What is secularlism?

Secularism is the philosophical position that our world and our behavior in it should be understood without the necessity of presupposing God. Therefore, society, government, education should be atheistic in their basic assumptions. Though there are variations within secularists, generally speaking, it proposes a complete separation of church and state without oppression of religious freedom.

The term "secularism" was first used by G. J. Holyoake (1817–1906).  It "denotes a system which seeks to interpret and order life on principles taken solely from this world, without recourse to belief in God and a future life."1  However, secularism does not necessitate atheism since it is possible to believe in God's existence, but also assume that our society should be run based on secular principles.

  • "Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law."2
  • "In other words, the two fundamental values of secularism demand the existence of some specific institutional structures. Moreover, the separation of church and state and the neutrality among different conceptions of the good life are valuable only in so far as they allow to achieve a state of affairs in which the quality of respect and freedom of conscience hold."3

Secularists propose that there is protection of religious freedom within a secular society that guarantees free speech, based on equitable laws that govern society.  In other words, neutrality and impartiality are presuppositions in a secularist view. But, there are problems.

Problems in secularism

First of all, how do we know that secularism is the right approach? Just because it aims at neutrality does not mean neutrality will be observed, nor does it mean that neutrality is the right way. Christian principles in which equality of people, integrity, the glory of God, honesty, faithfulness, righteousness, etc. are rooted in the character and expression of God as found in scriptures and are, therefore, obligatory to all. But rights given by the state in a secular society can also be redefined and taken away.

Second, where are the morals derived in a secular society?  If secularism leaves morality to the religious, then from whence does it base its laws if not from religious sources and thereby for violating its own principle of separation of church and state? On the other hand, if morals are nonreligious in nature, then who decides what is moral and not moral? If the general consensus of society is the standard of morality, then what happens when the morality of the society changes? Do some things that were once good become bad and vice versa?

Third, we see not only the demise of Christian influence in America as secularism arises, but we also see an increase in the antagonism against it. The secular order is being used to justify all sorts of inequities aimed at silencing and restricting Christians.

Fourth, the problem with secularism is that it presupposes the decency of human nature and assumes that a secular society would be maximally equitable. But, we have seen throughout history that human nature is anything But decent. We only need to think of secular societies in the 1900s were millions of people were murdered under secularist regimes.

Non-Religious Dictator Lives Lost

  • Joseph Stalin - 42,672,000
  • Mao Zedong - 37,828,000
  • Adolf Hitler - 20,946,000
  • Chiang Kai-shek - 10,214,000
  • Vladimir Lenin - 4,017,000
  • Hideki Tojo - 3,990,000
  • Pol Pot - 2,397,0004

Though secularism might have noble intent, it has problems and they cannot be ignored.

  • 1. Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • 2. http://www.secularism.org.uk/what-is-secularism.html
  • 3. academia.edu/7157623/The_Principles_of_Secularism._Is_the_Clash_among_Values_Necessary, pp. 235-236
  • 4. /religion-cause-war

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.