In what can only be described as “completely uninformed,” a recent article submitted by Blair Scott of the American Atheists attempts to define its strategy and rationale for fighting the “secularization of Christianity.” If that phrase tripped you up, you are not alone. I had to read it twice to make sure I read it correctly. The author of the piece is not only a poor communicator, he is totally mistaken about what he is saying and the very terms he is using. One would tend to think that an atheist would be in favor of “secularizing” Christianity, but not so with this writer. He believes that when the cross and the Lord’s Prayer become common symbols in the culture, Christians will have accomplished their ultimate goal: a “theocratic” America.
Aside from the fact that theocracy means the “rule of God,” and not the “rule of Christians,” the author seems to believe that symbols made with perpendicular lines and words spoken by Jesus are such a threat to the civil and moral fabric of America that they must be fought against every time they are seen or heard. (And in the case of words spoken by Jesus he is absolutely correct, but not for the reasons that he thinks.) It is nothing short of ironic that in this situation the atheist is the one who is far more superstitious than even the most fundamentalist-minded Christian. He attributes so much power to these things, in fact, that even his atheist brethren have begun to question his motives (hence his reason for writing the article in the first place). Most Christians will not see themselves reflected in his diatribe and will simply ignore it, but this would be a mistake.
Let’s get two things perfectly clear at the outset: the First Amendment has nothing to do with this issue and, second, the “secularization” of Christianity would remove all religious connotations, thereby making Christianity (and the subsequent Christianizing) meaningless.
The first thing—the First Amendment issue—is easily enough dismissed with a refresher reading of the actual text of the relevant portion of the amendment, which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” You might want to read it two or three times to remind yourself of what isn’t there. Nowhere in the First Amendment is religion itself restrained or told what it can or can’t do. Nowhere does it state anything about a “wall of separation” existing between the two. Nowhere does it say that states are restricted in what religion they can or can’t endorse. The only restriction in the First Amendment is a restriction upon Congress: “Congress shall make no law…” This simply means that the federal government (the Senate and the House make up “Congress,” which is the legislative or lawmaking branch) cannot dictate to you what religion you will be a part of, nor how you “exercise” that religion. “The Establishment of Religion Clause was designed as a protection of the states against the federal government.” [i] Note that, the clause was meant to protect the states from the federal government, not to shackle the states to the federal government. The restriction placed upon Congress is in no way applicable to the states. This means that atheistic lawyers (and article writers) are required to argue at the state-level of legislation and cannot make emotional appeals to Jefferson’s “wall of separation.”
Also notice the wording of the amendment says “an establishment of religion” and not “the establishment of religion.” Again, this is a restriction upon Congress to prevent them from preferring one religious establishment over another. This has nothing to do with restricting Congress from religion altogether (which is what “the establishment” would do), which is precisely what many atheists want us to believe. And although many states have similar language in their own state-level constitutions, the federal restriction in the First Amendment does not so limit the states from endorsing a particular “establishment” of religion.
The second thing—the so-called secularization of Christianity—is a more perplexing issue, and it is not entirely clear why an atheist would oppose this, unless he truly believes that Christian symbolism and prayer have inherent power. The secularization of anything means to divorce it from its religious meaning. Our atheist author seems to think it means the “normalization” of the object in question. Astoundingly, he makes this paradoxical statement near the end of his article: “The only reason to secularize [the Lord’s Prayer] and make it ‘generic’ is to continue to push theocracy.” What? The strategy of “theocracy-pushing” Christians is to secularize the Lord’s Prayer to the point of being generic and this will then further the goals of theocracy? He seems to think so because he continues: “If you can convince the courts that an integral part of your religion is generic or secular then you have won the right to Christianize the country with the support of the judicial branch.” So then, the strategy is to make Christian theology so generic that it gets used and promoted everywhere, which will in turn Christianize the country? Too bad food companies never got wind of this covert strategy of getting people hooked on your generic products so you can then get them to buy your brand-name products. The logic (or lack thereof) here is astounding. If this author is representative of the crack atheist legal team hoping to prevent the “Christianizing” of America, they might want to begin looking for replacements.
Aside from all of his non-argumentation though, this atheist author makes an important point. Since I am a Christian and want to see others become Christians, I would fall into the complicit party of what he calls the “theocratization of the United States.” (By the way, so are you if you believe that county council meetings can begin with the Lord’s Prayer or that fallen state troopers can be memorialized with roadside crosses.) But, what this author understands, and what most Christians do not, is that there is a war raging around us. American Atheists and Americans United for the Separation of Church of State fully understand what is at stake, while most Christians fail to see what the fuss is all about. The atheists actually believe that Christians are united and are in on the “conspiracy” to Christianize America, but the reality is far from here.
Most Christians are only too happy to let the atheists argue for them, because they have long been convinced that their First Amendment rights are actually restrictions. Most Christians would be surprised to find out that there are actually two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament (but despite what our atheist author claims, they do not “contradict each other”). Most Christians do not believe in the power of partisan Christian prayer, so they are not bothered when they are told to not pray “in Jesus’ name.” Atheist legal groups rightly fear the power of Christ and His Church, yet most Christians don’t even recognize it. American Christians need to learn a lesson from this atheist author and begin to appreciate why legal groups are willing to invest lots of time and money to fight what they view as the Christianizing of America. Even if Christians themselves don’t think they’re organized and powerful, those who oppose us certainly do. And if they believe we are powerful, then we actually are powerful. But just imagine how much more powerful we would be if we actually believed it ourselves.
[i] Edwin Meese, Matthew Spalding, David Forte, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution (Regnery: Washington, DC, 2005), p. 304.