My story on becoming secular might not be a common one from someone born and raised in the South; however, I wanted to share it to bring light on some misconceptions, the different branches and recent findings of secularism.
When I was young, I became ingrained in the church and as a follower of Christ where I was eventually baptized in the ocean and then confirmed in Christ following weeks of study. I sang in the children’s choir, participated in many church-related events, traveled to yearly pilgrimages and wrote a Bible verse in my journal every day for two years. From praying for loved ones who I feared lost their way, to being part of church plays and going to every Christmas show, I fit well into the stereotypical mold of a southern Christian.
As I got older, I started to write about anything and everything that popped into my mind. This led to me analyzing my beliefs and the overall concept of being a ‘theist.’ I started to find cracks in the house that had comfortably surrounded me, and it was a conflicting time: Nothing could repair those cracks that formed. Finally, I discussed my views and was informed of a noun that I had never heard of or read about before — AG-NOS-TIC:
“A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.” —Oxford.
I had to repeat the word a few times to get it right, but once I read (and re-read) the definition, an amazing feeling filled me as if a breath of fresh air: I had discovered what I had been contemplating for years, and it felt right, like, ‘Finally, this is how I’ve been thinking over the last few years!’ It was a feeling of relief, freedom and acceptance.
Since then, I’ve researched more into the concept of theism, atheism and the wide spectrum of secular thoughts. It was difficult to initially inform close ones of this change; however, I had found the right community to identify with and was content.
What is the Spectrum of Secularism?
This article isn’t meant to represent the entirety of secularism nor would it even begin to take on such a daunting task. Likewise to the branches of organized religion, there are vast branches of secularism, as well.
The main types that people refer to most often tend to include:
- Atheism: A rejection of the belief that any deities exist. ATHEISM IS NOT A BELIEF, it is a REJECTION of belief.
- Agnostic: (see above) Basically being agnostic means to pursue evidence-based wisdom even as theories are fluid based on further discoveries. There is no evidence that a deity/deities/supernatural entity exist; therefore, we must rely on known evidence/logic.
- Deism: “The philosophical position that rejects revelation as a source of religious knowledge and asserts that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to establish the existence of a Supreme Being or creator of the universe.” A few deists whom I’ve met believe in a supreme being that created the universe including Earth, but had no intervention in anything post-creation.
- Humanism: “A philosophical stance that emphasizes the value of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of dogma or superstition. “
- Antitheism: “The opposition to theism. The term has had a range of applications. In secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to the belief in any deity.” One definition I’ve read on this is that it aligns with the concept that humans believing in a deity/ies is extremely harmful.
These are strict definitions that can be broadened and most definitely do NOT represent the entirety of secularism. Basically, two of the core values of secularism is in regards to evidence-based rationale and theories and the connections between nature and living things.
What Are/Aren’t Those Who Identify as Secular?
- We do NOT believe in Satan; thus, we are NOT Satanists. One retort that I received was that if I did not believe in God, then I must be a Satanist. This irrational statement doesn’t take into account that secularists question/reject the belief of ALL deities, which includes … Satan!
- We have morals and core values. Another thing to touch base on is that we do not have morals since we aren’t being led by the Bible. Luckily for the majority of humanity, most of us have a thing in the frontal lobe area of our brains called a conscience, meaning, we feel empathy and acknowledge what is right and what is wrong. Now, unless you exhibit traits of a psychopath, narcissist and/or sociopath, this concept is not foreign. We also acknowledge the importance of being connected to the world around us.
According to the Pew Research Foundation: “Like a majority of Americans, most atheists mentioned “family” as a source of meaning when Pew Research Center asked an open-ended question about this in a 2017 survey. But atheists were far more likely than Christians to describe hobbies as meaningful or satisfying (26% vs. 10%). Atheists also were more likely than Americans overall to describe finances and money, creative pursuits, travel, and leisure activities as meaningful. Not surprisingly, very few U.S. atheists (4%) said they found life’s meaning in spirituality.”
In the same article, “Most Americans (56%) say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral, while 42% say belief in God is necessary to have good values, according to a 2017 survey. In other wealthy countries, smaller shares tend to say that belief in God is essential for good morals, including just 15% in France. But in many other parts of the world, nearly everyone says that a person must believe in God to be moral, including 99% in Indonesia and Ghana and 98% in Pakistan, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center international survey.”
- We do not “hate” Jesus or the Bible. In fact, most of us see the Bible as one of the most impactful pieces of work on humanity. Personally, I tried to take a Bible literacy course in high school to become even more knowledgeable of it, but it, unfortunately, didn’t fit my schedule.
According to the Pew Research article from above, “Atheists may not believe religious teachings, but they are quite informed about religion. In Pew Research Center’s 2019 religious knowledge survey, atheists were among the best-performing groups, answering an average of about 18 out of 32 fact-based questions correctly, while U.S. adults overall got an average of roughly 14 questions right. Atheists were at least as knowledgeable as Christians on Christianity-related questions – roughly eight-in-ten in both groups, for example, know that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus – and they were also twice as likely as Americans overall to know that the U.S. Constitution says “no religious test” shall be necessary to hold public office.”
When legal issues arise with having taxpayer money fund a specific religious material in the public eye, we also do not think that it’s fair for all Americans to fund it. It would be the same concept as if taxpayer money went to fund a Hindu, Buddhist, Islam and/or Pagan physical object in public schools, courthouses, etc. If one religion wants to open that can of worms, then you must be inclusive to all beliefs (or lack of beliefs), which is unreasonable.
- We are also a mix of political ideologies. I tend to have more views that socially lean left while fiscally I lean more right. Local and state political issues are more interesting and impactful on my day-to-day, so I stay informed with a few local and state news sites.
In 2016, religiously unaffiliated Americans, or “nones,” represented 21 percent of registered voters, one percentage point more than white evangelical Christians. However, they only accounted for 15 percent of actual voters, according to Pew Research Center and national exit polls.
Mind you, the majority of those who are religious-nones tend to back more democratic/liberal candidates and policies; however, it’s not 100%. The graph below compares Evangelicals vs. Religions-Nones on which candidates they supported in 2012 and 2016.
5. The rate of those who identify as secular is rising, not only in the U.S., but worldwide. We must learn to civilly co-exist.
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center: “65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.”
I’m not a monster out to sacrifice your faith to whatever nightmare you can imagine; I’m not trying to turn your children away from their upbringing; I don’t want to attack your beliefs; and I do not hate anyone or anything that is religious. I merely want to live a loving, relaxing and successful life, similar to most everyone regardless of their beliefs, or lack there of.
As long as you strive to be a good person who treats other living things with respect and love, then you’re a’okay in my book!
As time goes by, and the image of our country, and the world, transitions into a more secular one, I hope these misconceptions and fears against those who are secular will diminish.