Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 1998-1999

The Secular Web

by Brett Humphreys

The Secular Web is probably the largest single site on the Web dedicated to the promotion of secular viewpoints, including agnosticism, atheism, freethought, humanism, and rationalism. It is run by Internet Infidels, Inc, a US-based non-profit organisation of unpaid part-time volunteers which claims to be the only organisation worldwide exclusively using the Internet for this purpose.

At the heart of the site is a virtual library of several thousand electronic documents, divided into historical (pre-1970) documents, modern documents, and magazines. The modern section has seven subsections, covering nontheism (which includes secular humanism), theism, separation of church and state, faith and reason, life after death, science and religion, and mysticism and the paranormal. The historical section currently contains works by some 70 authors, many of them well known, ranging from Epicurus to the present century, and the modern section presents writings by over a hundred more, most of them not so well known at least outside the United States. Coverage, sometimes restricted for copyright reasons, ranges from a single item from many of the authors to the complete works of Robert G. Ingersoll. Although most of the documents are stored on-site, good use is made of links to documents held elsewhere where appropriate, and this includes the majority of the magazines.

Another area of the site, Activists’ Corner, monitors current issues and provides a regular update on news items, although generally only from the US. The site is home to two web rings (see Web Watch, Autumn 1998) – the Freethought Ring and the Church-State Ring – and provides a link to a third, the Ex-Tian Ring. There is a guide to several Internet Relay Chat channels of particular interest to atheists and a listing of around 70 relevant Usenet newsgroups, mostly on religious or anti-religious themes. The Internet Infidels’ previously irregular newsletter has appeared monthly since July 1998 after acquiring a new editor, while the separate web.scan, a humorous and irreverent “look at the best (and worst) that the web has to offer” has appeared monthly since September 1997.

Because the Internet Infidels have the use of their own server, they are able to provide more than simply a passive website. For example, there is an on-site search facility – thus I was immediately able to obtain a list of all pages containing the word “gay”, 178 of them albeit with some duplicate entries. One can register with the Freethought Contacts Page (actually a database behind the scenes, originally set up in August 1995 and moved to this site in October 1998) to make contact with freethinkers locally or worldwide. The list of names currently includes around 50 people in the UK.

Two moderated discussion forums, one open to all, the other specifically for young (under-25) freethinkers, enable their readers to make more or less serious contributions to debate on a variety of changing topics. The numerous topics in the Open Forum at the time of writing, for example, include one on the subject of Reformed Gays, while another entitled Jesus and Spock light-heartedly discusses parallels between those two well-known characters from the Bible and Star Trek.

The server is host to a number of electronic mailing lists and the website provides links to others, including in total some 24 lists on topics ranging from Bible Errancy to the Richard Dawkins Newsletter. Two of the lists are specifically devoted to humanism. With such a wealth of specialist lists to choose from, it’s no wonder that the Internet Infidels’ own Humanist Discussion List rules the existence of a god, Christianity, creation, and evolution to be inappropriate subjects for that list!

The only significant complaint about the site in general is that (at the time of writing) a large animated advertisement is interpolated at the top of nearly every page, occupying half the screen, and soon becoming irritating. But this will no doubt be superseded before long by something hopefully less obtrusive.

Overall, The Secular Web is a site of outstanding quality: well organised, well indexed, well presented, well maintained, and aptly described in the Internet Infidels’ own newsletter as “content-rich”. It contains much more than there is space to describe here, and I can recommend taking time to visit and explore it in depth. It’s just a shame from a UK perspective that the secular movement here lacks the resources to mount anything remotely comparable in scope.

It’s worth mentioning that, apart from The Secular Web itself, the Internet Infidels’ server also hosts the independent websites of a number of kindred organisations and magazines, including the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the American Rationalist.

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Created : Sunday, 1999-01-31 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :