Saturday, February 23, 2013

Press Coverage from the "Secularism on the Edge" Conference at Georgetown

The press coverage from the first day of the "Secularism on the Edge" conference is starting to appear.  (You can listen to the podcast of my conversation with Jacques Berlinerblau here).

Religion News Service:  Kimberly Winston, "Scholars Seek to Reclaim a Dirty Word: Secularism."  (Republished in The Washington Post).

Colette Gilner in The Hoya.  (One correction: Gilner mentions that it was the Declaration of Independence that ends with the phrase "In the Year of Our Lord."  It is actually the U.S. Constitution).

Here is a taste of Gilner's article:

Fea said that the first article of the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli stated that “the United States is not, in any sense, founded as a Christian nation.”

Secularists have often used this line as evidence against a religious origin for America, but Fea said it is necessary to be wary of the treaty because, at the time, Americans were attempting to stand on neutral grounds with Muslim Tripolitania.

“If you’re going to make an argument that America is not a Christian nation, I think you need to be cautious when using the Treaty of Tripoli, because it’s so easy to take this thing out of context,” Fea said.

People who believe America was founded as a Christian nation have unfavorable opinions of secularism, according to Fea.

“They think of aggressive atheists who have a particular agenda to try to remove anything related to religion from public life,” Fea said.

Fea also said he appreciated how this conference is working to redefine secularism. Fea is an evangelical Christian, but said he is also secular.

“My faith as an evangelical requires me to try to win you to Christ,” Fea said. “My desire would be to evangelize you and have you become a believer. Now, I don’t believe the state should be doing that. But I think in conversations over coffee, I want to talk about my faith.”

Laura Kurek (SFS ’16) valued the talk’s objective approach.

“I thought it was a very educated discussion,” Laura Kurek (SFS ’16) said. “I liked how it was historical. Fea did a good job at not letting his personal views detract from the topic at hand.”

Ann Yang (SFS ’15) agreed with Kurek.

“As a liberal, minority Christian, I am often uncomfortable with the Christian right,” she said. “This discussion was enlightening. It was refreshing to see that there’s a body of scholars who holds my views.”

Fea concluded by saying he was hopeful for a secular American future.

“I’m happy working with people of all faiths or no faiths at all to promote the common good,” he said. “We don’t need to have a Christian nation in order to live faithfully in the world.”