Jewish Secularism

Is Jewish secularism possible?

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Acceptance of Political Secularism

But be that as it may, political secularism is today widely accepted, not only in the West, but in such non-Christian lands as Japan and India and Turkey (though the latter is having an interesting debate on the subject since the election of Prime Minister Erdogan) and has gained momentum in fact almost everywhere except the Islamic Middle East.

And whether or not we Jews have the tangled confusions of Christian theology to thank for the initial Great Separation, thankful we do tend to be. If it's political secularism we're talking about then probably all Jews living outside of Israel are secularists, since nothing could be more in our collective self-interest.
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A religious group, most of whose history was characterized by statelessness, has reason to be well-disposed toward the separation of church and state and mosque and state, even if the original Jewish kingdom was something of an archetype for political theology. Religious Jews (living outside of Israel) have every bit as much, if not more, reason to be secularists in the political sense as do irreligious Jews.

Metaphysical Secularism

Not so with the next form of secularism, this one metaphysical, involving another sort of rejection of the transcendent, namely as existing. If a political secularist rejects appeals to transcendence in devising a workable state, a metaphysical secularist rejects appeals to transcendence period.

He's committed to making sense out of the world without appealing to any supernatural agency, though he isn't thereby committed to claiming that everything can be made sense of. (I want to separate, only because they are separable, metaphysical atheism from such forms of epistemological hubris as scientism, the view that science can explain all that exists. A metaphysical secularist might very well believe that there are questions that science can't explain but which aren't explained by appeal to supernatural agency either. A metaphysical secularist can be a principled skeptic.)

The metaphysical rejection of the transcendent is a view of the nature of our cosmos, of its containing all that there is, of its perhaps even eventually being able to offer up an explanation of its own existence (the core of Spinoza's metaphysics). But even if the cosmos won't ever be able to explain its own existence, it is, according to metaphysical secularism, all that we've got, and so it is also, a fortiori, all that we've got in trying to figure out our place in the cosmos, which last point brings me to the final form of secularism that I want to distinguish here, namely normative secularism.>

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Rebecca Goldstein

Rebecca Goldstein is a novelist and professor of philosophy. She has written five novels, a number of short stories and essays, and biographical studies of mathematician Kurt G?del and philosopher Baruch Spinoza.