The Danger of Strict Secularism

The central problem with a rigid secularism is simple: it would remove one of the main sources of social reform … Continued

The central problem with a rigid secularism is simple: it would remove one of the main sources of social reform – the passion for justice – in American history.

For civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., human equality was a requirement of divine law. “A just law,” he wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, “is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. And unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” And King firmly rejected the privatization of religious belief. “It’s all right to talk about heaven,” he said. “I talk about it because I believe firmly in immortality. But you’ve got to talk about earth…. It’s even all right to talk about the New Jerusalem. But one day we must begin to talk about the new Chicago, the new Atlanta, the new New York, the new America.”

It is easy to talk about the threat of religion to democracy in the abstract. But strict secularism would mean not only no more Pat Robertsons but also no more Martin Luther Kings. Are we really so enlightened and advanced that religious conscious is no longer needed to call attention to the weak and oppressed? Are we really so close to the ideal of justice that a higher conception of divine justice can be banished from public debate? Every society needs a standard of values that stands above the political order, or the political order becomes absolute, and progress toward justice becomes impossible.

Michael Gerson is the author of the new book, “Heroic Conservatism.” Gerson is a former Bush White House speech writer, current Newsweek contributor and Washington Post columnist.

  • Mr Mark

    Gerson writes:”Are we really so enlightened and advanced that religious conscious is no longer needed to call attention to the weak and oppressed?”Yes, we are. Sadly, politics and religion too often get in the way of our better selves, often in tandem with one another.”Are we really so close to the ideal of justice that a higher conception of divine justice can be banished from public debate?”Can one give their children gifts without attributing the giving to Santa Claus? Yes, we should have moved beyond the idea of “divine justice” centuries ago.”Every society needs a standard of values that stands above the political order, or the political order becomes absolute, and progress toward justice becomes impossible.”Do you not realize that religions are political movements, even in their purest form? Our American Constitution is NOT a religious document, neither does it reflect a religious “standard of values.” Our Constitution stands above political order, even when it is under assault from enemies within – ie: bush and his enablers.Sorry, but your column is written from a viewpoint of childish fear and displays an amazing lack of confidence in our Constitutional government, not to mention a lack of trust in the abilities of We The People to do things right.

  • yoyo

    Secularism is simple.It assumes there are no gods.Are we supposed to pretend there is a god just so we can be more decent and kinder to each other?

  • E favorite

    “But strict secularism would mean not only no more Pat Robertsons but also no more Martin Luther Kings.”Really? Why is that? Assuming “strict secularism” includes freedom of speech, both Robertson and King would still be heard. Are you saying King would have had no moral authority without religion? Don’t think so. He used religion to make his points, but his message was about freedom and justice – very secular notions, not always found in the bible. In contrast, Roberson’s message of hate and exclusion is rife in the Bible, but absent in the laws of the secular democracy in which we still thankfully live.

  • mike s

    Sure, if a “strict secularism” eliminates Pat Robertsons from the national conversation, then that is a loss, even for the strictly secular. But Gerson would have us believe that to accomodate the Martin Luther Kings, the alternative of “strict secularism” should be an a religiously based “standard of values above the political order.” Very, very dangerous … and unnecessary, thanks to our Constitution. (Of course Gerson and his former employers do seem to prefer that the Constitution didn’t exist — that is if they actually realize that it does.)Thankfully, most people can see through this chaff.

  • Drew

    I’m with YOYO. If the truth is that there is no God,what do we do now? Can we not adjust? Or do we have to go on pretending that somebody up there is running things,when it would seem there isn’t?

  • George Evanick

    I want to thank all the faithless contributors for sharing their thoughts here. I’m collecting them for a compendium I’ll encourage my daughters to read when they’re older. I’ll use your words to defeat your evil cause. And there’s no need to express any fear; I promise I won’t revise anything and “brain-wash them.” Speaking of fear; if God really doesn’t exist and religious people are so stupid, what are you so afraid of? Furthermore, if stupid religious people can exert so much power over this world, what does that say about Atheism? Is it also just another weak religion? Perhaps one of you critically thinking Atheists could help come up with a title. I’m considering “The Godless Mind.” What do you think? And by the way, if God doesn’t exist, then whom should I put my faith in – you? I’m not impressed.George Evanick

  • E Favorite

    George Evanick: “I want to thank all the faithless contributors for sharing their thoughts here.”My pleasure, George. Who knows, your daughters might read it differently than you do.Meanwhile, could you please explain what you mean by our “evil cause?”Thanks

  • mike s

    George Evanick: “Speaking of fear; if God really doesn’t exist and religious people are so stupid, what are you so afraid of?”Well,…1. God really does exist, and he’s pretty angry about hate, bigotry, wars, and general lack of brotherly love being promoted in his name.2. If hateful, religious bigots actually do manage to hijack our society and impose their “moral law” above our system of laws, they will persecute feminists, gays, artists and the irreverent.

