It might not be tomorrow; it might not be in ten years; eventually, however, the dawn of secularism will rise. Not to wax utopian, but it is hard to foresee how an interconnected world can fail to embrace the liberal ethos of free speech, the separation of government and religion, and the valuation of human lives over dogma and ideology.
As of late, there have been quite a number of attacks on Enlightenment (I hesitate to say “Western”) values of free debate and reason. Too many demagogues have found it worthwhile to impugn the free exchange of ideas for the sake of protecting this or that group’s sacred values. Freedom from being offended has replaced the freedom to express one’s views in the public sphere. Whether it is the Christian right’s “War on Christmas,” the feminist left’s war on the biological differences between men and women, or the Muslim right’s war on the criticism of Islam (not to mention Islam’s literal war of global Jihad), pluralism has had quite a difficult time surviving. In any case, the fact that opinions are like assholes (pardon the cliché), gives us hope that, in time, the purveyors of dogma will be left behind along with the dregs of Medieval Christianity, Nazism, and Stalinism.
No doubt, religious and political dogma exhibit the characteristics of a hydra—that is, when you cut off one branch, two more are sure to fill the void. We have to remember, however, that progress may not be measurable in months, years, decades, or even centuries. How long did it take for Europe to outgrow its superstition-infused Dark Ages? At the risk of using another cliché, with two steps forward on the road to humanism, there is bound to be an occasional step back. Our world is an interconnected demon whose technological tools have no other recourse but the free exchange of ideas on a global scale. When everyone’s aunt blogs about the abuse of women in India, and everyone’s cousin tweets about the execution of blasphemers in Iran, the world is sure to take notice. Yes, people will find ways to cloister themselves into their respective niches of politically- and religiously-filtered information. But due to the very nature of the internet (a venue where I am offered cures for erectile dysfunction despite my lack of need for them), at least some of the time, everyone will be exposed to opinions that they disagree with. From this, I take hope.