“For the world to advance, it needs to be secular”

That’s what British philosopher Anthony Clifford Grayling –whose first two names are usually seen in aseptic initials– said during a discussion with Spanish writer Antonio Muñoz Molina, in which the founder of the Hay Festival, Peter Florence, served as moderator. They began talking about immigration, moved to the subject of religion, and later dealt with the decisive role of education.

“We’re going through a period of unprecedented global anxiety: about our planet but also because of the mass migrations,” said Grayling, his voice resounding through the Aula Magna of IE’s Santa Cruz La Real campus in Segovia, where the Hay Festival was held. “History teaches us that people have always migrated, and Europe is a great example of this.” These population movements enrich the culture of the places where they end up. Although for this enrichment to take place, there must first be coexistence.

The British philosopher said that the migration that Europe is undergoing at present is problematical because people are fearful about the religious aspect of the new arrivals: in general, countries are quite secular, and this passion for religion is something distant for us.

Muñoz Molina noted that little by little society has become more secular, but that the Church has not separated itself from the civil authorities. “The problem is that the liberal revolution was never deep enough to create a separation between the Catholic Church and the State. The big winner with Francoism was the church, and the ideology of Francoism was extreme Catholicism,” he said.

“Whenever there’s a religious procession, the civil authorities are in the front row,” said Muñoz Molina, who insisted that this contradicts the feeling of society as a whole, which accepts divorce and homosexual marriage. The reasons for defending this secularization are clear: “We need a deeply secular society so as to be able to integrate people who are coming from many places.”

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Grayling was in agreement, building on the phrase. “Secularization is now necessary for the world to make progress.” At the same time he made a distinction between atheism (a metaphysical matter) and secularization, which means that religion should be something separate from the state. He thinks that most people are secular and tend to give more importance to human principles over their religion should the two worlds clash.

Muñoz Molina introduced another controversial aspect. “Many believers are quick to be offended about their faith.” But in a multicultural society, different people have to get along. As a result we have to ask ourselves to what point we can block the right to criticism or irreverence, for example in the arts, out of respect for religion.

It’s difficult to find the right balance. And one of the best ways to do this is through education. But first, a bit of democratic context. Muñoz Molina noted that democracy only provokes enthusiasm when it has been lost, but that it is still something dear and fragile. “Spain had never experienced such freedom. And paradoxically, this system is now considered a legacy of Francoism.” He asked rhetorically: in how many countries in the world do they tell you that they won’t arbitrarily arrest you on the street?

“There are not people; a democracy is made up of the citizens. And a citizen is an adult who is responsible or assumes responsibility,” the writer went on. He added that without good public education there can be no democracy, because the people with money find the best education, as George Orwell noted.

Grayling would like education to allow future citizens to exercise valuable criticism and become sensible contributors to important debate, for example on subjects like war and migration. For his part, Muñoz Molina thinks that education should instill basic notions such as the idea that the place where we live is not the center of the world and human beings are not the height of civilization, nor reason is the only thing that governs the brain.

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