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The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism

ISBN: 978-1-4443-3521-7
328 pages
August 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism (1444335219) cover image


The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism shows how people can live together and overcome the challenge of religious terrorism by adopting a "secular outlook" on life and politics.
  • Shows how secularism can answer the problem of religious terrorism
  • Provides new perspectives on how religious minorities can be integrated into liberal democracies
  • Reveals how secularism has gained a new political and moral significance.
  • Also examines such topics as atheism, religious criticism and free speech
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Secular Outlook.

1. Atheism, Agnosticism, and Theism.

The Alpha Privative.

Atheism and Liberal Concepts of God.

Atheism as an Unpopular Position.

A Definition of Atheism.

Motives for Atheism.

Atheist Values.

Spiritual Excellences and the Liberal Decalogue.


The History of Agnosticism.

Huxley and Russell.

Pascal’s Wager.

Pascal’s Insight.

Atheism or Non-Theism?

2. Freethought I: Criticism of Religion.

“Écrasez l’Infâme”.

Religion and Evil.

Religious Violence.

Father and Daughter.

How to Discover a Relationship between Religion and Violence.

Ramadan v. Hirsi Ali.

Religion “per se”.

Textual Relativism.

Can Translation Mitigate All Immoral Passages in Scripture?

Can Interpretation Mitigate All Immoral Passages in Scripture?

Why Are “Moderates” so Reluctant to Criticize Religion?

The Bible on Apostasy.

Biblical Terrorism: The Story of Phinehas.

Biblical Violence and Modern Legal Practice.

The Book of History.

Some Objections.

3. Freethought II: Freedom of Expression.

Mill on Liberty.

Khomeini v. Rushdie.

Fukuyama Giving Up on the Arab World.

The Limits of Free Speech.

The Deontological and Utilitarian Justifications for Free Speech.

Clifford on the Duty to Critique.

Freedom of Speech and Philosophers on the Index.

Intolerance not Restricted to Islam.

Giniewski v. France.

Freethought under Fire.

People Are not Being Insulted for Having a Religion.

Racism without Race.

Social Criticism not Identical with the Urge to Provoke.

Flemming Rose on Why He Published the Danish Cartoons.

The Theory of Evolution: Too Controversial to Defend?

Is There Another Way to Discover the Truth than by Free Discussion?

4. Moral and Political Secularism.

Pope Benedict XVI on the Apostles’ Creed.

“Who Are You to Tell Believers What to Believe?”

What Judaism, Christendom, and Islam Have in Common: Theism.

Divine Command Theories.

Abraham and Isaac.

The Story of Abraham in the Qur’an.

The Story of Jephtha.

Adherents of Divine Command Theory.

Command Ethics or Divine Command Ethics?

An Assessment of Divine Command Ethics.

Kierkegaard and Mill.

Kohlberg and Moral Education.

Religious and Secular Ethics.


Kant’s Struggle with Moral Autonomy and Free Speech.

Kant’s Legacy in Nineteenth-Century German Theology.

Schleiermacher as the Father of Modern Hermeneutics.

Armstrong’s Plea for Liberal Interpretation.

A New Way to Look at the “Sacredness” of Scripture?

Classic Books and Sacred Books.

Violating the Integrity of the Text.

Is Hermeneutics the Only Way to Modernize Traditions?

Is Islam “Secularization-Resistant”?

Two Kinds of Reformers: Liberal Islam and Secular Islam.

Selected Reading.


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Author Information

Paul Cliteur is Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. He is also a lawyer, a former Professor of Philosophy at the University of Delft, and a widely published author.
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"This book would be ideal for an upper-level undergraduate or graduate religious studies or philosophy seminar. Highly educated lay readers and academics interested in religion and secularism will also likely find the book of interest." (Journal of Contemporary Religion, 1 January 2012)

"The book is a balanced account of what went wrong in defending liberal democracy in the past two decades and what is to be done to revigorate the foundations for liberal democracy ." (Acta Politica, 2011)

"It is a level-headed contribution to an important debate about how best to address religious fundamentalism and political fanaticism." (The Christian Century, 8 March 2011)

"Cliteur's book is timely and well written. It covers some very recent events, and offers coherent - if sometime impatient - perspectives on religion from the secular standpoint. Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty." (Choice , 1 April 2011)

"You actually have to focus on the paragraphs. That doesn't mean that the style is inaccessible or difficult - not at all, it's very readable - but this is a meaty book that asks for (and rewards) a certain amount of concentration." (Metamagician and the Hellfire Club, 7 April 2011)

"The primary goal of this book, its author says, is ‘to show how religious believers and unbelievers can live peacefully together and what principles the state should try to stimulate in its citizenry to achieve social harmony and social cohesion.' He recommends a moral and political vision which he calls ""a 'secular outlook' on life."" Its four main components are atheism, criticism of religion, free speech, and ‘moral autonomy.' Cliteur wants us to be freethinkers and to expose the ways in which sacred texts actually endorse or even encourage violence, terrorism, and injustice. Cliteur is right, of course, that free inquiry and criticism should be protected." (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 6 March 2011)

"Accessible, engaging and convincing, it is the perfect tome for those who wish to learn about the ethical and logical case for a secular moral and political framework." (Tribune, 4 March 2011)

"A robust defence of the Enlightenment tradition and a must-read for those concerned by the corrosive aspects of religion on society." (Times Higher Education, 10 February 2011)

"But Cliteur challenges this interpretation, charging Armstrong with seeking to dismiss fundamentalism as a ‘perversion' of religion when in fact the fundamentalists can claim to be adopting the very attitude their sacred texts demand". (Church of England Newspaper, 7 January 2011)

"The book has an interesting discussion of the philosophical justifications of free expression. Free
thought, combining religious criticism and freedom of speech, is necessary for emancipating
humankind." (Open Parachute, 18 November 2010)

"The Secular Outlook is a thought-provoking discussion of how liberal, secular democracies can and should respond to extremism and a much-needed exposition of the vital importance, in that response, of rationality and an emphasis on common humanity". (New Internationalist, 1 December 2010)

"Secularism is one of those concepts that is widely used without a clear notion of what it is. Dutch humanist philosopher Paul Cliteur's The Secular Out - look: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism supplies a theoretical clarification of what secularism is and what it is not. However, the book is more than a helpful analytical exercise-it is also an urgent plea for political and moral secularism." (Free Inquiry, October 2010)

"This is a brave and timely book, a light in the gathering Endarkenment. Cliteur responds lucidly to the West's many failures of political nerve, to the new climate of rationalizing the irrational and appeasing authoritarians. He advances a powerful case for the values of freedom and reason."
Russell Blackford, Co-editor for 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists

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