Principles of secularism

The right of private judgment, always in set terms conceded to us, means nothing, unless it leads to a new understanding as to the terms in which we are to be addressed, in the bible and the people, it is described as insolence to ignore Christianity. We do not understand this language. It would be insolence to a deity to ignore a message which we can recognize as coming from him, but it may rather imply reverence for god to reject the reports of many who speak in his name.  Were we to require Christians read our books or think as we think, they would resent the requirement as impertinence and we have yet to learn that it is less impertinence when Christians make these demands of us. If Christians are under no obligation to hold our opinions, neither are we under obligation to hold theirs.

By our own act, or at their solicitation, we may study sacred writings, but at dictation never! So long as secularists obey the laws enacted for the common security, so long as they perform the duties of good citizens, it is nothing to Christians what opinions they hold. We neither seek their counsel nor desire their sentiments – except where they concede them on terms of equality. The light by which we walk is sufficient for us; and as at the last day of which Christians speak, we shall there have, according to their own showing, to answer for ourselves, we prefer to think for ourselves; and since they do not propose to take our responsibility, we decline to take their doctrines.

Where we are responsible, we will be free; and no man shall dictate to us the opinions we shall hold. We shall probably know as well as any Christian how to live with freedom and to die without fear.

It is in vain for Christians to tell us that Newton and Locke differed from us. What is that to us unless Newton and Locke will answer for us?

The world may differ from a man, but what is the world to him, unless it will take his place at the judgment day? Who is Paul or Apollos, or Mathew or Mark that we should venture our eternal salvation on his word, any more than on that of a Mahomedan prophet, or a Buddhist priest? Where the danger is our own the faith shall be our own.

Secularism is not an act conceived in the spirit of pride or vanity, or self will, or eccentricity, or singularity, or stiff-neckedness. It is simply well understood self defense.

If men have the right of private judgment, that right has set them free; and we own no law but reason, no limits but the truth, and have no fear but that of guilt. We may say we believe in honour, which is respecting the truth, in morality which is acting the truth, in love which is serving the truth and in independence which is defending the truth.

Adapted from a speech by George Jacob Holyoake [1871] on The Principles of Secularism