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Thread: secularism vs. atheism

  1. #1
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    secularism vs. atheism

    Is there a difference between secularism and atheism? Here are the dictionary.com definitions of the two words;

    sec•u•lar•ism P Pronunciation Key (s k y -l -r z m)
    n.
    1. Religious skepticism or indifference.
    2. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.


    a•the•ism P Pronunciation Key ( th - z m)
    n.
    1.
    a. Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.
    b. The doctrine that there is no God or gods.
    2. Godlessness; immorality.
    Here is part of the Humanist manifesto 2, concerning religion;

    FIRST: In the best sense, religion may inspire dedication to the highest ethical ideals. The cultivation of moral devotion and creative imagination is an expression of genuine "spiritual" experience and aspiration.
    We believe, however, that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species. Any account of nature should pass the tests of scientific evidence; in our judgment, the dogmas and myths of traditional religions do not do so. Even at this late date in human history, certain elementary facts based upon the critical use of scientific reason have to be restated. We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural; it is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of survival and fulfillment of the human race. As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity. Nature may indeed be broader and deeper than we now know; any new discoveries, however, will but enlarge our knowledge of the natural.

    Some humanists believe we should reinterpret traditional religions and reinvest them with meanings appropriate to the current situation. Such redefinitions, however, often perpetuate old dependencies and escapisms; they easily become obscurantist, impeding the free use of the intellect. We need, instead, radically new human purposes and goals.

    We appreciate the need to preserve the best ethical teachings in the religious traditions of humankind, many of which we share in common. But we reject those features of traditional religious morality that deny humans a full appreciation of their own potentialities and responsibilities. Traditional religions often offer solace to humans, but, as often, they inhibit humans from helping themselves or experiencing their full potentialities. Such institutions, creeds, and rituals often impede the will to serve others. Too often traditional faiths encourage dependence rather than independence, obedience rather than affirmation, fear rather than courage. More recently they have generated concerned social action, with many signs of relevance appearing in the wake of the "God Is Dead" theologies. But we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.

    SECOND: Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful. They distract humans from present concerns, from self-actualization, and from rectifying social injustices. Modern science discredits such historic concepts as the "ghost in the machine" and the "separable soul." Rather, science affirms that the human species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces. As far as we know, the total personality is a function of the biological organism transacting in a social and cultural context. There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body. We continue to exist in our progeny and in the way that our lives have influenced others in our culture.

    Traditional religions are surely not the only obstacles to human progress. Other ideologies also impede human advance. Some forms of political doctrine, for instance, function religiously, reflecting the worst features of orthodoxy and authoritarianism, especially when they sacrifice individuals on the altar of Utopian promises. Purely economic and political viewpoints, whether capitalist or communist, often function as religious and ideological dogma. Although humans undoubtedly need economic and political goals, they also need creative values by which to live.
    http://www.jcn.com/manifestos.html

    Are the sentences I highlighted above not basic, strong core beliefs of both secularists and atheists? I see nothing anywhere in the above paragraphs that would distinguish a secularist from an atheist. Is there anything in the above paragraphs that would constitute an unreconcilable difference between the two?


    Also from dictionary.com;

    world·view ( P ) Pronunciation Key (wûrldvy)
    n.
    The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.
    A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.
    What are the differences between the ways a secularist and an atheist would see and interpret the world?

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by marc9000
    What are the differences between the ways a secularist and an atheist would see and interpret the world?
    Secular is 'non-theistic'. In other words, it does not consider if there is a god or not. It just is not a matter for consideration.

