What Is a Secularist?

(Thanks to AiG researcher Steve Golden for the research for this blog.)

Do I have an agenda to “demonize” secularists and confuse words? In a recent article, a Salon.com author claims that many Christians make the confusion. The article made the claim that some groups of Christians are purposely mixing the terms atheist and secularist in order to “demonize” secularism.

Well, I thought it would be important to give the definitions of these and other terms and to explain how we use them at AiG. Our goal is to preach the gospel—not intentionally confuse people. So we want to be clear with our terminology.

Below are the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definitions of four commonly used terms at AiG. You’ll notice there is some overlap between them.

Atheism
1 archaic: Ungodliness, Wickedness
2a: a disbelief in the existence of deity
2b: the doctrine that there is no deity

Naturalism
1: action, inclination, or thought based only on natural desires and instincts
2: a theory denying that an event or object has a supernatural significance; specifically: the doctrine that scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena

Secularism: indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations

Secular humanism: humanistic philosophy viewed as a nontheistic religion antagonistic to traditional religion

Now, we don’t have an agenda to “demonize” secularists. But it is interesting to note that even the so-called New Atheists have conflated some of these terms. The author of the article I mentioned above writes that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins attribute religious violence around the world to “scriptural literalism” and “religious moderates.”

The author responds to Harris and Dawkins, “Surely a school of thought that can’t distinguish between a member of the Taliban beheading a journalist and a Methodist running a soup kitchen in Cincinnati is not poised to make the sound policy decisions that accrue to the good of secularism.” The New Atheists have conflated Bible-believing Christianity with other secular religions.

We at Answers in Genesis want to point out the inconsistency and irrationality of any worldview that is not based on the authority of the Bible. It’s important to remember that the opposite of a Christian is not a secularist, an atheist, a naturalist, or a secular humanist. No, the opposite of a Christian is a non-Christian.

Christ tells us that there is no neutral ground when it comes to our relationship with Him. “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matthew 12:30). As I often point out in my talks to various groups, we’re either racing toward Christ, or we’re racing away into darkness. There is no in-between.

Many times when we use the word secularist in our articles and talks, we aren’t always referencing the strict dictionary definition of the word. We’re typically referring to the philosophy of secular humanism. But that does not necessarily mean that the secularist is an atheist.

Really, a secularist may very well believe in a god or gods—he may even say he believes in the God of the Bible—but does he believe that salvation is received by faith alone in Christ alone? If the answer is no, then it does not matter whether he is a secularist, an atheist, a naturalist, or a secular humanist—he is not a Christian.

We recognize that it’s important to carefully define terms. Now, we have many authors at Answers in Genesis and they may occasionally use different terms in slightly different ways to argue the same points. However, contrary to the claims of the Salon.com author that Christians want to “demonize” secularists, that is not done by AiG, and we do not intend to deceive anyone. The argument that Christians want to intentionally confuse the terms secularist and atheist is unfounded at least on AiG’s part and for the many Christian leaders I know.

Lastly, I would urge professing Christians to abandon concepts of neutrality. When we are speaking with non-Christians, it doesn’t matter whether they are atheists or secularists. If they aren’t Christians, then they need to hear the gospel! And that’s what we at Answers in Genesis want to reach the world with—Christ’s death, burial, and Resurrection that has made salvation available to all who receive it by faith in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 15:1–4).

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,

Ken