Are You a Secular American? March 3, 2010

Are You a Secular American?

Dave Niose, President of the American Humanist Association, has a piece at Open Salon where reader can find out whether or not they are Secular Americans:

If someone (other than your partner) wants to regulate your bedroom behavior, you can bet he or she isn’t a Secular American.

If you feel there is too much God-talk in the public forum and that politicians too often wrap themselves in God and patriotism just to win votes, you might be a Secular American.

If the idea of gays and lesbians having equal rights offends you, then you’re probably NOT a Secular American.

If you determine your values through your own reason and experience, without fear of divine retribution, then you may be a Secular American. On the other hand, if you are good mainly because you fear the wrath of God, then you probably aren’t a Secular American.

Yep, I’m pretty sure I’m a Secular American 🙂

While we’re at it, what do you think about that phrase?

It’s another umbrella term for the non-religious — do we really need another? — but it’s more positive and affirming.

It’s not anti-something or a-something — one reason even people like Sam Harris dislike the word “atheist.”

I think it has a much better chance of catching on with the mainstream public than “Bright” and “Humanist” (both terms I like, but which usually require further explanation).

And it just sounds like a much larger demographic than “non-religious” or “non-theistic.”

Plus, I know the Secular Student Alliance and Secular Coalition for America would be thrilled if it caught on.

Would you use that term to describe yourself? Why or why not?

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  • Yeonghoon

    Well it would be amazing for the United States, but do remember that there are other nationalities out there (a little shout out for the Koreans and Asians in the crowd…if any) – I do agree that it would be a good label to somehow strike a positive chord within the States, but I reckon that non-Americans would be reluctant to describe themselves as Secular Americans, personally I like to use Freethinker, Humanist, Secular Humanist, and for the time being, Atheist to be brash, although Sam Harris does have a valuable point on the very term Atheist. Don’t get me wrong I’m very much concerned with what goes on in the US of A (heck I even live here currently) and would do much to support the nonbeliever’s cause but just saying that Secular American might not be the best long term label if we want this to be anything international.

  • Alverant

    How about “Religion-free”? Like sugar-free, fat-free, drug-free, etc.

  • Mike

    It’s another umbrella term for the non-religious — do we really need another? — but it’s more positive and affirming.

    I think it confuses the issue. Secularism as I understand it (and the definition in this article mostly bears this out) is entirely a political position. An atheist can be non-secular (wanting atheism to have special government privilege, or conversely theism to have special restrictions), and a theist can be strongly in favor of secular government. Just look at the Americans United organization!

  • Grace

    I usually don’t comment on blogs, but this is an interesting topic. Can someone who self identifies as religious also self identify as a Secular American? Each litmus test in the “Secular American Test” seems to be testing liberality, rather than religiosity.

    If people who traditionally identify as atheist try to redefine themselves as Secular Americans, I think that would alienate a large group of people who seek the same political changes in our national landscape, namely liberals. It also seems to undermine the idea that religious people can agree with your ideas without having to leave their religion. Many progressive theologies embrace the points of Secular Americanism, but if the word came to connote irreligiosity, I think you would lose many allies.

  • CdAHumanist

    I classify myself as a Secular Humanist which pretty much captures my non-religious stance as well as my worldview and life philosophies. I, personally, find the term secular better than non-religious and most reasonably intelligent people know what secular means, especially in the context of a “secular Nation”.

  • Evan

    I’m with Mike. Secular doesn’t necessarily equate to atheism. It’s a political position of religious non-involvement, i.e. a Separation of Church and State. It does sound more positive than the anti- or a- terms, but I’ve heard many theists blame the Evil Secularists for all the woes in this world. But that’s an issue I don’t think can be won with any term – once a group is known to be non-religious they shall be demonized.

    I do consider myself secularist, but my favorite “positive term” is probably Humanist.

  • (a different) Mike

    I agree with Mike. Secularism implies a separation from the issues of religion, not a rejection of them. While most atheists are secularists, many secularists are not atheists.

  • Yeonghoon

    @Alverant – I think Atheist covers that well (although it refers to no deity, but deity and religion do go together)

  • NewEnglandBob

    Secular does not mean religion free.


    It means not bound to religion.

  • Demonhype

    Secular American?

    Well, as Yeonghoon says, it is very nationality-specific, which might not be a good thing.

    Also, it seems to me that on some levels, one could believe in a god or some kind of woo and still be considered a “secular American”, since many religious people do not make a huge public spectacle of faith and do support the separation of church and state. I would prefer a term that doesnt’ have a good possibility of lumping me in with people who do believe in woo (much like my opinion of the term “spiritual” for an atheist).