    Atheist is the lack of belief in any deity.
    ‎"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." — Isaac Asimov

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    Based on the definitions you gave, they're quite different. Atheism is a matter of personal belief, secularism is a matter of public policy. There's no reason you can't be devoutly religious and a secularist. You would have your religious views, but believe that public policy should not be based on them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by marc9000
    Are the sentences I highlighted above not basic, strong core beliefs of both secularists and atheists? I see nothing anywhere in the above paragraphs that would distinguish a secularist from an atheist. Is there anything in the above paragraphs that would constitute an unreconcilable difference between the two?
    Mathematics is indifferent to theistic matters. Does that mean that mathematics is atheistic?
    Quite obviously, no. Just as one can believe that two plus two equals four and that a deity exists, one can believe that two plus two equals four and that no deity exists. Therefore, math is secular (and not atheistic).

    Quote Originally Posted by marc9000
    We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural;
    Keep in mind that there are a couple different "flavors" of atheism: strong and week. Strong atheism is the assertion that no god exists. ("I believe there is no god.") Weak atheism is the lack of belief in a god. ("I do not believe in any god.")
    Also keep in mind that some Deists consider themselves humanists, as in mentioned in the manifesto.

    Quote Originally Posted by marc9000
    What are the differences between the ways a secularist and an atheist would see and interpret the world?
    Instead of answering the question, I'll ask a "counter-question" to try to illustrate the irrelevance of your question:
    What are the differences between the ways that a secular mathematician, an atheistic mathematician, and a theistic mathematician would see and interpret numbers and math? If they all believe that 2+2=4, that the sum of the squares of the measures of the lengths of the two legs of any right triangle is equal to the square of the measure of the length of the hypotenuse, that the derivative of the natural log of x is the reciprocal of x, etc., does that mean that secularism, atheism, and theism are all the same?

    Kronus also makes a good point. Many "things" (like math and science, as opposed to people) are secular and not atheistic.
    Organic chemistry is the chemistry of carbon compounds. Biochemistry is the chemistry of carbon compounds that crawl.

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    They are different terms and apply to different things. Secularism is not a worldview in itself, it is a policy of how to apply religious and other worldview in real life.

    Secularism does not exclude people with a religious worldview. One may imagine a devout christian that firmly believes in his faith, but is also convinced that faith must come from within and that forcing someone to behave in accordance with a religion simply encourages false faith, and would logically conclude that his faith should not be forced upon people (usually with the subclause of "Let them burn in hell afterwards", or something else along those lines).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dictionary.com
    Godlessness; immorality
    I hope there's a way to leave feedback for the fine folks at Dictionary.com. Atheism has nothing to instruct us in immorality.
    - Which is worse--ignorance or apathy? For my part, I don't know and I don't care. -

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    I think it's more likely that dictionary.com just realised that the term can be used as a curse, too. Just like liberal.

    I mean, if Easyrider were to shout "You atheist!!!!!" at you, which meaning of the word do you think he would mean?

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    Quote Originally Posted by billsco
    I hope there's a way to leave feedback for the fine folks at Dictionary.com. Atheism has nothing to instruct us in immorality.
    And I have left them feedback to see what happens. I noticed this particular entry was sourced from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition so it is not something Dictionary.com wrote.

    I can see Iuris' point but the entry is still laid out wrong if this is the case. As written, "Godlessness; immorality", implies that immorality is synonymous with godlessness but the thesaurus entry for godlessness does not list immorality as a synonym. I think this is because some use the term "godless", an adjective, to mean immoral but "godlessness", a noun, to mean atheistic.
    If atheism is a religion, then "bald" is a hair color.

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    Thanks for contacting them, doG. The various definitions of atheism we encounter in our society need to be watched carefully, IMO. Too often, those writing the definitions are hostile to the idea of a person being godless. It's so easy to sully or demonize the term.
    - Which is worse--ignorance or apathy? For my part, I don't know and I don't care. -

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    Shoot! Billscoe!

    And here I was hoping you would instruct us in Atheistic immorality.

