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SECULAR

A CALL TO ARMS
FOR
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
JACQUES BERLINERBLAU

HOW TO BE

How to Be Secu l a r A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom Jacques Berlinerblau hou ghton miff lin har c o urt boston | new y or k 2012 .

Includes bibliographical references and index. Secularism — United States. 2. Jacques. p. New York 10003. I. cm. Church and state — United States. Title. 4.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Berlinerblau.b477 2012 211'. United States — Religion. www.6 — dc23 2012014226 Book design by Brian Moore Printed in the United States of America doc 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 .hmhbooks. bl2747.Copyright © 2012 by Jacques Berlinerblau All rights reserved For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Freedom of religion — United States. 215 Park Avenue South.8. New York. write to Permissions. isbn 978-0-547-47334-5 1. 3. How to be secular : a call to arms for religious freedom / Jacques Berlinerblau.

” “What is it? Drugs? Sex? Money?” “Worse. Come.” “I pity you.” “I can see how to you it might look that way.” “Really? How much worse?” “I don’t like to say even. mister. mister.“You had religious education?” “None that you could take seriously. my secularism represented to him nothing more than a slightly ridiculous mistake. you feel sorry for me?” “Secular don’t know what they are living for. “Yes. — Philip Roth.” So flatly stated that he might as well have been telling me the time.” “Secular are coming back. It’ll be mitzvah. Jews worse than you. The Counterlife .” If I was correctly reading his persistence.

What Secularism Is and Isn’t 1. Reviving American Secularism 10. How to Be Secularish (In Praise of “Secular Jews” and “Cafeteria Catholics”) 171 12. Who Could Be a Secularist? 155 11. 7.contents Preface xi Introduction: Is Secularism Dead? PART I. Does Secularism Equal Atheism? 53 5. 8. Were the Founders Secular? 20 3. What Is Secularism? (The Basic Package) 3 2. 9. Does Secularism Equal Total Separation of Church and State? 35 4. The Very Peculiar “Rise” and Fall of American Secularism 6. The “Rise” of American Secularism and the Secularish 85 The Fall of American Secularism 103 Are Democrats Secularists? 120 The Christian Nation and the GOP 137 xv PART III. Tough Love for American Secularism 190 Acknowledgments Notes 212 Index 291 211 . How Not to Be Secular 69 PART II.

But leaders of the Christian Right suddenly deemed this arrangement unacceptable. who charged that New York’s mayor was “ignoring most Americans and most New Yorkers by pretending religion is unimportant. That clerics were not invited to participate on September 11.”2 Elsewhere.”1 The protesters in question were incensed over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to prohibit religious officials from speaking at the memorial honoring those who perished in the attacks. 2011. the mayor’s detractors certainly had reason to believe that they might prevail. Uproar aside. and we are not. “We’re not France .”3 Doing its own reporting on the growing controversy. the Christian Century cited the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. an article appeared on the front page of the New York Times titled “Omitting Clergy from 9/11 Ceremony Prompts Protest. After all. In the past.5 As the controversy crescendoed. services on this day of national mourning did not typically feature official representatives of religious groups.”4 The same article mentioned a right-wing blogger who accused Bloomberg of launching a “de facto jihad” on religion. Bloomberg is pretending we’re a secular society.Preface A few days before the commemoration at Ground Zero marking the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy. the decision was entirely consistent with the city’s usual practice. a major figure in the ultraconservative and highly influential Southern Baptist Convention. . in recent decades the Christian Right had been routing American secularism . was quoted in the article as saying. was neither unprecedented nor unusual. Mr. . Land lamented that Bloomberg’s action “demonstrates the mindless secularist prejudice of the political establishment on our nation’s Eastern Seaboard. Richard Land.

xii Preface (a term that. The fact that he had always maintained cordial relations with the city’s diverse communities of faith certainly strengthened his position.6 And in New York City. derided. In all likelihood they’ll be back for another go. more precisely. anti-Americanism. This book is about the recent crackup of American secularism and the therapeutic steps required for its rehabilitation. In understanding how the patient became institutionalized (or. If the Christian Right could make it unsecular there. has been defined. Bloomberg held his ground. American public education had been challenged by attempts to de-secularize the curriculum or even remove students from its institutions via voucher programs or homeschooling. as we shall see.7 Another explanation for his triumph was the refusal of the Catholic Church to join the evangelical Protestants who had initiated the scrum. and abused in a bewildering variety of ways). The growing influence of this movement was evident in the manner in which faith and piety had come to permeate the rhetoric of politicians and. ultimately. deinstitutionalized) we will need to make sense of its complex historical past. they could make it unsecular anywhere! Imagine the mayor of the most secular city in America. for the love of God! This must have seemed like a heaven-sent opportunity for the assembled activists. being forced to bend to the will of a few Bible-thumpin’ pastors from the boonies! That did not come to pass. what it is not. In order to secure the future of secularism we will need to understand what secularism is and. The critics quietly decamped from this theater of the culture wars. Science’s role in shaping national dialogue on questions such as the teaching of evolution or the threat of climate change had been degraded. In the face of a brutal battering from the media. and — why not? — radical jihadism. Were secularism to completely col- . used. hatred of religion.8 The ceremony proceeded solemnly and without incident. The stakes are very high. According to its enemies. secularism is akin to atheism. law and policy. Reproductive rights had been checked across the country — so much so that legal abortions are extraordinarily difficult to procure in many states of the Union. Now the conservative Christian “outrage machine” was revving and whirring again. and possibly the world. more important. often with truculence.

