Rejoice! Secularism Won! Why We Can Never Celebrate Print E-mail
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noel-neill-atom-man-vs-superman(The Truth Seeker January 31, 2018)

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Flying home from Washington D.C. to San Diego on a new American Airlines plane, I have, privileged American individual that I am, my own TV screen on the back of the seat in front of me—inane movies, dopey sitcoms, time till landing. The welcome-image is a grinning, competent woman, fifty-ish, professional, sartorially regal, with non-lustful red lipstick, tartar-blasted white teeth, a blue-and-red striped artificial silk scarf tied jauntily around her neck, white shirt, smart dark blazer, and a winged ID badge—Abigail.

It’s more than a year since Trump’s victory. I’m still in a daze. This woman’s semblance, self-assured and competent, has piqued my curiosity. She’s wearing the silks of service, of corporate trademarking, of corporate trade-marketing, an advertisement that promotes self-denial (uniformed) and self-reliance (she’s Abigail, a nonrobotic, I’m assuming, flight attendant, emergency-chute trained). From her exudes the experiential fitness of a thousand flights, drinks and snacks and terror-inducing turbulence.

Indeed, her servile mask—the flight attendant as trooper—elicits her feelgood persona, not her inner life. One strain of which may be her religious faith. For all I know she’s nonreligious. Maybe she’s used American Airlines’ generous medical benefit for the IUD, condoms, the pill to foster a frothy sex life. (I don’t know why I have this prejudice but aren’t all flyboys and flygirls childless?) She dates the pilots in Dallas, the hub, and the vice-president of personnel in Tampa. In the way American professionals are ad-depicted, she is fully satiated, not a shrinking violet. She has self-control. She’s happy. She has a condo all but paid for. She’s not going back to school. She loves her job. She loves to fly, in part, because, thanks to those benefits, she’s on Xarelto or Humira. All this gee and wow is the result, I’m assuming, that the business she’s in has evolved not because of religious tenets (Why would it?) but because of our society’s secular principles, which rule the “marketplace,” in general, and the airline industry, in particular. Those principles vouchsafe her job, her safety, her rights as a woman, though she can barely keep up with the money men make.

I know it’s an odd thought but nowhere in her screen depiction figures a religious. Not a hint of the holy. Even when Americans are religious, there is still no presentiment (excluding female Muslim dress or the scraggy beard and short-cropped hair of the ISIS terrorist) to showcase us as faithful—the notable stray cat, Laura Ingraham of Fox’s “The Ingraham Angle,” whose gold crucifix sunbeams faith. Which sin of hers did Jesus die for? The sin of hosting a Fox cable news show?

Perhaps Abigail’s spiritual but not religious, a None. Back at my desk, the flight hitch-less, I’m reading statistics that say over the past century the fastest growing belief worldwide, next to Islam, is that of unbelief: Some one billion of the total population with another billion, who are “observant” but wishy-washy about their faith, are Nones. I include myself with these tens of millions of American Nones.

If American Airlines wanted to market safety to us with Yahweh’s presence, they would: a sunflowered altar at which pilots pray. But they don’t. Because flight has nothing to do with divinity. We do not place our faith in God when we fly. The great provider is Boeing engineering and the rigorous training, often ex-military, of pilots who are Chuck-Yeager right-stuffed. Add habit, too, the quotidian nature of air travel; our passenger “experience” has a gladdening sameness to it. We have flown and survived enough that we don’t need to “believe in” the physics of propulsion and air-wing-displacement for it to be true. We are alive, post-flight, a circumlocution, I know.

But still. Let me add more doubt to my reasoning: It’s over that word secular, a nigh imperceptible entity, there in the safeguards and performance of air travel, the most obvious thing about it, about which we are unconscious. When I think of the secular, I note that nearly everything in our social structure is secular. If there’s been a smackdown between religious and secular we’ve endured as Americans, I haven’t seen it in my sixty-eight years. But I know secularism won. We are not a Christian nation. We are a secular one. Yet secularists struggle to identify the volume, weight, and quality of its air everywhere around us, faithful and unfaithful alike. Why?

What intrigues me about secularism is its pandemic invisibility in our society, one that gives secularism its nature, and its freedom, and its limitations.

