European Religious Leaders: ‘Secularism Could be the New Terrorism’

Father Aethelwine Richards, a leader in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Europe, recently moderated two panels at an event about discrimination against religious minorities in Europe. He summarized the conversation by suggesting that “secularism could be the new terrorism.”

(L-R) Bashy Quraishy, Father Aethelwine Richards, Paul Herzog Von Oldenburg, and Jasvir Singh at the (via Religion News Services)

From what I can tell, there were no atheists on either panel to counter the ridiculous claim, but they were the subject of discussion among the religious conservatives who were there, according to Brian Pellot of Religion News Service:

Most panelists had harsh words for France, which has long followed the principle of laïcité, or church-state separation.

Bashy Quraishy of the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion called France’s policies towards religion “secularism gone mad.” He referenced a 2004 law in France that banned the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools.

Paul Herzog Von Oldenburg, a conservative Christian from Germany and coordinator of Pro Europea Christiana, didn’t parse his words:

“We are supposed to be living in a tolerant human rights era. Instead, we live in a dictatorship of relativism, the worst form of religious persecution. Secular intolerance forces us to abandon our values, to be part of this festival of diversity. It is tantamount to apostasy.”

… all panelists agreed that France’s “harsh secularism” is the most worrisome.

Here’s a better summary of their statements: Church/state separation is bad because it means we don’t always get our way. Sure, the believers can practice their faith at home or in any number of churches or mosques or synagogues across Europe, but that’s not enough! It has to be their way, all the time, or else… “Persecution!”

It’s like they’re getting their talking points from Ted Cruz.

There are places in the world where certain religious believers (and atheists) are targeted and oppressed. That’s real discrimination. Saying that church/state separation is an affront to your faith is like saying a papercut amounts to a decapitation.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Holytape

    In related news, water is declared the new dry.

  • sam

    “Secular intolerance forces us to abandon our values, to be part of this festival of diversity.”
    Is this an example of a religious leader accidentally telling the truth? I look at the image and I see a festival of diversity. Is Rev. OldenFart admitting that he is strategically abandoning his values of intolerance & joining with other diverse religious leaders in order to oppose secularism? Is he complaining or just admitting what he’s doing?
    Secondly, we secularists will never be taken seriously until we find a funny hat to wear. Funny hats scream moral authority. We need funny hats!!!

  • Gus

    To be fair, I do sometimes think France goes too far. I wonder if perhaps they’re getting nationalism and secularism mixed up though.

    And apostasy? Heavens forbid. Like it’s a crime or something? In modern Europe? Or should be? You got a problem with apostasy, that’s your problem as it’s only a sin, not a crime.

    But terrorism? Relativism is a dictatorship and the worst form of religious persecution? I would think that say, executing apostates (whether they convert to atheism or to say, Orthodoxy) is a much worse form of religious persecution. I’m sure we could find him some examples of members of his own faith who’ve seen real persecution in the Middle East, at the hands of members of the faith of one of the other men pictured, who would strongly disagree with the notion relativism is the worst form of religious persecution. Yes, I’m quite certain that the worst persecution today usually comes from other people of strong faith, not from secularists. In fact, with the exception of a couple of historically brief episodes in which revolutionary personality cults attacked religion, most examples of real persecution in all of history have been committed by other religious people.

  • Baby_Raptor

    They needed a *really* good martyrbation session. It must have been awhile since their last “personal time.”

  • C Peterson

    This is a trend that should be high on the list of concern to secularists. We need to be forceful in our vocal condemnation of efforts to equate “you are subject to the same laws as everybody else” with “discrimination” (let alone “terrorism”!)

    Broadly, it’s a good thing that discrimination (including subtle forms) is high on people’s radar in developed nations these days. But we can’t allow that new sensitivity to degrade into politically correct absurdism, which is a real danger here.

  • Hertzey

    I for one an all on board for funny hats. To long has religion had a strangle hold on them!

  • JT Rager

    Just as long as it’s not a fedora

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    The greatest threat to religious minorities are religious majorities. The greatest defence against religious majorities is secularism. So it would seem these religious have their priorities wrong. I guess us atheists are just too threatening.