  • JoeT

    Talk about a ridiculous straw man. No MLK in a secular society? why not? A secular society is merely one in which no religious authority (as such) is given an official role in the governing process. Any member of the governance is perfectly free to let their faith inform their political actions (although they strictly shouldn’t – and instead vote based on what’s best for a society that includes persons who don’t share their faith – it’s tolerated). And for goodness sake, a private citizen can take any position on what people or government should do using any religious or secular argument they believe will be persuasive. Secular folks can agree with MLK and be motivated to pursue his goals without subscribing to his faith. The whole point of preaching is to move people to search themselves for their personal motivation, not to get them to adopt yours. We secularists just want religious folks who get political majorities from time to time to honor our constitution’s separation of church and state.

  • yoyo

    Drew;EFavorite;George Evenick;

  • Gaby

    George Evanick:You: ” And there’s no need to express any fear; I promise I won’t revise anything and “brain-wash them.”"I: It all depends which posts you are including and which you are omitting. Plus I am certain that th brain-washing is already in full swing. You say for your daughters to read when they are a little older. How old would that be? The brain-washing usually begins when a child starts to speak, ala those little prayers at bedtime, bible school, church, etc. You: “And by the way, if God doesn’t exist, then whom should I put my faith in – you?”I: Why do you have to put your faith in anything? Because you were brain-washed as a kid that one must have faith?

  • Chaotician

    I don’t agree; king’s humanity would have driven him to seek human justice; there was no need to claim some divine justification! Robertsons however would certainly diminish without the claim of divine ordination to rant and rave his hatred of humanity! Pat abhors the human characteristics which provide human causes for any humane actions and claims that God supports the inhumane actions of the Religious Right, their ordained Furher, George, and his evil sidekick Dick!

  • Meg

    George Evenick. You ask…”… if God really doesn’t exist and religious people are so stupid, what are you so afraid of?”Well 9/11 for one thing. Then George Bush’s brain for another.Then the whole wackiness of supernatural thinking,which contradicts everything we know about reality,and retards scientific development,and general intelligent discourse on the cosmos,and evolution (ie.intelligent design)not to mention the stem cell research.

  • Anonymous

    CHRISTIANS BEWARE; AVOID THIS SITE; ATHEISTS EVERYWHERE!

  • E Favorite

    Mr Mark: “If faith got you through the day but your faith was directed at a non-existent entity, then did you do right even though your faith was misdirected?”George said “faith” but maybe he also meant “fear” of retribution. People are often fearful of things that don’t really exist. It’s not healthy and people with such fears are encouraged to seek psychological assistance. Unless it’s fear of God, of course, some people still consider that to be healthy – beneficial, even.Note to George’s daughters: I don’t know when you’ll be reading this, but I do hope that people, especially adults, are no longer as fearful of invisible supernatural beings as they were in 2007.

  • E Favorite

    CHRISTIANS – WHERE ARE YOU?PLEASE COME: EXPRESS YOUR VIEWS! DEFEND YOUR FAITH!Moderate and liberal Christians especially welcomed (fundamentalists welcomed too, but I think I’ve pretty much heard what you have to say.)

  • Arin

    Becoming strictly secular drastically improves our chances of living in a peaceful society. The Pat Robertsons and the Usama Bin Ladens of the world feel that there religious way, is the ONLY way. Because there is no empircal evidence for the existence of God, Pat Robertson and Bin Laden should not be public figures. Religion should only exist at the inividual level. Personal beliefs, are exactly that: personal. Secularism is a rational, empircal based philosophy that considers the public good. If you really think about it, secularism is a beautiful thing. It reflects our higher nature as humans.

  • Drew

    E.Favorite;

  • Meg

    George Evanick

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Of course Mr. Gerson used to be a speechwriter for George W. Bush.This essay shows why: it’s utter nonsense.Secularism (strict, rigid, or vanilla) is not an entity that exists or acts in American politics or government,To believe that it does, is to create a florid fantasy on the order of Bill O’Reily’s bubbilicious delusion of the existence of a nefarious “War on Christmas” started by a similarly nonexistent band of evildoers known as “Secular Progressives”.If Mr. Gerson should somehow become unavailable to write another column, the Post can easily find a substitute by going down to St. Elisabeth’s and recruiting a writer manque out of his padded room.

  • Mr Mark

    Mr Gerson was just on Hardball, regurgitating the lies used by bush to get us into war in Iraq.It was a pathetic performance by any stretch of the imagination.But, Gerson has a new book to sell, so it’s off to the TV circuit.