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines “secular” as “belonging to the present or material world as distinguished from the eternal or spiritual world.” Worldly v. otherworldly. All faiths claim the otherworldly created and adjudicates both the supernal and the temporal realms. Secularists pitch back that the religious, especially in our fair land, can say as they please, but whatever authority they have, in legal terms, is separate from state decree, so ordered by the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause.

At first, with a Christian majority under the Constitution’s protection, separation of church and state was stable. Jefferson’s and subsequent administrations kept God at bay and “allowed” Christ’s sway to effect not law or education but society and culture. That stability lasted until the mid-twentieth century when religious suasion (evolving into the Moral Majority) rallied as a redoubtable antidote to Leftism. Today, Christianity has lost much of its sway, its socio-cultural centrality. The bogey man, so argue the born-agains, is a “weaponized secularism” from without, one that targets the Christian horde as shallow, premodern, sanctimonious. In love with slogans: Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays!

You would think, in this back and forth, the secular character would marshal itself into a “movement” or an “ideology.” (I’ve yet to be introduced at my neighbor’s book group to or as a “secular humanist.”) Secularists don’t accede to the enemies we are accused of having. Instead, it’s the evangelicals who charge the nonreligious with animosity and bullying, collars for which there’s no evidence. Secularists, agnostics, and atheists seldom march under one banner. Hell, we seldom march. Strangely, the more hidden secular “rule” is, the more it becomes the default setting of our society. Perhaps the religious see something we don’t—its weaponry aside, an unholy tendentiousness that overtakes nearly every American institution.

Yes, the secular writ large does not favor religion in the public square. Take football games. They begin not with prayer but with the spectacle of “honoring America.” For their part, the churchgoing must endure such honors as though they are nonreligious prayers, invocations. But this is not exclusion, to summon the spirit of America. It’s inclusion: a bloated militarism whose boots-and-arms signal the defense of the nation not with Bibles but with bombs. Thinking of those peas in a pod, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, nuclear bombs are far more easily summoned, far deadlier than God.

Where possible, secularists obviate skepticism: Much is knowable, not merely ponderable. We are often unconcerned with advancing unbelief or freethought, with questions of God or the Resurrection. We do value, perhaps overvalue, certainty, rational thought, logic, proofs, a need to solve not all but most mysteries—systems of human engagement that exist despite a religion’s justification of itself. Secular wisdom operates both within and without those justifications for God as creator/punisher, tempering or denying such beliefs. This parallel wisdom, if you will, has developed through a kind of secular fundamentalism—one based on the practice of laws, institutions, folkways, social norms, even the logical or functional organization of religion, all means by which we insure human order, on occasion, human well-being.

The Vatican, for instance, is just such a “secular” institution as are all history-bearing and creed-espousing religions. It is, like the criminal justice system, subject to its own laws and courts, confessionals and redemptions, sometimes for the better, typically for the worse when its decisions are hidden from public scrutiny. (About the Inquisition alone, I shudder at the tribunal registries, locked in the Vatican’s vaults, and the further damage their exposure would bring to the church.) One reason we know the Catholic church is a worldly entity is via the certainty of clerical corruption—the selling of indulgences that sparked the Reformation, the many papal associations with mass-murdering tyrants, and the recent holocaust of priest pedophilia. Considering the latter, where would we be without a secular overlord?

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On the one hand, to maintain that religious citizens are different from nonreligious citizens is a false division. Are the views of a born-again ideologue like Texas senator Ted Cruz rendered moot by a non-Christian like the astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson? No. That’s ludicrous. Both pay lots of taxes, vote their conscience, speak their minds. It’s senseless to compare religionists and secularists as if either, being rushed to the hospital with angina, is thinking, “I’m glad I’m an atheist, or a Baptist,” because regardless of the grantor of his wishes or prayers, the goal is the same: Get Me to the Cath Lab on Time!

But, on the other hand, there is tension between religion’s claims and secularism’s facts. If anything, religion’s mainline to the otherworld may “account for” an afterlife, but it need not account for any behaviors here-and-now on earth. A serial killer on death row may be going to hell but he’s already in hell as his corporeal punishment. Ancient desert nomads and their explanations as to why we are here—to praise and serve a vengeful, inexplicable God whose rewards are unwarranted or deferred—are matched by modern exegeses that place human grace and human absurdity, not God, at the center of our teleology. A flawed court and political system is still better than none. I know it’s rare, but black men do receive justice. In additions, we value clan and family preservation because of our evolutionary durability; today, I hope, we can value our planetary responsibility as well.

