Secularism and Atheism Are Not The Same

I sometimes think that people don’t understand that secularism and atheism are two different concepts.

If you’re an atheist, you probably already know the difference but I find it interesting that there seem to be a number of people that can’t see the distinction.

We all know that atheism is simply a non-belief in god(s). That’s it. As I’ve written about many times before, it has nothing to do with anything else. You can be an atheist and a humanist or not. You can be an atheist and a social justice advocate. Or not.

I going to go out on a limb and say that I think that atheists, in general are secularists. I believe I can say with certainty though that not all secularists are atheists. Find that interesting?

I’ve borrowed this definition from Wikipedia to help us all understand:

Secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. One manifestation of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, or, in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people. Another manifestation of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs and/or practices.

Look at the second sentence: it cuts both ways. The state should not only not be influenced by religion, but the state also shouldn’t impose religion on it’s people. It’s okay, in my mind for people to hold religious beliefs. Just don’t try to impose your beliefs on the rest of us, no matter the religion. Keep it out of my kids’ school. Hey, after that, we can start working together to improve our society.

This is where we’ve gone wrong in America. I believe the founders wanted a secular state and everything I’ve ever read about the founding of this country tells me that’s true.

In the last 40 years though, We, The People have allowed that to go astray. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from a now deceased Republican Senator from my home state of Arizona, Barry Goldwater.

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

We need to get back to basics.

4 thoughts on “Secularism and Atheism Are Not The Same

  1. “I going to go out on a limb and say that I think that atheists, in general are secularists.”

    I fail to see how you are going out a limb here. I can’t imagine an example of a person who does not believe in God yet supports government entanglement with religion. Do you know of any such atheists? I don’t. There are many cases of believers who are secularists. Barry Lynn, executive director of American’s United for Separation of Church and State is but one example. But I can’t think of a single person who is an atheist who supports or advocates government involvement with or endorsement of religion.

    I share your like of the Goldwater quote. Goldwater’s views on most topics, politics in particular, rarely meshed with my own views (I am a liberal). But I most wholeheartedly agreed with his views on the mixing of church and state.


    • Well, I used “going out on a limb” tongue-in-cheek. I don’t think there are any atheists that are not secularists. But then, one day, the sun might actually rise in the west.


  2. Thanks for the clarification. Problem with the written word: isn’t always obvious when someone is speaking tongue-in-cheek. I assume from your second sentence that you think the chance of there ever being an atheist who is not a secularist is so close to zero that we might as well treat it as such? As a retired science teacher, I can say with a very high degree of confidence that the chance of the Sun rising in the west is so close to zero that it would be foolish to treat it otherwise.


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