SECULAR ENCOUNTERS OF THE FIRST AND SECOND KIND
Someone reported to me recently that she was on her way to Dallas and noticed an elderly gentleman, probably a professor she thought, driving a car with the license tag "SECULAR." Displayed on the rear of the vehicle was the Christian symbol of a fish with the name "Darwin" inscribed within it, along with a bumper sticker cynically defining faith in a manner reaching for humor. She was astounded, she allowed, by the old coot's overt hostility to any and all things religious. The scene, as she recounted it, reminds me a bit of the placard, pictured above, on the side of a bus in a neighboring country.
The word "secularism" lends itself to much confusion. In its least offensive sense, the term suggests a posture of government "neutrality" toward religion. The government attempts not to endorse religion, advance it, become excessively entangled with it, or to impose it in any manner upon others. We may term this "soft secularism," because one can be a secularist in this sense and also religious. The government adopts a laissez faire stance regarding religion. "If you desire to be religious," Uncle Sam instructs, "it's fine with me, but don't look to me for any affirmative assistance."
As any five-year old boy with an older sibling will tell you, neutrality is a fiction. When he and his seven year old brother open their toys on Christmas, and both want to be the first to play with one toy in particular, their parents have a decision to make. If they do not intervene in behalf of the younger boy, his older brother will certainly dominate him. Two years of extra strength and maturity are hard for a five-year old boy to overcome in an older brother. Yet if the parents intervene in support of the smaller boy, it will be his brother who will lose out. The philosophical question concerns how these parents can possibly be neutral under either circumstance. The answer is that they most certainly cannot be.
The same principle holds true when we speak of a property tax exemption for a house of worship. Chief Justice John Marshall astutely asserted long ago that the power to tax involves the power to destroy. It does indeed! Taxing a church involves placing in government hands the power to destroy it. What is neutral about that? If the government, on the other hand, is not allowed to tax the church, it follows that the church's programs will enjoy a great big "green light." Who in his right mind does not regard a tax exemption as a favorable state of affairs? Of course it is! In either instance, government neutrality toward religion, as the example illustrates, is an impossibility. To speak of "benevolent neutrality," as the United States Supreme Court has done in a case that raises the church taxation issue, is simply an oxymoron.
Secularism also has a second meaning. In this sense, the word may be defined as antipathy toward religion that is characterized by the desire for a public square devoid of all things religious. This is an anti-religious religion. We may also call it "aggressive secularism." The government states, "If you want to pray, invoke the name of God, or discuss your faith, you may do it privately, but do not do so publicly where these activities are out of place." The crusty buzzard who flaunted his hostility toward religion while on the road to Dallas is an apt example of this second variety of secularism.
To learn more about the meaning of secularism, you may read my book, America Unraveling. In it, I discuss how our government is continually demonstrating its hostility toward religion, including those biblical principles and values that underlie American culture. In case you haven't observed it, there is war being waged against the bedrock traditions of American culture. Our culture is eroding, and our nation is without question unraveling.
This sobering observation brings me to a final point. Because soft secularists take a position that is philosophically impossible, they tend eventually to support the goals and objectives of aggressive secularists. The softies reason something like this: "Well, let's see, if we have a Christmas pageant in public schools, it cannot be neutral; therefore, I have to be opposed to it, right?" The aggressive secularists respond with a triumphal "Yes!" The softies wind up standing resolutely, though blank-faced and clueless to be sure, against the spiritual wellsprings of American culture, along with hard-core secularists like Michael Newdow, Bill Maher, and Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
I don't know about you, but I regard aggressive secularists as domestic terrorists – not because of their position on religion, which I think is intellectually boring and uninspiring, but because they are unquestionably at war with our culture and are hard at work "re-inventing" it and the nation. They are also attempting to convince you and me (surprise, surprise!) that their "re-invention" is precisely what the founders intended. Lest I forget to mention, these people tend to be not only terrorists, but also liars, who play fast and loose with fact and truth. I regard them as incorrigible and have really nothing to say to or to discuss with them. Pretty harsh, I know, but that's the way it is.
I don't, on the other hand, question the motives of the soft secularists who find themselves aligned with this group. Sure, the softies may be working stiffs, who still believe what they were taught by left-wing university professors about government, history, and philosophy way-back-when and have probably never had much time for a constructive thought about any of these matters since. But I still entertain a slight hope that they will eventually wake up. Rip Van Winkle did.
April 9, 2009