Even though I am not an atheist, I am a secularist, and I am pleased that a bunch of secularists are getting together on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on March 24.
But before I go on, let’s look at two meanings for the word “secularism“:
1. secular spirit or tendency, especially a system of political or social philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith and worship.
2. the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element.
I am a secularist in the second sense, not the first, and that is why I was disappointed that the organizers of the celebration of secularism chose to focus on the first definition. They announced the event—called “The Reason Rally“—this way:
Across America, in every city, every town, and every school, secularism is on the rise. Whether people call themselves atheists, agnostics, secular Humanists, or any of the other terms used to describe their god-free lifestyle, secularism is coming out of the closet.
By this definition, one of the greatest religious skeptics in modern American history—Martin Gardner—would not be technically qualified to attend this gathering. Gardner was a philosophical theist, but highly critical of miracle-based religions.
In The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, in a chapter titled, “Why I Am Not an Atheist,” he wrote:
Let me speak personally. By the grace of God I managed the leap when I was in my teens. For me it was then bound up with an ugly Protestant fundamentalism. I outgrew this slowly, and eventually decided I could not even call myself a Christian without using language deceptively, but faith in God and immortality remained.
I am quite content to confess…that I have no basis whatever for my belief in God other than a passionate longing that God exist and that I and others will not cease to exist.
By this admission, Gardner, who died almost two years ago, would have to sit out The Reason Rally in March. And that would be a damn shame.