In a never ending race to destroy the evidence that it once had journalistic integrity, the New York Times today came out against the secular state. Vincent Geisser, a “political scientist”, informs us that Muslims are slaughtering the French, because the French have taken the concept of laïcité (state secularism) too far. Apparently, Muslims “feel and fear that this inherently liberal principle is increasingly becoming a cover for anti-Muslim racism”. I could feign shock, but I am past that, it is time to push back. For some time, I have noticed an attack on the secular state in the guise of a materialist ideology, that looks like a postmodern version of socialism. Progressive or woke ideology pretends to be “secular”, but it is not.
I started to notice the push against secularism with the same sex marriage debate. Rather than a simple campaign to change the secular definition of marriage, which was hard to argue against, Christians like me, where being asked if a same sex marriage was a “real” marriage. It was the beginning of the thought crime accusations in the form of people being labelled “homophobic” for their religious beliefs. The consequential attempt to discharge people from public debate, public office and corporate sphere on the basis of these beliefs, seemed unbelievable. When forced to answer this question during the same sex marriage debate, I found myself on the wrong side of the winnowing fan of the progressives for the first time.
The winnowing fan is an ancient tool for separating wheat from chaff. Jesus is said to have a winnowing fan in his hand, sorting the believer from the non-believer, the heavier wheat is caught in the basket and the lighter chaff blows away and falls to the floor. Religious congregations are not social groups, they are places where people of the same beliefs gather. Anyone can attend services at our church, but membership, office and leadership positions are tied to faith and doctrine adherence. Such sorting is commonly done with the asking of key questions on matters of belief and conscience.
The genius of Liberalism, and the secular state, is that it understands this about religion, and that the state must be fee both of religious ideology and the kind of ideology that crushes religion. After centuries of religious and ideological wars, there seems to be no excuse to reject secular statehood.
The secular state is not an atheist state and is against both interference of religion in the state and interference by the state into religion. JS Mill himself found Mormonism repugnant to the freedom of women and the principles of liberty, but he said that without tyranny you could not prevent Mormons from living “under what laws they please, provided they commit no aggression on other nations, and allow perfect freedom of departure to those who are dissatisfied with their ways” . We who advocate for the secular state, know we must defend the expression of heretics, dissenters, atheists, commies, Muslims, fascists and even Methodists, so long as that expression is free of violence or the threat of violence.
I thought these principles of liberalism were so well understood that I gave the progressives a pass for a long time. When the left in Australia started to deliberately misunderstand Christian conservative sexuality, as hatred toward gay people, I thought it was a political calculation. I assumed that the Australian Labor Party, under Kevin Rudd, had decided that those of fundamental faith were of small enough voting block (and probably leaned right anyway), that the loss of their vote was inconsequential.
I started to worry when Kevin Rudd declared on Q&A, that the Bible endorsed slavery, and therefore Christians could be expected to change their orthodox belief in sexuality because he had. Unaccustomed to political leaders interpreting scripture, I saw an underlying challenge to foundation principles of liberalism. It was at this point that I changed my lifelong allegiance to Labor. I started to vote conservative without so much as a protest letter to my local member, who was in fact Mr Rudd.
I must say that I have never felt the need to walk down the street and scream out “marriage is between a man and a woman”, Nor does it frequently come up in conversation, even with my gay friends and family. Still I remain insistent that the state should not prevent me from expressing this, now unpopular, religious belief. During the SSM debate it was suggested, that not only was the Christian belief in family hateful, the expression of those beliefs should be managed by legislation. Senator Penny Wong said that expressions of the virtues of the traditional family are “harmful” to lesbian headed families like hers. This followed her description of adherence to traditional marriage definitions as “enemies of equality”. I remember raising the issue with a very close lesbian friend in the aftermath of the plebiscite, just to make sure we were okay. I was driving her somewhere and I remember her looking at me with affection and saying, “I had you pegged for a “no” voter”. She rolled her eyes in an exaggerated gesture of annoyance. We laughed and started talking about something else.
Government pressure to bend religious beliefs in line with legislation (including by the state broadcaster), is a clear violation of the secular state. Initially I thought it was just a type of religious animus. I hadn’t yet realised, that what was being packaged as the new progressivism, was becoming a type of woke religion. It is clear to me now that progressivism seeks to manage, not just religious beliefs, but cultural beliefs and matters of conscience for the broader population.
I recall with some shame that I was relieved to see the winnowing fan of the woke broaden its catchment. The question “is a trans woman a real woman” is a winnowing process that blows a whole new group of people onto the chaff floor. The “real woman” question is different from the questions about a “real marriage”, because the same essential facts of transgenderism are understood by everyone. We are being divided by our willingness to lie about what we see.
We all know what a transgender person is, because it’s not that complicated. It also is not new, nor is the expansion of gender in culture. Even Christians like me are not offended by gender re-interpretation, transgender people, or new approaches to help adults who are gender expansive. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when artists like David Bowie and Boy George were pushing gender boundaries. Feminists were challenging stereotypes and transgender people were very visible in our community.
Times have changed, but few of the facts have changed about what a transgender woman is. However, we are being told by the woke to look at a transgender woman and pretend we don’t notice, or even know, that there is any difference between her and a woman who was born female. We are told to believe that womanhood is an identity we choose to put on. Like a beautiful socially engineered coat, womanhood is what society chooses it to be. Because womanhood is socially constructed, we can re-engineer womanhood and femaleness, to fix all the socially generated problems women face.
What is more exciting for the socially constructed woke religion, “woman” is not just something that can be attained contrary to your biology, it never has anything to do with biology. It has nothing to do with being a female, with childbirth, with periods, or cervical cancer or ovulation. By the same token, risks like rape, domestic violence, and all the forms of discrimination that females have been subject to since, as far as we can tell, the beginning of time, are not because we are born female, but because we chose to wear the socially constructed womanhood coat. Females suffering oppression, has nothing to do with the possession of a vagina, a biology that brings vulnerability, a natural attraction to and from, biological men, or any biological based issues.
These are not secular beliefs. They are ideological beliefs. We are being asked to do a mind trick that erases both the experience of transgender women and the experiences of biological women. “Is a transgender woman a real woman?”, is not a question of science, is not a question of kindness, or inclusion, it’s a question of religious purity. If you don’t believe it, you are blown to the chaff floor of unbelief. You will be excluded from the fold. It is a key doctrine question of the progressive left. Liberalism dictates that these kinds of ideologies are fine to accept in the population, but they are a disaster to be integrated into the state. A secular state is not an atheist state, it is a state that is separate from religion and the ideologies that repress other forms of belief.
The progressive left abandoned the secular state a long time before today. If their push to integrate ideology into the state is to continue its success, we have to make them do the work. To do it, they have to erase the religious orthodox, the heretics, evolutionary scientists, gender critical feminist, and a great list of honest citizens who will not lie about what they see.
Ultimately the kind of work authoritarians have to do is hard, and it always makes the society worse. It requires institutional corruption and leads to diminishing outcomes. The shrinking skill base that is left to fill positions of power and influence, always leads to lower competence, as we are starting to see. Jesus said the chaff is destined for the fire. That’s not always a bad thing. Fire is a purifying force. Having my feet to the fire has sharpened my own arguments and beliefs. It has made me think about my own politics, who I need to unite with, how I can fight for the things that are important. I am not sure where it leads but it is better not being alone. It is better than sitting around winging about religious persecution.