Friday, December 5, 2014
Secularism and the so-called War on God, Christians and Christmas
If you check out websites of the Christian Right, you will be inundated with articles complaining about the "war" on God, or the "war" on Christians, or how "liberals" and secularism have stymied Christians so they can no longer freely practice their beliefs. And at this time of year, they whine about the non-existent "war" on Christmas.
The authors of these websites bellyache about how we are rapidly becoming a "secular" society, and that secularism is taking over our government, and that secularism is akin to atheism, and the God will punish America mightily for this terrible perversion. One wingnut is certain that our secularism has set the apocalypse in motion and the antichrist on his way!
It is true that religion is becoming less popular in the United States as it is in many other countries around the world. As the years go by, more and more Americans are opting out of religious affiliation and religious belief.
But there is no substance to the notion that secularism has made it impossible for Christians to profess or practice their faith. Religious Right whackos screech over and over that there is no separation of church and state in our Constitution. Rick Santorum, the dodo from Pennsylvania, said recently that separation of church and state is a Communist idea! But the fact remains: The Constitution does insist that there be a separation of Church and State, no matter what these misfits would like to think.
As to the belief that secularism is guilty of denying Christians the right to live their faith, the reality is something else. Christians actually have enough power in many areas to violate the Constitution in numerous ways: providing private/church school with taxpayer dollars; conducting prayers at public meetings; placing religious posters in public squares; establishing a "faith" office in the White House; demanding that their right to practice their religion means they can deny you your right to believe and practice what you wish, as is portrayed perfectly in the Hobby Lobby case.
Secularism is a terrible thing, according to the Christian Right. But there's some confusion about what the word means, and it is often used wrongly.
Sam Harris recently conducted an interview with Phil Zuckerman, "a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He has written a number of books dealing with the "secular" life, such as "Faith No More," and "Society Without God." Zukerman has a blog at Psychology Today called "The Secular Life."
During the course of the interview, Zuckerman clarified "three terms that are closely related, but also distinct." The one on which I'll focus is "secularism." Central to understanding this term is the last three letters: "ism." "It implies ideology. Social movement. Political agenda. How things 'ought' to be."
Generally, the Religious Right identifies secularism wrongly with atheism. And that sends them up the wall. But that's not what it means. And this is most important for our country today: Zuckerman says,
In this country ... "we've primarily got good, old-fashioned Jeffersonian secularism, which at root is nothing more than the ideology or political position that church and state ought to be separate and that government ought to be as neutral as possible when it comes to religion in the public square. This version of secularism is basically anti-theocracy-ism (or what used to be called disestablishmentarianism). It is an ideology that is often embraced by both religious and secular people. And it most definitely is not the same thing as 'atheism.' In this instance, 'secularism' is a political or ideological position concerning the relationship between government and religion (keep them separate!), whereas 'atheism' is a personal absence of belief in gods."
In dialogue (when possible) with the religious right, we need to call them on their attempt to conflate any position different than their own with a "secularism" by which they mean atheism. At that point, then, anyone who disagrees with them must also be an atheist.
From the onset "secularism" has been the basis of our government. We are not and should never be, a theocracy! Religion may play a role in the lives of our citizens, but does not play a role in our government. And that's precisely what has the Religious Right up in arms. In their hatred and fear of "secular" and "secularization," they attack "secularism" and insist their religious beliefs be granted a special status, that this country be defined as a "Christian" nation, and that a theocracy of sorts be established in Washington!
It's a con game. Any time they are forced to bow to the secularism of our country, they cry foul and whine about being persecuted. The fact is, they don't want to play by the rules. There is no war on God or Christians or Christmas or any other religion or religious belief. They make up this crap in order to confuse the issue and thus insinuate their theocratic leanings into the various structures of our political system.
You can read the entire interview here.