An American friend of mine posted a succinct and personal definition of secularism in another forum, and I wondered what you all made of it. Does it go far enough? Is it inclusive or exclusive enough? How might it be improved?
"Secularism is dedicated to the destruction of the concept of faith-based coercion as a legitimate part of the overall concept of good governance. It is needed not only in Islamic countries, but also *here* (in fact, we used to have it; it is still in the Constitution). Secularism is not atheism or other flavors of freethought; it is religious liberty but not religious dominion, and is legally guaranteed by the separation of church and state."
Well, most of them were deistic secularists, but point taken! You can certainly be both a believer and a secularist.
I'm not sure I can agree that secularism equates to indifference (indifference is one of the correct interpretations of the word atheist); I think that it rather more a positive attitude towards the benefit of the separation of religion and religious thinking from the functions of the state. Indeed, does your point about theistic secularists not rather contradict the assertion of indifference.
I was, however, similarly averse to the use of the word destruction (it is a little hyperbolic), though in the context it is not wholly incorrect, in my opinion. I am intrigued that you viewed the definition as in some way antitheist, as it talks about the removal of coercion and dominion, but also of guaranteeing religious liberty. Indeed, it explicitly separates secularism from atheism, and the freethought philosophy.
How can you have theistic legislation in a truly secular state? Surely that violates separation of church and state? Or do you mean legislation which reflects views held by some theists, particularly fundamentalists, without actually being theistic, per se? And if not theistic, per se, can we say that people who happen to be atheist and secularist are opposing it on those grounds, and not for some other ethical or political reason? Is it not simply the case that on many issues the conservative political view happens to coincide with religious belief to some extent?
On the point about being "dedicated", then I guess that depends largely on whether you view secularism as merely a philosophy, or as an active movement. I view it as both, but I do understand your reservations; it is a little like saying that atheism is "dedicated" to any particular goal.
He also suggests the following exercise to try with children when first teaching them about religion/ethics/philosophy.
"Have the children stand up like the Happy Humanist logo, and then have them sit with head down and hands folded, as if in prayer, and then (dynamite) ask them which feels better to them. Which one helps them be kinder to other people?"
This is a very good approximation to a definition. Secularism is definitely not a synonym of atheism. Furthermore, "atheism" as a label does not designate the fundamental issue, which is religion, not an abstract belief in a creator, and the problem encompasses supernaturalism and superstition. A focus on "God" per se comes from the monotheistic religions which dominate our civilization. But having said this, I'll go further with secularism. Secularism means relegating supernaturalist and religious interpretations of the world to private life and personal lifestyle, and removing them as justifications for public policy and common social life. Secularism is not only separation of church and state, but separation of religion and supernaturalism from common public interaction in society outside one's private voluntarily chosen circle of believers.
It sounds to me like he focuses a bit too hard on politics. Secular Humanism, I believe, is a glimmer of hope that suggests human beings are able to act righteously without having to be told what to do. The Egyptians believed that you were asked two questions before being admitted into the after life... And yes, I heard this from "The Bucket List"... One: Did you find joy in your life, and Two: Did your life bring joy to others. This suggests a perfect canvas for where to start on moral fiber. Without any influences of society or politics, popular beliefs, public scrutiny and so on, one can determine whether or not their deeds are good or bad. I Think your friends definition was too specific, because the meaning of right and wrong; good and bad; are left for the individual to decide. But Secular Humanism suggests that even though the balance is left to no fact, that it exists without a god. The meaning of Good is "Positive" and Bad is "Negative", So really, Secularism is merely a way of expressing that every human being, whether under a delusion that a god dictates it or not, has a feeling somewhere in their brains, that there is a right, and there is a wrong. Perhaps Secular humanism is what some WOULD call... God.