  • McAtheist

    As a confirmed fedora wearer I am offended by your anti-fedora stance

  • TurelieTelcontar

    I wonder if perhaps they’re getting nationalism and secularism mixed up though.
    Definitely not. Since I hadn’t heard of this “Paul von Oldenburg” before, and I’m German so especially curious about him, I did a short google-search. And he’s German nobility, a great-grandson of the last German emperor, and sounds like one of those Catholics who are really annoyed that the Catholic church has become so “liberal” during and after the second Vatican council. Also, he moaned about the increasing secularism during the “last 500 years”, so his preferred time was during the inquisition.

  • LesterBallard

    Now ain’t that a fuckin’ picture. Four asssholes who believe their god is the only god, being all buddy buddy. When they get rid of those who say they’re all full of shit, they’ll turn on each other.

  • LesterBallard

    Super Best Friends

  • Gus

    I was referring to the French case specifically. If I think that France’s laws banning overt religious symbols being worn in school, for example, go a bit too far, is that really about French secularism, or is it about French nationalism? France, like several European countries, is dealing right now with a large influx of mostly Muslim immigrants and a nationalist, anti-immigrant backlash to that. So one could easily assume that these laws are intended to target Muslim immigrants (and children and grandchildren thereof) and are therefore due to nationalist, anti-immigrant sentiments. Now if in keeping with French tradition they’ve decided to be fair about this and not favor one religion over another and therefore large crucifixes end up banned alongside veils, is that an issue of secularism gone wild or of nationalism gone wild but at least partially moderated by secularism?

    tl;dr: I think that when France is brought up, as by this priest, as an example of secularism run amok, it’s entirely unfair to attribute the ills of French law to secularism when it is at least as likely that nationalism and anti-immigrant fervor is to blame.

  • C Peterson

    Yeah… and if ever we needed the fashion police, this was the time. Especially the guy on the right with the head injury, apparently wearing an entire cow.

  • Gus

    Well, we could all get PhDs from the University of British Columbia:

    Or universities in Finland or Sweden:

    Then we’d have funny hats that actually meant something. Actually, this means there are already a good number of atheists out there who have put in years of work and study to earn the right to wear an authoritative funny hat. Never thought of it quite that way. Maybe I should go after that PhD after all. Just need a good research topic, really…

    I do advocate, all other things being equal, choosing your PhD school based on the extravagance of its academic regalia.

  • TurelieTelcontar

    Fair enough, and I do think you have a point. I guess my thoughts went to the recent opening of marriage for same-sex couples in France, and the amount of protest against that among a lot of different fractions. And since the person I looked at most closely from this picture is hard-core pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and exactly the person who would/does support the banning of overt religious symbols, while grandfathering in Christian symbols, that’s where my mind went. I do think the inclusion of him in that group that stands together is funny, as he’s the leader of a lobby group to “protect the Christian heritage of Europe”, and that typically includes anti-Muslim sentiments.

  • Rubahtics

    As a fedora agnostic cant we just agree that you’re both a little too extreme about hats?

  • James Stevenson

    Personally I think it has gone too far a bit. I mean in the vast majority of circumstances I cant really think most of us care about overt religious symbols. Even in a government office, if a receptionist wears a cross around her neck I don’t really care so long as her actions and duties aren’t biased by her religious observance. Which is a whole different kettle of fish to her wearing some religiously themed jewelry. Banning the symbols wont change their views after all and whether they seek to impose it on the rest of us.

    Of course I feel pretty similar about the veil and that too.. I don’t care its your actions ill judge on. So I do think that the bans really do go too far in terms of moderating what people themselves wear in their own time. Banning it also gives people like this ammo to cry ‘persecution!’, roll back the bans (which I would agree with) but considering the language would no doubt not stop there with their ‘religious revival’.

  • TurelieTelcontar

    I agree that it goes to far. But the funny thing is, at least here in Germany where wearing a headscarf is forbidden for teachers, that’s not a sign for increasing secularism. The driving forces behind that are conservatives, who are anti-Muslim specifically. As can be seen by the fact that there was a much different discussion after the fact that headscarves were forbidden as Muslim religious symbols, that then nun’s habits had to be forbidden too. But they were alloed “for historical reasons”. That’s another reason I didn’t put these things together.

