Sunday, October 2, 2011

I Heart Secularism

So I started this blog with the idea of chronicling funny and interesting things in our family's day to day life as we homeschool and live the country life. Pretty quickly I started throwing in opinion pieces, because, well, I have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. As a secular homeschooler, one thing I have particularly strong opinions about is religion, for several different reasons.

The main reason that I talk and think so much about religion is that I continue to be confused by the respect given to it. Since I do not believe religious faith is in any way necessary for morality and I don't believe in the supernatural, I don't think religion is necessary at all. Coming from that point of view, every single atrocity committed in the name of religion is unjustified. (The Crusades, World Trade Center attacks, witch burnings, stonings, child abuse and rape by priests...You get the idea.) When people point out the good things that have been accomplished in the name of religion, I instantly recognize that those things were done out of humanistic love for each other. Is it your bible or your humanity that makes you donate your children's outgrown winter coats to the local shelter, or that makes you sick to your stomach when you see pictures of abject human poverty in third world nations?

When I read this article that discusses the Pope's recent trip to Germany and his focus on "fighting secularization," I was somewhat amused. Here is one of the most powerful men in the world, with millions worldwide looking up to him for spiritual guidance. He had one short meeting with five victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and the rest of his time was spent discussing ways to fight secularism. Why do he, other religious officials, and many conservatives insist on saying "secular" and "humanism" like they are bad words? Here's a hint: it's not because secularism and humanism lead to immoral activity like Fox News would have us believe. On the contrary, they lead to the realization that morality is entirely possible without religion. And just to spell it out a little more clearly, little free thinking children rarely grow into tithers.

Opening up about my beliefs here has had a positive impact on my ability to be open in my day to day life. A couple weeks ago, Bonnie and I were in a coffee shop having a nice conversation with the owner about homeschooling and the current school systems and so on. All was fine until the lady started talking about the A Beka curriculum and other religious education materials, and I told her "I'm actually not a Christian. I'm an atheist." She was visibly taken aback but then recovered and went back to talking about non-religious aspects of homeschooling with me. A year ago I would have smiled and nodded and not admitted that I didn't share her world view, and then probably would have tried to back pedal with Bonnie in private, maybe saying something about "not wanting to offend" the woman with my beliefs. When we got back in our car, Bonnie said she was glad the woman didn't get mad at me when I said I wasn't a Christian, which made me realize that I need to show my kids a lot more that I'm not ashamed to talk about my beliefs with anyone. (Bonnie was seven the first time a peer told her she was "going to Hell", so she's reasonably leery of making herself too vulnerable in discussions of faith.) I can't help but think the interchange must have been good for the shop owner, who had her basic assumptions about homeschooling challenged.

Being secular and enjoying every single minute on this earth is important to me, and my secular humanist world view shapes most aspects of my life. As the Pope and other religious officials all know, religion and secularism are in direct opposition of one another, therefore part of being secular for me is also being "anti-religious." I know that sometimes my anti-religious discussions are agitating, especially since diversity in my area of the world is having more than one Baptist church. When Jack told his soccer team mate last week that he doesn't believe in any gods, I'm guessing that was the little boy's first experience even hearing that it was possible not to believe in god. I stumbled across this beautiful speech by Robert Green Ingersoll today, written in 1887 and perfectly descriptive of why I think secularism is a beautiful, beautiful thing, and why have no problems raising my kids to be "good without god."

     Several people have asked me the meaning of this term.
     Secularism is the religion of humanity; it embraces the
affairs of this world; it is interested in everything that touches
the welfare of a sentient being; it advocates attention to the
particular planet in which we happen to live; it means that each
individual counts for something; it is a declaration of
intellectual independence; it means that the pew is superior to the
pulpit, that those who bear the burdens shall have the profits and
that they who fill the purse shall hold the strings. It is a
protest against theological oppression, against ecclesiastical
tyranny, against being the serf, subject or slave of any phantom,
or of the priest of any phantom. It is a protest against wasting
this life for the sake of one that we know not of. It proposes to
let the gods take care of themselves. It is another name for common
sense; that is to say, the adaptation of means to such ends as are
desired and understood.

     Secularism believes in building a home here, in this world. It
trusts to individual effort, to energy, to intelligence, to
observation and experience rather than to the unknown and the
supernatural. It desires to be happy on this side of the grave.

     Secularism means food and fireside, roof and raiment,
reasonable work and reasonable leisure, the cultivation of the
tastes, the acquisition of knowledge, the enjoyment of the arts,
and it promises for the human race comfort, independence,
intelligence, and above all liberty. It means the abolition of
sectarian feuds, of theological hatreds. It means the cultivation
of friendship and intellectual hospitality. It means the living for
ourselves and each other; for the present instead of the past, for
this world rather than for another. It means the right to express
your thought in spite of popes, priests, and gods. It means that
impudent idleness shall no longer live upon the labor of honest
men. It means the destruction of the business of those who trade in
fear. It proposes to give serenity and content to the human soul.
It will put out the fires of eternal pain. It is striving to do
away with violence and vice, with ignorance, poverty and disease.
It lives for the ever present to-day, and the ever coming to-
morrow. It does not believe in praying and receiving, but in
earning and deserving. It regards work as worship, labor as prayer,
and wisdom as the savior of mankind. It says to every human being,
Take care of yourself so that you may be able to help others; adorn
your life with the gems called good deeds; illumine your path with
the sunlight called friendship and love.

     Secularism is a religion, a religion that is understood. It
has no mysteries, no mumblings, no priests, no ceremonies, no
falsehoods, no miracles, and no persecutions. It considers the
lilies of the field, and takes thought for the morrow. It says to
the whole world, Work that you may eat, drink, and be clothed; work
that you may enjoy; work that you may not want; work that you may
give and never need.

                         The Independent Pulpit, Waco, Texas, 1887.


  1. "Is it your bible or your humanity" that makes one do the right thing for others? Excellent point--and one I'm cultivating in anticipation of having the same type of conversations (i.e. at the coffeeshop). I think of all the kindnesses shown to my single mom by her family during her rough divorce (we went into hiding for several months), and I think, "Did they do all that for us out of obligation to an all- powerful imaginary friend or because they loved US?"

    Also, your comment about "diverse" being plural Baptist churches made me chortle. It's fun, somehow, when others are undergoing the similar ludicrous circumstances. It makes them more funny than hostile.

  2. I love this post. I wish I had something wonderful or witty to say in reply. I don't, so I'll simply say thank you. :)

  3. Thank you for this post. As a fellow secular homeschooler, I agree with every word you said. And I must applaud your courage with being so up front and "out" about your beliefs.

    It's so good to know there are others like me out there.

  4. Excellent post. I love the Ingersoll quote and the question "Is it your bible or your humanity" that motives your moral choices. I'm no homeschooler, but I sure do love your blog!