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Austin Cline

Is Secularism a Religion?

By June 22, 2004

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One common tactic of Christian apologists (the poor ones, at any rate) is to counter atheists’ critiques of religion by arguing that atheism itself is a religion. Thus, atheism is said to suffer from the same flaws and problems. Now, for the first time, I see someone trying the same with secularism.

In the Los Angeles Times David Klinghoffer writes that secularism is really a type of religion; therefore, government secularism is really a sort of government imposed religion:

If you object that secularism has no deity, remember that other recognized faiths, for example Zen Buddhism, likewise lack a belief in God. What is a religion, then? Simply, a system of beliefs based on stories that explain where life comes from, what life means, and what we, as living beings, are supposed to be doing with our few allotted years. Judaism and Christianity have their sacred stories — the biblical account of creation, followed by Noah's flood and on through the entire narrative of Scripture — along with their codes of right conduct. For Jews and Christians, the meaning of human existence lies in communion with God in the context of eternal life.

Words seem inadequate to describe just how asinine the above is. Klinghoffer should be commended for at least recognizing that not all religions have gods, but that’s about the only thing he gets right in the entire article. Secularism is a philosophy about the role of religion in government and public life. Secularism has absolutely nothing whatsoever to say about where life comes from, what life means, and what we should do with our lives. Judaism does. Christianity does. Islam does. Buddhism does.

Secularism does not. Even a cursory reading of the history of secularism reveals this, so what does Klinghoffer do? He misleads readers:

For each element of Judeo-Christian faith, secularism has its counterpart. Like Christianity and Judaism, secularism promises eternal life — well, long life, which is the central point of the most common strain of secular faith and which explains the pop-cultural focus on moral commandments having to do with physical health: Thou shalt not smoke. Thou shalt not get fat. ... There is a secular creation account — evolution through random mutation and natural selection, a just-so story increasingly challenged by scientists.

Secularism does not promote “long life,” much less eternal life. The things Klinghoffer cite are not part of any “secular faith.” On the contrary, prohibitions against activities like smoking and eating too much are actually important parts of many religious faiths. I’m sure that Klinghoffer is aware of this. Evolution is also not part of “secularism,” no matter how much ignorant religious fundamentalists might try to portray it as such. Klinghoffer’s citation of so-called “Intelligent” Design and his assertion that it is increasingly challenged by scientists merely serves to demonstrate just how desperate he is to make his non-existent case.

By now, most readers have probably notice the not-so-clever rhetorical trick Klinghoffer is using to pretend that he has something serious to say. Notice how at the beginning Klinghoffer talking about secularism while later on Klinghoffer only uses the adjective secular. There’s a difference between the two — a different large enough to hold the gaping holes in Klinghoffer’s arguments.

Secularism is a philosophy. It can be used to describe several different things, but they all have in common the fact that they aren’t religious beliefs. As used today, secularism is a movement based upon the desire to establish an autonomous political and social sphere which is naturalistic and materialistic, as opposed to a religious realm where the supernatural and faith take precedence.

Secular, however, is an adjective which describe anything that isn’t religious. Klinghoffer’s column appears in the Los Angeles Times, a secular newspaper. My computer was made by Apple, a secular computer manufacturer. This site is run by About.com, a secular media company. What do all of these have in common? Merely that they aren’t religious — and they have nothing in common with the secularism movement in philosophy and politics. Nothing.

In the interest of honest debate, at the very least it would be of benefit to recognize secularism for what it is: an aggressive religion competing for converts, a faith lacking the candor to speak openly of its aims.

Honest debate? I‘m sincerely wonder whether David Klinghoffer would understand the meaning of honest debate if someone taped the definition to a two-by-four and whacked him in the head with it. Klinghoffer either doesn’t have the slightest idea what he is talking about (that would include the definitions of religion and secularism, the nature of evolutionary theory, and several more things) or he does understand them and has deliberately distorted reality in order to get people to believe that secularism could be a religion (which, as you have seen, is a contradiction in terms). It would be unwise of me to come out and call David Klinghoffer something like a liar, but it is a temptation I shall endeavor to resist. I do hope, though, that publications like the Los Angeles Times also endeavor to find columnists who are more credible and trustworthy.

