Secular: What it is and is not

29 Nov

So a little while ago we put up atheist billboards in Columbia, South Carolina. You can see the list of ugly responses we got in the post preceding this one, and the list of supportive responses over at the Ashley F. Miller blog. One of the ugly comments stood out in particular:

To all you atheist and “agnostics”. Believe or dont believe in God, but the day you die, you WILL come face to face with GOD and you’ll have to explain to God why you didnt believe in him. You are saved by God’s grace..not Walmart’s, Target or the Almighty Dollar. There is NO such thing as “evolution” either. If things have changed, it’s God’s will..not a happen so. So go ahead and do what you all do, but as said, you will find out the day you die. Good luck on that.

Walmart, Target, and the Almighty Dollar…that got me thinking, there seems to be a big misunderstanding when it comes to what “secular” means. I can understand why the religious think secular means what they think it means. From their point of view, you either have a god to give you purpose in life, or you have nothing. If you have nothing, then you try to fill it with material possessions. Therefore, if “secular” means without god, then it must mean that you try to fill the hole in your life with money. As understandable of a train a thought as this is, it is still horribly misguided.

Lets look at the actual definition of secular:

Adj: Denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis

That’s it. Secularism is not about filling your life with material things. It is simply freedom from religion. It is not consumerism:

Noun:The preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods

As hard as this might be to understand for some people, it is possible to live a fulfilling and meaningful life without a god and without obsessing over material possessions. Secular is good, especially when it comes to laws. As much as any one religious person might like the laws to be based on what their religion says is true, there are plenty more people from differing religions with the same agenda. The last thing you’d want is someone from a religion you feel is false to be dictating your life. Secular removes this problem by taking religion out of the equation. So as this holiday season approaches, think twice before denouncing secularism as consumerism.

One Response to “Secular: What it is and is not”

  1. theravenspoke December 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    Good comment, I certainly agree with its substance. However, I think quoting dictionaries isn’t the best strategy when refuting Christianists. Don’t feed their literalism. Speaking reason to fundamentalist reactionaries is tough enough. Dictionaries lack context, for example, “secular” is a primary description of America’s founders. They were privately observant but secular in the public sphere, founding a nation that guaranteed freedom of religion without expressing or mandating a preference for any particular faith. Using history enables “secular” to be parsed between personal beliefs and public responsibilities, a superior response to religiosity..

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