Semantic Mutilation…

I am getting really fed up with the repeated misuse of the term ‘secular’.  It’s often prefixed with the word ‘militant’, and has even been suffixed with the words ‘humanism’.  The latter is more worrying than irritating but it remains that the religious community are either nominally ignorant of the meaning of these terms or they are deliberately misusing them.  I am more inclined to believes the former considering how often we have to correct them.

There is no shame in nominal ignorance.  None of  us can ever know everything but we can educate ourselves and encourage free inquiry.  Where people should be thoroughly ashamed is when, shown to be incorrect on an issue, they try to weasel (not fair on weasels, I know) their way out of admitting their error and re-evaluating their position.  When someone is adamant they are correct and are unwilling to accept a differing view, it is not uncommon for them to try to discredit the person with that view (especially on internet forums and by a certain fake ‘news’ channel).  One of those ways is to twist otherwise innocuous descriptive terms into something negative and polarising.  A large proportion have already done this with the word ‘atheism‘ to make it sound shallow and cynical, and to ‘socialism’ to make it sound threatening.  This propensity for Orwellian semantic mutilation is itself extremely cynical and shallow but it’s something else too: it’s dangerous.

As far as I’m concerned religion doesn’t have a place in the public sphere and when it’s endorsed by government authorities funded by the tax-payer it has even less.  These authorities should be representative of everyone so religion should not even be an issue.  It becomes an issue when councils etc. assign official time to religious worship.  I am not offended by general symbols of religion as I, and people like me, are so frequently accused.  If someone has a faith and it works for them and they practice it without impinging on the rest of society, that’s great, knock yourself out but I DO take issue when a particular religion is given preferential treatment.  I take even greater issue when the ‘holier than thou’ crowd decide that atheism, humanism, and secularism are an open goal to public slurs every time they see privilege slipping away.  It seems recently that even in the UK, (we always end up following the US eventually) atheists, secularists and lefties like me are fair game to give a bashing to by the media and idiots in power (the awful Warsi woman, the pope, Creepy-Cameron…) and have our ‘values’ and ‘morals’ called into public question.

“Christians who have hastily leapt to the defence of Christian Britain and denounced the ruling as yet further evidence of the marginalisation of Christianity from the public realm should perhaps be careful what they wish for […] The church should spend a lot more time getting such councillors match-fit for those tasks than urging them to cling on to the fading silverware of past constitutional privilege.”  Guardian: CiF. –  Why the Bideford ruling on council prayers is a setback for secularism.

They not only try to portray atheist as shallow and selfish with no morals (i.e. not sharing their backwards absolutism), and no adherence to a higher power (how about the laws of the land we live in?), and assert that this is because we don’t fear punishment in the afterlife.  They claim that our refusal to believe without evidence is ‘arrogance’ while at the same time claiming that they not only know the divine plan of their chosen fantasy, but they are a key part of it and in order to scare the reason out of the non-foaming moderates  and prevent them from questioning whether theirs is the ‘one true (insert delusion)’, they need to make them afraid enough of the opposing views that they won’t listen to us. I’m aware this might sound petty, but we in the atheist blogging community are in a valuable position.  When I am forced time and time again to reiterate the real meanings of the words the religionists try to deride us with, it really does challenge my estimation of the majority of the human race.  Cowardly and dogmatic adherence to religion (and underserved respect for things concerning it) has begun a one-sided sword fight, with reason and rationality expected to take willingly the role of the straw dummy.  I’m sorry to disappoint (actually, I’m really not) but I for one am not going to take this stream of public insults lying down.

“It’s a nice trick the Religionists have, isn’t it? If you don’t let them oppress YOU the way they want to, you’re oppressing THEM and their freedom of religion. Poor babies.” Mary Withers




  1. not connected with religious or spiritual matters:
    • secular buildings
    • secular attitudes to death
  2. Christian Church (of clergy) not subject to or bound by religious rule; not belonging to or living in a monastic or other order. Contrasted with regular
  3. Astronomy of or denoting slow changes in the motion of the sun or planets.
  4.  Economics (of a fluctuation or trend) occurring or persisting over an indefinitely long period:there is evidence that the slump is not cyclical but secular
  5. occurring once every century or similarly long period (used especially in reference to celebratory games in ancient Rome).

noun: secular priest.



  • secularism
  • secularist
  • secularity
Pronunciation: /-ˈlarɪti/
noun: secularisation (also secularization) 

verb: secularise (also secularize)

adverb: secularly


Middle English: secular (sense 1 of the adjective), secular (sense 2 of the adjective) from Old French seculer, from Latin saecularis, from saeculum ‘generation, age’, used in Christian Latin to mean ‘the world’ (as opposed to the Church); secular (sense 3 of the adjective)secular (sense 4 of the adjective)secular (sense 5 of the adjective) (early 19th century) from Latin saecularis ‘relating to an age or period’





  1. favouring confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause:the army are in conflict with militant groups


  1. a militant person:
    • militants became increasingly impatient of parliamentary manoeuvres


noun; militancy

adverb; militantly


late Middle English (in the sense ‘engaged in warfare’): from Old French, or from Latin militant- ‘serving as a soldier’, from the verb militare (see militate). The current sense dates from the early 20th century.





[mass noun]
  1. a rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.
  2. (often Humanism) a Renaissance cultural movement which turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought.
  3. (among some contemporary writers) a system of thought criticized as being centred on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the conditioned nature of the individual.






  • having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities:he’s arrogant and opinionateda typically arrogant assumption


adverb: arrogantly


late Middle English: via Old French from Latin arrogant- ‘claiming for oneself’, from the verb arrogare (seearrogate)



13 thoughts on “Semantic Mutilation…

  1. Good piece Anna. i wrote a similar one some time ago about wordplay and what I call ‘the redefinition game’; people redefining words to suit their own purposes. It’s a dangerous slippery slope once we allow people to define words whatever way they want, communication could become impossible. Thanks for reminding me of this problem. I might have to dig that stuff up and repost it.


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