Why We Need More “Out” Secularists

Politics is largely a power struggle, and when any one group or constituency amasses disproportionate power, democracy and liberty suffer. We tend to see the disproportion most clearly when money is involved–hence the current focus on the 1%–but checkbooks aren’t  the only way special interests gain control.

When I was growing up, unions were powerful (yes, I’m old). In my house, they were feared and despised. Union “thugs”were a periodic feature of the landscape in Anderson, Indiana, where Delco Remy, Guide Lamp and other large automotive manufacturers were the source of most employment, and where folks who lived in our little “suburb” of Edgewood tended to come from management.

One of the reasons unions lost power was that some of them abused their (short-lived) dominance. But–surprise!–by emasculating unions, rather than simply constraining them, we enabled equivalent abuses by management. The lesson was–and is–that a balance of power is what’s important. When power is concentrated, abuses are inevitable.

So what does any of this have to do with secularism?

I spent the last weekend with a coalition of secularist groups: humanists, atheists, defenders of science and reason, among others. Their common mission is to restore the necessary balance between secular and religious-right Americans.

Here’s the take-away: in a country founded on the premise that authentic belief must be personal and freely chosen, a country where freedom of conscience includes not only the right to worship but the right to question and/or reject religion, it is unhealthy–indeed, it is positively dangerous–when the balance of political power favors biblical literalists and would-be theocrats.

Don’t get me wrong: those who want to revise history to make ours a “Christian” nation are entitled to their beliefs. They are entitled to bring those beliefs into the public square and to argue for their adoption. But they are not entitled to use the power of the state to impose their beliefs on the rest of us, or to marginalize and demean those who do not share them, or to demand that American policies reflect them.

When the voices of self-righteous literalists threaten to drown out the voices of other citizens–be they Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, secularists or Rastifarians–America has a problem. When religion is used as a weapon against science, the whole world has a problem.

In the United States, the past decades have seen a rising dominance of those I can only call Christian thugs. Much like the union thugs of my youth, these folks are flexing their political muscles. They have completely taken over one of America’s two political parties, and they have twisted and distorted the meaning of religious liberty: suddenly, “liberty” is the right of an employer to dictate the reproductive choices of his female employees, the right of a merchant to discriminate against GLBT customers, the right of governing bodies to begin public meetings with exclusionary prayers, and the right of churches to ignore laws the rest of us must follow.

These folks absolutely have a right to a place at the civic table. But so do the rest of us.

Reasonable religious folks and secularists alike, all of us who understand that government must remain a secular institution, need to emulate the gay community.

We need to come out and demand our place at the civic table.


  1. I believe the greatest fear regarding the current “religious” control of government, and hence the country, is because our religion is deeply personal. Including those who do not believe in organized religion and/or creationism but rely on science for answers; this is their deeply personal belief. They have a right to be heard; their views can rightly be accepted or rejected by those who actually listen and hear. Those who automatically reject them as being anti-God also reject any form of Christianity (and how many forms are there?) that does not agree with their Christian belief. Of course, non-Christians are not to be considered at all in the scope of national level of administration of this entire country. I do not want their beliefs forced on my family or myself. When I was growing up I didn’t understand why the Catholic children in the neighborhood didn’t attend school with the rest of the children; neither did they play with us but kept to themselves. Was this self-imposed segregation or was it forced on them by tradition? I vaguely remember being told (whispered) that Jews owned some neighborhood businesses – no one ever explained exactly what a “Jew” was…or what a “Catholic” was, come to think about it. I will never know the answer to these questions – along with the many racist and bigoted questions I still have at age 77. I am still simply confused – NOT fearful.

    Regarding unions; my father was a union man, a member of UAW Local 23 from an early age till he died at age 86. His union beliefs were NOT the money-oriented, power structure we see today; they consisted in safer working conditions, resonable hours, reasonable pay, health care options and the OPTION to join or not join. In other words, reasonable fair play. I don’t know his views on non-union employees receiving union fought for benefits, only my own. They should NOT be forced to pay union membership dues but they should NOT receive the extra benefits fought for by union members. Unions were originally thought to be a Communist backed action to control business and this country. They have a violent history in many areas, today their violence is covert and in the form of lobbyists buying up politicians to curry favor and increase their control along with their income. It is, as it always is, FOLLOW THE MONEY.

    To AgingLittleGirl: I reread my comments 2-3 times before posting it but still find errors when I read the posted article. Old eyes coupled with my one-track thinking process sometimes misses little details:) A human failure.

  2. I’m old too and I can remember the efforts for Christian dominance of the social dialogue back into my childhood in the 1950s. When we started the school day, we used to say the Pledge of Allegiance as….”one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Then the Christians convinced the lilly-livered politicians of the day that we needed to revise it: …”one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all”. They forgot to add the foot note that stated liberty and justice for all meant all Christians – others beware.

    I find the public display of religion by politicians, disgusting. It is the height of political theater, full of sound and fury and no substance. As a group they seem incapable of actually practicing the teachings of their religion – they demonize the opposition, they cannot embrace the simple practice of “live and let live”. As you state, they have become science-haters, even though we all (ncluding them) enjoy all of the benefits that scientific pursuits have brought to us – medicine, materials, food production, and others.

    I see it as a thinly-veiled grab for votes and power… and the voting public apparently enjoys the show. I see nothing but more of the same until voters demand an election campaign based on issues instaed of what the opponent may have said or thought or done….more 30 and 60 second sound bites, etc. I fear the ship of state is sinking fast and the Christians are loading it with more baggage.

