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Tue Jan 22, 2013, 11:11 AM

Why the secular movement is here to stay

Fads come and go in America, whether we’re talking about consumer products, hairstyles, or social-political ideas, so it’s reasonable to wonder whether the secular movement might be just another trendy fashion. If we’re considering what’s hot and what’s not in popular culture, clearly the notion of personal secularity is in the former category, with demographic trends breaking in favor of nonbelievers and the nonreligious. But will it last?

For several reasons, it’s hard to see the modern secular movement as a passing phase that will be gone tomorrow. The movement may level off, and even experience ebbs and flows over time, but the emergence of seculars resulting from the modern secular movement is highly unlikely to reverse itself, and the impact of that emergence is likely to be lasting and profound. Here are five factors indicating that the contemporary trend of secularity should have long-term traction:

1. The secular demographic won’t disappear

Secular Americans are a broad tent that includes not just atheists and agnostics, but millions of Americans who are simply not religious. These are good, taxpaying citizens who are generally skeptical of grand theological claims, who wouldn’t dream of spending Sunday morning sitting in church, and who tend to see church-state separation as important. These seculars have always been around, and there is no chance that they are suddenly going to disappear.


2. The Internet and social media have changed everything

A generation ago, if you were an nonbeliever living in, say, Columbia, South Carolina, you may have thought you were the only one for twenty miles in any direction. Today, however, by using tools such as meetup.com, you can quickly discover that there is a group called the Freethought Society of the Midlands, with almost 400 members. Thanks to the Internet and social media, seculars are identifying openly, finding community, and connecting with one another in ways that simply were not possible just a few years ago.

(read more at the link)
3. Seculars are organized
4. The ideas underlying secularism are modest, not radical
5. Seculars are finally demanding equality


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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 12:02 PM

1. I don't think the first point offers any evidence to support it's assertion--

i.e. just because such seculars have "always" been around doesn't mean they won't suddenly disappear. People and movement have suddenly "disappeared" in a lot of ways when governments and cultures went extreme.

However, the other points are well supported--and the one about the internet had it's own article just a week or so back.

Still, I'm not sure where the other side of the argument is. It doesn't seem like anyone but a religious fanatic would insist that secularism--defined to include those who may believe in god but not in going to church--is a passing fad. Any reasonable, modern church goer has to have known a few people who don't go to church even if they profess to believe in god. Even priests, minsters or rabbis have to be aware that secularism isn't a fad; they're the ones who've known Mrs. So-and-So for thirty years but have never seen her husband in church, or heard from Mr. X about how his kids and now adult grandkids don't belong to a synagogue. Secularism (by that definition) is not going to vanish. At least, so long at the country doesn't become a theocracy that requires everyone go to church.

My point being, I could see an argument that Atheism is a fad, but secularism? Does this author see a counter argument in favor of secularism being a fad from anyone but the ultra-religious who are just spreading a meme and hoping it will stick?

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Response to Moonwalk (Reply #1)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 12:19 PM

2. Well, I think you may be wrong on number one.

All studies I have seen recently indicate that the largest increasing demographic in the country are the non-churched, those who either do not attend, or do not believe. (When it is self-report data it is difficult to discern the difference.)

I could site specifics here but that is difficult on limited bandwidth. But both Barna and Pew have published data indicating such. Both of these organizations are funded by religion, so the only dog in their hunt would want the counter result.

Critically, the demographic with the highest percentage of those leaving religion is the young people and, notably, the fundamentalist sects figure most prominently in that demographic.

I heard about these trends on the Reasonable Doubts podcast, one of the best of the best on these topics.

They have much more data at their fingertips, and a PhD psychologist who researches such things as a regular.

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Response to longship (Reply #2)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 02:24 PM

3. Oh, I agree that secularism is on the rise among young people, etc. What I doubt...

...about that first point is that these numbers indicate it is not a fad but here to stay. The other points support that secularism is not a trend, but the rising numbers actually run counter to that. I mean, all that needs to happen is for these young people to have kids and then for some new or modernized religion, one that appeals to them, to appear. The new parents feel the kids ought to have a religious upbringing and this one not only works for them but gives them a place to socialize with other, like-minded parents. Suddenly all those non-church goers are going to church and no longer fit into the definition of "secular" that is presented in this article.

I say this remembering how in the 60's young people were rejecting organized religion in droves--yet when the 70's hit the new born-again movement took off like a rocket. A new Christian ministry, having figured out how to modernize their faith for a generation disillusioned by the old churches, pretty much gained them all back.

So I don't see how the first point, at least, supports the argument that secularism isn't a fad. It *has* been a fad in times past. Of course, so has religion. I remember when the Pope John-Paul II visited and suddenly there was a wave of Catholic coverts in the U.S. Any religion can become a fad, including the one where the person has decided that no one faith speaks for them, and so their religion will remain private.

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Response to Moonwalk (Reply #3)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 02:38 PM

4. Okay. I get your point.

But, it's my sincere hope that I am not wrong about this. The only way to tell is to wait another generation or so.

You call it a fad, and to that characterization I would disagree, however only on a rhetoric level. I would characterize these things as cultural. One may call that a fad, but I might want to use the word meme. I know. It's probably a distinction without a difference.

Regardless, I think it will take time.

I guess we'll see where these trends lead, if we live long enough.

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 03:43 PM

5. Secular movements have been around long before the French Revolution.

I don't see this as a particularly defining epoch.

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 04:49 PM

6. God could put a stop to it in a New York minute. Why doesn't He? n/t

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Response to dimbear (Reply #6)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 05:03 PM

7. 3 choices: Can't, Won't, or doesn't exist.

Pretty simple, actually.

No why anyone would worship and admire such a being that can't or won't seems irrational, but that is the nature of religion.

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Response to rug (Reply #8)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 09:20 PM

9. Any little legitimate evidence that He actually exists. Reverse the rotation of the earth,

part the sea, raise the dead, open the fountains of the deeps, any of the old tricks or more simply send an angel to appear on television. Just not be so coy.

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Response to rug (Reply #8)

Wed Jan 23, 2013, 05:26 AM

10. Easy.

If lightning simultaneously struck fifty or sixty movement leaders that were all in different states or countries, it seems like that would be a pretty clear message of disapproval. It might not carry the debate, but it would be an awfully compelling argument.

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