Many people talk about secularism these days. Yet many of them do not know what they are talking about and are only repeating what they heard. People who wish to throw dirt on secularism spread falsehoods.
Contrary to what many people believe, secularism is not the same as atheism. There are a few different articles here about what is meant by atheism and what kinds of atheism are there, so consult them for more info about atheism. Atheists are among the most vocal proponents of secularism, both offline and online. That might be the source of confusion.
So, what is it?
Merriam Webster defines secularism as:
Definition of secularism
: indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations
- Merriam-Webster: Secularism
Now, that is a very broad definition, and it does not do justice to what we mean by 'secularism' here in the real world. But we cannot blame the dictionary. Secularism is complex and has many philosophical, social, cultural and historical meanings. Let's try to focus on what most people feel captures the essence of secularism here in reality.
So, what we mean by 'secularism' here in reality? The interests of the church should be separate from the interests of the state and one should not influence the other. Without this clarification, we would leave many religious people in the belief that secularism is only good for atheists.
The interests of the church should be separate from the interests of the state and one should not influence the other.
- An attrmpt to summarize what most people mean by secularism today, in the real world.
Since it prohibits the state from imposing someone else's religious belief, it is good for the religious.
Secularism argues laws should not flow from any religious consideration. That is secularism as a political principle. And since that is the most common usage today, we'll be focusing on it.
How we are to live?
Secularism - at least secularism in the meaning we're now discussing, does not answer this question. It provides a guideline on how we should create the laws. When considering how to make laws, the state should not fall back or even draw inspiration from any religious teaching.
Instead, the state should use facts and ideas derived from science and the natural world. The state should not consider the supernatural, only the natural. Secularism considers the interests of all people and attempts to balance them. And it attempts to do so without giving significance to religious ideas. It means having compassion for others. It means considering their feelings.
Note that this idea has nothing to say about the objectiveness or subjectiveness of morality or similar questions. It argues that when deciding how to solve ethical problems we should not look to the ideas of any religion. Science did not verify the ideas of religion to the same degree as the existence of gravity, for example.
Instead, we should consider only what was 'revealed' to us by science about the natural world, at the moment when we are creating the laws which solve our ethical problems.
Individual religious ideas, no matter from which religion they flow are not above considering the interests of the parties involved and acting like their interests matter.
For example, the state should not make laws against gay people getting married because there is no rational argument based on the ideas from the natural world alone that shows that gay marriage is bad for the individuals involved or the society. Religious feelings about a particular issue are not above the interests of two people to have a recognized loving, consensual relationship which hurts no one.
What Secularism is not
Secularism does not wish to exclude religion from public life. Instead, secularism wishes that no religion has a privileged position above other religions and non-religious worldviews. It is not an argument against religious ideas. It is an argument that says there are other religious ideas, so no system of belief should be above another.
The deciding factor instead should be facts. Scientific facts. This is something that an experiment can either confirm or disprove and it is more 'solid' than faith–it is easy to show to anyone that it works.
Benefits to the religious
For example, if you were a Christian but Muslims were the majority and there were no secularism, there would be nothing to prevent the state from making laws based upon Islamic theology and forcing you to obey these laws. So, secularism protects the religious. It enforces freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion.
There are people who consider themselves secular Christians–who believe in the basic tenants of Christianity but do not believe that Christianity should influence politics.
They may believe that everything would be better if everyone lived according to the teachings of Jesus Christ and what is in the scripture. Yet they recognise that they should not use politics to force people to live this life. They do not consider that Christianity should have a special privilege.
Because a Christian also believes that equality is very important and they do not wish to dominate others by forcing their beliefs upon them.
Many atheists would disagree with me but I feel that the ultra-fanatical are a minority. A vocal minority, enabled by the silence of the moderates but a minority. Other moderate religious people need to argue against their methods. But that is a discussion for another time.
Secularism does not correspond to atheism. It is a principle which states that countries should not use ideas from any religion when deciding on the laws or policies.
We base it on the principle of equality and fairness. Secularism states that scientific truth–the truth as reproducible in experiments, and empathy are to the basis of laws.