Another point scholars still debate on, and leaves religious leaders wondering, is the nature of secularism. What started the ideology and what continues to drive it to such prominence in the Western world? A natural starting point is colonial America, where ‘freedom of religion’ was implemented as a reaction to persecution experienced in the old world. Secularism as we know it is still a far cry from the initial concept of freedom of religion, but I believe the seeds were planted here. By removing religion from the official list of offences, people started to get acclimatized to such separation, as superficial as it may be.
With better means of travel and communication this separation became more necessary as the global village began to form. But now we see that secularism is much more than separation of church and state. It is now clear that there is a relationship between the level of separation and the amount of religiosity present in a society. Bruce argues, “… the declining social significance of religion causes a decline in the number of religious people and the extent to which people are religious” (2002, 3). The other side of the argument of course being that a decline of religious people causes a decline in the collective significance attributed by society.
I tend to agree with Bruce based on the religious fervor and spiritual dedication I have witnessed in secular, Western society. If individuals held the power, I think religion would be more evident in the public sphere and encouraged. But as it remains now society has agreed it is better if religion remains a private matter. Thus, as it is kept behind closed doors, religion is not encouraged and a less religious and thoroughly secular life is. Secular Humanism has emerged as the politically correct system of belief. Secularism may have got its start with official, societal sanctions but I believe both society and the individual are factors. They work in a cycle. Where one’s influence ends, the other’s begins. One shapes the other to reflect and reinforce secular principles, and so the wheel turns.
Bruce, Steve. God is Dead: secularization in the West. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.