Secularism and Right of Conscience – 3

In a previous post I commented on secularism as a worthwhile agreement in a pluralistic society, a guiding principle by which we can assure liberty and justice for all…or something like that.

To wit:  Secularism, I claimed, is the agreement not to impose any particular worldview on a nation.  Rather, we should work toward the common understanding of the common good, and protect the freedom to authentically express and exercise a sincerely held worldview.

We saw in the last post how one cannot even begin to develop a basic health care package (BHCP) without immediately imposing upon certain worldviews.  This, of course, does not rule out that there might be some BHCP which would serve us well, perhaps well enough to garner the support of most everyone.

But it shows, first of all, that the way is difficult.  Witness:  Twenty questions asked in the course of the post which are variously controversial and perhaps unanswerable in a perfectly disinterested way.

If our aim is to honor the agreement of secularism, then the situation only becomes more challenging for the BHCP.

That is, notice that the very notion of a BHCP, which would be the right of all citizens, requires the justification of some worldview in order to succeed.  In other words, the exercise of developing a BHCP just assumes this is a good thing.  But is it?

If you think it is, then you must tell us why it is a good thing.  For example:


BHCP Advocate:  It is good because people have a right to affordable health care.

Questioner:  Why think that?

BHCP Advocate:  Well, we know good health is a major contributor to happiness, since it is a critical component in one’s quality of life.

Questioner:  Why is that a good thing?

BHCP Advocate:  Happiness?  Because it just is!

Questioner:  Is that so?*


What seems fundamentally true to you – e.g. happiness just is a good thing – may not seem fundamentally true to others.

Thus, in order to fully honor secularism, it would seem that protecting the right of conscience is the way to go.  This avoids any grievous imposition on some for the purported benefit of others, and it still gets you some form of BHCP for all.

Notice a further point, though:  If you opposed the HL decision on the grounds that no one should impose their beliefs on other people, you must come to grips with the reality that, by supporting the ACA (for example), you are already imposing.  Yours – whoever you are – is not the default worldview in a secular society.  Either you must give up the notion of secularism (in which case, it is fair game to impose on you, after all), or you must protect the principle of secularism against attacks and encroachments, both explicit and implicit, even when you disagree with the particulars.

This leads to a kind of stalemate between the principle of secularism, on the one hand, and what rights are granted to citizens on the other.  Of course, many have noticed this conflict; we are only exploring some of the background principles and assumptions.**

Now, if all of this is intolerable, and you are sure that a BHCP is fundamental right, and you don’t care what the nihilists think (or don’t think) – that’s fine.  And you might be right.  But you must, at the very least, admit that you would want to install a “your-worldview-ocracy.”  You can’t hide behind the charge that people shouldn’t impose on other people when that’s precisely what you’re doing.  There’s a word for that.

Virtually any decision about a particular in the real world means that some worldview is being preferred to another.  Secularism is the attempt to manage that dynamic so that no particular worldview is unduly imposing; conversely, various forms of “-ocracy” represent the attempt of one worldview to rule the others.


Post script –  This concludes this series on the principle of Secularism as it relates to the HL decision (unless I am provoked!).  I plan to continue with a series on a “most just” society, which, like this series, will very much be the thoughts of an untutored amateur, but has been fun for me nonetheless.


*A nod to the Buddhists.

**I might suggest that not many have noticed the role that Secularism plays, at least in the form I’ve described.

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