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Comments
March 14, 2009 at 7:30 pm
(1) Jake says:

There is no doubt that secularism is a religion. Only those trying to preserve it through public forums will deny it. Check out the definition of secularism from the guy who coined the phrase “secularism.”

http://www.americaneducationreform.com/videos_secularism.htm

Also check out my thoughts on what secularism and education have in common in America at http://www.americaneducationreform.com.

September 24, 2010 at 7:36 pm
(2) dave Y says:

your gonna have to explain WHAT in the in the ingersoll video made you think he was calling secularism a religion, be cause I didn’t hear anything that could be taken that way! could it be because he used the word”believe”, if thats all you got, you need to buy a dictionary bud!

the simple fact is that ALL religious beliefs are based on a belief on what happens after you die, the belief that all there is to look foward is being worm food is NOT a religion, even morons should be able to understand this fact!

March 14, 2009 at 8:55 pm
(3) Austin Cline says:

There is no doubt that secularism is a religion.  

Then you should be able to explain how and why.

Only those trying to preserve it through public forums will deny it.  

Or maybe also those who recognize that “secularism” is defined as the absence or lack of religion.

Check out the definition of secularism from the guy who coined the phrase “secularism.”

And who was this guy, do you think?

Also check out my thoughts on what secularism and education have in common in America at

Do you have any thoughts that are accurate and reasonable?

September 19, 2011 at 10:43 am
(4) Randy E King says:

There is no doubt that secularism is a religion when viewed within the context from which the founding documents of the United States where intended.

“It is in the religion of ignorance where tyranny begins.”

Benjamin Franklin

Secularism is a religion; it is a Godless religion, but it is a religion non-the-less.

Secularism is Facism.

September 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm
(5) Austin Cline says:

There is no doubt that secularism is a religion when viewed within the context from which the founding documents of the United States where intended.

Then cite the context which renders non-religion a religion.

Secularism is a religion; it is a Godless religion, but it is a religion non-the-less.

Feel free to support this assertion with evidence.

Secularism is Facism.

And theocracy is freedom?

June 19, 2009 at 10:25 am
(6) Denmark Vesey says:

Wow Austin. You may not consider secularism a religion but you are certainly as defensive and dogmatic as any other devotee of institutionalized faith. Remember, no God is also a God.

September 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm
(7) dave Y says:

when people say your saying something you haven’t said, you have the right to get annoyed and think that person must be screwing with you or they must be a moron, its called being logical, something you folks don’t seem to have to much experience with!

June 19, 2009 at 10:33 am
(8) Austin Cline says:

You may not consider secularism a religion but you are certainly as defensive and dogmatic as any other devotee of institutionalized faith.

Feel free to show how.

Remember, no God is also a God.

Prove it.

November 6, 2009 at 11:27 am
(9) Jackson Brown says:

Religion=something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience.
Austin worships himself and his “superior” logic. The religion of relativism, and Austin is devoted to it.

September 24, 2010 at 7:42 pm
(10) Dave Y says:

religion = what someone believes happens after death BESIDES being worm food!

October 12, 2010 at 1:22 pm
(11) George says:

“Religion=something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience.
Austin worships himself and his “superior” logic. The religion of relativism, and Austin is devoted to it.”

I believe in and devotedly follow the cooking of my food in order to provide for a balanced conscience. Yes, like most, I worship my food at least three times a day because it provides the one thing inescapable in life, living. It is without doubt the most inescapable and “superior”logic of all and therefore it is the most tasty of all relativisms and I am devoted to it.

November 6, 2009 at 11:43 am
(12) Austin Cline says:

Religion=something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience.

Is this just your personal definition, or can you cite a source for it? If the former, why should anyone accept it?

Austin worships himself and his “superior” logic. The religion of relativism, and Austin is devoted to it.

Prove it.