    So, I agree that the rules about religious symbols are going too far. I just disagree that they are a sign of increasing secularism. From my experience, they are the result of anti-Muslim sentiment, driven by Christian conservatives, who are not at all secular-minded.

  • James Stevenson

    Oh completely agree, its the same here in the UK to. Its completely anti-muslim in origin. I mean sure the archbishop occasionally stands next to various Islamic leaders here in Britain and makes some pretty words. Buts its absolutely not a church-state separation thing.

    Though I guess with the established church here its harder to make that argument about secularism for the most part. You mostly have it here when people want to mess with ‘tradition’ which mostly came up here with the gay-marriage bill.

    If anything the recent gay-marriage bill has only shown that the UK does have a significant population of rabid Christian-supremacists who have been laying low until now. All of a sudden in parliament ‘tradition’ is sidelined (despite them at the same time defending it) because of the ‘supremacy of god’. Can’t help but notice whenever any fundie makes that argument they are never exactly on the side that if the law was enforced would infringe upon their rights. Funny that isn’t it?

  • Gus

    That is pretty much exactly what I’m trying to get at, that these people are claiming these laws are creeping secularism, when they’re really about anti-immigrant nationalism, and I guess the German case is a perfect example, they just appear not to be as fair as the French. And it’s pretty perfect that the German pastor involved in this is an advocate for just that kind of religious oppression in the name of nationalism is just too perfect.

  • Oranje

    The one recent Taliban (I think) leader that was killed in a drone strike had an awesome hat. Seriously. I thought it was really cool.

  • Oranje

    Apostasy! Declare your hat size or prepare for the Inquisition!

  • MKW

    Oh irony…so a bunch of religious leaders come together on equal terms to openly discuss how terrible the system is that allows them to come together and have open discussions about how terrible it is.?

  • Art_Vandelay

    Religious people hardly agree on anything and if you look closely enough at their holy books, there’s probably something in there that says those assholes should be trying to kill each other instead of saying cheese for the camera, but it’s nice that they can all find a common bond in their disdain for people that don’t buy any of their fairy tales.

  • MKW

    They would have to be sombreros though, everyone knows that the bigger your funny hat is in religion, the more serious you are.

  • TurelieTelcontar

    Okay, then I misunderstood the “they’re getting nationalism and secularism mixed up”. I thought you meant they were genuinely confused about the meaning of the words, or at least mistaken about the cause. That’s why I said “absolutely not”. If you meant to say “they blame secularism for things caused by nationalism”, while being fully aware of what they’re doing, then we are in agreement.

  • Cyrus Palmer

    Nevermind that no one has ever commited a crime in the name of secularism, let’s just call them potential terrorists to scare more people into believing our stories so they can pay us for it.

  • closetatheist

    I totally have that scarf the guy on the left is wearing. its great. goes with everything: my holy-day self righteous attire, my pretend-I-think-other-religions-are valuable-clothes, my use-other-minority-groups-to-serve-my-own-agenda wear, my feigning-concern-for-others-but-secretly-happy-they’ll-rot-in-hell outfits, and my ostentatious “hey! I’m being persecuted goddamnit!” clothes.

  • Rain

    Nice hats! Love it.

  • keddaw

    That’s simply not true. No-one has ever committed a crime in the name of atheism, but secularism… too right they have.

  • Rain

    How did they find time to take that picture with all of the whining going on? Self-entitlement whining takes a lot of time.

  • Stev84

    Nothing joins together people who for centuries have killed each other at the drop of a (funny) hat like their common hatred for others.

    Here is George Carlin on religious hats:

  • Stev84

    The same people who were for the headscarf ban freaked out when it came to removing Christian crosses from schools.

    At least France is consistent about it. Though I agree that should stop with symbols displayed on/in buildings.

