There has been a lot in the press in the last week or so about atheism and secularism. We had Baroness Warsi speaking about the dangers that militant secularism holds for Europe, the court case about prayers in council meeting. Then the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science publishing a poll highlighting how few UK adults actually believe the teaching of Christianity despite identifying themselves as Christian in the last census, prompting lively discussion between various parties. Today we had stories about how Richard Dawkins ancestors owned slaves and somehow these seemed to be twisted into this being the reason he is an atheist.
This got me wondering how many people actually know what an atheist, secularist or humanist actually is, is there a difference and why should I care?
According to the BBC ’Atheists are people who believe that god or gods (or other supernatural beings) are man-made constructs, myths and legends or who believe that these concepts are not meaningful.’. My personal definition (however flawed this may or may not be) is that an atheist is someone who does not believe in a god or some sort of higher intelligence. Atheism UK list among their principles:
‘God does not exist
- Concepts of gods are myths created by humans.
- There are not two separate realms (the natural and the supernatural), but one (the natural).’
Secularism or Secularity is the separation of state from religion, not overtly or specifically religious, relating to a the worldly. What this means to me is that religion should not influence the state. The laws and rules one lives under should not be influenced by any religion. I am not sure what militant secularism is… unless it is speaking, supporting or blogging positively about secularism. Many people who follow also believe in a religion are also secularists, being a Christian or a Muslim is not mutually exclusive to being a secularist.
According the the British Humanist Society the word ‘humanist’ has come to mean:
- trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)
- makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
- believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.