July 9, 2011 at 2:15 am
(13) David-Ray says:

‎”Materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance.” -clipped from http://en.wikipedia.org/wi​ki/Materialism

“Naturalism is the philosophical belief that only natural laws and forces (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the world and that nothing exists beyond the natural world.” -clipped from http://en.wikipedia.org/wi​ki/Naturalism_(philosophy)

“secularism is a movement based upon the desire to establish an autonomous political and social sphere which is naturalistic and materialistic, as opposed to a religious realm where the supernatural and faith take precedence.” -clipped form http://atheism.about.com/b​/2004/06/22/is-secularism-​a-religion-2.htm

Are these accurate definitions?

July 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm
(14) Austin Cline says:

Are these accurate definitions?

Insofar as something so short can be accurate, yes.

November 13, 2009 at 3:21 pm
(15) Zayla says:

Huh, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t secularism the ABSENCE OF RELIGION or religious activities. Something along those lines?

Why this discussion?

November 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm
(16) Joe Rice says:

Belief is not truth. Believing in something doesn’t make it real. God will not be real until it provides absolute, indisputable proof it is what is — not some white guy’s claim. Even discussing, debating or fighting over it is a waste of time.

January 8, 2010 at 10:25 am
(17) JesusIsTheOnlyWay4U says:

Atheist Fundamental Belief on Creation = Everything was created from nothing, and nothing created everything.

September 21, 2011 at 5:53 am
(18) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

Hello, Jesusisthe only way4U,

Do you mean that guy who grew up as a carpenter in the town that did not exist during his youth, Nazareth? That would be a miracle in itself! Check out the Encyclopedia Bliblical! Read the historians of the first century.

“Nothing” pretty-well describes your “God.”

“Jesus” is no way for anything of value. No “Way!”

Grandpa

September 20, 2010 at 1:33 pm
(19) Andy says:

The person you responded to left an excellent link that made his point:
http://www.americaneducationreform.com/videos_secularism.htm

How do you account for 9 people, dressed in black robes, sitting on a raised dias, in a building that was once called a temple when it was built – surrounded by an Italian Dictator’s marble, deciding on court cases involving crosses on public land? Sure looks like a religion to me. Even has human sacrifice – abortion.

September 21, 2010 at 6:56 am
(20) Austin Cline says:

How do you account for 9 people, dressed in black robes, sitting on a raised dias, in a building that was once called a temple when it was built – surrounded by an Italian Dictator’s marble, deciding on court cases involving crosses on public land? Sure looks like a religion to me.

Really? Please list the attributes of “religion” contained here.

What’s more, please explain how the above qualifies as “secularism” – the “secularism” that is the topic of this post.

I honestly don’t think you can do it. I doubt you’ll even be back to try.

September 24, 2010 at 7:54 pm
(21) dave Y says:

the fact that religious people can’t understand some one believing in some thing that isn’t religious just shows that their ADDICTED to pretending!
they can’t comprehend the idea that a belief CAN exist with out some form of preacher telling whats true and whats not is a sign of RETARDATION!
the retarded have a hard time with logic because they can’t pay attention long enough to figure things out, they can’t put all the little conversations in their head to the side and focus on the one thought their trying to contemplate!

the simple fact is that not every one in the world has this problem, and the fact that the bible thumper gang doesn’t KNOW this is a sign that the majority of them don’t have full use of their mind!

September 26, 2010 at 7:25 pm
(22) Marvin says:

Denmark Vesey(3) “Remember, no God is also a God.”

I doubt you’ll be back to see this, but I had to laugh. This brought back some of the most uneducated and ignorant country preachers of my youth. Meaningless sayings for vapid and unthinking people remain meaningless, but it’s a bit of a surprise to see one of them again.

October 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm
(23) Joram Arentved says:

I don’t claim that ‘He’ didn’t exist, however, only in case ‘He’ DID it, did ‘He’ give me a bad impression that I never allowed,
never forgave myself for any chance, risk, whatsoever that I could count on ‘His ‘Famous” Palace to exist as Any ‘Relevant’ Case of Mine, greetings, ‘J.A.,’ any labor suggestions, please?

September 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm
(24) Dean says:

Why do atheists feel such a need to critique religion? I am a Christian and I have never felt the need to critique atheism. This is the most caustic answer to a question I have ever seen on about.com.