  • Terry

    The secular position makes no claim on the truth of any religion. It is theistically neutral and only asserts that government must not be used to influence religion and religion must not be allowed to influence government. In so doing, secularism protects all religions from being overwhelmed by any and all other religions. Only by ensuring that our government is never allowed to show favoritism for one religion over another can we guarantee real freedoms for all religions. Are we a Christian nation that tolerates other religions or a secular nation that accepts all religions?

  • Luke

    Maybe, George, you would better off telling your daughters the dangers of premarital sex, drug use, unethical politicians, having good credit and the like. Whatever God you believe in (or none at all), will appreciate it. The void appreciates my great credit score.

  • Robert

    Mr. Gerson starts his piece with a bit of pure nonsense; he says:”The central problem with a rigid secularism is simple: it would remove one of the main sources of social reform – the passion for justice – in American history.”To think you cannot have a commitment to justice, or to any other good cause for that matter, unless you believe religious myth is just wrong. And conversely, some of the biggest demagogues, hypocrites, and criminals have professed their piety, all the while pursuing immoral ends. Let Gerson profess his belief and go out to do good works, but he has no right to falsely aver, or even imply, that others who don’t share his beliefs can’t or are less likely to be doing good. The Founders, informed by bloody tumultuous history, feared that people like Gerson would be proscribing religious tests for citizens, so they specifically barred the state establishment of religion. It’s called enlightenment. And if you are enlightened, you don’t need the likes of Gerson judging you by some sectarian measure of piety.

  • E Favorite

    Drew: “You frightened all the Christians away”Please, I’m trying my damndest, I mean my utmost, to recruit liberal Christians to stand up to Gerson and the fundies. But it’s Friday night. They’re all out drinking, like regular folks. And on Saturday, they’ll be raking leaves. And on Sunday, singing hymns (but no shoutin’)… or reading the paper…or playing golf.

  • Terra Gazelle

    Justice is a human need, it has nothing to do with any religion. You need no god to fight for justice and equality, and throughout history there has been people of all races and beliefs that have fought for it. terra

  • Arminius

    E Fav,Calm down, here’s you a liberal Christian in the group now.Now I don’t like or trust Gerson any more than the rest of you. But I think he has a point about MLK, even though he stated it wrong. There is no reason that a reformer just has to be religious to be effective. But with MLK, religion was the driving force to finally free his people and make America better. Which he did, even though it cost him his life. Religion to him was what the military calls a ‘force multiplier’, an ironic term, I admit, given MLK’s non-violence beliefs. But it was the ideal mix for him and his people, and it worked. I simply cannot imagine him being nearly as effective without it.Incoming! Back to the bomb shelter! Don’t forget the beer!Arminius

  • VICTORIA

    my faith in god leads me to be a more conscious person-

  • Joe

    Arminius: a secular society doesn’t demand that MLK give up his religious argument, let alone his religion. He can use it to appeal to anyone with whom it resonates, and that can include non-believers who simply subtract the faith premise and still agree with the message. a secular society is one whose government does not sanction, let alone incorporate, a religion. that’s all. no more, no less.

  • E Favorite

    Hi, Arminius, thanks so much for stopping by. Good point – MLK’s use of religious metaphor and his preacher’s style certainly were effective, and although he was religious, one wouldn’t have to be to use those to great effect. Metaphor and style exist outside of any belief structure.Now see if you can rustle up some other moderates and liberals to add their voices to this pick-up choir.

  • Henry James

    Unmitigated Balderdash, Mr GersonChristian-Centrist, historically ignorant, scientifically blind nostrums you give us here.with the Obscenity of trying to ally yourself with Martin Luther King (who was profoundly influenced by Gandhi and the Jains by the way).Mr Mark and Norrie have given us a short list of the problems with your effluvium here so i won’t repeat.Mr Gerson says we need to be Christian in order to have any values, or any outrage at injustice.Huhnnnn?? Henry the Secular Humanist

  • Arminius

    Joe, you said:I am in total agreement. Church and state must be separate.Arminius