noted that her brother’s name was imprinted on the 9/11 memorial next to that of another victim.Preface xiii lapse. Yet the form of secularism they abided by has fallen upon some very difficult times. Bixby. as she closed a short speech otherwise light in faith-based themes. the ceremony of September 11. and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. which ends with the words “I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement. no state-sanctioned clergy or prayer was included during the memorial. “that the love he freely gave to others was given back to us in his name.9 Rudy Giuliani read from the book of Ecclesiastes.”11 Yet some of the speakers said not a word about God.”12 . To a large extent. new energy. and most of all new people are needed to resurrect it in America today. and I bid you God’s speed. exemplified the possibilities of a new vision for secular America. Supreme Court assiduously labored to purge any such possibility from our political system. Wayne Russo. dignity. One imagines that Bloomberg’s no-clergy directive offered these mourners one less distraction on a day of sorrow. 2011. Or perhaps they did not believe in God. and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost. the country might become the type of “Christian nation” that the New York protesters hope (and pray) for. New ideas. Perhaps they refrained because they wished to keep their faith to themselves. Epps explained. President Obama opened his remarks by quoting from the Psalms. Still others invoked religion with moderation.S. The men had sat next to each other at work. “Christopher would have loved knowing.” Ms. Debra Epps. The family of the latter had called and asked for permission for their names to be enshrined side by side on the monument. which are hallmarks of the secular worldview. the U. wherein both freedom of and freedom from religion are granted as much space as possible. Thank you. Yet those citizens who wished to express their faith were completely at liberty to do so. and restraint. Under the Bloomberg protocols. One mourner. Bush invoked Abraham Lincoln’s letter of condolence to Mrs. In the mid-twentieth century.10 George W.

“Mix and Match Secularism” American secul arism is in a very bad way. lack of moral compass. prostitution. Big Brother. Yet the following definition seems powerful. Consumerism. demagogues denounce it on the campaign trail. drugs. lack of moral values. it has long been one of the regulars.1 At the assorted genius bars of Western civilization. lack of community cohesion. with undertones of greed. and among the general public it suffers from a distressing lack of popular appeal. one illness demands our immediate attention: a debilitating confusion as to what secularism actually is. relativism. and as such it has been defined in a lot of plausible ways. vajazzling — all can be lumped together and explained by the word secular. But in the triage ward currently housing the secular predicament. and vulgarity. a kind of contemporary contraction of heathen and barbarian. The idea of secularism has been in play for centuries — some might say millennia. All of these are worrisome developments. — Caspar Melville. all three branches of government give it the cold shoulder. perfidity. precise.Introduction: Is Secularism Dead? Secularism is the handy one-word distillation for all that is wrong in the modern world. Conservative religious leaders rampage against it. many of which will be discussed in this book. divorce. and the most . Twitter. Harry Potter.

at its core. This is the end to which all genuine secularisms aspire. If you have ever marveled at the comparative lack of interreligious strife in America. But this is not. They don’t associate secularism with peace. all of which seek to balance two necessities: (1) the individual citizen’s need for freedom of. you might want to say “Thank you. totalitarianism. and a willingness to be self-critical about one’s own faith. secularism!” In fact. then. This type of freedom is secularism’s essence.xvi Introduction conducive to its survival: Secularism is a political philosophy. is preoccupied with. they equate it with godlessness. and often deeply suspicious of. wishes you all the best on that joyous occasion). When secularism achieves that balance — and sometimes it fails disastrously — it performs a public service that should always evoke awe. why haven’t you said so already? After all. to put it mildly. and genocidal regimes. how critics in the United States and abroad see things. is a political philosophy about governance that can bestow a secondary “bonus” effect: it may create or actualize certain dispositions and worldviews in us all. As for its primary function. then once again. which. and (2) a state’s need to maintain order. And if you fancy being able to think about God in any way you see fit. a little gratitude is in order. and order. Secularism. It translates that preoccupation into various strategies of governance. such as tolerance toward others. religion. It renders the authorities powerless to regulate any aspect of the consensual sex you will have tonight (secularism. Rather. This is secularism’s promise. Secularism is depicted as a pervasive . or freedom from. any and all relations between government and religion. It ensures that your child is not forced to join a “voluntary” prayer circle in the school cafeteria. It enables citizens to live peacefully as equals with other citizens whose creed is different from their own. it has defended a reading of the Constitution’s inscrutable Establishment Clause that has done you a monumental favor: keeping federal and state government from molding you into an obedient subject of someone else’s religion. by the way. freedom. secularism guarantees that this country belongs as much to a Sikh American as it does to a member of the nation’s Protestant majority. Foremost among these are the “secularish” qualities. moderation.

