When Religion Meets Politics: Guest Blog by Russell Blackford

R_B In the lead-up to the Global Atheist Convention, taking place in Melbourne in April this year, we’re running a series of blog posts by participating speakers.

Today we hear from writer and editor Russell Blackford on freedom of religion, secularism and just how much control should lie in the hands of the state.

My new book, Freedom of Religion and the Secular State, deals with the friction when religion and political power meet. I examine the much-debated concept of religious freedom, with a strong emphasis on hot-button issues such as:

  • Blasphemy and religious vilification
  • State recognition of same-sex marriages
  • Teaching biological evolution in schools
  • The health and welfare of children (particularly where religious beliefs clash with modern forms of medical treatment)
  • Claims by some religious organisations for a right of conscientious objection (e.g. Catholic doctors who refuse to perform abortions even when a woman’s life is in danger)
  • The official or unofficial recognition of Islamic law in Western societies.

More generally, what role should the state have in relation to teachings about a supernatural realm, spiritual transformations, and specifically religious forms of morality?

Such issues are topical, controversial, and seemingly intransigent. They are a continual source of contention, often involving deep commitments and strong emotions. Alas, though, the contention sheds more heat than light. We could use some objectivity and a principled approach.

In Freedom of Religion and the Secular State, I take us back to some basics. I examine the nature of religion and secularism, and the classical idea of liberalism, offering a philosophical and historical perspective. Among other things, I present a strong case for freedom of speech, including the freedom to criticise religion or particular religions.

Perhaps I should add that this is not an anti-religious book. I am openly an atheist, and I believe it’s important to criticise religious organisations and doctrines. But the arguments in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State are not against religion or the existence of God — they are for something, namely secular government.

The arguments should appeal to many religious people as well as to atheists, secular humanists, and other non-believers. I think they show a way forward, and I hope you’ll agree.

The 2012 Global Atheist Convention takes place April 13-15 2012 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Find out more at www.atheistconvention.org.au . Readings is a major partner and official bookseller of the convention.

Freedom of Religion and the Secular State

Freedom of Religion and the Secular State

Russell Blackford

$48.95Buy now

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