Letter: Bridge between faiths built with tolerance

I’m glad that Samuel Bagg has, with his most recent article “‘Secular bubble’ popped” (9/22), clarified (if not completely revised) the extreme position of his former article — but I think that he still overlooks a central problem of that original idea. Though he now says that what he meant by “secular” was “pluralist,” he still confounds the definitions to favor the false neutrality of secular. (Indeed, I was most surprised by the following statement: “Pluralism, where the secular are treated as normal citizens alongside the religious, is different from secularism, where all citizens are forced to be secular. That he saw my expression of the former as an affirmation of the latter is distressing.” I fail to see how Bagg could find the misunderstanding so distressing, since he did not once actually mention pluralism in his original article.)

Secular does not mean, as Bagg puts it, that something “respects both religious and non-religious diversity”. Rather, it signifies pertinence to “the world” as “distinguished from the church and religion” (Oxford English).

Unless Bagg means that Yale celebrates centennial anniversaries in a non-biased manner, his differentiation between “secular bubble” and “bubble of secularism” is essentially meaningless. Both presume that religion is not important or involved on a public or private level, missing out on the subtlety of the establishment and free exercise clauses of our Constitution. That “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” does not in any way prohibit religious practice, but essentially says “to each his own.”

Again, I appreciate Bagg’s clarification, but I do wish he would give up the strongly held (and, as far as I can tell, untested) assumption that the Yale of 1701 was, or any religious institution today is, inherently intolerant while he posits secularism of today as all-embracing. Moreover, if he truly believes that “the ‘secularism’ bogeyman, which enforces secular dogma while claiming neutrality, is outdated and harmful to discourse,” might I suggest he look to Europe, or perhaps to the outlawing of school prayer (if all religious and non-religious views are to be treated equally, how is can it be termed “neutral”)?

In closing, the fact that we are able to have this mutually respectful disagreement and discourse is a good sign for the pluralist potential of Yale and our country as a whole. I was very impressed by Eboo Patel’s mission of re-framing the secular versus faith (or faith versus faith) argument to one of pluralism versus totalitarianism (whether secular or theocratic), and I look forward to building stronger bonds of understanding and respect between people of all communities. It is a testament to America’s enduring tradition of tolerance that we can express ourselves so freely and look forward to the possibilities of inter-faith dialogue and service.

Meredith Williams

Silliman College ’09