There is no difference between religion and atheism, but there is no difference between secularism and atheism, which is a lack of belief. They do not practice or oppose religion, but they do not contemplate it.
In other words, a secular nation is one in which most people are neither religious nor atheist. On the other hand, secular countries and states are those that are officially neutral in their treatment of religious minorities.
There is no official state religion in secular countries, and no discrimination or favoritism based on religious views (or lack thereof) is tolerated or encouraged.
Secular nations have governments that do not interfere with religious beliefs or practices, and there is no place for religion in the formulation of public policy or legislation. With 96 secular nations globally as of early 2022, some are more secular than others.
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The three types of secularism
“Secular” may refer to any non-religious movement. Still, it’s also used to describe anti-religious ideologies like atheism and naturalism that seek to remove religious symbols from the public realm.
In his book The Secular Age, the philosopher Charles Taylor outlines three distinct types of secularism that may have impacted this ambiguous description.
All religions are permitted during the first stage of secularism, but the government and its affiliates are prohibited from promoting them.
An alternative to organized religion is one in which the majority of the people reject it altogether. For the third kind, all religions and non-religion are equally tolerated, and no one viewpoint is preferred over the others.
There is a wide variety of viable definitions of what makes a secular nation because of these many varieties of secularism.
Atheists and others who aren’t interested in religion make up most of the population in a secular nation. In addition to that, the original definition—a nation in which most people do not believe in religion—still applies.
Even if a nation’s population has a preference for one religion over another, the country’s government may still be termed secular. The same may be said about a nation in which both the government and the people embrace all types of religion and non-belief.
Top 10 Most Secular Countries in the World (by the proportion of the non-religious population, Win-Gallup 2017)
- China — 90%
- Sweden — 73%
- Czech Republic — 72%
- United Kingdom — 69%
- Belarus — 64%
- Azerbaijan — 64%
- Vietnam — 63%
- Australia — 63%
- Norway — 62%
- Denmark — 61%
Is there a list of secular countries?
Governmental secularism refers to a country’s policies and activities based on the separation of religion and government. Replace regulations based on scripture rather than the common good with laws that do not discriminate against or favor people based on their religious affiliations in secular nations.
Secular governments can have any type of governance, from democracy to absolute monarchy.
Because of their emphasis on religious liberty and the fact that religious leaders do not have the authority to make political decisions, modern democracies are generally relatively fundamentally secular.
However, many Muslim nations have legal systems based on Islamic law, taken directly from the Quran and Muhammad’s teachings.
Instead of a devoted secular movement, economic progress, social development, and advances in fields like employment and education are the primary reasons why most countries are becoming more secular.
However, making a secular state a reality may be a difficult endeavor. Many examples of secular governments also support religious laws or include religious allusions in their national anthems, flags, and other official symbols.
Also See: Scouting in Other Countries 2022
Turkey, South Korea, Mexico, and France are all regarded as “constitutionally secular,” yet the extent to which secularism is practiced differs from country to country.
For example, India’s concept of secularism enables the state to get involved in religious affairs, but France’s definition of lacité (secularism) excludes such engagement.
The secularisation of France dates back to the French Revolution. The French constitution declares that France is a secular state, yet that hasn’t stopped the government from integrating the church into its governance.
As a result of these initiatives, secularism has become even more entrenched since 1905.
Whether the United States is a secular country is an open question.
In principle, the United States is a secular nation, but this is not the case. The United States prides itself on being a secular nation, and many people believe it to be such by its founding documents.
“Congress shall pass no law providing a religion or banning it is free to practice,” the Constitution states. “No religious Test shall always be required as a Qualification to any Office and public Trust under the United Declares,” Article Six of the United States Constitution states.
On the other hand, there are still numerous official U.S. documents that explicitly allude to religious beliefs. The phrase “one country under God” is included in the Pledge of Allegiance, and as such, it cannot be considered secular.
On every United States money (including coins and paper notes), the phrase “In God We Trust” is printed. In 1956, it became the official United States motto. There are numerous places where religious allusions like these are ubiquitous.
Yet, their existence causes legitimate discussion concerning the separation of religion from the state and secularism.
|Country||Win-Gallup 2017||Win-Gallup 2017||Pew 2012||Constitutionally Secular||Notes|
|Norway||62||10.1000||Mostly||Church largely detached from government in 2017, though king must still be a member|
|Israel||58||65||3.1000||No||Secularism difficult to ascertain, as many religious symbols and habits (kosher food, menorahs, star of David) are also cultural symbols here.|
|Canada||57||53||23.7000||Mostly||Constitution still recognizes sovereignty of God|
|Ireland||56||51||6.2000||Mostly||Constitution has many references to God, but also establishes freedom of religion|
|Finland||55||42||17.6000||Mostly||Claims secularism, but certain churches collect church tax through government|
|United States||39||39||16.4000||Mostly||Many Christian references and symbols thoughout government, but religions freedom is maintained|
|Argentina||34||20||12.2000||Mostly||Constitution designates national church, but no preference is shown in everyday life.|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||22||32||2.5000||No|
|Bangladesh||19||5||0.1000||Mostly||Constitution endorses both secularism and Islam, but secularism is prominent in everyday life.|
|Brazil||17||18||7.9000||Yes||Religious symbols still common in state architecture|
|Armenia||6||5||1.3000||Mostly||Constitution designates national church|
|Papua New Guinea||5||4||0.1000||No|
|Nauru||No||Constitution references God, but also establishes freedom of religion|
|Kiribati||Mostly||Constitution references God, but also establishes freedom of religion|
|Georgia||7||0.7000||Mostly||Constitution declares freedom of religion, but also designates official church and includes reference to God|
|Central African Republic||Yes|
|Republic of the Congo||Yes|
|El Salvador||No||Constitution claims secularism, but also designates official church and gives it legal preference|
|Switzerland||58||11.9000||Mostly||Constitution references God, but also establishes freedom of religion|