Will You Be Openly Secular?

A day to open up about personal secularity

Posted Apr 19, 2015

Within the secular movement there are many disagreements. Seculars will argue endlessly, for example, over which label is best: atheist, humanist, agnostic, freethinker, or something else. Or they'll debate over whether their groups should work closely with liberal religious groups when they have common goals, or whether they should take positions on political issues that are not directly related to secularism. And of course, there are always arguments over how assertive seculars should be in criticizing religion.

In fact, there may be only one issue on which virtually everyone within the secular movement agrees: If you are a religious skeptic of one kind or another, you should openly identify as such if at all possible. That is, if you happen to be an atheist, agnostic, humanist, or freethinker, for goodness sake please identify openly as such, because doing so raises the visibility of the secular demographic, which is too often invisible.

This "be open" concept is somewhat analogous to the strategy of the gay rights movement, which has seen much success by encouraging gays and lesbians to "come out of the closet." Once people realized that some of their friends, neighbors, and family members were gay, it became much harder to hate the entire demographic. Open identity is a first step to social acceptance.

Thus, many seculars are excited about the upcoming “Openly Secular Day” on April 23, a day for nonbelievers everywhere to be open about their personal secularity. The event is sponsored, appropriately enough, by a group called Openly Secular, which describes its mission as “to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance by getting secular people—including atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, humanists, and nonreligious people—to be open about their beliefs.”

As the group explains in the video promoting Openly Secular Day, the idea is to have those who are personally secular commit to telling at least one person about their secularity. To many, particularly those living in tolerant families and communities, this may not seem like a big deal, but to many it would be a bold gesture to announce their religious skepticism. But it is just such bold gestures that break down barriers and force intolerant individuals and communities to broaden their thinking.

I have long argued that the Religious Right enjoys the power it has in American society in large part because America’s seculars are too often in hiding, so that an assumption runs through society, especially in politics, that everyone must be religious. Openly Secular seems to understand this argument, and is doing something about it. If you are in fact personally secular, mark your calendar for April 23 and consider taking part in Openly Secular Day.

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David Niose's latest book: Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America from the Attack on Reason