Whining for Jesus: part deux
The truth about the war on Christianity
by George A. Ricker
In October 2003 I had an essay called Whining for Jesus? printed in Freethought Today, the monthly newspaper published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (yes, I am a member and have been for years). The essay discussed the constant carping and complaining being heard from some segments of the Christian community about how they are under attack in modern society. In the almost four years since publication of that essay, the whining has increased in frequency and volume. We are told a war is being waged on all things Christian in todays America.
But if you look behind the caterwauling and examine the cause of the complaints, it becomes evident the only real war being waged is on the common sense of the citizens of this nation. A recent article in The Florida Times-Union offers some instructive examples. In Christians vs. atheists: Whose side are you on?, reporter Jeff Brumley notes that both atheists and Christians have claimed an increase in tension.
On the atheist side of things, there has been an unprecedented run of books by authors like Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation), Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), Christopher Hitchens (God is not Great), and others (including my own Godless in America) in which atheism is defended and the core concepts of religions have been examined (or attacked, depending upon ones perspective). Since many of the authors live in the United States and all of the books have been widely circulated here, its to be expected that Christians would counterattack, and they have with a vengeance. In many ways atheists have gone from being a quietly despised minority to being a publicly vilified minority. Not all Christians have reacted that way, it should be noted, but many have.
But if public hostility against atheists seems to be on the rise, its also true that atheism is being discussed, analyzed, and dissected as never before. These days its easier for an atheist book to find a publisher and an audience. The mass media is talking about atheism with more frequency, and if the quality of the discourse is not all we would hope for, there is something like an educational process at work as some in the media learn what atheism actually is, as opposed to the parody so often offered from pulpits and the Christian Right. As more and more atheists are willing to speak out about their nonbelief, the hysteria among religionists, especially fundamentalists, appears to escalate.
Hence, there is the claim of a so-called war on Christianity or on religion in general. Those who go public with their atheism are now labeled as evangelists. Once upon a time we were called militant atheists. Now we are called atheist evangelists. Since evangelism is specifically about preaching or teaching the gospels, the description seems inappropriate. If one simply considers an evangelist as one who spreads the good news about something, then I guess the label fits. Of course, its clear that those who use the term dont intend it to be a compliment, which is interesting in itself.
But lets get back to the war some Christians claim is being waged on their religions. What do they mean by that? Surely it has to be more than that some people have exercised their freedom of thought and speech to speak publicly about their disdain for the god-idea and the religions it has spawned. Such criticism is part and parcel of what one should expect in a free society. Whats most surprising, in my view, is that there hasnt been much more of it for much longer. Of course, some Christians will view any public expression of atheism as an attack on their beliefs but that hardly constitutes evidence of a war.
As one reads the various articles detailing Christian assertions and complaints about this war, though, their insecurity becomes apparent. What they object to is not that someone is trying to suppress their religions or interfere with the exercise of their religions. What they object to is that there is an effort to remove the trappings of religion from government agencies. What they object to is the effort to rebuild the wall of separation between government and religions that has been so badly damaged during the last 50 years.
In Brumleys article, for example, its reported that Christians in North Florida were especially put out by two lawsuits against the cities of Jacksonville and Starke respectively. American Atheists, Inc., sued the city of Jacksonville over the use of taxpayer funds to sponsor a Day of Faith anti-violence rally in August of 2006. The city settled the case by agreeing not to sponsor such events in the future. The city of Starke was sued by American Atheists in 1995 to force the removal of a lighted cross from a municipal water tower. After years of litigation, the cross finally came down this year.
In both cases, the issue was not whether people ought to be free to exercise their religions, nor was it an attack on any religion. Certainly, no reasonable person can claim it is an assault on religions to say that government agencies ought not be funding religious events or hanging religious icons on public buildings. But that is what is being claimed with more and more fervor. Any effort to insist on government neutrality on matters of religion is seen as an attack on Christianity. Any effort to insist that government agencies have no charter to make religious declarations and no business promoting religions in general or any religion in particular is seen as an attack on Christianity.
There is no effort to eradicate Christianity or to restrict the ability of Christians to exercise their religions. Indeed, if one takes a look around our society, the idea is laughable. We are awash with religions, and Christian versions are the most numerous among them. The airwaves are filled with religious programming on television and radio stations. Religious hucksters and hustlers of all stripes are constantly promoting their religions and other religious wares. The landscape is littered with churches, and most major metropolitan areas host one or more mega-churches. Religious books, songs, albums, CDs and DVDs are readily available.
And theres more. Besides freely exercising their religions at home and in whatever places of worship they frequent, some religionists are constantly preaching to the rest of us about the supposed benefits of their respective versions of the god hypothesis. The mass media is constantly running human interest stories about how religious belief helped someone through a difficult time or a religious organization came to the aid of an individual or group in need. Politicians have become painfully pious, so much so that they increasingly embarrass themselves with their proclamations of faith and its importance to their lives, not to mention their political fortunes. One can hardly watch any sporting event without hearing one or more of the winners proclaiming they owe all their success to the god they worship and so on ad infinitum. Almost all of the agitation on behalf of religions in the United States is on behalf of Christianity in general or one or more of the religions that identify themselves as such.
Clearly, if there ever was a war on Christianity, it was lost long ago.
Yet, somehow we are presented with the image of Christians as a beleaguered minority, their religious liberty threatened at every turn, their religious dogmas constantly under attack, and their ability to practice their religions in immediate peril. The leaders of various Christian sects have always cultivated that image of martyrdom because it disguises the truth and helps to fill the collection plates every Sunday. Such rampant paranoia on the part of Christians is laughable out here in the real world. But it does create a splendid diversion for those who make a living off the religious gullibility of the masses.
Its a paradox. On one hand we are constantly reminded that the overwhelming majority of Americans are Christians of one denomination or another, worship a god of some description and regard their religious faith as one of the most important things in their lives. On the other hand we are told that our society is overrun by secularism and religions are constantly under attack.
The attack on religion, especially Christianity, is invoked to justify all sorts of entanglements between government agencies and religions. Today, more than any time in our nations history, the state is accoutered in the trappings of religions. Tax dollars are being funneled to various religious agencies under the guise of faith-based initiatives. Public schools are constantly under pressure to smuggle religion back into the classrooms under the guise of Bible study programs, or abstinence-only sex education or the newest iteration of creationism, intelligent design.
Ironically, the best defense against any attack on Christianity would be to rebuild and strengthen the wall of separation between government and religions that protects the rights of the religious and the nonreligious equally. No ones religious liberty is endangered when the rights of conscience of all are respected. No ones right to exercise a religion is imperiled when governments adopt a hands-off approach and endorse no religious orthodoxy. Many Christians understand this. Sadly, too many others do not, and it is the latter who whine most loudly.
Those who whine for Jesus are not really protecting their religion from attack at all. They are seeking to impose it as the de facto official religion of a nation that has historically foresworn all such entanglements. Servile politicians and politicized judicial appointees have so undermined the wall of separation that protects the rights of conscience of all Americans that it is in perilous condition today.
If it fails, the rights of conscience of all Americans will be in peril.
© 2007 by George A. Ricker