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I am having trouble using the term "secular" to convey a sense of bringing a religiously neutral ground to government, society, and culture. What term is better than "secular", that is less localized than the US-connotative sense, but conveys the same general meaning to multiple countries?

Secularism is often denoted the same, but from country to country it is practiced on a sliding scale in terms of how truly neutral laws are. Some of us on the Atheism.se are trying to broaden the scope of the site and are interested in methods for doing this. The usage of "secular" (that I am looking for) should convey taking secularism and using it as a tool for atheist questions to hone in on issues regarding equal rights, activism, promotion.

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Are you looking for a word that is devoid of any reference to religion? If so, secular is about as good as you will do. Other words like temporal or earthly generally validate a belief in a spiritual realm by implying that such a thing exists. – Robusto Jan 11 '11 at 16:35
I still don't really see the problem: "secular" seems to be exactly right. Is there a specific sentence you need this word in? – Cerberus Jan 11 '11 at 17:04
@Cer let me know if the edit helps – mfg Jan 11 '11 at 18:31
Ditto above. Only alternative coming to mind is Temporal here, which would likely get downvoted for carrying too strong a religious connotation for atheism. – Kaji Jan 11 '11 at 20:10
Okay, I have read your link. I do not see a very specific reference to "secular" there, so I assume that you intend to broaden the scope of the Atheism website to include secularisation and secularism. In that context, "secular", "secularisation", and "secularism" seem to be the perfect words. In Dutch, "secularisation" would be the taking-away of property from the Church, but I have absolutely no problem reading it in a somewhat different sense in English. – Cerberus Jan 11 '11 at 20:18
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Secular is perfect as far as I can see. It carries no 'local' connotations. You might perhaps use 'humanist'.

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@Reg Remember that secularism is on a sliding scale. I use those two examples, but I could substitute Ireland & India and it is equally applicable; in neither case would the user / site visitor have a precise idea of what secular entails. – mfg Jan 11 '11 at 16:58
@mfg: Language related to religion (or lack thereof :) is a minefield. I think if you're looking for a word which (a) has a very precise meaning that you want to convey, (b) is understood by multinational readers whose native language may not be English, and (c) you want them all to understand exactly the same meaning, that's asking a lot! You may be best either using a longer phrase, or using a word such as secular (or an alternative such as "nonreligious", "civic", or perhaps "lay" though that has the problem that Robusto noted in his comment...), but very carefully defining it on your site. – psmears Jan 11 '11 at 17:14
Is the language of atheism.se not English? If it is English, I really do not see the problem; or the problem is indeed localized... local to the user, that is. (And if Ireland is relevant: could you point me/us somewhere with an explanation of the Irish' problem?) – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 11 '11 at 17:24
@Vitaly: I'm not sure I am following. If that site were in Russian, I might think twice before using секулярный. However, as long as the international StackExchange is in English, it is perfectly fine to use the English word secular. In my humble opinion, as a native speaker of Russian, I don't get to decide which words native speakers of English must or must not use in their conversation, even — no, make that especially — if I wish to participate in that conversation. – RegDwigнt Jan 11 '11 at 17:33
@Reg true, and we are trying to tamp down loose usage as often our comment sections end up looking like intestines with diverticulitis. If secular is as good as it gets, so be it; it may have been a weak choice on my part considering the purpose. – mfg Jan 11 '11 at 18:16

If you are looking for a term to convey the opposite of superstition, the broader process of organising society according to non-superstitious principles, you might use "rationalisation" and "rational", or perhaps "evidence-based", "empiricism", and "science". But you've probably already considered those terms.

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+1 I think if for some reason the word "secular" is insufficient, then emphasising the fact-based approach rather than faith-based is entirely correct. – Orbling Jan 11 '11 at 20:42
@Orbling: Exactly my thinking, though I am not yet sure I got what Mfg is looking for exactly. It can be so difficult to communicate thoughts. – Cerberus Jan 11 '11 at 21:00
+1 for rational or rationality. – pate Jan 11 '11 at 21:05

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