I think, from Austin’s point of view, this is the answer short and sweet without all the biased smarminess and personal attacks on the author of some unrelated article.
“Secularism is a philosophy. It can be used to describe several different things, but they all have in common the fact that they aren’t religious beliefs. As used today, secularism is a movement based upon the desire to establish an autonomous political and social sphere which is naturalistic and materialistic, as opposed to a religious realm where the supernatural and faith take precedence.”

It seems to me that Austin was using this opportunity to answer this question as a vehicle to carry out a personal vendetta against David Klinghoffer. That is quite petty and sad.

To Austin: Before you smarmily spit out “prove it” like you are in eighth grade re-read your article. Everything I said is there.

September 7, 2011 at 9:00 pm
(25) Austin Cline says:

Why do atheists feel such a need to critique religion?

Everything else is critiqued, why not religion? Given its influence on culture, politics, art, and everything else, it certainly warrants critique.

At any rate, your question is answered here in multiple ways. You’d have read them if you had bothered to look.

I am a Christian and I have never felt the need to critique atheism.

Lots do, though. Do you complain about them?

And there are of course theists who critique religion as well. Do you complain about them?

This is the most caustic answer to a question I have ever seen on about.com.

Why? Care to share some details?

Can you even offer anything like a substantive rebuttal?

I think, from Austin’s point of view, this is the answer short and sweet without all the biased smarminess and personal attacks on the author of some unrelated article.

If simple facts were enough to disabuse people of their bigotry and misconceptions, we’d have far fewer problems in the world. But clearly they don’t achieve that goal, do they?

It seems to me that Austin was using this opportunity to answer this question as a vehicle to carry out a personal vendetta against David Klinghoffer. That is quite petty and sad.

Not nearly as sad as your personal comments about me in a context where you don’t offer anything remotely like a substantive disagreement.

It’s interesting that you complain about an article in a way that is devoid of specifics and substance – you don’t offer any reason to think that anything I wrote is mistaken or incorrect. You do, however, go to some effort to cast aspersions on the writer, which indirectly casts aspersions on the material. This is a fallacy, by the way.

To Austin: Before you smarmily spit out “prove it”

The only people who object to being challenged to prove their claims are the people who know they can’t.

like you are in eighth grade re-read your article. Everything I said is there.

Then you should be able to make a case with direct citations. You don’t, though, and I don’t think you can. Thank you, though, for providing an opportunity to bring this article to people’s attention again. The more people learn about Klinghoffer’s horrible ideology and intentions, the better.

May 31, 2012 at 8:07 am
(26) retiredwheezer says:

Klinghoffer subsequently became the orthodox Jew in residence at The Discovery Institute. His articles attacking evolution and Darwinism alarmed many in the Jewish community, which long ago accepted the scientific basis of evolution. As Jewish critic Larry Yudelson notes:

http://www.edah.org/yudelson.cfm

August 31, 2012 at 11:00 am
(27) K Gentil says:

And your comments are asinine. You violate what you acuse others of stating and can’t even see it. Secularism DOES say where life came from: evolution. Secularism DOES indicate what life means: to just exist. True, no eternal meaning but to exist is a meaning. You may be right about secularism not indicating what you should do with your life because it sure does support doing nothing and being a drain on those who do have a goal to do something with their life. You say secularism doesn’t have a supernatural or faith element. Again you are wrong–it is faith in nature and evolution, and that nature has a supernatural ability to select and create life through evolution. That actually takes MORE faith than a belief in a deity that creates life–that something comes from nothing. You say secularism is a philosophy, not a belief. Well a philosophy is just a fancy name for a belief system, a perspective based on a belief. You think you are saying something so poignant, yet you can’t even see your own contradiction with your belief.

August 31, 2012 at 12:12 pm
(28) Austin Cline says:

And your comments are asinine. You violate what you acuse others of stating and can’t even see it.

Then you should be able to cite some examples.

Secularism DOES say where life came from: evolution.

Oh? Prove it – provide some quotes of where “secularism” says anything like this.

Secularism DOES indicate what life means: to just exist.

Then why can’t you demonstrate this with original quotes of where “secularism” says this.

You may be right about secularism not indicating what you should do with your life because it sure does support doing nothing and being a drain on those who do have a goal to do something with their life.