    Finally, like every other word you could substitute for “atheist”, it will just be seen as code for “atheist”. People will say “what’s a [Bright/Humanist/Secular American/ etc.” Either their friends will say “it means ‘atheist'”, or you will describe it and they will register it as “atheist”. Plus, it looks like you’re trying to pull something, like with all the Christian doublespeak. I think a lot of people will wonder why you’re avoiding using the word that describes you, and will consider you either dishonest and trying to “trick” them out of their faith or uncertain of your disbelief.

    So no, I probably wouldn’t use Secular American any more than I’d use Bright, since there is already an established word to describe what I think and I don’t believe that trying to hide from that word is going to be productive. The negative connotations of “atheist” will just carry over to any other word you want to use, and I think it’s the connotations we need to address directly, which requires open visibility of the average unbeliever. Just as the problem with racism or sexism wasn’t that blacks and women need to disassociate themselves from having black skin or a vagina–because, after all, those things have a pre-existing negative connoation. No, the change had to happen with the perceptions of the oppressors, which involved black people and women being strong and visible and unapologetic of who they were rather than validating their oppressor’s preconceived notions.

    I like the brashness of the word “atheist”–it states my point right away, avoids and apologizes for nothing, and forces my companions to come to terms with who I am on the open–whether that results in them abandoning me or in learning to accept me unconditionally is something they will have to decide. I’m just forcing them to think about the gap between the kind of decent person they know me to be and the myth they have been taught about atheism. I like forcing people to think, and I don’t believe I need to feel sorry for that. 🙂

    Besides, I don’t want to invite any more evangelizing that I need to, and being perceived as “uncertain” (as hiding from the term “atheist” will undoubtedly seem to many believers) is like an open call for the hard sell.

  • Jason

    This to me is sheer foolishness.

    We’re Atheists…get over it. It’s not a bad word, they just have had thousands of years of propaganda to make it so.

    In fact I think we should actively call ourselves that. Think of it like the word “Tory”, or “nigga”

    These started as slurs, as terms of insult. But they’re now being taken back by those communities to mean something good.

    We need to rehabilitate the word..make poeple not afraid of it, not run away from it and cower under some new term.

  • Richard P

    How about secular human join or let us join, with those of us in other countries?

    Shouldn’t there be an attempt at inclusion of all people? Or maybe this isn’t a party for outsiders?

  • JD

    If the idea of gays and lesbians having equal rights offends you, then you’re probably NOT a Secular American.

    The problem is, the religous have already framed gay marriage in their own minds as “special” rights, not equal rights. This is easy for a lot of them to do, since most of them have never had any education with respect to logical fallacies, and they still get their idea of truths from millennia-old religious texts. You really need to account for this kind of silly language framing to make it work, otherwise it’s not going to work.

    I think the list is a bit of cheesy grandstanding anyway.

  • Frank

    As a line for a group like the SCA to use it’s ok, but I don’t particularly like it as a way of self-identifying. I don’t like the potential confusion between a secular person (an atheist) and a secularist (one who supports church/state separation). I also don’t like identifying with a particular country. I think atheist works just fine. We can’t expect the etymology of a word to communicate the views of a community. People know what the word atheist means, and if we don’t use that it looks like we’re running from it.

  • Kimpatsu

    The problem with using th term “secular American” is that not all secularists are Americans,(I’m not), whereas the term “atheist” is global.

  • Canadiannalberta

    I’m Atheist and Canadian, so calling myself American wouldn’t be very productive 🙂

  • I think the word “secular” can include religious people who support secularism in public life and the separation of church and state. So while it’s not a useful word for “godless,” imo, it is a good umbrella term for “godless and allies.”

  • Meg

    I was raised without religion and didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it until about 10 years ago when we moved to the Midwest and I started homeschooling our kids.

    Being around religious nut cases forced me to be much more out spoken about my views. At one point I went out the the American Atheist website and read a huge tirade about why atheists shouldn’t celebrate the secular side of Christian holidays.

    I didn’t agree and at that point decided to call myself secular instead.

    It’s only been in the last year that I’ve used atheist more and more.

  • I second Greta’s point — “secular” does not necessarily imply atheism or such, but a shared support of secular values, a secular government, at least in the political sense, which is of course what the SCA is interested in. “Nontheists” is the word we often use as an umbrella term for nonbelievers and such, but that of course is unfamiliar to most people.

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