  • Thomas Baum

    TO YOYO AND THE REST OF HUMANITY: You wrote, “The only other choice is to go on pretending that there’s a Big Policeman in the sky.”. The sad part of this statement is that it is what some of the people that don’t know anything about God except for His Name think that He is. It doesn’t matter what you believe or what I believe, believing something does not mean that it is The Truth. I have met God and God is a Trinity and God is Love, Pure Love, a being of Pure Love. There is a difference between knowing and believing. From what some of the people that call themselves “christians”, one could easily conclude that God is a hate-filled, egotistical, revengeful piece of garbage, well that could not be further from the Truth. The True, Living, Triune, Triumphant God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof. It is important what you do and why you do it and also what you know. We have free will and we are responsible for what we do, whether we take personal responsibility for it or not. Has anyone out there ever noticed how some people seem to say, well I am not as bad as, whoever, and has the audacity to call themselves “christian” when they are definitely a modern day “pharisee”. When Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, walked this earth, He had a hard time getting thru to the pharisee’s although He did get thru to some of them, and the pharisee’s of His day didn’t recognise themselves either, has things changed all that much? To those people that call yourselves “christian” and are christian in name only and not even close to being a Christian in your heart or your mind, I recommend actually trying to be a Christian. God has a Plan and has had His Plan since before Creation and God’s Plan will come to Fruition. God’s Plan is totally inclusive, It is for ALL OF HUMANITY, that is what really irks some of the “in name only” christians. Jesus is Who He said that He is, God-Incarnate, He is not a second-rate prophet, Mohammed was deceived but I do not hold it against him, do you? As I have said before and I repeat: God wins, satan loses, a tie is unacceptable. By the way, Jesus chose to become a human being and what He did, He did out of Love for His Creation. It seems that some of the people that say that they are “christian” and say that they believe in the bible conveniently, they will have to say why, tear out page one: “Let Us make man, humanity, in Our Image”. Page one stands whether you like it or not. Something for people to ponder: Did you ever consider that the six days of creation could be God days, lasting who knows how long? Jesus did say night is coming when no man can work, did He not? It also says on the seventh day, “God blest, rested and made Holy”, something to think about even if you don’t believe it, don’t you think? Take care, be ready, see you in the Kingdom. Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • VICTORIA

    henry james- mlk was inspired by gandhi- gandhi was singularly inspired by henry david thoreau (its in his autobiography)

  • Waldo

    yoyoSorry for butting in above,re Thomas Baum.

  • Henry James

    All Hail Victoriathanks for adding thoreau to the which god did thoreau believe in?love

  • Waldo

    Great link Mr Mark.

  • Skeptimal

    “Strict secularism would mean not only no more Pat Robertsons but also no more Martin Luther Kings.”You can tell Gerson used to write for Bush, because this is a classic Bushism. It’s patently untrue, of course, but you can’t tell whether the statement is an intentional lie, willful ignorance, or the result of delusion. If he was really interested in the truth, he wouldn’t have to create a straw man argument like this. If the U.S. were a majority Muslim country, Evangelicals like Gerson would be demanding strict separation of Mosque and state.If the republic survives their attempts at the theocracy, the day will come when people who believe as the religious right does now will be grateful the U.S. is a secular society.

  • Skeptimal

    “Strict secularism would mean not only no more Pat Robertsons but also no more Martin Luther Kings.”You can tell Gerson used to write for Bush, because this is a classic Bushism. It’s patently untrue, of course, but you can’t tell whether the statement is an intentional lie, willful ignorance, or the result of delusion. If he was really interested in the truth, he wouldn’t have to create a straw man argument like this. If the U.S. were a majority Muslim country, Evangelicals like Gerson would be demanding strict separation of Mosque and state.If the republic survives their attempts at the theocracy, the day will come when people who believe as the religious right does now will be grateful the U.S. is a secular society.

  • brian mcc, the arctic

    Gerson is a Bush speech-writer. He must be reaching out to the black population. They tend to be religious, yet vote predominantly democrat. As King was shot dead, the entire civil rights movement was born from the womb, as a child free. The birth of equality, ‘I have a dream…’ But there was an evil twin. He clings to his own through same-sex unions. He does not believe in anything but himself. And his sister questioned the right to abortion. To kill it before it is born. Good and evil.

  • E Favorite

    Arminius – I don’t doubt for a minute that many other liberal Christians feel much the same way you do. Could you get them to speak up more? I don’t mean just come to this forum and blast off at Gerson (but that’s a start). I mean be out there actively speaking up for separation of church and state and perpetuating the SECULAR democracy we all enjoy. Having recently been a liberal Christian, the only significant difference I see between them and atheists is that they (some of them, anyhow) believe in a supernatural supreme being and certain supernatural events and atheists do not. However, when it comes to protecting our secular democracy, atheists and liberal (and moderate) Christians feel exactly the same way. Isn’t that right? So, how can we work together? What will it take for liberal Christians to actively dissociate from the likes of “fellow Christians” like Gerson and associate themselves with nice civic-minded atheists like me? How to get them to see that if they choose to be quiet Christians, they must be loud secularists.