If that’s true then you should have ample citations from original sources demonstrating where and how secularism “supports” this sort of thing.

You say secularism doesn’t have a supernatural or faith element. Again you are wrong-it is faith in nature and evolution

Then you should be able to demonstrate where that “faith” is expressed with some original quotes.

and that nature has a supernatural ability to select and create life through evolution.

So “natural” evolution has a “supernatural” component? If that’s the case, you should be able to provide citations from biology texts saying this.

That actually takes MORE faith than a belief in a deity that creates life-that something comes from nothing.

OK, show us how.

You say secularism is a philosophy, not a belief.

No, I don’t – I say that secularism is a philosophy but not a religion.

You think you are saying something so poignant, yet you can’t even see your own contradiction with your belief.

No, if I made a mistake it’s in assuming that I wrote my statements simply enough for Christians to comprehend. Somewhere, somehow, my writing is still too complicated for some Christians though.

September 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm
(29) RyanW says:

Who wants to join me at the First Church of Unicorns Might Not Exist?

September 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm
(30) OZAtheist says:

I believe you are wasting your time with K Gentil Austin. His style of argument resembles that of a school kid to some extent. You know the thing: you say this about me and I say the same thing about you back again. Also his comments like – “Secularism DOES say where life came from: evolution.” – leave one reeling and dumbstruck.

Saw a great video on youtube recently by Bill Mahers on the subject of atheism being described as a religion. He also stages a de-baptism ritual for Mit Romney’s father which is a hoot.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6zGK-XblGA&feature=related

September 8, 2012 at 10:16 pm
(31) katvilani says:

Secular: non-religious or not pertaining to religion. How can you have a non- religious religion, is that anything like a married bachelor or a live dead person?

September 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm
(32) Grandpa In The East says:

a live dead person? They are called Christians.

Grandpa

December 3, 2012 at 3:40 am
(33) ZAR says:

Lets be more fair than use of a Semantic. it doesn’t matter what the technical definition of Secular is, only how its used. I’ve heard plenty of people describe what a Secular society looks like and what a Secular Moral code is. Too many people do see Secularism as a coherent Philosophy, instead of as neutrality regarding Religion, and even pit Secularism against Religion. Despite what the word may mean, or the History of Secularism as an Ideal, the way its often used now is to refer to a specific set of beliefs that tells us who we are, how to live, and where we came from, and even has a promise for our future.

In that sense, while Secularism may not be a Religion in the sense of how the actual word is defined, what a lot, even most people use the term, and what they really describe with it, is a Religion.

December 3, 2012 at 1:21 pm
(34) Austin Cline says:

I’ve heard plenty of people describe what a Secular society looks like and what a Secular Moral code is.

OK, like who?

Too many people do see Secularism as a coherent Philosophy, instead of as neutrality regarding Religion, and even pit Secularism against Religion.

Citations?

Despite what the word may mean, or the History of Secularism as an Ideal, the way its often used now is to refer to a specific set of beliefs that tells us who we are, how to live, and where we came from, and even has a promise for our future.

OK, please provide references and details.

In that sense, while Secularism may not be a Religion in the sense of how the actual word is defined, what a lot, even most people use the term, and what they really describe with it, is a Religion.

So, what you’re saying is that definition of secularism doesn’t fit the definition of religion, the word “Secularism” is used to refer to some system that you don’t identify but which is definitely a “Religion.”

And why should we believe you?

March 2, 2013 at 9:03 am
(35) Jacob says:

It’s foolish to think that you speak for secularism.

Secularism most certainly has a creation myth: its central tenet is a kind of pathetic attempt at mocking the far superior theology of Christianity, mostly that of the One true Church–which has, by far, the most superior and believable cosmology of any group in the history of the Earth. (Give me the religion of Pascal, Descartes, Leibniz, Copernicus, Shakespeare, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Newton, Francis Collins, Normon Borlaug, Andy Warhol, etc., etc., ETC. over the banal cosmologies of bitter atheists and secularists any day!)

Secularism is one of the school shooters (its main innovation in the world). It’s an angry child who screwed up in life and now wants to murder the parent that gave birth to it (the Christian religion).