Christianity’s raison d’être today is pickled in politics. Think, for a moment, about the character of the people who champion Christianity, faith’s executioners, as it were: Little of what we hear from them is theological; it’s most often dressed in conservatism. The flock seldom miss a Sunday service, but, far more voluminously, they attend communion with Father Hannity at Fox News every weeknight. Since Reagan, Christianity has turned to politics for legitimacy because its spiritual message is no longer covered or believed.

And yet the more Christians align themselves with (are soiled by) politics, the more people turn against them—and the more the “base” turns on itself. Evangelicals may be twenty-five percent of the population, but, according to LifeWay Research, which conducts studies for Christian ministries, more than half of that twenty-five percent don’t share the “core evangelical beliefs” and two-thirds “reject the term” evangelical!

One reason for this confusion is that the group has lost its way post-mind-meld with the Republican party. Religion in thrall to any political party—and vice versa—is a recipe for dithering, for fossilizing stupidity, mirrored by our two-party system. That system is so belief-centric and, thus, so polarizing, that evangelicals define secular thinking as authoritarian (the nonreligious say the same about them) when, in fact, whatever one’s life rationale is, any point-of-view flourishes under the secular umbrella. Despite this protection, confusion reigns, and self-squeamishness intensifies. Perhaps the number of evangelicals, that two-thirds who hate the label, is similar to the secularist who distrusts her label. Secularists watch and learn how any CNN-enforced ID—“value voters”—poisons the well. Secularists, also, don’t like our name because of its stiltedness. To be secular is to be upbraided, criminally charged with lacking soul, purgative rituals, artistic passions, mystical insight: Secular as a name is just as cold as evangelical.

Another reason the evangelical group is a paper tiger: They have no spokesperson or ad campaign that its opponents consider serious, the means by which their religious, cultural, and business perspectives might be unified. Where, in the public square, are the creedal artists, musicians, CEOs, or theologians? When did anyone last see a priest or minister or nun or rabbi (or, for that matter, a Muslim novelist, a Jewish photographer, a Hindi mayor) on cable news or New Year’s Eve, expressing herself via her faith? Who do you know, except the Graham family, the Falwell family, the Osteen family, and your Montana grandmother, who graze like sheep on the Bible’s teachings?

Take this further.

Evangelicals’ false equivalency with the secular (forget about our stupid names) reared its head in Trump’s 2016 art of the steal. According to Lydia Bean, writing in the Washington Post, poll-watchers believed that the evangelical turnout put him over the top; Christian voters forgave his sexual predation in favor of his stance on their core issues: abortion, gay rights, and religious freedom. Alas, such “issues” had little weight. The majority of evangelicals voted for Trump because he hectored them successfully on national security (border wall) and the economy (re-fire the coal mines). Those two things captured more than 50 percent of voters’ concerns; the other faith issues counted under 10 percent each.

In the event that a few Christians are reading this, please remember that in the Bible Jesus said nothing about abortion, homosexuality, or theocratic governments. Moneychangers in the temple—B.C.E.’s first corporate bankers—really pissed him off. Matthew 21:13: “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” Trump and the GOP’s tax “reform” is such thievery, partially, by playing low-wage evangelicals in the South for suckers.

From Lydia Bean’s research we learn that Christian voters are capable of seeing beyond their own religious extremism all the way to self-interest—even if their desires to be secure and gainfully employed are sabotaged by those they vote for. Despite the attacks on women, despite the fear-mongering about black and brown “others,” who doesn’t want to be secure from the twin threats of violence and joblessness.

The mistake we make is to keep ourselves locked into this cartoonish, fists-and-feet-a-flying battle between religious and secular. Every reasonable person in America, it seems to me, regards with gratitude (of the barely audible sort) the work activists have done on behalf of everyone’s civil and human rights. These activists, often legal, have ended blasphemy laws, outlawed public funding for Christian charter and home schools, defended the atheist soldier, teenager, and blogger, silenced prayer in schools, moved church groups off-campus, scuttled creation science as the “other side” to a “curriculum debate” on evolution, and freed jailed political prisoners, many nonbelievers, throughout the world. Yes, it’s worth celebrating the group, “Christians for the Separation of Church and State.”

