against their religion. The State should not be pushing an agenda in the religious sphere in ANY way – for one, against some, or against all.

    The ideal secular state would not establish any one religion, but be accommodating towards all. In a public school in such a state, you might see Muslim girls in hijabs and Sikh boys in turbans, and the school dietician would be mindful of whether students who kept kosher or halal could still get a nutritious meal. When the authorities force children to expose parts of their bodies that they would rather not (on the pretext of banning “dumb religious costumes” for the sake of “weakening the cycle of brainwashing”), or go to school on high holy days, that is where the trouble starts.

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  • Maybe you should read an intervention that happened that day in order to understand why French “secularism” is not true secularism:
    True secularism is good. Extremist secularism is extremism.

  • Dalion Heart

    Mein Führer Adolf Hitler said “sieg heil.” Your point? There’s a difference between Stalin’s crimes and Hitler’s. Hitler did his crimes in the name of his superstitious beliefs. Stalin did his crimes out of sheer power hunger and paranoia. It had nothing to do with him being an atheist. So the scale remains in the balance of the religious nutjobs, who have waged war for thousands of years in the name of their god. Two words: Spanish Inquisition.

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  • Kurt Kish

    Unless you give a clear example of any of the criticisms you piled on Secularism, your remarks are just hearsay.

  • Kurt Kish

    To be frank, I don’t think there should be any religious freedom. I don’t even know exactly what that means?
    Countries have laws and regulations, and they should apply to all people. Exceptions should only be made for people who have differences they have no control over. A person’s religion is something they can choose to have or not.

  • Kurt Kish

    AND… people who water down words- like “terrorism” are belittling people who have had relatives actually directly killed and tortured by real terrorists in the name of their beliefs. So unless people are threatening AND carrying out torture and murder, the charge of “terrorism” is pathetic. How often is modern secularism doing this – in the name of not having a state sponsored religion- ?
    Name a direct incident in which secularism threatened or carried out (directly) torture and/or murder. If you bring up the atrocities of dictators, I’ll know you’re not grasping the challenge.

  • Respecting religious freedom and respecting human rights is a surprisingly difficult balancing act. Sometimes you just can’t do both. That doesn’t alter the fact that we need to discuss the problem and find the best answers we can. It’s interesting to see believers of incompatible faiths uniting in common cause against secularism. With increasing education, better communication and rising standards of living across much of the world I suspect that they are facing a losing battle, but only time will tell.

  • Hamhock

    I agree with you for the most part, so I’m basically splitting hairs here, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that “A person’s religion is something they can choose to have or not.” A person can’t choose to stop believing in a religion without whatever form of proof would be required by his/her particular mind, just as I can’t choose to believe in something without what my mind deems proper evidence. Some folks, due to stringent upbringing or lack of exposure to evidence or just plain deficient reasoning ability, will never be able to choose. They’ll simply parrot what mom and dad told ’em for all their days. My own mom is a good example. Start showing that woman ANYTHING that contradicts ANY aspect of the way her parents raised her, especially religiously, and she does sort of the mental version of sticking her fingers in her ears and saying “na na na”. I honestly don’t think she’s just being stubborn; I think she’s actually incapable of looking past her own world view without serious mental and emotional consequences. Which is why, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, she’ll never learn about my atheism. It would just send her to her grave with the grim, heartbreaking “knowledge” that her oldest son is going to burn in Hell for eternity. No need to do that to her.

  • norman keena

    European faith leaders debate: Is secularism the new terrorism?
    Brian Pellot | Oct 17, 2013 | 60 Comments

    From left: Bashy Quraishy, Father Aethelwine Richards, Paul Herzog Von Oldenburg, and Jasvir Singh at the Renaissance Hotel in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 16, 2013. Photo courtesy Bashy Quraishy

    Bashy Quraishy this person is known to me and I would seriously recomend the reader not to take the person serious

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  • Dean J. Smith

    Oppression of religion isn’t secularism. Political secularism is strict government neutrality regarding religion as far as is practicable. As soon as, and to the degree that, a government oppresses religion, it is not being secular.

    Whether some of France’s policies are a violation of the spirit of secularism is a reasonable point of discussion. Stalinism as an example of ‘out-of-control secularism’ or ‘secularism as terrorism’ is not.

  • Dean J. Smith

    To the extent that France’s policies are oppressive to religion rather than neutral towards it, they are a violation of the principle of secularism, not an expression of it.

  • Dean J. Smith

    Govenment neutrality toward religion can’t be used as a weapon to discriminate, stigmatize and forbid some religions or religious expressions. Since government neutrality toward religion is what seculaism means, anti-religous policies should be called out as being anti-religious, not used to undermine the principle of secularism itself…unless you prefer theocracy and are associating secularism and anti-religion as a long-term tactic to achieve a theocracy some day.

  • Dean J. Smith

    How does mislabeling the terrorism of authority as the terrorism of secularism help fight it?

  • Dean J. Smith

    ‘Extremist secularism’ isn’t secularism at all, merely anti-religion.

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