  • Henry James

    ArminiusI love Christians like you. And Muslims like you. And secular humanists like you.The US in its best instantiation endorses a separation of church and state. No “establishment” of religion, and freedom of you and me to believe or not believe as we choose without being guillotined.You and I support that doctrine.You and I think Gerson has his head lodged in an unfortunate orifice.Christianity CAN (not always) lead to good morals. So can Hinduism and Secular Humanism and Islam.And the constitution forbids the “establishment” – either de facto or de jure – of religion.So you and I should believe whatever the heck we want, and let each other believe or not believe whatever the heck we want,and explicitly label the Christian-centrism of Gerson as ignorant and unconstitional,as you most properly do.love

  • Chris Everett

    “The central problem with a rigid secularism is simple: it would remove one of the main sources of social reform – the passion for justice – in American history.”Bullfeathers! The American government is DERIVED from the principle of social justice, which is precisely WHY it is secular. Moreover, if you look at just about any socially progressive movement in American history you will find it disproportionately populated with atheists. I refer you to Susan Jocoby’s book Freethinkers.When it comes to civil rights, its clear that the vast majority of religious influence was AGAINST it, al the way from slavery to today. Don’t forget that the KKK is a Christian organization. Sure, black culture in America centers (centered, anyway) around the church, which was really the only social institution where blacks had their own voice, so it is no suprise that Martin Luther King came from there. But that’s not to say that the church is a necessary source of social conscience. What about the voices of social conscience of the abolitionist movement? The woman’s rights movement? Worker’s rights movements? The anti-war movements? What about voices like Ingersol’s? Emerson’s?

  • E Favorite

    Beware Gerson’s use of the terms “strict” and “rigid” applied to secularism. He’s trying to make secularism sound like a form of fundamentalism – an indication of the closed thinking of its adherents. Remember how successful the Bush administration was initially in gaining support for the Iraq war? How Osama bin Ladin morphed into Saddam? And it was OK to bomb Iraq, because “they killed 3,000 of our people on 9/11?”Now he’s floating sound bites on rigid and strict secularism – to see how it works and to see if it’s even noticed.Well, I finally noticed and would like others here to notice and respond. I think it’s an attempt to appeal to liberal Christians who would never fight like religious fundamentalists for more “faith-based” government, but might be able to work up some consternation about “militant” atheists presented as trying to upset the church/state balance in favor of atheism – clothed as a amorphous but scary-sounding “rigid” secularism. Watch out: secularism > rigid secularism > atheistic government that banishes religious expression. So Mr. Gerson, if you’re reading, please drop this tactic. Please drop all attempts to confuse us and work against the country’s best interests. You’re very clever; please find ways to use your formidable skills in ways that do not do further harm to the country we all love.

  • Henry James

    Chris: your usual incisive deconstruction of the lies and fantasies of “believers” like Mr Gerson, and of virtually everyone who was involved with the Bush administration (God the Father has those weapons of mass destruction: he is making a nucleur bomb).It is obscene to credit Christianity with the cause of justice when one looks at in a balanced way.For every Martin Luther King, there were 10,000 preachers who ignored civil rights or fought against it (I am sure they had NO idea that some of their parishioners were KKK members).Just as their ancestors in the Christian ministry tacitly or explicitly supported slavery, as the Bible told them they should.Gerson reminds me of Mary McCarthy’s comment on Lillian Hellman: “every word she writes is s lie, including and and the.”

  • Chris Everett

    Thanks for the background on Mr. Gerson, I didn’t know who he was. I assumed the Washihgton Post was baiting us atheists with an outrageous article simply to generate a heated response. I had no idea it was providing a forum for a propagandist to hone his skills.Washington Post, if you’re interested in what kind of foundational ethics support secular government, why not ask as much, or publish an article to that effect? Why publish something that is so clearly a pack of lies? It’s one thing to give space for the exploration of religious ideas, no matter how silly; it is altogether another to give space for misrepresenting secularism, including American history and principles, in the service of a religious viewpoint.

  • E Favorite

    Chris E: “it is altogether another to give space for misrepresenting secularism, including American history and principles, in the service of a religious viewpoint.”Or for WaPo to assess the quality of the heated response, or for Gerson to psych out the opposition.

