Secularist of the year

The NSS has a short list of candidates for secularist of the year.

Jacques Berlinerblau – for his book How to be secular: A call to arms for religious freedom and for broadening the appeal of secularism by dispelling the misconception that it synonymous with atheism.

British Muslims for a Secular Democracy – for raising awareness within British Muslims and the wider public, of democracy – particularly ‘secular democracy’, helping to contribute to a shared vision of citizenship.

Carlos Celdran – Performance artist and political/cultural activist in the Philippines, for his tireless challenges to the privileged Catholic Church there, particularly in his advocacy for gay health and freedom, and for the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 which guarantees universal access to methods of contraception, fertility control, sexual education, and maternal care – long opposed by the Catholic church.

The Dalai Lama – for his promotion of secular ethics beyond religion and respect for nonbelievers globally.

Oliver Kamm – Leader writer and columnist for The Times, for his regular and excellent defence of the separation of Church and State.

Malala Yousafzai – for campaigning for girls’ education in the face of violent and brutal Islamist opposition.

The Dalai Lama? Seriously? He’s done some dissing of nonbelievers. So has Berlinerblau, for that matter.


  1. B-Lar says

    I went to see the Dalai Lama in London Last year, and of all the “spiritual leaders” in the world I like him best. The key point of his talk was the importance of women in our immediate and long term global future, and I think that while other religious leaders actively delude themselves, he makes a serious effort to embrace reality.

    Furthermore, he has the respect of other religious leaders. One of the few people who can have an actual honest to goodness civil interfaith conversation.

    Dont get me wrong, there is a lot of guff in the dogma, but credit should go where it is due.

  2. B-Lar says

    Hmmm… do you have a link?

    googling dalai lama + secularism and skimming through, it appears that his position is consistently positive.

  3. says

    Another observation about the Dalai Lama:

    Lhamo Döndrub was drafted into that role when he was two years old, and was taught as a monk starting when he was six. Where was informed consent in that process?

    This is nothing against the man himself, but against the institution of the Dalai Lama and many of the other tulku lineages in Tibetan Buddhism.

  4. chrisho-stuart says

    Likewise Malala Yousafzai is not a secularist.

    She’s an amazing and inspiring young woman and I was very disappointed Time magazine took the boring route of picking a US president again for “man of the year” rather than going with Malala (who was the runner up choice). The work she does in promoting education for girls is vital; and secularists support it without reservation.

    But she herself is not a secularist. She’s a devout Muslim, from a devout Muslim family.

  5. rnilsson says

    Hey, my next-door neighbour (well, crutch-walk distance) had the Lama for a house-guest as kids, and a close relation of mine has sat next to that most serene personage. Beats six-degrees-of-Bacon, yes? Cos I don’t do that particular game, at all.

    And Berlinerblau, didn’t he recently fall off his recliner or something?

    But Malala, she is the real hero. No matter what is the com-petition, yaa.

  6. Lyanna says

    But a religious person can be a secularist, chrisho-stuart. “Secularist” refers to political/social views, not personal beliefs. I am a secularist if I want societal institutions (government in particular) to be secular. Malala is a secularist and a Muslim.

  7. B-Lar says

    Thanks Ophelia. That was interesting and I wish he had gone into more detail, but one thing the DL tends not to do is specifics.

    At least he had the courtesy to use the “radical” prefix 🙂

  8. Dan Bye says

    Lyanna @#11: it depends what you mean by “secularism”.

    For many people now, “secularism” just means “church/state separation. But that wasn’t what GJ Holyoake meant by it when he coined the word in 1851, it wasn’t what Charles Bradlaugh meant when he founded the National Secular Society in 1866, and it wasn’t what any of his successors as President of the NSS meant by it until recently, and it wasn’t what any of the NSS’s members would have understood by it until recently.

    For the NSS, from 1866 until recently, secularism was a program of social and constitutional reform (including but not limited to disestablishment, secular education etc) arising from what today we would call a broadly humanistic set of ethical commitments, and identifying religion and other superstitious beliefs as one of the main barriers to reform. Curiously, the NSS had never been constitutionally atheist – as distinct from anti-religious in some sense – but in practice it always acted like an atheist trade union. From the 1960s through to quite recently it often described itself as the “militant wing” of the humanist movement, in order to signify its unapologetically campaigning stance.

    In recent years, maybe over the last decade or so, it has become clear that “secularism” has increasingly come to mean, for many people, just church/state separationism. The NSS has made changes to its constitution to take this into account, and last year removed some of the anti-religious language from its principles. However, as has always been the case, there are different views about this, and so another change to NSS principles committed the organisation to the principle that ” there is no rational basis for belief in god(s)”. That may technically fall short of a clear atheist stance, but ironically for the first time it does give the NSS an atheistesque stance at the same time as removing anti-religious language. However, the debate continues and many NSS members do now want to open up membership to anyone who supports church/state separation. It’s a position also taken by the current President of the NSS.

    The citation of Berlinerblau may reflect some of these internal debates.

    Anyway, my point is that “secularism” has more than one meaning – nobody owns it, and a bit of generosity in recognising that would be helpful – Berlinerblau for example spends some time in his book being puzzled why he can find few dictionary definitions of secularism that agree with him. The above observations explain why that would be.

    As for the Dalai Lama, it may have been a serious nomination (nominations come from members). However, in past years there have also been nominations for the Pope, so I wouldn’t necessarily take it all at face value.

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