or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought
|The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it
The word secular can be a noun (e.g. a member of a secular clergy, not bound by monastic laws) or an adjective — describing an act, a person, a government, or pretty much anything else that is not explicitly religious in its nature.
Advocates of a secular society such as Humanists UK argue that secularism gives both the religious and the irreligious equal footing and an equal voice. Eliminating favoritism towards a priest-caste impedes any single religion from unfairly dominating others. Mostly, however, secularism keeps the crazies (well, the religious crazies, at any rate) either out of power or unable to put anything overly crazy into force.
In a more technical sense, the term secular, deriving as it does from the Latin saecularis (of or pertaining to a century or age), has also been adopted in some fields to refer to long-term, non-periodic changes or trends, as in astronomy (ie, secular evolution of galaxies) or economics.
Secular law and governments
“”With adherence to the principle of secularism, values based on reason and science replaced dogmatic values. [...] Persons of different beliefs, desiring to live together, were encouraged to do so by the State's egalitarian attitude towards them. [...] Secularism accelerated civilisation by preventing religion from replacing scientific thought in the State's activities. It creates a vast environment of civic responsibility and freedom.
|—The Constitutional Court of Turkey upon outlawing the pro-Sharia "Welfare Party"
Secular laws are those laws made outside of the authority of any church or religion. In a theocratic or partially-theocratic county, you may still have a secular body of law, but they are generally secondary if they come into conflict with any religious laws. Most so-called western nations have not only a secular body of law, but also ruling documents codifying that all laws will be secular in nature, and the Government itself remains secular even if a particular leader or party has religious affiliations. The vast majority of western countries have laws against blasphemy (even in some cases labeling it "hate speech"), however, and America has so-called ceremonial deism in which the government occasionally endorses belief in God, and everyone pretends it's not religious.
The United States is a formally secular nation, having an official and legal separation of the church and state which is codified in its Constitution. Many of its leaders have been public about their religious backgrounds, and some state and local officials have tried to go far beyond simply being public and open. However, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld that separation.
The United Kingdom has an official connection between church and state (with the current Monarch as head of both), but in practice, the government and her laws are almost completely secular. France has taken the move to secularism to the extreme, banning instances of religious expression, denying some people the free right to proselytize, and legally banning members of cults (specifically targeted at Scientology) from serving as elected officials.
Turkey is one of the few Islamic countries to have a secular constitution and body of law. Oddly, it is the military who have taken responsibility for defending secularism against religious incursion, and there have been four military coups as a result of the military leadership believing the government has strayed too close to reinstating religious laws. They do not, however, fully recognize freedom of religion; blasphemy is illegal, and there are severe restrictions on the Orthodox Christian Church.
Secular is the best way to describe science inasmuch as, as a principle, it is unaffected by existing dogmas or religious attitudes. Anti-science proponents would generally describe science as atheistic, believing that science seeks to deny god and seeing science as the enemy of religion. The phrase "secular literature" is often used by Answers in Genesis in an attempt to distinguish their (frankly, rather poor) journal from the rest of scientific peer review. In the minds of such people, "secular" and "atheism" are essentially synonymous, and this has led to the so-called "conflict thesis"; that religion and science are inherently opposed.
Although science, as a method, is certainly not antitheistic, most scientists would agree that the results that have been derived from the method remove the need for god as an explanation for physical phenomena. This does not, however, necessarily lead to a conclusion that there is no god; it only limits what such a being can be used to explain.
Those with their eye on the middle ground between science and religion would take a NOMA stance and argue they are wrong on both counts. NOMA advocates would therefore state that science has no such goal and it is beyond the realm of science to deny god, or prove god does not exist. Opponents of the NOMA concept would argue that no area should be free from scientific investigation, including the possible existence of God(s).
As can be imagined, religious fundamentalists have no liking for the word or the concept of a secular society or life, given that God is removed from being at the center, and may even attempt to deny that such a concept is moral or even rational. However, the term has wide application and makes perfect sense. There are many aspects of life that even the fundamentalists probably accept as not falling under the aegis of their religious beliefs. Purely personal matters, such as where to live, what colour to paint the back porch, and whether or not Coke tastes better than Pepsi, are all secular matters. Although if some of the scenes in Jesus Camp are anything to go by, it could be argued that someone, somewhere will have turned such trivial matters into a theological debate. Churches have been issuing prayers for increasingly trivial (but more relevant to modern life) situations recently, so it is quite likely that religion for some people is all pervasive into every area of their life.
Some environments treat the word "secular" as a very powerful sneering swear-word - almost as pejorative as "atheist".