Secularism and religious holidays
I haven’t really got strong feelings on religious holidays – much as I am not a Christian I like having days off – but a recent letter asked an interesting question.
So Vernon Wagner of Cape Town, here is an answer to your question:
South Africa has nine religious holidays. Of these, seven are secular humanistic in nature. Ironically, the humanists feel strongly that they lack two more.
This begs two questions: if they represent a mere 15% of the population, why are their voices heard above everyone else, above the 85%?
Shall we ignominiously bear the irony of their childish rants that the overwhelming 75% Christian bloc in South Africa be ignored?
This I found staggering.
In order to illustrate why, here are South Africa’s public holidays:
New Year’s Day, Human Rights Day, Good Friday, Family Day, Freedom Day, Workers’ Day, Youth Day, National Women’s Day, Heritage Day, Day of Reconciliation, Christmas Day, Day of Good Will.
Human Rights Day celebrates the SA constitution and the Sharpeville massacre.
Family Day is essentially Easter Monday.
Freedom Day marks the first SA democratic elections.
Workers Day is there to celebrate the labour unions’ battles against apartheid.
Youth Day marks the day students from Soweto marched against Bantu education in 1976.
Heritage Day used to be known as Shaka day, and is all about celebrating our history in general.
The Day of Reconciliation marks the battle of blood river, the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe and is supposed to be all about reconciling our differences.
The Day of Goodwill is boxing day, and is there to celebrate hangovers.
Notice anything about the secular holidays? They aren’t anti-religious. They are about things that have nothing to do with whether you believe in God or not.
I don’t think 75% of you think celebrating national rather than religious events in our history is some great compromise with the non-religious. I think the bulk of that 75% recognises that we celebrate things that aren’t religious the whole time.
Secularism is not atheism, secularism is simply the belief that government has no business in your church and should not discriminate against you or in favour of you for attending it.
The opposite of secularism is theocracy – and atheist theocracies do in fact exist. North Korea is a great example of one, it doesn’t technically have a God, instead it has an eternal president (which kind of tells you how they view term limits.)
Secularism is about not forcing your beliefs on other people through force of law.
That is what makes someone secular, not necessarily atheist, but secular.
So I suspect the vast majority of Christians are in fact every bit as secularist as I am.
As I have mentioned before, a big chunk of secularism comes from Rhode Island, where the concept was pioneered by a theologian. It is a subject that may overlap religious arguments to some extent, but is for the most part separate.