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Ask An Atheist: Atheist or Secular?

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By Jim Downard

Am I secular or atheist?

Both. Though the two intersect, they’re not identical. To be secular in a personal sense means not governing ones life based on religious dogmas, even though one can appreciate their social sides.  Christmas as a secularized winter celebration, for example. In that respect I was raised in a secular household.

But there’s also a civil side to secularism, where even if one is religious, one would not favor the intrusion of purely religious mandates on the general society, and that secularism is enshrined in our Constitution.  Freedom of religion, but even freedom from religion (especially ones not your own).

Atheism relates more deeply to the metaphysical nature of things, if any, and that depends on how you use the word. So everyone is an atheist in the sense that they disbelieve in some gods that other people think are real. Whether any of those gods actually are real (and the atheist would contend they’re not) that issue would not alter how people ought to behave in a civil context governed by a secular instinct.

Jim Downard
Jim Downard
Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose. He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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