  • Glasofruix

    The main difference between the EU and the US is that nobody listens to these loons and spouting religious nonsense while on duty is a big taboo for politicians, so we don’t see religious agendas that often.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Saying that church/state separation is an affront to your faith is like saying a papercut other people not being stabbed amounts to a decapitation your being decapitated.


  • WallofSleep

    We put up billboards, they burn children alive for wanting to learn. We engage in out reach and education, they gun down a doctor in his own church. But yeah, sure, secularism is the new terrorism.

    Heh, if the “new terrorism” is billboards, outreach, and honesty, then I’ll take the new secular brand over the old fashioned religious brand any day.

  • curtcameron

    Well, the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to both. *

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Goddamn you for beating me to it.

  • Glasofruix

    You’re getting the wrong idea about the “no religious signs in schools” french law. If i remember correctly it was voted after a big bullying/discrimination incident in a school, therefore ALL religious signs were banned from schools (including crucifixes), in essence it’s a sloppy anti-discrimination law, not nationalism, it degenerated after muslim associations started throwing a fit about it (in the same way they try to protest the “no headgear in ID pictures”).

  • Ron

    Richards moderated two panels, which brought together Christians, Sikhs, Scientologists, Mormons, Muslims and more to discuss discrimination against religious minorities in Europe.

    Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being repressed!!

  • WallofSleep

    You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Once we get enough funny hats then we shall truly understand the meaning of life and then conquer all :D

  • Fentwin

    Are you a Stetson-ist or a Bailey-ist? There is only one true Fedora!

  • JT Rager

    Clearly you are going through some struggles in your life. Soon the light will come to you and you will realize the evils of Fedoras. The one true hat is the Fez. Fezzes are cool.

  • 7Footpiper

    I’m in favour of our silly hat being made of tinfoil, I think it makes an appropriate statement.

  • 7Footpiper

    You should also have pointed out that if they weren’t ganging up on secularists/humanists/atheists to collectively whine about their asshat beliefs not being incorporated in to law, they’d be at each others throats with accusations of apostasy and worse.

  • John R.

    “secularism could be the new terrorism.”

    And history will soon repeat itself. It will be called “The New Inquisition”.

  • TurelieTelcontar

    The were same people who were for the headscarf ban freaked out when it came to removing Christian crosses from schools.
    Yes. And the German guy in the picture above is the model of a person who did both.

    Though I agree that should stop with symbols displayed on/in buildings.
    Oh, yes, absolutely. I do think it makes a big difference. A symbol worn by a person tells me something about the private opinions of that person. A symbol in the building says something about the way the leadership/whoever put that symbol there thinks, and says something much stronger.

  • SGHeathen

    Even for the case of France, who gets harmed? By any definition contemporary terrorism is about violence against innocent individuals. Who gets harmed when we stop wearing burqas and crosses? And 200 years ago nobody would think of taking this photo. Because all religions were tolerant.. not.

  • islandbrewer

    Wait, isn’t the third from the left supposed to be wearing a bear costume?

  • LesterBallard

    That’s only more recently. No one cared about the depiction of Muhammad in Super best Friends.

  • islandbrewer

    Muhammad? I thought that was Seaman! I always get them confused!

  • Discordia

    We need a flag.

  • Matt D

    I’m not shocked they team up against secularism, since it’s harder to silence secularists these days than it was for their ancestors. Teaming up is a tactic I bet they’ve used successfully before, as they have so much to lose, we all know how far their offensive tactics can go.

    Still, it was a mistake to not put a secular representative in their midst while they bash them……they will only look like cowards for not being inclusive.

  • Discordia

    They paint secularists and our protest with the only brush they have to use against those that disagree with them. It is a form of projection, IMO, that they accuse us of being the next terrorists after their many many years spent terrorizing non-believers. It is what they would do unto others, after all, so they expect it to be done unto them. While part of me wants to laugh at them and tell them that sauce for the goose is good for the gander (if they don’t like to eat shitgravy, then they shouldn’t’ve been cooking it all these centuries), I am not stupid enough to want to give them the harm they have so willingly given to others. Such an action would make us no better than the God they claim to worship, the one who holds us guilty for scrumpting some five thousand-odd years ago.