Can anyone, however, make the equivalent argument that Christians have been responsible for making the public sphere of American life harmonize with these moral actions, making our ethical institutions more Jesusy?

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In 2012, a Lakewood, Colorado Christian baker refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. An administrative judge ruled that Colorado anti-discrimination laws—precedents firmly established—forbade the baker from choosing or denying products to clients based on his religious preferences. In fact, doing so runs counter to the social contract that civil and criminal laws protect religious and nonreligious observances alike. The Colorado Supreme Court let the ruling stand. The U.S. Supreme Court has heard oral arguments from plaintiffs challenging same-sex marriage law on behalf of something called “religious liberty.” The Court will rule in May.

Upend the example. I’m an atheist baker and I deny cakes for Christian weddings. I should have the right to choose or deny clients based on my antireligious belief: I (gay, straight doesn’t matter) think their fundamentalist creed against gay marriage is severely prejudicial. Homophobic Christian fiancés don’t deserve my cake. My not baking one should be sanctioned as protest speech.

In both cases, the idea is the use of a personal belief to not comply with the law: The right of one’s conscience is greater than the right of the society’s conscience. (Imagine, after my wife has been murdered in California, where the death penalty is banned, the judge asks me what to do with the killer, and I say death by strangulation, that is, by me, then and there, according to Darth Vader’s dictate, and the state allows it. My right, I suppose. But is it doable?) Such solipsistic cases, often narrowed into causes of religious liberty or freedom, are not about liberty or freedom. They are about an exemption from “secular” law. We don’t allow these exemptions—and religion shouldn’t begin a gold-rush stampede to allow them. The rule of law has evolved, so that new laws are better than old ones. Women, and other sinners, are no longer prosecuted by a dunking pond for their “hysteria,” as in Salem, Massachusetts, or enslaved by state-sanctioned rape, pregnancy, and infant abduction, as in The Handmaid’s Tale. Virtually no one thinks that if a woman is mentally ill, the cause of her affliction arose in a house in Amityville or will be remedied by sprinkles of holy water.

Moreover, the religious exemption, fostered by its conniving brethren, is already hard at work in the abortion wars. Post-Roe-v-Wade, Christians believe they have equalized a woman’s right to choose with the fetus’s right to life. The exemption is most often played not by opposing a woman’s right to an abortion but by abridging her access to getting one. Such effectiveness aside, I can say most secularists are afraid to extend rights to a fetus in fear that the “right to life,” or fetal personhood, would, ironically, be governed by secular law, not religious liberty. The rights we extend to ourselves would then be extended to beings from the moment of conception. Both “sides” would claim victory: sentient life is protected by God’s will and/or by our (legislated) biological imperative.

Sticky business. If there is a right to fetal personhood, the courts might, under Roe’s precedent, uphold the woman’s right to end that life, keeping the state’s right not to end that life secondary. I’m unsure how this shakes out. In a society that grants rare exemptions to secular laws based on religious preferences, a fetus should have no “religious liberty” beyond those rights of reproductive health and decision-making already guaranteed to the mother.

Despite the problem of personhood, there must be a way for it never to fall into the barbed-wire camp of religious jurisdiction. I trust most Americans will find this way without giving into “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”

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I think the greatest roadblock to acknowledging the foundational primacy of secularism’s condition, both its shadowy and its sunny sides, is our theophobia: God, in general, the Bible, in particular. I agree: The Bible is a wearyingly pernicious book. I’ve been arguing in several recent essays why the book’s disciples are all hat and no cattle. How? Consider how little Christians read the Bible, how nonbelievers score higher than believers on Bible quizzes, and how rare is Bible literacy—sixty percent of Americans cannot name five, let alone all, of the Ten Commandments.