But have a nice day with your secularist fairy tales..

March 2, 2013 at 9:07 am
(36) Jacob says:

Also, notice how secularism isn’t attractive enough on its own. They have to try to destroy religion and take over the educational system to brainwash your children in order for it to survive.

Since we’re being so honest, no one is a secularist except because that it permits them some cheap pleasure or grants access to worldly power.

March 6, 2013 at 6:19 pm
(37) Austin Cline says:

It s foolish to think that you speak for secularism.

I don’t claim to.

I do, however, speak much more truthfully and accurately about secularism. You don’t make a single correct statement about it.

Secularism most certainly has a creation myth

Yet you can’t cite it.

Secularism is one of the school shooters (its main innovation in the world).

Yet the most secular countries in the world don’t have this problem.

But have a nice day with your secularist fairy tales..

Yet you can’t point to any secularist fairy tales.

Also, notice how secularism isn t attractive enough on its own. They have to try to destroy religion and take over the educational system to brainwash your children in order for it to survive.

Yet you can’t point to any evidence or examples of this.

Since we re being so honest, no one is a secularist except because that it permits them some cheap pleasure or grants access to worldly power.

Prove it. If you’re so “honest”.

April 25, 2013 at 12:17 pm
(38) john says:

I haven’t read the other comments so this may have been addressed. Isn’t faith involved in Secularism? Don’t Secularists nail their beliefs to the mast, so to speak and say, ” We will rely on the supremacy of our minds to determine what we believe and what we practice.” Incidentally they are also very evangelical and seeking any other believer of different persuasion to conform to their position as this article bears testimony. The only difference with other religions is that they would hold one particular book or man’s teaching as the final authority. Yet even secularists have their gurus and seminal writings even so. They are all belief systems. The Secularists are rather clever in trying to claim a neutral position so they can escape accusations of partisanship.

April 27, 2013 at 6:01 pm
(39) Austin Cline says:

I haven’t read the other comments so this may have been addressed. Isn’t faith involved in Secularism?

No.

Don’t Secularists nail their beliefs to the mast, so to speak and say, ” We will rely on the supremacy of our minds to determine what we believe and what we practice.”

No.

Incidentally they are also very evangelical and seeking any other believer of different persuasion to conform to their position as this article bears testimony.

No more so than any political ideology.

The only difference with other religions is that they would hold one particular book or man’s teaching as the final authority.

No, they don’t.

Yet even secularists have their gurus and seminal writings even so.

No, they don’t.

You couldn’t be more wrong about secularism if you consciously tried.

May 2, 2013 at 2:46 am
(40) Michael says:

Some people seem to be missing a crucial point. Religion, as generally understood, has an essential spiritual component. True secularism isn’t intended to be spiritual, one way or the other. It ISN’T ATHEISM. Secularism doesn’t say that there isn’t a God or take sides in religious matters, it simply sets out to establish a political system based on evidence that people can generally agree on while leaving the question of religion to be settled separately in order to protect people from being forced to live under the yoke of others’ religious beliefs. The founders of the U.S. knew what religious conflicts had done to Europe and had experienced life under England’s state-sponsored religion…they wanted to start fresh wihout the danger of this country going through all that. It protects secular interests from religious tyranny AND religious expression from government tampering.

May 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm
(41) Jeanne says:

I don’t know how no religion is a religion unless bald is also a hair color, not collecting stamps is a hobby, not playing tennis is a sport. No, it does not take “faith” not to believe something in the absence of evidence and not believing is also not a religion. I don’t believe in leprechauns. Does that man that I have “faith” that there are no leprechauns or that I belong to the religion of no leprechauns? Or, could it be that I don’t believe in leprechauns simply in the absence of any evidence for their existence? Secularism is much more than not believing in any gods, it means that our decisions in life, our laws and our general behavior is not determined by what anyone things that a god wants. In other words, we make our decisions based on reality and common sense.

May 6, 2013 at 5:32 am
(42) Grandpa In The East says:

Jacob, You are a bit confused, it certainly seems you have described religion, not secularism.

Without the “brainwashing” of innocent children” no Abrahamic religion could survive a single generation.

Your pants are on backwards.

Grandpa

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