    I just want religion’s teeth pulled, science pushed to the front of education and every single one believer banned from talking to anyone about their delusions until both parties are of legal age.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I have an enormous Pirate hat, that I will put up against theirs for ridiculousness any day.

  • Houndentenor

    and each of them would ban or at least inconvenience the others if they could ever get to be in the majority.

  • Niall Hosking

    “I wear a fez. Fezzes are cool.” – The Eleventh Doctor

  • BdrLen

    >Most panelists had harsh words for France, which has long followed the principle of laïcité, or church-state separation.

    >Bashy Quraishy of the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion called France’s policies towards religion “secularism gone mad.” He referenced a 2004 law in France that banned the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools.

    Oddly enough I agree with this. The French version of secularism is generally used to marginalize religious minorities and immigrants.

  • thingwarbler

    Thank you! I was trying to figure out what message he was sending with his weird faux-hipster look (“ah, no, surely you can tell I am not an ignorant fundamentalist asshat — just look at the baret, the purple shirt and the gorgeous scarf; I am clearly an intellectual…”). The foursome is beyond laughable: in addition to our trendy Kerouac-of-the-Scripture we’ve got the Punjabi hit man, Mr. “darn, I missed the Third Reich by a decade!” and Father Aethelwine (really? Aethelwine. Allright-y, then) straight out of the 3rd century. About the only thing they seem to have had in common was their hatred of anyone not them — including, of course, each other, but especially those of us who dismiss all of them and their dogmatic xenophobia with ease.

  • GloomCookie613

    Listen, if I went ’round, sayin’ I was the Emperor because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!

  • Feral Dog

    How about party hats?

  • wmdkitty

    “Saying that church/state separation is an affront to your faith is like saying a papercut amounts to a decapitation.”

    Five minutes later, still giggling.

  • John Herling

    I could see how a religious leader could consider secularism terrifying for encouraging people to think about religion with healthy skepticism, just as they do about everything else in life.

  • A3Kr0n

    Bet the tall guy is embarrassed for having forgotten his funny hat!

  • kaydenpat

    “the worst form of religious persecution”?

    He must be joking to imply that whatever is happening in France constitutes the worst form of religious persecution in the world.

  • Sneezeguard

    The only thing that has allowed all of these people to sit down at the same table together without waging war on one another is Secularism.

    They hate the very thing that allows the groups existence in the first place.

  • closetatheist

    right! I’m pretty sure with that “mixed bag” outfit he was trying to say, “Hey! I’m modern and accepting! Look! I’m cross-dressing with my accessories!” But we know the truth…

  • Neil Schmidt

    This is validation that we are winning back the world. It wasn’t that long ago that members of each of their sects were slaughtering each other over ideologies. Now they are circling the wagons as uneasy allies against reason.

  • sarcasticatheist

    i think we must write laws that include every law from every religion for fairness, shortly afterwards about 7 billion people will die. When the dolphins crawl onto land we just need to have left a note about believing bullshit without reasonable proof

  • M

    OH boy! Circus is in town!

  • brian buckley

    they are afraid of losing their jobs..oh wait. clergy dont have real jobs. they never work;. they are afraid they will have to go and actually have to work for a living one day.

  • Sean247

    “Saying that church/state separation is an affront to your faith is like saying a papercut amounts to a decapitation”
    I disagree, it’s more like saying not being allowed to decapitate other people amounts to decapitation. If the religious are good at anything, it’s crying victim and claiming persecution because they have been stopped from oppressing someone.

  • Mario Rodgers

    Right. Because theocracies are good for everyone. No wait. No they’re not.

  • Adrian Bailey

    Secularism is not atheism.

  • notjarvis

    Terrorism = using force or violent ends to achieve and end.

    Secularism (even more aggressive secular policies like in France) do not amount to Terrorism or use of violence by any stretch (whether you agree with those policies or not).

    making these ridiculous comparisons does not help their case.

  • Hertzey

    All funny and fun hats apply!

  • Cafeeine

    “the worst form of religious persecution. ”

    Giordano Bruno called. He disagrees.