  • Mr Mark

    I find it very encouraging that Mr Gerson’s column has not only been thoroughly dissected – it has also garnered no support from any On Faith posters whatsoever.Except for the few knuckle-draggers one occasionally encounters on this blog, I find that most of the posters here make decent to excellent arguments and seem pretty well-educated. Because of that, I don’t believe that Gerson’s column is actually aimed at us. No, I think his column is aimed at the media types who will buy Gerson’s premise hook, line and sinker without doing even the tiniest bit of fact checking, and who will run with it as a story in their pundit gabfests. Gerson’s fact-free right-wing message will be given the stamp of “objectivity” as the media types chortle that, “Michael Gerson’s column – which appeared in the LIBERAL Washington Post – offers a clear-cut explanation that even the liberal media must acknowledge.” Of course, we all know that the WP stopped being a liberal newspaper years ago, but that doesn’t stop the media from trumpeting this wrong-headed sound bite along with the others they regularly fall back on (ie: the liberal media, Saddam had WMD).And Gerson is making the pundit show rounds promoting his book. Chris Matthews pretty much took him apart on Hardball the other day, so Gerson resorted to his very best “but how could I lie, I’m a Christian” deer-in-the-headlights mode of excuse making for the obvious lies he wrote and continues to regurgitate over Iraq.I wonder what it feels like to be Michael Gerson and to go through life with the blood of innocents fairly dripping from your hands? I wonder if Gerson is “heroic” enough of a conservative to address that issue in his new book.

  • Henry James

    Mr Mark’s citing the innocent blood on Gerson’s hands coincides with this quote from Tim O;Brien’s masterpiece The Things They Carried, which Pinsky quoted in today’s NYT book review:”a true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest proper models of human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things that men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie.”All of Gerson’s stories are War Stories, some literally, the others metaphorically.When will we ever learn.

  • Mr Mark

    Does anyone imagine for a second that Mr Gerson has the nuts to check in and read the comments that his column has inspired? I doubt it.Only a few On Faith bloggers – Susan Jacoby, John Crossan et al – bother reading the comments of we lowly posters and responding to them. Most of the regular On Faith bloggers – Cal Thomas et al – treat their columns as a drive-by opportunity to spout RW and/or religious idiocies before heading off to spend their WaPo-earned fee at their local watering hole (and, no, you’re not invited there, either).It looks like Mr Gerson falls into this latter category. Why am I not surprised?

  • victoria

    hi henry- i dont think thoreau held any religious beliefs- i know he was an abolitionist, and s darwin enthusiast. i also didnt know who gerson is- and his argument isnt particularly compelling. extreme secularism WAS the government of coercion in Turkey, until a few years ago with the election of tatip erdogan, who is an observant muslim, and the first PM to pray publily in office, and now abdullah gul has been elected as president, another actively practicing muslim (both with hijab wearing wives) actually they have introduced a new focus on human rights, freedom of expression and religious freedom that was conspicuously absent under the militant secularist rule. other than militancy, how would an all secular state enforce its rule of law? you cant count on people to self govern themselves in any way (one of the actually positive functions of religion in society) it definitely didnt work for 80 years in turkey. the religious didnt go away, even though their religion was pretty much wiped out of their lives, disconnecting them from their past by changing the alphabet – a kid learning to read in 1925 couldnt read what was written in 1923! im not sure what people mean when they say secularism. as a religious person, i never find it necessary to slam non-religious- its not really a competition

  • Roy, Chiapas Mexico

    The central problem with rigid Christian extremism is simple: it remove one of the main sources of social reform – the passion for freedom – in American history.

  • Arminius

    Almost forgot. I see some bashing of WaPo for ‘allowing such crap/drivel/extremest statements on their site’. A bit here, more elsewhere.Horse poop. WaPo is being even handed in allowing people of all stripes here. They are not agreeing with any, just allowing free discussion. Something to do the 1st amendment, perhaps.If there were not controversial offerings here, which have included religious conservatives, religious liberals, regardless of faith, as well as non-believers, what would these blogs be? BORING. None would contribute that had anything worth contributing.As Gen. George Patton said, “If everyone in the room is in agreement, then somebody isn’t thinking”.Arminius

  • Mr Mark

    Arminius -What is your definition of a “true” Xian?I see gw bush acting like a true Xian. Ditto Mr Gerson. Ditto the writings of Cal Thomas. These people ARE true Xians, and they’re acting the way that many (not all) Xians have acted in the distant and immediate past. Xians are hardly some Norman Rockwell-ish group of plain folk who bear any and all ill with quiet dignity and benign indifference. They’re radicals who embrace fantasy as reality and act accordingly.Give me an example of a “true Xian” (ie: moderate) whose actions and beliefs lie outside of the precepts of the Bible and I’ll show you a person whose faith has been moderated by secularism.Perhaps you can disencumber me of my admitted prejudice.

  • Mr Mark

    Arminius -What is your definition of a “true” Xian?I see gw bush acting like a true Xian. Ditto Mr Gerson. Ditto the writings of Cal Thomas. These people ARE true Xians, and they’re acting the way that many (not all) Xians have acted in the distant and immediate past. Xians are hardly some Norman Rockwell-ish group of plain folk who bear any and all ill with quiet dignity and benign indifference. They’re radicals who embrace fantasy as reality and act accordingly.Give me an example of a “true Xian” (ie: moderate) whose actions and beliefs lie outside of the precepts of the Bible and I’ll show you a person whose faith has been moderated by secularism.Perhaps you can disencumber me of my admitted prejudice.