  3. As a reformed catholic, (meaning atheist), and child of union labor parents who worked in factories when I was growing up, I’ll never forget the fear that my Mother went through every three years. That was when the union and management would negotiate their contracts. After pop died in the mid-70s, she had 3 teenagers to left to raise and we depended on Mother’s meager piece-rate wages to support us along with the social security survivor benefits. She would fear union strikes because that meant no wages for her and she would get hives from the fear. She didn’t need that fear; we had it rough enough. But I’ll also never forget that a few weeks after contract negotiations were cemented, we were able to get major medical for the family which paid for the 30 days of CCU (coronary care unit) that my pop endured after his massive heart attack and the subsequent ER visits until his death 21 months later. Without that major medical, we would have been bankrupt and probably homeless.
    I believe strongly that Unions need to be re-energized because there are no worker protections without hiring lawyers anymore. The HR employees work for management now, not the employee like the old days. Now we have right-to-work states all over the country which provides no means of protection from greedy and mean corporate practices of letting employees go for no reason except to protect their bottom line.
    How about our bottom line? Most of these right-to-work states (Indiana being a prime example) don’t have unemployment benefits that you can actually LIVE OFF OF. I think the max you can receive from unemployment in Indiana is 284 dollars a week right? How can someone making close to 50-60k or more, pay their bills and try to feed their family when they have no job, no right to a job, no savings and if they do have saving, get penalized for living off their 401k savings while they look for work?
    We are living the republican utopia and it’s wrong and we need to end this massive corporate welfare. We need to get unions back into employees’ favor and we need to do it yesterday.
    JoAnn, I think I fixed all of the typos on this before posting, wink.

  4. One despised religious grou

    I am a member of a group that has lost most of its power, and to some degree has itself to blame. I am a Liberal Protestant. Liberals appreciate the positions we hold but wonder why we have to carry all that God baggage around with us. Conservative Protestants don’t even think we are Christian. But we have much to add to the civic conversation and find secularists working partners rather than adversaries. Others may think there are too many ambiguities in our belief-systems, but there are actually some of us who can articulate quite brilliantly what we have to contribute. Count us in!

  5. The Eric Miller/Micha Clark/Curt Smith, a/k/a Indiana Taliban, have lost; they just don’t acknowledge it, and they never will. The louder they squeal, the closer to irrelevancy they become. Sheila’s post is evidence. Ten years ago, no one dared to question the Christian Right.

  6. Good on ya, Bob G. In order to sucker in the conservative base, the “God, Guns, and Gays” movement wrapped itself in the American flag and thumped the Bible to a fare-thee-well. The notion of “if-you-ain’t-fer-us-then-you-must-be-agin-us” was on and pickin’ up speed. It worked for George Bush…not once but twice, when he was literally ‘handed’ the re-election via hanging chads, his brother Jeb, and Katherine Harris.

    Ah! But the beast has awakened and has begun to fight back. I, too, am a Liberal Protestant, if that’s the label we choose. No, conservatives cannot imagine in their wildest dreams that we could be Christians, too. That’s stinkin’ thinkin’, in my opinion. We’re here and we’ve had just about enough! Mount up and get ready to ride toward the elections of 2014 and 2016. It’s going to be rough!

  7. We the people are empowered by democracy to achieve rational resolution of political issues. Our contract for governance, the Constitution, serves to restrain us to using the power of our votes for only national, not personal, interests. Everybody is free to state their case, and live their case, until it becomes an imposition on most others, then the power invested in us can be used to restore the necessary order.

    The enemy of all of this is extremism, which makes personal preference, governance issues. As an example, the NRA, is not searching at all for freedom, but to find the ultimate limits to their agenda, the sale of firearms. Another are the religious extremists who are not seeking religious freedom but its opposite, religious power.

    The worship of power rather than freedom is the basis of neoconservatism and its kissing cousin libertarianism. They have the same goal, power, and the same tactic, reduction of limits to economic power by government. They want to replace the power of voting with the power of owning.

    To deserve freedom one must believe in the power of freedom. That our best future comes from empowering diversity rather than limiting it. That people following their own instincts based on their own world view based on their own experience limited only to voluntary, informed, benefit rather than power based relationships, with others.

    Extremism celebrates power. Freedom is what exists when power is limited.

  8. It amazes me that Jesus never forced anyone to follow him. Yet, in today’s world, American conservative Christians are forcing the general public to follow their interpretation of the bible. They don’t seem to be following Christ’s example.

    Many people who state that the United States is a Christian nation are unaware of “The Treaty of Tripoli”. This treaty states that the U.S. is not a Christian nation.

    Why do Christians need gun to kill humans? Jesus never killed a human being. Do these gun-toting Christians have more faith/trust in their gun(s) then their God?

  9. While democracy has theoretically the power of its self preservation, it is under attack today by a force that technology has empowered well beyond its former threat level. The force of media strengthened PR or advertising or publicity or celebrity. Put money in the slot and out comes support at the polls and at the cash register. It’s no longer necessary to buy politicians directly. Vote them in and let them manage their own game of thrones trading power for cash.

    Is the electorate sensible and critical and well enough educated to withstand the onslaught of purchased influence? Not so far.

  10. Jesus sought society’s outcasts, helped the poor, cured the sick and handicapped, preached against greed and gluttony, and ‘came out’ to turn over the tables of the money-changing ‘thugs’ who he felt were using the church to take unfair advantage of its followers. It seems there’s a long history of too much power corrupting the powerful.

  11. “We need to come out and demand our place at the civic table.” Unless we are job-hunting, when such identification has negative value.

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