Fairweather Secularists


In this blog I present the concept of a fairweather secularist, a person who supports only the easiest, non-controversial secular measures, but weasels out on more challenging issues.

Sommaire en français Dans ce blogue je présente le concept d’un prétendu partisan du sécularisme qui abandonne ses principes dès que l’opposition devient un peu plus corsée ou que la question exige un peu d’analyse ou de réflexion. Comme un ami des beaux jours, il disparaît dès que les difficultés se pointent.

We are all familiar with the concept of a fairweather friend: a person who is a friend in good times, but disappears in bad times, a person “who supports others only when it is easy and convenient to do so.” (Dictionary.com)

I define a fairweather secularist as a person who claims to support secularism, but does so only when it is easy to do so, when the issue involved in uncontroversial. But when that issue is more challenging and requires some analysis in order to understand it fully, or when there is strong opposition and the opponents of secularism start slinging mud, the fairweather secularist goes silent and disappears. Or worse: sometimes he or she joins the mud-slingers!

Two examples to illustrate:

  1. Everybody knows that article 296 (“Blasphemous Libel”) of the Criminal Code of Canada has got to go. It is a ridiculous, antiquated law which criminalizes so-called “blasphemy” without even defining the term. Its continued existence in Canadian law can be used by various theocracies as an excuse to justify their repressive legislation against blasphemy or offending religious sensibilities. And yet, many self-styled secularists who denounce article 296 fall silent—or worse, applaud!—when Parliament adopts motion M-103, condemning so-called “Islamophobia.” It is obvious that this motion is a threat to freedom of expression and a first step towards the recriminalization of blasphemy, except that in this case emphasis is placed on one particular religion. The motion is not only incompatible with secularism, it does not even respect religious neutrality which is a weaker concept than secularism. But we who oppose M-103 have a serious uphill battle, because Islamofascists (few in number but very vocal) and their anti-secular allies and dupes (very numerous and very vocal!) throw out a barrage of specious but severe accusations in order to vilify us. The weather in this case is very bad.
  2. All secularists recognize that the crucifix which hangs in Salon bleu of the National Assembly in Quebec City has got to go. It commemorates an old alliance, established in the 1930s, between the right-wing provincial government of the time and the Catholic Church. It is an enormous symbolic privilege given to one particular religion: Christianity. And yet, many self-styled secularists who denounce that crucifix’s presence in the Quebec legislature fall silent—or worse, applaud the decision!—when a federal court rules that a fundamentalist Muslim woman may wear a niqab at her citizenship ceremony. Once again, we have an enormous symbolic privilege given to one particular religion: this time Islam, and not just any Islam, but the most extreme, aggressive and politicized version of that religion. Once again, the weather is very bad, so fairweather secularists are cowed into silence, terrified of being accused of “Islamophobia” or “racism” or whatever.

Cowardice, hypocrisy and intellectual sloth are the essential characteristics of the fairweather secularist.

Fairweather secularism is the first dismal level in a spectrum of ways in which people capitulate to religious privilege and obscurantism. From there, it is only a matter of degree separating these false friends of secularism from deeper levels of capitulation, leading eventually to some form of alliance with religion. And in the current political context, the religion which they mostly enable is usually Islam because it is currently the most fashionable and its fundamentalist variant is the most aggressive.

Next blog: Screw the Monarchy! Vivent les patriotes !

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