but you might recall that in his book The Audacity of Hope he chided fellow Democrats for equating “tolerance with secularism. argued Obama. The former British prime minister Tony Blair called on all faiths to join together against secularism.”5 Politicians express the same concerns but in a more secular idiom. To get a sense of the range of this commentary.4 One American Christian fundamentalist worried aloud that “today.”11 The Democrats. . They have spent decades preaching that secularism is literally demonic. The turpitude of this concept has been depicted in many colorful ways. attacked secularism. Still others treat it as a corpse: secularism had its heyday and was fun while it lasted. we are witnessing a Satanic work of deception and substitution that is intended to deceive even the very elect.”3 Conservative Protestants in this country take a different tack. But now it’s gone — skip the funeral. the pontiff has depicted it as a spiritual menace that leads us away from our “ultimate purpose” because it forces us to treat religion as a “private matter. Loss of old allies: another headache for secularism. if you will. Some detractors have moved beyond the critique stage and are . his party had foolishly “forfeit[ed] the moral language that would help infuse our policies with a larger meaning.”8 He then proceeded to write a book decrying Barack Obama’s “secular-socialist machine.Is Secularism Dead? xvii moral evil capable of undermining entire societies. we start with Pope Benedict XVI. presidential candidate Mitt Romney likened it to “radical Jihadism. a world without God has no future. but an erudite commentator nonetheless. Many critics view it as a cancer.”7 Newt Gingrich has often expressed his disdain for “secular fanatics trying to redesign America in their image.6 In December 2007.”9 This last accusation is quite ironic since President Obama himself has. or perhaps civilization itself. We will get to the deeds later. within the bounds of the Church. in word and in deed.”10 By drawing this equation.S.”2 Elsewhere he cautions that “there is something deeply alien about the absolute secularism that is developing in the West . got the memo and promptly delivered a brisk stiff-arm to the secularists within their traditional base. . incidentally. the U. Not a fan of secularism.

but I’m sorry. that’s it. “You need to understand that the future of the world is not secularism. Giving secularism a good concussing is largely a risk-free undertaking because in public debate convincing counterarguments have not gained traction. They batter away at the idea to a degree that seems gratuitous and cowardly. people are turning to religious explanations for human existence and human meaning. is its guarantor.”15 These and other diagnoses as to the continuing viability of secularism are astonishing not only for the breadth and boldness of their conclusions but also for the ideological range of those who promulgate them. as we shall see. The very concept of secular government arose during the Reformation and Enlightenment in order to safeguard religious pluralism.”13 For Warren. . professors and politicians. With a similar lack of precision Warren assumes that one cannot be both religious and secular. The world is becoming more religious.”14 Another professor opines that “secularism has had a reasonably good life and has done some good to the society but has now exhausted its possibilities. which theocratic governments were congenitally incapable of ensuring. One distinguished theologian of the Left writes that “secularism is dead . Will anyone come to the defense of the secular virtues? . The same misconception can be observed among those who have already proceeded to the eulogy stage. counsels. science. Catholics and Protestants. one of the most prominent evangelical leaders in the nation. far from being the enemy of religious pluralism. there is an inherent contradiction between religious pluralism and secularism. has prevented many potential advocates from wholeheartedly adopting the ideals of secularism. Republicans and Democrats. You may not like it. A conservative think-tanker deems secularism “a view of life ill-equipped to meet the political and existential challenges of the twenty-first century. and materialism. and turning away from reason. not less.xviii Introduction performing a deathwatch. . This flawed idea is pervasive and. Those who criticize secularism are liberals and conservatives. It’s religious pluralism.”12 Pastor Rick Warren. Warren fails to understand that secularism. He seems unaware of the close and complementary relationship between these ideas. and they are not necessarily religious conservatives.