    Disappointed again! However shall I learn to be an immoral person?
    Brother, you can believe in stones as long as you do not hurl them at me. Wafa Sultan

    “War is an American way to teach geography,” British soldier

    War is sweet to those who have not tasted it, but the experienced man trembles exceedingly at heart on its approach. – Pindar

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    It's a dictionary, meant to report meaning not make it. The use of the word 'atheist' to denote godlessness and immorality is very old: in fact, in the middle ages 'practical atheists' were considered more common and more of a problem than 'theoretical atheists', as pretty much everyone theoretically believed in God but some still acted godlessly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by billsco
    I hope there's a way to leave feedback for the fine folks at Dictionary.com. Atheism has nothing to instruct us in immorality.
    I agree, I thought about putting a disclaimer about my thoughts on that in my first post, but I figured it would come up soon enough. I have had atheist aquaintances / coworkers throughout my life that were no different in some basic morals ect. from myself. I suppose they would claim that their morals come from worldly experiences, not the Bible. I can't argue with that.

    With the word "immorality" left out of the one definition, it makes the definitions of the two terms more similar, which concerns my point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by electrolyte
    Instead of answering the question, I'll ask a "counter-question" to try to illustrate the irrelevance of your question:
    What are the differences between the ways that a secular mathematician, an atheistic mathematician, and a theistic mathematician would see and interpret numbers and math? If they all believe that 2+2=4, that the sum of the squares of the measures of the lengths of the two legs of any right triangle is equal to the square of the measure of the length of the hypotenuse, that the derivative of the natural log of x is the reciprocal of x, etc., does that mean that secularism, atheism, and theism are all the same?
    It does mean they are all the same, concerning mathematics. But black & white subjects like mathematics make up a very small percentage of subjects that people deal with and make decisions on every day. Seeing and interpreting the world. The Humanist Manifesto outlines it in a broad sense. It's main point seems to be that humans are the highest form of intelligence, concerning earth and all life on it. If atheists declare there is no god, and secularists don't give any thought to a god, what differences would there be on how knowledge is filtered, decisions are made, values are established, and priorities are set?


    Kronus also makes a good point. Many "things" (like math and science, as opposed to people) are secular and not atheistic.
    Math is much more black & white than science is. In some science, the same evidence can lead to different conclusions. The worldview, the beginning presuppositions of the person studying the evidence, is often what determines the conclusion.

    Quote Originally Posted by kronus
    Based on the definitions you gave, they're quite different. Atheism is a matter of personal belief, secularism is a matter of public policy. There's no reason you can't be devoutly religious and a secularist. You would have your religious views, but believe that public policy should not be based on them.
    A devoutly religious person would disagree with all the statements in the Humanist Manifesto that I highlighted. Would they believe that public policy should be based on things that they don't believe?

    A hypothetical - If a public policy was a vote on abortion, and the "devoutly religious" person voted no, and the atheist voted yes, would the secularist, or humanist, be a non vote, a neutral position? There is no neutral position, because the issue would be decided one way or the other, and would effect the society of the secularist the same as it would the other two. It's clear who the secularist would side with.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Iuris
    They are different terms and apply to different things. Secularism is not a worldview in itself, it is a policy of how to apply religious and other worldview in real life.

    Secularism does not exclude people with a religious worldview. One may imagine a devout christian that firmly believes in his faith, but is also convinced that faith must come from within and that forcing someone to behave in accordance with a religion simply encourages false faith, and would logically conclude that his faith should not be forced upon people (usually with the subclause of "Let them burn in hell afterwards", or something else along those lines).
    So if an atheist believes that humans are the highest form of intelligence, and a devout Christian believes God is the highest form of intelligence, the Christian should allow the atheist to force him to behave as if humans are the highest form of intelligence?

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    No, secularism is not about forcing behaviour. Under a secular the government neither forces people to believe, nor does it force them not to believe. It does not establish rules of worship, base itself on atheism or any religion.
    He or she who supports a State organized in a military way – whether directly or indirectly – participates in sin. Each man takes part in the sin by contributing to the maintenance of the State by paying taxes.

    ~ Gandhi

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