Here’s a paragraph from my April/May 2015 Free Inquiry cover story, “Hobby Lobby, Steve Green, and the New Bible Empire”:

The signs are rampant in our culture that the Bible is waning in its readership and authority. In 2014, Biblica, a publisher that produces Bibles in the “top 100 major languages in the world,” launched the Institute for Bible Reading. The program addresses what it identifies as a “growing crisis in Bible engagement.” Translation: the book Biblica terms “the most powerful catalyst for spiritual growth” is, according to its own research, becoming irrelevant. Young people are not interested in reading or relating to the Bible at rates that Biblica finds alarming. As the Gallup Organization notes, there has been a 20 percent drop in occasional Bible-readers in the last generation. Nine in ten Christians want help with Bible reading and do not get it from their churches or their pastors. According to Biblica, “unless this trend is reversed, by 2040, two-thirds of all Americans will have no meaningful relationship with the Bible.” And all this when, paradoxically, Gospel marketers sell or give away 100 million Bibles every year.

As noted, religious books sell but there is evidence that they are more gifted than read. Such books comprise 4.3 percent of all book sales (obviously, the Bible itself, a confirmation or holiday present, makes up more than half that percentage). In addition, as the Bible Study shows, the decline in Bible reading among Christians has frightened them into social-media activism with apps such as www.topverses.com whose quotations seem to placate millennial and religious a-literates.

Since Trump’s election, I’ve heard no Christian issue, other than self-congrats that Neil Gorsuch and his antiabortion cred is on the Supreme Court, which the Dear Leader has raised to the policy level or tweetstorms he’s thrown because he’s a lover of Jesus. (His judicial nominations are more lawyer neophyte than faith savvy.) Obamacare, North Korea, tax cuts, NAFTA, sexual assault, dodging Robert Mueller, even immigration comprise his twelve Diet-Cokes-a-day diet. None of these things, including tax breaks for plutocrats, is measurable by a Christian ruler. (The Johnson amendment, denying tax-free political speech from the pulpit, survived the tax cut measure.) Imagine the stretch in one’s thought to construe any of Trump’s core issues as religion-based, Roy Moore’s razor-thin defeat in Alabama notwithstanding.

Say it again: Secular folk rule. Though I hate to use the tribal pronoun, our medicine is not Wiccan. Our neuroscience is not Voodoo. Our Peterbilt truckers need not follow the Sermon on the Mount to deliver pallets of Barbies to Wal-Mart. Our musicians, artists, filmmakers, and writers rarely follow Christian tenets; our tastes are broad, our experimentation constant, our sensibilities adaptive. And, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone, that it took the “secular” formation of written language to create the religious loophole, the Bible, whereby God’s minions could illustrate and make contractual his laws.

We live in a secular country, though, out of temperament or tradition, we don’t call it that. I find no comparison between churches and art venues (concert halls, music festivals, museums) where the latter draws tens of millions more participant-worshippers than the former. Moreover, we’re wise not to call ourselves “secular voters” in the way evangelical voters are labeled or self-label. Secularism’s richness is violated when it’s boiled down to one set of values, values that might, on occasion, include Christ-centric intelligence. The Messiah’s platform of social justice and nonviolent resistance, one of many inspirations for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is fine by me. I’d rather think of Christ as a Black Panther than a cosmic entity.

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To shore up my case, here’s a pragmatic analogy. Daycare for children—and I don’t mean the adult kind that goes on in the White House. More specifically, Christian daycare. What would this look like? (I’m leaving aside the legal question of whether the owners could discriminate against nonreligious people as clients. One’s religious-based daycare would need to be open to all, yes?) As such, however, this daycare I’m imagining follows Christian principles: obeisance to a sky god and a crucified savior; girls subservient to boys (pinks and blues enforced); hymn singing; Bible maxims that illustrate club do’s and don’ts; sermonic dips into apocalyptic horrors like the Rapture, but not climate change; and more.

Leave all that aside—fun but beside the point. There are dozens of other requirements for running a daycare center: the facility’s hygiene, inspected yearly; the pay and benefits for the teachers and helpers; the structural integrity measured by fire, capacity, and security codes; the required insurance; the safety of the monkey bars and merry-go-rounds; the soft playground turf; staff training in first-aid and conflict resolution; and a whole lot more requirements, some of which Republicans and their Christian allies say handcuff entrepreneurs and censor religious intent.

Stiff regulations (or call it common sense) necessary to run such a facility well, however, has nothing to do with the faith or the non-faith of its owners. Economically, the daycare center has to be a viable business; it must make money to stay alive. This last suggests that any way the center chooses to market itself, it must monetize its values or else risk failing.

