Secular Ethos

Episode #8- Secular Sunday School edition: terms and definitions

 Posted on Sunday, May 7th, 2017

Secular Sunday School first episode:
As this is the first episode of Secular Sunday School, I find it important to establish a vocabulary.
The reason I want to do this is to go over some of these tricky terms that people often use in various ways. Such as the term atheist, this term ( or label ) is often applied in many different ways. So what I am going to do is to go over the dictionary definitions, the philosophical definitions and the common usages. From those, I will also establish the way in which I apply these in the discussions I am going to have on Secular Sunday school. Now you may apply these labels or use these terms in different ways than I am establishing for this show.

If you have an issue with the way I am going to be using these terms I encourage you to reach out to us on the various social media outlets. Such as @secularethos on twitter or You can also email me via Or you can go to the show notes at and click on the episode title, scroll to the bottom and leave a comment there. We also have a contact page @
I appreciate all of your feedback and will address it as soon as I can.

Now we can start on our terms. The most important terms I think will be the terms: theism and deism.

So first for theism,

Merriam Webster gives the definition of theism as:

belief in the existence of a god or gods; specifically : belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world

This is a straightforward definition of theism, and is close to the way that I will be using this term.

I use Theism as traditional theism which is the western ideas about god.
Open theism is the fairly new idea that god is not only the creator and maintainer of the universe, but is also seeking a relationship with the people in it. In this view god wishes for the people to have free will. It also provides that god is all knowing in that he knows all that can be known. This is counter to the idea that god can know the future. God only knows of possible futures in this view, but does not know which particular future will be the one experienced. God is also all powerful, in that he has all of the power that he can have. Which means that the trope of, can god make a rock so heavy that god can’t life it, is not possible. Because god can only do what is logically possible.

Closed theism is often referred to as Calvinist, whereas god has perfect knowledge which means that not only does god know the future, but has set up a particular future that can not be altered by any action.

Open and closed theism are types of theism closely related to a Christian type of theism, but there are others that are more philosophically based than a christian theism. One of which is called process theism, which gives the view of god is part of the universe and exists within the same temporal space. This is counter to the space less timeless god of more traditional theism.

These various categories of theism will be topics for future episodes, and I will stop here with theism and move on to the next terms.
Theism is often used in the traditional way to draw a distinction from deism whereas deism is a more vague rather than specific god.

Merriam Webster’s definition of deism seems less like the way I have heard people use it. And I will give you that definition here:

a movement or system of thought advocating natural (see 1natural 8b) religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe

Now this definition of deism may be historically accurate, but it seems counter to the way I often hear it used. Especially in places such as youtube atheists.
I personally have used this term to refer to the god of the first cause apologists, that argue that there is a prime mover or first cause. They argue that since they interpret the universe as having a beginning, that it must have a cause, and that cause is a non-specific god. There is a lot more to this particular apologetic, and we will definitely address it in a future edition of Secular Sunday School. Just giving a simplistic version of it here for purposes of the term deism. The term deism as I have become accustomed to use it differs from theism as being belief in a non-specific entity that has no direct correlation with a personal or intervening god. The historical context of this term does make sense especially when you look into the religious views of the founders of the United States who were deists as imposed to atheist. Because pre-darwin it was difficult to have a rationally valid view of an unguided process for the diversity and quantity of life forms on earth. I am sure that there were people who thought there was some natural process, but before it was clearly laid out and shown by Darwin no one had a good explanation. That is also a topic for another edition of Secular Sunday School but again this is just an episode to lay out the groundwork for the labels and how I will be using them. And like I said at the beginning if anyone has issue with the way I use this term or any of the others please contact me and let me know.

The next term is pantheism and also from Merriam Webster the definitions are:

1: a doctrine that equates God with the forces and laws of the universe

2: the worship of all gods of different creeds, cults, or peoples indifferently; also : toleration of worship of all gods (as at certain periods of the Roman empire)

Once again we have a definition that closely aligns with the way it will be used on Secular Sunday School. With one exception, I also include that pantheism is that god is every non-living thing and, all of the energy and consciousness of every living thing. So pantheism is not just the forces of the universe, but god is the universe and everything in it.
I have always used this term in this way and it is also the way I have most often heard it used.
This may be slightly different from how you may know it, and the pantheists I have talked to use it very similar to this. I also hit pantheism on my journey into becoming an atheist, and I liked to think of literally everything as not just part of god but god itself. I know that is just applying an anecdote as support for a usage of a label, but I am fairly confident this is not that far from the common usage.
The rest of the terms related to theism, or that have theism as their root, are pretty straightforward and don’t really need the dictionary or much of an explanation. I will just briefly go over those and they are
polytheism and monotheism. From the prefixes their meaning is pretty uncontroversial:
polytheism is the belief and/or worship of many theistic gods, and monotheism is the belief and/or worship of a single theistic god. I am adding theistic gods onto these to separate them from polydeism, or monodeism, which I can’t think of a way those could make any sense.

There is a wikipedia page about this I will leave here in the show notes for you to look at.
From that article they have polydeism as

“the belief that the universe was the collective creation of multiple gods, each of whom created a piece of the universe or multiverse and then ceased to intervene in its evolution”

Hilariously there is a facebook group called the First Church Of Polydeism, who from their facebook page is a group of five guys that decided they wanted a place to smoke and play pool so they bought an old foreclosed church and applied for tax-free church status. It looks like they were founded in 2010 and from their page it looks like they are currently still active their last post was pretty recent from April of this year. And some of their signs are hilarious.

This is funny and according to their page they post random stuff on their church sign.

It’s pretty funny and you should check them out
Now, the next terms are often used in various ways and are more controversial. These are, atheism, agnosticism, and secular. I am also going to include ethos(** the name of the podcast and what it means **), morality, and ethics.

Starting with atheism we have he dictionary definition as given, also by Merriam Webster:

1 a : a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods
b : a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods
2 archaic : godlessness especially in conduct : ungodliness, wickedness

Atheism in the sense of a lack of belief in the existence of a god or any gods is close to how I apply this term. The label of atheist as I am going to be using is separate from the epistemology of atheism, which I will go into in a later episode of secular sunday school. As with all of these terms I have went over so far the epistemology is a series of topics that stand alone from the mere explanation of the usage of these terms.

In general I approach the categorization of these labels to a simple question. Do you believe in a god or gods? If the answer to that question is anything other than yes than the label atheist applies. If the answer is yes, than we can further refine it into the various categories of theism or deism.

With those who prefer to label themselves agnostic, the way I approach that as purely the epistemological view of evaluating a claim. It is not a label in of itself, it is a description of a label.

For instance the agnostic-atheist label, as applied to a person who has no belief in a god or gods and then justifies that non-belief by appealing to knowledge and the limits of knowledge.

The next term I am going to go over is the term secular. This is an often confusing and sometimes controversial term. To start out Merriam-Webster gives the definitions as:

a : of or relating to the worldly or temporal
b : not overtly or specifically religious
c : not ecclesiastical or clerical
: not bound by monastic vows or rules; specifically : of, relating to, or forming clergy not belonging to a religious order or congregation
a : occurring once in an age or a century
b : existing or continuing through ages or centuries
c : of or relating to a long term of indefinite duration 

the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution

notes and citations:

Secular. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2017, from

Theism. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Rissler, James “Open Theism”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, URL = <>

Viney, Donald, “Process Theism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Deism. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Pantheism. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Atheism. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2017, from

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