Secular humanism

A final point: The Art of City-Making is laden with assumptions that shape what I say, the suggestions I make and the preferences I

have. These will probably become clear to you as the text unfolds. Nevertheless, since cities are such contested fields, both in terms of their actual functioning and what is said about them, I feel it is right to make my ideological position explicit from the outset.

I subscribe to a secular humanist position that privileges civic values, which in essence seek to foster competent, confident and engaged citizenship. Mine is an attitude or philosophy concerned with the capabilities, interests and achievements of human beings rather than the concepts and problems of science or theology. It does not decry the virtues of science or the sustenance religion or other belief systems give. It is simply that its focus is on how people live together. The world is best understood, I posit, by reasoning and conversation without reference to higher authorities. It claims life can be best lived by applying ethics; which are an attempt to arrive at practical standards that provide principles to guide our common views and behaviour and to help resolve conflicts. It provides a frame within which difference can be lived and shared with mutual respect.

Secular humanism as a core Enlightenment project has been drained of confidence. It feels exhausted and consequently is mistakenly accused of being 'wishy-washy', with no apparent point of view. Its confidence needs to be restored. The confident secular humanist view proposes a set of civic values and rules of engagement which include providing settings for a continually renewing dialogue across differences, cultures and conflicts; allowing strongly held beliefs or faiths expression within this core agreement; and acknowledging the 'naturalness' of conflict and establishing means and mediation devices to deal with difference. It seeks to consolidate different ways of living, recognizing arenas in which we must all live together and those where we can live apart. It generates structured opportunities to learn to know 'the other', to explore and discover similarity and difference. It wishes to drive down decision-making on the subsidiarity principle, which implies much greater decentralization and devolution of power. Central government takes on a more subsidiary role. This enhances participation and connectivity at local level. It helps generate interest, concern and responsibility.

'Secular' does not mean emotionally barren. In fact I treasure the heightened registers of being that spirituality evokes. Indeed its animating force may be just the thing that makes some cities more liveable in than others.

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