  • Arminius

    Mr Mark,I cannot define what a true Christian (please, not Xian, type the rest of the letters) is., Because I am still on my journey, trying to figure it out as best as I can.I do know (but cannot prove) that God IS, that He is with me. No, I have not met Him, as T Baum has said. No burning shrubbery, etc. But I know. And I truly believe that the message that Jesus teaches is that God is Love. Summed up in the Two Great Commandments. As for the hellfire and damnation, I do not take that literally. Hell is separation, self willed, from the Love of God.And I believe that if there is a heaven, any good person will be welcome, Christian or not.I do not believe that Bush or Gerson or the vitriolic bible thumpers on tv are true Christians. Where in them is the message of Love?That’s the best I can do.God bless,Arminius

  • Chris Everett

    Animus:You wrote:”Please do not place the label ‘Christian’ on the KKK. They are no more true Christian than Al Qaida is true Islamic.”That is is problem. There is no “true” Christianity because Christianity isn’t true. Consequently, “true” Christianity is whatever whomever is power says it is. Al Qaida is more “true” to historic Islam than whatever it is you think “true” Islam is now, and like it or not, the KKK is more “true” to historic Christianity than whatever you think “true” Christianity is now. This is just one of many reasons why religion cannot be a firm foundation for ethics.

  • Arminius

    Chris,Your blanket condemnation of Christianity, and all religions, is bigotry and intolerance. It is an unfortunate mirror image of the Pat Robertsons of the world denouncing non-believers. The problems of the world will never get solved by this conflict.Arminius

  • E Favorite

    Mr Mark: “I wonder what it feels like to…go through life with the blood of innocents fairly dripping from your hands?”Well, one typical response is to deny it and move on to another project which will make everyone appreciate you for the wonderful person you really are. For instance: Restoring Religion to its Rightful Place in Government. Not a theocracy, you understand, just what the founders had in mind in the first place (be vague here). Scare atheists with your ability to get published in reputable newspapers. Scare Blacks with the specter of a future silenced MLK type. Scare liberal Christians with the specter of atheists enforcing a “strict secularism” that hastens the demise of their steadily emptying churches and scare the media with that old stand-by – the specter of being branded as liberal.Don’t worry, Mr Mark – Gerson is reading this. Watch a future column characterizing militant atheists, based on his take of the feedback here. Arminius – Xtian isn’t an insult. X is an ancient symbol that Xtians themselves used. For a start on atheist/liberal Christian communication, ask some of your church buddies to read through this blog and give their opinions. Then report back to us. Also, you can reach me at efavorite at verizon dot net. Also, agree that Gerson deserves a voice here, with everyone else. I’m personally delighted to hear more about his views and to give him the opportunity to read my “squadron of angels” letter to the editor.

  • Chris Everett

    Arminius: Sorry for misspelling your name.Other than that I don’t think I’ve said anything untrue. Christianity, like all religious, is an ancient attempt at understanding human experience, both internal (subjective) and external (obhective). Being prescientific, its supposedly factual assertions are basically just myths, and they carry the potential to overshadow whatever insights into the human condition exist in adages such as “love thy neighbor” and “we see as if through a glass, dimly”.I can’t imagine that in ancient times, when the crops failed, or the rains didn’t come, or the sickness came, that nobody proposed an explanation for why, and I imagine that the person with the most mesmerizing explanation advanced his stature in the group. In Darwinian fashion, ignorance of the physical causes of things exerted selection pressure favoring the phantasmagorical, and eventually the storytellers, who by this time were powerful leaders of the community, developed stories that were so all-encompassing that they became the source of meaning itself. Of course, being the cheif storyteller is an enviable position, so the competition would be sufficiently fierce that military might and iron rule would have to accompany the story, to allow it to survive and conquor the neighboring stories.We are the heirs of this storytelling history.That is religion.