Of course, there are parents who prefer Christian daycare to non-Christian daycare. But given a safe, clean, well-regulated away-from-home home for children, with certified teachers and state-of-the-art toys, wouldn’t anyone prefer the best facility available? Yes, one could have both. But the Christian daycare still passes secular muster. What’s more it’s safe to assume that the moral beliefs of the staff (even those would be unconstitutional to demand or assess) play second fiddle to protecting kids no matter the school’s charter.

This is another triumph of secularism’s invisibility—that almost all education in America is secular and devoid of or barred from religious intrusion. By law. By precedent. By choice. By the fact that our kids go to public school and come home and tell us what they’re learning. If it were Leviticus, we’d know. Our schools—and most daycare—carry creedal independence so fundamentally that it’s senseless to declare there is or there ought to be a choice between religious and public schools. Like the DNA of humans and chimps, those two schools share ninety-six percent of their DNA.

We don’t hold hospitals or public colleges or national/state/local elections or the pharmaceutical giants or the automobile/airline megapolies or the electrical grid or the overlords of our stockpile of nuclear weapons to a “choice” in the “beliefs” of those who run such apparatuses, whose directors, by the way, are there to serve the needs of the people and the systems those people have created, certainly not their own moral theology.

Why is making this point both so obvious and so necessary?

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To end, I cite this among many remarkably pungent insights in My Bright Abyss (2013), by Christian Wiman, a book of radical theological semi-certainty: “It seems a lot easier to posit a concrete thing between ourselves and God, a specific and potentially eradicable sin, than to live in the mental storm of modern faith, in which faith itself is always the issue.”

Where to begin? Wiman, of the Protestant direct-to-God ilk, finds that the constant societal yammering about faith gets in the way of numinous experience, shall we say, the more pagan means of relating to the divine. (Think of the backsliding evangelicals, the majority, who are confused about what their creed and name should be.) Thus, many of the faith-based want to avoid tossing Glory-to-God around, for it leads to what Wiman would call mere religious concurrence, “intellectual assent” to a belief. Not felt. Believed. Do you believe, or don’t you? An issue that, frankly, terrorizes Christians and annoys the rest of us without end.

I, too, grow tired of their issue. That’s why I’d prefer to exit the issue game altogether, declare victory and move on. (I’m just not sure how.) Besides, faith, anymore, has graduated from a socio-cultural problem to an individual one. We wrongly make its surfeit or its lack into a political grudge match. Understand that if we call ourselves secularists, then we risk making secularism the issue. Such is the outcome, what evangelical leaders would love us to do. Have it out, a new Civil War: the faithful white hats (red states) v. the apostate black hats (blue states). No thanks.

The game, of course, is already on. If we identify as secular voters, our misguided brothers will say we are engaging in identity politics, which is what we who mock such opinions throw at those who hold such opinions. I’m also trying to avoid those politics, so damaging to free speech. The thing I care about is keeping the secularist’s identity a whiter shade of pale, a fine phrase, which, in a word, means discreet. Indeed, the reason our identity fades or is faint to the ear is this very notion that the secular should, if possible, never be the issue. I think we need to treasure this status quo.

Most converted people believe if problems exist about their faith (not the lack of it in others), those problems are due to their own lack of it, or disregard of it, their own distrust of God. Increasingly, more people think that personal illnesses of the spirit, run through the Christian washer, may be because religion’s cleanse is a useless practice whose rewards are scarce and whose notions of a grand, loving deity—who gives a shit about your touchdown—are more than flawed. They’re self-deluded. I don’t recall the source but in America nine of ten people raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic, come adulthood. (Most of them say, despite losing their religion, that the catechism colors how they feel about nearly every moral decision they make.)

Over time, the secular has grown to emphasize less the freedom of religion and more the freedom from religion, though one may live fairly well in America’s landscape of tolerance (exceptions, of course, for Muslims who are now facing the ostracism Jews used to face) with religious and secular light. And no secularist cares.

Surely, secularists have no longing for faith, the tidy knowingness with which we think religious people are content. Content. Really? Can religious people, especially among the besieged evangelicals, assert any degree of contentment? Why isn’t their faith—given the great freedom to practice it in our society for centuries (even slaves were allowed Christianity)—enough?