- - Monday, June 9, 2014

There is an ever-increasing anti-religion prejudice invading American life and institutions. This bias has taken refuge in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and in fact seems increasingly to provide the official interpretation of the “separation of church and state.” The new interpretation seems to be “the state against the church,” particularly the Judeo-Christian kind.

One secularist attack maintains that much evil has been perpetrated in the name of religion. It is hard to argue with this position. However, it is also true that great evil has been wrought by atheistic regimes, such as Communism. History does not favor either side in this dispute.

Yet it seems that the secularists’ rejection of modern religion is much more personal. It derives from their objection to the judgmental and dogmatic characteristics associated with religion. Religions tell people what is right and what is wrong, what they can and cannot do. Secularists hate this.

So, what is their response? They try to force everybody do what they want them to do, whether through enforcing political correctness, racial quotas, or the elimination of prayer from all public events. They also know that the only way to force behavior in our society is to take over the government. So that is what they are doing.

Some of the goals of these people are praiseworthy and are sought also by religious people. We would all like to eliminate poverty, disease and wars. Where the two groups differ most is in personal ethics. Both sides historically have wanted the laws and regulations of governments to force people to do their bidding, whether or not individuals believe these government mandates are right. In the current state of affairs, it appears that the secularists are winning this contest.

There is a big difference between coercion and persuasion. Nobody is going to put you in jail for refusing to believe in a religion. But the government can indeed put you in jail if you do not follow one of its mandates. This is coercion. This government-wielded power is the greatest threat to democracy and the personal freedom of individual Americans that we face today. When the government starts to dictate what we eat and drink, things are getting serious.

Of course, religions have wielded this power of the state through most of history, and there are those who seek to reinstate that power. British historian Lord John Acton wrote in 1887, that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” Those of us who believe in the wisdom of that saying hold that the power of the state and the church must both be curtailed. If left unchecked, either can wreak havoc on society and its citizens. Both sides of the culture war need to stand down and rely on their powers of persuasion to achieve their goals.

The secularists, however, are definitely in attack mode. It is increasingly clear that they are winning in the media, the legislatures, the courts, the universities, and the hearts and minds of the elite of our country. Since religions have dominated American life for so long, dissidents apparently have to be more vociferous in order to be heard. Their zealots are seeking — and often succeeding — in removing Christ from Christmas, prayer from schools, invocations from graduations, and respect for religious traditions from religious institutions, not to mention same-sex marriages, unrestricted abortions and re-writing the history that our children are taught in public schools. Even more pervasive and perhaps corrosive among the “sophisticated” in our midst is their utter contempt for religions and believers.

But the secularists are not really winning over most of the American people. Their views may be popular on specific issues perhaps, mostly having to do with sexual ethics, e.g. legal acceptance of homosexuals, of all forms of birth control, and of a casual posture regarding sex in general, and marriage and children born out of wedlock in particular.

But there are millions of Americans who believe in God, respect religious institutions, and try to practice the charity and love of fellow man which are at the heart of all Western religions. The religious folk seem to be a waking giant who is gradually becoming aware that he may lose his place in the public square if he does not start defending it. Believers are speaking out more often and more forcefully although nearly always on the defensive. They are answering some attack or other and rarely emphasizing the positive side of their faith and good works. All they ask is to be allowed to live their chosen lives and help their neighbors without interference.

So what to make of this culture war we are in? Here are two considerations:

First, the greatest danger to religions in America in the near term is not oppression but indifference. As the secular trends grow more conspicuous, religion receives less attention. Religion becomes marginalized, confined at most to its old description, hatched, matched and dispatched (with the hatched and matched parts under attack). Religion is increasingly being approached as a personal rather than a public matter. Secularists tell us that you can believe what you wish, worship as you wish, live as you wish in the privacy of your family and your church or synagogue or stadium. But do not bring your religious ideas into the public arena and try to make everybody else do what your religion wants them to do. Instead, we want you to do what we tell you to do!

Secondly, in a democracy, people should be motivated by persuasion not coercion. If the religious way is the better way, its believers must persuade others that it is so. Remember, the Crusades never converted anybody; force is not the right way to go about spreading the Word. The most persuasive means to show the goodness of religion — or any way of life — is example.

The same is true of the secularists. If they have the better way, let them prove it by their example. Name-calling and oppression are not convincing proof of a superior way of life. These acts and attitudes depend on demonizing outsiders. They depend on hatred and bitterness and ruthlessness. These are not the signs of people happy with their lives.

And it seems we all want to be happy.

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