The Meaning of Secularism

Secularism, like atheism, is not a positive set of ideas. The most straightforward definition of “secular” from is “not pertaining to or connected with religion.” The term describes only one thing something is not — religious — not what it is.

Secularlism is not a philosophy. The mere fact that a person is (or claims to be, or is claimed to be) secular tells us nothing about what it is the person does believe.

Yet the Christian right has a vested interested in tarring secularists as nihilists. It is easy to see the motive behind the strategy: if the only alternative to Christianity is nihilism, Christianity wins by default.

After running through polling data on out-of-wedlock births, abortion, and homosexuality, Star Parker writes:

The public schools that are educating the majority of America’s children have been increasingly secularized and politicized. The work place has been purged of biblical ethics. All public space is darkened by lawless and vulgar lasciviousness and becoming increasingly intolerant of practicing Christians.

The result is that secular Americans have had a disproportionate impact on our country over recent years and biblical Americans are now fighting back with their voting rights.

Nice trick: secularists are equated with “lawless and vulgar lasciviousness.”

The Christians, on the other hand, are committed to America’s “founding principles of traditional values and limited government.”

Anyone who believes those are actually the choices must go with Christianity.

Those are not the choices.

The third way is a philosophy that happens to be secular (not religious) and that recognizes that our nature as rational, autonomous beings gives rise to our inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. A philosophy that seeks positive values rooted in the requirements of human life.

Meanwhile, are the Christians truly committed to a government limited to individual rights? No.

On the economic front, many Christians advocate a massive welfare state on the grounds that we are our brother’s keeper. Christians increasingly promote the environmentalist agenda on the grounds that God commanded us to care for the earth, even at the expense of human well-being and liberty.

On the social front, many Christians want to ban all or nearly all abortion from the moment of conception, on the grounds that God infused a fertilized egg with a soul, which would endanger the lives of some women and threaten a police state.

Many Christians call for censorship of unsavory materials, more political controls on drugs and personal behavior, and legal discrimination against homosexuals.

At best, the Christian right is a fickle friend of liberty.

Thankfully, there is an alternative to secular nihilism and Christian mysticism.

One thought on “The Meaning of Secularism”

  1. Thanks for the article.

    Here in India we have a different problem related to Secularism. The main ruling party claimed to be secular for decades, at the same time giving special rights and reservations to minority religions and backward casts. They in effect divided the society further.

    The principal opposition party(Hindutva) exploits this issue terming it as pseudo-secularism and ironically in the same breath talk about Hindu rights and building temples.

    Interesting times we are having here, both party(and even the rest, which claim to be secular but play cast-based politics) do not want to realise that secularism is not even a virtue – as you have mentioned rightly – its definition is the negation of something else. Secularism in itself does not have a meaning.


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