- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Christians are driving atheists nuts. Atheists are trying to spread their belief — or more to the point, their lack of belief — with zeal that Billy Sunday or Billy Graham could have envied: Unless Sunday schools are closed, Bibles shredded, hymnbooks torched and children jailed when found kneeling with Mom in bedtime prayer, no one is secure in their homes.

Rick Perry, the governor of Texas who nearly everyone expects to be a candidate for president of the United States, sent the atheists of Texas into a frenzy approaching apoplexy over the weekend with his testimony to his faith in Jesus Christ at a rally of repentance in Houston.

The governor was no less zealous, though he didn’t seem to be mad at anyone and offered a prayer for everyone, in particular for President Obama and his family.

“Lord,” he prayed, “you are the source of every good thing. You are our only hope, and we stand before you in awe of Your power and in gratitude for Your blessings, and in humility for our sins. Father, our hearts break for America. We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government, and as a nation we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, and for that we cry out for forgiveness.”

Eloquent and heartfelt, but pretty tame stuff in contrast to great tent revivals of yesteryear. There was no invitation to hit the sawdust trail, no invocation of the old-time religion, no penitent weeping at a mourner’s bench. But who could say that the governor exaggerated the “discord at home … fear in the marketplace … and anger in the halls of government.”

Evidence abounds of hard times coming. China lectures that the “good old days” of massive borrowing are over, and suggests that the greenback dollar must be discarded as the world’s trading currency. Wall Street’s week began horribly, following an awful week, and Standard & Poor’s, which lopped an “A” off America’s AAA credit rating, now says there’s a 1 in 3 chance that another “A” may have to go.

The view from across the Atlantic is even grimmer. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard speculates in the London Daily Telegraph that “this time we face the risk of double-dip recession without shock absorbers.” Cutting interest rates, which usually can be counted on to ignite a burst of investment that produces jobs, isn’t much of a tool anymore because there’s not much left to cut.

Against this backdrop of grim, grimmer and grimmest, you might think that even a man bereft of consolation for his soul would welcome a little prayer. But Mr. Perry is suddenly the devil in the atheist hallucination, the more so because he, who grew up on Methodist evangelism and like many believers waxes enthusiastic about his faith, prays in the name of Jesus Christ.

Dozens of devout atheists (easy for them to say, not being in foxholes) demonstrated outside Houston’s Reliant Stadium, where speakers inside invoked Old Testament prophets calling ancient Israel to contrition. Demonstrators held up signs and banners mocking the religious folk with taunts like “Get up off your knees,” “No believers in fairy tales,” and “God is not great.” Their pain, beyond having to live in a world where few share their bleak view of the life of the soul, is that the governor’s prayer establishes the state religion forbidden by the First Amendment. They’re terrified of “mixing politics and religion.”

We mix politics and religion all the time, of course, and have since the founding of the republic. We’ve never had an established church, which is what the First Amendment prohibits, and never will. But the devout atheists want a world free of moral restraint. They want no reminders that folks of faith worship something other than science, an empty heart and themselves, the gods that inevitably fail.

Nearly all our presidents, even skeptics like Jefferson and Lincoln, “mix politics and religion,” paying respect to faith if not necessarily sharing all the particulars. In his proclamation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, when the outcome of the Civil War still lay in doubt, Lincoln spoke of sentiments of gratitude for divine gifts “which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.” Soft heads, on the other hand, may be beyond fixing.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.