Today, there exists countries such as Saudi Arabia, which allows religion to be intertwined with matters of the state. With recent talk of secularism being implemented in such countries, there has been widespread debate as to whether it brings more harm than good. In a democratic country like Singapore, adopting secularism is necessary, as it ensures equality regardless of identity, through drawing a sharp line between religious institutions and the state. In this essay I aim to discuss the necessity of the secularism as a system, as secularism can ensure that laws put into place allow equality regardless of belief, and also prevent any discrimination that exists inherently within certain religions to affect a country’s people. However, there are some anomalies that flourish without secularism as a system, which reveals what ultimately makes secularism effective.
Firstly, social laws are the backbone of a society. Secular laws would not contain privileges for one particular religion that put others at a disadvantage, and has a justice system based on impartiality and not holy writ, prohibiting blasphemy laws. The Freedom of Thought 2012 report, issued by the Netherlands-based International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), claims that the expression of atheistic views or anti-religious ideas can bring with it a death sentence in Afghanistan, Iran, the Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. The sheer gravity of punishment meted out to people for simply not thinking a certain way, is utterly alarming. This totalitarian method of thought control disregards the sanctity of human life, because those who do not believe in the religion are not even seen as who they are - humans. This is the extreme result of the merger between religion and politics. Secularism ultimately provides a clear dichotomy between religious beliefs and a governing body, allowing complete freedom of religious belief without consequence from the law.
Additionally, the practice of Secularism will prevent, or at least greatly reduce, the unjustified unequal treatment of certain groups of people, just because their teachings preach such behaviour. Often times the hindrance of religion in meting out justice will result in irrational outcomes. Saudi Arabia, infamous for austere laws governing women’s behaviour have a set of rules that indoctrinate that they are inferior to their male counterparts. In one case, a teenager reported that she had been gang-raped, but because she was not with a ‘mahram’, or male guardian, when it occurred, she was punished by the court, and given more lashes than one of her alleged rapists received, as the Washington Post reports. This atrocious, uncalled-for treatment of another gender is an example of absolutism stemming from religion that secularism aims to obliterate. By allowing a clear line to be drawn between religion and politics, the country can treat members of state on equal grounds, disallowing any austere rules from creating a disadvantaged class.
It cannot be overlooked, however, that there are anomalies on democracy occurring without secularism. The Vatican City is a great example of one such anomaly, as it is democratic even when it’s Church and Catholicism is interwoven with its governing body. This is because the Vatican is based upon it being ecclesiastical. Catholicism and the Church’s dogma are uncontested and incontrovertible. There are no differing beliefs, and everyone accepts the dogma of the church, resulting in a largely, if not completely, homogenous Catholic society, and thus the democracy the country enjoys.
Conclusively, one could see that what a country requires to truly flourish as a state that provides equality for all is a common belief, and collective identity. Secularism is one such effective way to achieve the purest form of democracy, as it allows members of state to disregard their beliefs and identity, and view themselves as everyone else is: a human being.