The True Meaning of Secular and Secularism

Hinduwebsite editorial - secularism means worldliness

From The Editor's Desk

(Hinduwebsite Editorial - Exploring Truth Amidst Illusions and Distortions)

The word secular is one of the frequently used words in modern politics, but not well understood. Most people know what secularism means and implies. However, many people do not know what secular means. Both secular and secularism are western concepts. They were unknown in India until recent times.

By definition, secular means of or pertaining to worldly things or things that are not considered religious, spiritual, or sacred. In other words, a secular person is essentially a worldly person or a materialistic and irreligious person. He does not believe in God. If he is called secular, it would be because he does not practice any religion or adhere to any religious belief.

Secularity and religiosity cannot coexist in the same space. A person is either secular or religious, but cannot be both at the same time. Those who are familiar with Hinduism know that there is no place for a secular person in Hinduism, because Hinduism is a way of life in which religion and belief in God are central to its practice.

One cannot be a Hindu, without practising the Hindu Dharma, which requires belief in God, gods, God's eternal duties which humans need to perform on earth, reincarnation and so on. A secular person is closer in many respects to the “Lokayatas” or the materialists of ancient India. The Lokayatas or the worldly people did not believe in God or in afterlife. They held that souls were nonexistent and death was final liberation in itself.

Thus, by definition for a religious person secularity or the state of being secular is not a virtue but a vice. A secular person is essentially a godless person. He may follow morals and practice virtue but it is not because he practices any religion but some philosophy such as secular humanism which upholds the values of humanity, reason and social justice rather than religious dogma.

If you believe in any religious scripture, be it the Bhagavadgita, the Bible, or the Quran and practice any of the religions, you will not qualify as a secular person. To be a secular person, you have to give up your religiosity and become a worldly person. One may argue that one can be secular in politics and public life, and religious in private life. It is a fallacy. Practically, it is not possible to be a secularly religious person or religiously secular person.

In other words, no one can be religious and secular at the same time unless one leads a double life. One can honor secularism in public life to abide by law or respect other people’s religious beliefs, without being irreligious. Thus, a religious person may practice secularism, without being secular, but the same cannot be said about a secular person.

Some people think that it is trendy and urban to be a secular person. Most of them do not know what it truly means. When someone is secular in his beliefs and attitude, it only means that he is a worldly or materialistic person, who does not entertain any religious beliefs or religious identity. Secular people may uphold worldliness as a cherished quality and derive advantages from it, but all religions consider it undesirable and the source of great suffering and sinful actions.

Another erroneous belief regarding the word is that to be secular means to be tolerant, trendy or modern. The fact is that secular people are hardly tolerant of religious people or their beliefs. In today’s world, most of the attacks against religions and religious people are from secular writers who believe that religions do more harm than good to society and the influence of religions upon people should be kept under check. They focus upon the negative aspects of religions and their influence upon people and society and hardly show any tolerance.

Although secularism is derived from the word secular, it has an entirely different meaning in daily usage as well as in literary usage. Secularism does not mean worldliness. Secularism is the idea or the principle that government and politics shall remain separate from religions, and the policies and programs of the government or of the people in power shall be free from the religious influence of any kind. In today's world, this is a desirable approach in public life, which even religious people can practice as part of their civilized behavior.

In the ancient world, kings and emperors practiced their faiths and ruled the territories according to the scriptural injunctions which they upheld. In present day secular democracies, elected leaders cannot do it, at least openly. As part of their constitutional obligation, they have to remain impartial towards all people and keep governance separate and free from religious influence. In the same democracies, political parties and candidates who contest in the elections may appeal to the religious sentiments of the people to secure their support, but when they are in power, they have to keep religions out of their decisions and governance.

Therefore, let us be clear about the meaning of secular. A secular person is an irreligious, worldly, materialistic person who does not believe in God or practice any religion. Technically, he or she is a godless person. Secular people may think that it is trendy to be secular, but religious people should not think so.

From the religious perspective, there is nothing trendy about being secular. It is a direct path to sinful life, decadence and bad karma. Religious people may practice secularism in public life to be fair to all. However, in doing so they should not scorn any religion or degrade any religious person or beliefs for worldly ends. Most importantly, they should never join with the secular groups for selfish reasons or worldly ends to attack any religion or religious people.

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