The Evangelical War on Secularism

by Ed Sawicki

Darwin Fish

A few years ago, I was asked to review a paper written by a Christian scholar that contrasts the attitudes of Evangelical Christians with secularists. The author recognizes that we all live in our own “bubbles” and tries to get both sides to understand each other's position. It was my job to review the paper and advocate for the secularists.

The author decided not to publish the paper sometime after I submitted my review. So, I'm publishing portions of my review (updated a tiny bit to include the Trump phenomenon) but respecting the author's privacy by not naming him or her. When the headings below are surrounded by quotes, they are the author's comments from the paper. Click or touch the arrow to see my response.

Secularism and the First Amendment

Wikipedia says, “Secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries.” We often refer to this as separation of Church and State.

Secularism is the official position of the government of the United States because it's enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. Here's the entirety of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”, is first in the list of freedoms granted. It's called the Establishment Clause. Yet, it's the freedom that's most violated by this government and many of its citizens.

Most of the hostility to the Establishment Clause comes from the Republican Party and its base of voters. Still, you only need to look to the annual National Prayer Breakfast to see that both of our political parties put the separation of Church and State aside for the opportunity to gain favor with the religious right.

All Evangelicals are non-secular?

The first thing I noticed about the paper was it assumed all Evangelical Christians were not secularists. I knew that to be false. I was asked to review the paper because, in 2012, I had praised Reverend Fleming Rutledge for publishing an open letter to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Reverend Rutledge scolded them for using Billy Graham's photo in a full-page New York Times ad endorsing Mitt Romney for president. Rutledge was troubled that religion and politics were getting too intertwined.

Note: After Billy Graham was caught on the Richard Nixon White House tapes complaining to Nixon about “the Jews,” he became more secular. An Evangelical Christian I know claims that Graham's far right-wing son, Franklin, was responsible for the ad and took advantage of his father's declining mental health. Graham would never have endorsed Romney had he been in possession of his full faculties.

Some Evangelicals are secularists, and left of center politically, especially on issues of the marginalized poor. Two well-known examples of left-leaning Evangelicals are Sister Simone Campbell and Elizabeth Bruenig.

Campbell and Bruenig are Catholic. Yes, Catholics can also be Evangelicals, though right-wing Evangelicals usually disagree.

The videos below show Sister Simone Campbell speaking at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and Elizabeth Bruenig speaking about the Trump Administration's policy of separating children from their parents at the border.

Sister Simone Campbell Elizabeth Breunig

“Charles Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, is as important to secularists as the Bible is to Christians. Both have their books.”

Secularists understand that Darwin’s book, although seminal, is not the absolute and final word on the subject of evolution. Revisions to his work are expected and demanded as we gain knowledge. You can see this in the wonder and excitement over significant scientific discoveries, such as our anticipation of images from the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes that may alter our understanding of our creation.

Christians think of their Bible as immutable. No new knowledge is allowed to alter the word of the Bible. Scientific discovery and modernity itself are seen as threats to the Bible.

A good example is many Christians believe the Earth to be about 6000 years old despite modern science reliably proving that it's 4.5 billion years. Yet, Christians believe that this comes from the Bible, therefore is the word of God and must be true. Most are unaware that it is Bishop James Ussher’s estimate from the 17th Century.

“Secularists criticize churches for teaching their beliefs to little children yet insist that science be taught to all children in school and at taxpayers’ expense!”

We teach children about science because our modern society depends on it. We can't devise cures for disease, the next model smartphone, or analyze the harmful effects of climate change with prayer. It would be insane not to fund science education. If we only taught these skills to the children of privileged, wealthy families who could afford private sector education, it would significantly impact our global competitiveness and further our now significant social divide.

You're saying that taxpayers fund science education but not religion? I've been paying for tax-exempt churches for most of my life. Taxpayers fund churches to the tune of about $70 billion a year. Plus, I've never heard of a science class advocating for the Republican Party or taking health care and school lunches away from children.

“Fundamentalist Christians see the present as bad and look to a future when, they believe, their beliefs will be victorious.”

Many secularists and fundamentalists share this belief. The difference is that secularists want the world to improve for their children and descendants, while some fundamentalists want the world to end to achieve that. A secularist doesn't want a fundamentalist anywhere near nuclear weapons.

“The secularists have their heros: Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens.”

Karl Marx? Really? Associating people who are critical of the Church with Marx is a tactic used to trigger those Americans who grew up during the Cold War. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League does this. Donohue is a self-appointed guardian of Catholicism who has accused anyone supportive of gay rights of being a Marxist. I can't find where Marx ever took a position on homosexuality. His co-author of several books, Friedrich Engels, once commented negatively about homosexuality.

There are Christians who are secular, so Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens may not be heroes to them.

“Christian heroes are: Abraham, Moses, the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, and Pope Francis.”

Whoa there! Pope Francis is a hero for many secularists. He's not so much a right-wing Christian hero. Many right-wing Evangelicals and Catholics believe he's wrong for speaking out on social issues. They support Trump and Republican politicians who say that the Pope has no business commenting on issues of state concern.

Most Trump supporters are Christian, and the Charlottesville demonstrations showed that some are Nazi and KKK enthusiasts. Do we add Adolph Hitler (who was a Christian) and preachers who supported the KKK, such as Bob Jones, as Christian heroes?

“Fundamentalist Christians distinguish very carefully between true believers and everyone else. They keep the outsiders outside.”

Thank God for Trump

OMG!Christian fundamentalists are terrible at distinguishing true believers from non-believers! Many Christians believe that Donald Trump is one of them. Is it possible to be more gullible?

David Kuo was the Deputy Director of the Bush Administration's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He wrote a book titled Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. He reveals that Dick Cheney and the Bush Administration's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives identified Christians as the most gullible group to exploit by Republicans.

This was so distressing to Kuo, an Evangelical Christian, that he went on TV to advocate that Christians “take a fast from politics” for a while. Watch the videos of his TV interviews below.

60 minutes 60 minutes

“Fundamentalist Christians rigorously defend their Christian beliefs but do a poor job identifying these beliefs.”

Amen to that. I've had conversations with Christians who knew less about the teachings of the Bible than I do. I have my Catholic School education and a non-right-wing Evangelical friend to thank for that.

Oh, and what's up with the millionaire right-wing preachers pushing the prosperity gospel narrative? Is there anything more antithetical with Bible teachings?