What is secularism

The wikipedia defines secularism as "is the separation of a government, organisation or institution from religion and/or religious beliefs". To already secular folk, this may sound like a simple enough definition that everybody can agree wtih. However, one may argue (especially in Sri Lanka context) that above particular definition of secularism is defined within a worldview that is not comptible with the views of the religious communities. Therefore such a simple definition of secularism can lead to misinterpretation, since the terms of defintion itself are not compatible with the wordview of religious folks who haopens to be the majority who needs to be educated about what secualrism really is.

 

First it must be said that Secularism (ඓහිකත්වය/ලෞකිකත්වය/மதச்சார்பின்மை) is none of the following. However some of following concepts are often erroneously defined/understood as Secularism. I will elaborate on that later. As for now, I would explain briefly

 

  • Atheism (අදේවවාදය/நாத்திகம்)– belief on non-existence of god(s) :- It’s not a free way of thinking to believe in “non-existence” of entities religious people consider “existent”. However, path to a way of thinking free from Abrahamic religion runs along such an ideology, so personally I like this category of people. However this (Atheism) is NOT A NECESSITY for secularism

 

  • Non-religious (නිර්-ආගමික/மதம் அல்லாத) :- This is NOT Atheism. This is rather a lack of a religious mentality based on a conventional definition. People of this category use secular value systems instead of religious ones in their personal lives. Personally, I’m non-religious too

 

  • Multi-faith(බහු ආගමික/பல் மதம்) :- This can occur either at personal or social levels. According to my definition, this is something done by people with rather feeble minds in order to avoid (both internal and external) conflicts. However this is my personal view. Since multi-religious person often rejects the extremist ideologies of a certain religion,  such a person will if at all benefit the society (not harm it)

 

  • Multi-Culturalism (බහු සංස්කෘතික/பல் கலாச்சார)  :- If you consider multi-culturalism as when people with cultures different to each other living by respecting each other’s culture, that surely is a NECESSARY STEP to secularism. However, multi-culturalism per se is NOT secularism

 

Many people with above ideologies are people with a secular tendency. That’s exactly why those ideologies are often misconceived as secularism. However, none of above ideologies is NECESSARY or SUFFICIENT to secularism. Neither are those concepts mutually exclusive. In fact they are quite INDEPENDENT from one another. (this “mathematical explanation” was necessary because one person misunderstood this). As an example, let’s take a non-religious person like me. I won’t become a secular person solely because I’m non-religious. However, being non-religious isn’t an obstacle to be secular either. If I don’t admit (and respect) the right of those who have religious beleifs to bear such beleifs, if I think religion should be banned via government and religious places should be closed, I’m not a secular person. However, if I accept my right NOT TO believe in a religion, as well as other people’s right TO believe in a religion, then there’s no obstacle for me to be a secular person.

 

            So what’s secularism? In a personal scale, secularism is keeping one’s religious (and cultural) beleifs to oneself, while following a commonly acceptable way of living in the social life. In the level of governance, a secular nation/country is a country that offers no special favors/considerations to any religious or cultural ideology.

 

            Now here arises a question. How to define what is “commonly acceptable”? It’s actually a very relative term. This is where the difference between extremist and non-extremist ideas begins to present itself. It isn’t even possible to discuss topics like “commonly acceptable” with extremists. However “extremism” itself is a very relative thing. So this “commonly acceptable” is a sort of convention we arrive at. In order to arrive at it, enormous discussions have to take place. At least the first step of secularism is to believe that the determination of “right way” should happen through discussion. It isn’t possible to “do” secularism with those who believe that “right way” is the way is in writing which was conveyed by god(s) through his agent. Neither is it possible with those who believe that the “right way” is preached by their religious leader and we get it from generation to generation

 

“Right way” changes with the changing trends of the changing world. Human issues can be addressed only by humans. If you are in the view that you need a way of thinking that goes hand in hand with scientific knowledge, and a convention that can be reached through discussion, YOU ARE A SECULARIST..

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