  • E Favorite

    Arminius – could you be specific regarding Chris E’s bigotry towards Christians and how it is a “mirror image” of the Pat Robertsons of the world?What Chris said may seem harsh, but the way I take it is – many religious people have their own personal version of what their religion is, that does not necessarily relate directly to what their “holy book” says or how others who practice the same religion perceive it. This personalization makes it difficult for an outsider who’s trying to understand a specific religion. I personally don’t think Chris’ remarks come close to the kind of stuff Pat Robertson says.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Arminius -Sorry, but I’ve used the old Greek shorthand for Christ (ie: X, the Greek letter “chi”) since the days when I myself was a Xian. I don’t see any reason to abandon it now that I’m an atheist, least of all because some Xians (not you, necessarily) get their panties all in a wad because they haven’t a clue as to the history of their own religion (I’m thinking of the “keep Christ in Xmas” crowd). BTW – I’ve had Xians on this blog take me to task for using an “ancient” shorthand for Christ in the 21st century. They think I should drop it as it has lost its meaning in contemporary American Xianity. I note that this admonishment comes from people who stake their lives on an unverifiable and probably fictional story that’s over 2,000 years old (and who have no problem believing that the OT stories are actual history), and who – speaking of old-style writings that have lost their meaning to contemporary American audiences – most likely have a crucifixion painting somewhere in their home that depicts Christ on the cross with a sign nailed above his head sporting the Roman letters “INRI”.That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

  • Henry James

    ArminiusNot having read all of Chris’s posts closely, but having read his most recent,his “explanation” of religion in general seems anthropolgically quite plausible and well supported by historical and anthropoligical evidence,and not particularly negative towards Christianity in particular, but a general description of a reasonable genesis for religion.I doubt Chris would say Christianity is particularly better or worse than any other relgion (would you Chris?).He *could* of course be wrong, and ther reason that religion exists is that a God instituted it among men.But given that there are about 10,000 religions and about 39,000 different Gods, one needs to explain how ALL these different religions came to be as a result of the Monotheistic Christian God.Or whether there isn’t a more general explanation that has nothing to do with any God that actually exists, but rather with the human need to create a God in their imaginations. Which in 38,999 cases out of 39,000, man must have done, since Christians believe in only One God.

  • Mad Love

    “The central problem with a rigid secularism is simple: it would remove one of the main sources of social reform – the passion for justice – in American history.”Sorry, but I stopped reading right about there. Lately I’ve been wondering if the Right Wingers are A) lying or B) stupid. I don’t really see a third option.

  • E Favorite

    Mad Love: ” Lately I’ve been wondering if the Right Wingers are A) lying or B) stupid. I don’t really see a third option”C. ManipulativeAnd if people like you stop reading – and responding, then the right wingers will be better able to manipulate the impressionable people who keep reading until the end.

  • Thomas Baum

    TO WALDO AND THE REST OF HUMANITY: You wrote, “Lets stop you right there Thomas. You say you have personally MET Him?”, yes, I have met God. God is a Trinity and the First Person of the Trinity Who is referred to as the Father came into my heart on the 28th of January of 2000 and I can’t tell you how I knew it was Him but I did know it was Him. By the way I use male pronouns but God is not a male or a female or an it. For all of the people that like to look down on others for whatever reason, I was taught in 2nd grade that, God is Love, and I just accepted it at the time but I had no idea that the statement, God is Love, was literal, in the sense that God is a being of Pure Love, until God the Father came into my heart, when you meet Him you will know also. The Third Person of the Trinity, Who is referred to as the Holy Spirit, came into my body on the 29th of January of 2000 at St. Luke’s Church in Ocean City, MD and revealed to me that Jesus really is present in the Catholic Eucharist, Jesus is referred to as the Second Person of the Trinity. As when the Father came into my heart, when the Holy Spirit came into my body, I just knew that it was Him. By the way, I know that the Catholic Eucharist is Jesus, but I believe that the Eucharist in other denominations are also Him but I do not know, it was only revealed to me once and it was at a Catholic Eucharist. You also wrote, “How interesting.Most of the greatest brains on the planet have searched for Him for thousands of years.”, personally, I would say “How interesting”, is, to say the least, an understatement. I didn’t ask to be chosen by God but I have said YES. You also wrote, “Say Hi to Him for me Thomas,next time you see Him.” as I have said before on previous postings, I met God, I did not see Him and concerning this, I wrote that the reason for the commandment about not making graven images of God is because God knows that it would be impossible to make an image of Pure Love. As I have also written, God is not a he, a she or an it, but God-Incarnate was a male, and isn’t it interesting that when Mary found out that she was to be the Mother of God-Incarnate, she gave her consent, “Let it be done unto me according to Thy Word.” God is, to put it mildly, so much nicer than what anyone could possibly gather by reading some of the garbage being spewed out by some of the people that know His Name. Also these are only some of the things that have happened to me. I would like to repeat that; God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof, it is important what you do and why you do it and what you know, and God wins, satan loses, a tie is unacceptable. Take care, be ready, see you in the Kingdom. Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Mad Love

    E Favorite, if there is a distinction to be made between being manipulative and plain old lying forgive me for not honoring it.

  • E Favorite

    Mad Love — You are forgiven! Just be on the lookout for the smart, manipulative liars – they’re the worst kind.

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  • Rev William

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