Background

Skepticism

Skepticism means asking questions and looking for evidence to find the truth. Many people claim to be skeptical about different things and draw different conclusions based on their findings. In most cases this means looking towards science or other reputable sources to ensure that a belief or a claim is correct. Don’t confuse skeptics with cynics. Cynics are distrusting or inclined to disagree with people and ideas without being committed to actually finding the truth. Skeptics are open-minded enough to consider differing perspectives and account for new evidence that might change the way they look at the world. Finally, the rule for all skeptics is that they have to have proof to support their claims. Skeptics know it’s fine to change your mind, so long as people have the proof to back it up. Skeptics have traditionally investigated alternative medicine, pseudoscience and paranormal or supernatural claims, but skepticism can be used to analyze any other topic, such as social problems, history, economics, health or politics.


Secularism

“Secular” (Pertaining to the world or things not spiritual or sacred) should not be confused with “sectarian”  which refers to: 1) of, relating to, or characteristic of a sect or sectarian, 2) limited in character or scope i.e. parochial.  If something is secular it simply means that it doesn’t have anything to do with religion. Secularism in public life is about working to keep faith-based ideas, superstition and religious ideology out of the public sphere.  A secular school system, for instance, is an educational environment where no one religious opinion is valued over any other. It doesn’t mean a rejection of religion or religious ideas. Secularism means recognizing that when one religious perspective is valued more highly than any other perspective, it can have bad consequences for society, particularly for religious minorities. Secularism is the belief that people’s rights are best protected, government is most fair and policy is best formed when religion is out of the picture. Secularists want public policy to be based purely on facts, science and reasoned argument. A person can be religious and still believe that secularism is the fairest and equal approach to government because it guarantees religious freedom for all, favouring no one religion over another – or over non-belief.
Canadians, especially younger Canadians in the 15-29 year old age cohort, are increasingly secular in their outlook according to a 2010 survey, with over 50% indicating that they have no religion or never attend a service of worship, says Statistics Canada. This is approaching the rate of secularism found in most western European countries.   For example, as of 2005: “Just 21% of Europeans say religion is “very important” to them, according to the most recent European Values Study, which tracks attitudes in 32 European countries.” However the same pattern does not hold true for the United States, which is perhaps unique amongst Western democracies: “A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that nearly three times as many Americans, 59%, called their faith “very important.” Although a Gallup poll found last year that 44% of Americans say they attend a place of worship once a week, the average figure in Europe is only 15%, although the picture varies widely across the Continent.”


Atheism

Atheism is the view that gods, religion and the afterlife are false beliefs. Despite common stereotypes, atheists aren’t necessarily anti-religion, nor do they worship themselves instead of gods. Atheists may have different beliefs but they are not necessarily connected to a particular ideology or worldview. Describing someone as an atheist says nothing about what that person does believe; only what they don’t believe. The “a” in atheism indicates a lack or absence of, and “theism” means the belief in a higher power. Other titles like naturalist and secular humanist are examples of atheism which also define the substance of someone’s personal philosophy or worldview. These subcategories of atheism can be used to differentiate between the varying worldviews of atheists.


Secular Humanism

Secular Humanism is a comprehensive worldview rooted in science, naturalistic philosophy and non-religious ethics. Humanists believe that human beings are worthy of respect and dignity in and of themselves, not because they were created in the image of/ or by a higher power. Rather than faith, doctrine or mysticism, secular humanists use reason, compassion and common sense to find solutions to the challenges that face our world. Secular humanists promote universal values such as integrity, benevolence; fairness and responsibility. They believe that with reason, an open marketplace of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made toward building a better world for future generations.

The following is excerpted from Free Inquiry magazine: For many, mere atheism (the absence of belief in gods and the supernatural [see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_and_positive_atheism, http://kazez.blogspot.ca/2010/09/hard-atheism-soft-atheism.html]) or agnosticism (the view that such questions cannot be answered [see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism]) aren’t enough. It’s liberating to recognize that supernatural beings are human creations, that there’s no such thing as “spirit” and that people are undesigned, unintended and responsible for themselves.
Atheism and agnosticism do not address the larger questions of values and meaning in life. If meaning in life is not ordained from on high by a god or gods what meaning in life can we work out for ourselves? If the possibility of eternal life is not a fact, then how can we make the best of the only life we have. As social beings sharing a godless world, how should we coexist? For these questions that remain unanswered, and after our minds are free of gods, souls and spirits, many atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers turn to secular humanism.

By definition:
Secular means “Pertaining to the world or things not spiritual or sacred.”
Humanism is “Any system of thought or action concerned with the interests or ideals of people…the intellectual and cultural movement…characterized by an emphasis on human interests rather than…religion. (see also )
Secular humanism is a comprehensive, nonreligious life stance incorporating:
1) A naturalistic philosophy
2) A cosmic outlook that is rooted in science, and the scientific method
3) A consequential ethical system in which acts are judged not by their conformance to preselected norms but by their consequences for men and women in the world


Freethought

Freethought is a way of thinking and problem solving without appealing to tradition, authority or dogma. Freethinkers base their opinions on facts, evidence and reason. Much like sceptics, they are rooted in an evidence-based approach to knowledge and are critical of all beliefs no matter how they are justified.Freethinkers also expand the breadth of skepticism to apply to traditions, ideologies and politics. Modern freethinkers trace their history back to the European Enlightenment and freethinker most often refers to people who are not religious because they have insufficient evidence to support religious and supernatural claims. Some of history’s greatest reformers were freethinkers – people like Thomas Paine, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margret Sanger and A. Philip Randolf. Since freethought allows people to be free from the limiting effects of traditions that typically regard conformity and compliance as more important than free expression and free inquiry, it is often associated with great social and ideological change.