Edit: grammar updated. Pain induced brain lapse?
Religion is at its best when it is used to improve the lives of those who worship that religion’s deity. Religion is at its best when it is used to promote good works among the poor, sick, dying, and disenfranchised. If religion focused on these two things people like me would have little to write about.
Unfortunately, in America, the religious scene is dominated by Evangelicalism, along with Fundamentalist Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and countless non-affiliated Fundamentalist churches.
These groups are not content to promote private piety and works of mercy and charity. They believe they have a God ordained responsibility to spread their religious beliefs to every home in America. In their mind, America would be a great country if only everyone believed like they believed and subscribed to their peculiar moral and ethical prescriptions.
In particular, Evangelicals are heaven-bent on every American becoming a Christian. They are convinced the good life begins with Jesus and people without Jesus are living vain, empty, selfish lives. According to Evangelicals, people who are not saved are the enemy of God and headed for hell unless they repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many Evangelicals believe in manifest destiny, the belief the Christian God has ordained that America be a Christian nation, and that America, because of her God-given power and wealth, has the obligation to spread the Christian gospel, Capitalism, and Western ideals to the ends of the earth. In their eyes, America is not just one nation among many; it is a Nation above all other nations, a nation favored by the one, true, and living God.
Many Evangelicals also believe in American exceptionalism. They believe our culture is superior to all other cultures and our culture is worthy of emulation by other cultures. According to Evangelicals, the reason America is exceptional is the Christian God’s blessing on America. Remove God from the equation and America ceases to be exceptional. Look at Europe, Evangelicals say, for proof of what happens when the Christian God is marginalized or removed as the focal point of a culture.
It should come as no surprise that many Evangelicals are theocrats. They are convinced America is a Christian nation and any attempt to change this must be thwarted. They are convinced America is in decline because abortion is legal, homosexuality is accepted as normal, prayer and Bible reading has been removed from public schools, and evolution is taught to school children.
They are convinced that all abortion must be banned, homosexuals forced back in the closet, daily prayer and Bible reading required in every school classroom, and every child taught the Christian God is the Creator of everything.
They are convinced the Ten Commandments, and by extension the Law of God found in the Bible, should be the law of the Land. What better law than God’s law, the Evangelical says. Surely being ruled by the Christian God and His laws is superior to any code of law that sinful humans could come up with.
Make no mistake about it, Evangelicals are only for freedom and liberty to the degree that it allows people to worship their God and obey their Bible. Atheists like me are Satan-personified, no different than witches and necromancers in the Old Testament, and we should not be allowed to spread our anti-God views.
In 1964, Ohio Republican Congressman John M. Ashbrook, a Baptist, offered the following amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1963:
Notwithstanding any other provisions of this title, it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to refuse to hire and employ and person because of said person’s atheistic practices and beliefs.
Ashbrook favored non-discrimination on the basis of religion, but when it came to atheists, Ashbrook thought it Ok for employers to deny atheists employment. Ashbrook’s amendment passed the House by a vote of 137-98. Fortunately, it failed to pass the Senate.
Ashbrook’s sentiment about atheists is still prominent among Evangelicals. They blame atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair for prayer and Bible being taken out of school and they blame atheist scientists for school children being taught evolution in the public schools. Every wrong can be traced back to people and ideas that are anti-Christian. (which is ironic in a country where the Christian religion dominates most every aspect of life)
Groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Humanist Association, continue to challenge the privilege and unconstitutional status Christianity enjoys. And they are winning. Evangelicals, recoiling in horror at the perceived assault on “their” Christian nation, push back and demand the Christian God be put back in his rightful place. Those trying to break the unconstitutional entanglement of Church and State are considered un-American and satanically influenced tools being used to destroy America.
Evangelicals are forced to revise American history to fit their vision for America. Any time the word God is used in our founding documents or uttered by our founding fathers, it is proof to the Evangelical that America is a Christian nation, guided by the truth of the Christian Bible.
Revisionists, like David Barton, twist and contort American history to fit the Evangelical Christian narrative. Evangelicals lap up the historical lies of people like Barton because this proves to them their beliefs are right and gives them the necessary motivation to continue their battle against the dark forces of secularism, humanism, and atheism.
Try as they might, Evangelicals are fighting a losing battle. While they continue to scream louder and louder, America is becoming increasingly secular. Young people are more likely to be indifferent to religion than ever before. Atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists are more vocal and more forceful and demand the wall of separation of church and state be strengthened.
On almost every front, Evangelicals are failing to get their way. Abortion? Still legal and a majority of Americans think abortion should remain legal. Homosexuality? Americans no longer view homosexuality a sin akin to bestiality and child molestation. Same sex marriage continues its march to approval in state after state. Public schools? Increasingly secular, with no hope of school prayer and Bible reading being allowed. Creationism and its dressed up cousin Intelligent design are not welcome in science classrooms.
Evangelicalism, long a religious tradition that demeans and devalues women, has lost the battle to keep women barefoot and pregnant. While the patriarchal system so ensconced in Evangelicalism is still formidable, woman are gaining power and controlling their own lives. Birth control frees them from the fear of pregnancy and gives Evangelical women control of their own sexuality.
Some Evangelicals, like Southern Baptist Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary admits Evangelicalism is losing the battle:
“The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”“It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them”“Far fewer Americans now attend church, and a recent study indicated that fully 20 percent of all Americans identify with no religious preference at all.”“Massive theological and moral shifts have taken place in the United States in recent decades and with that, the Christian worldview has receded into the memory of many Americans,”
This does not mean we can safely ignore Evangelicals. We can’t. They continue to push their political and social agenda, and those of us who believe America is her best when secular, humanist ideals are promoted, must not be lulled to sleep. Yes, we are winning the battle, but we have a long, long way to go before America is a shining example of secular and humanist ideals.
The internet has afforded us a great opportunity to wage war against Evangelicalism and their theocratic tendencies. Before the internet, church members were sheltered from competing or alternative ideas. Today they anonymously travel the back streets of the Internet investigating secular and humanist blogs and websites. Some will find their fears confirmed and will double down on their effort to return America to her former Christian greatness. Others, however, will find themselves swayed by the pervasive presentation of secular and humanist ideals, and when this happens the hold Evangelicalism has on them is broken. (Valerie Terico has written an excellent article, Religion May Not Survive the Internet, on this subject)
It is important for atheists, secularists, and humanists who live in the public marketplace of ideas , to engage Evangelicals rather than call them names and ridicule them. Our objective is not to convert everyone to atheism and humanism. Like it or not, most Americans will continue to believe in God! and it is naïve to think we can rid America of all religious belief.
To effectively change our culture, we must present an alternative worldview. What do secularists and humanists believe? What is our vision for America? What values do secularists and humanists consider important?
Above all, we must encourage Evangelicals to carefully investigate their religious beliefs. (and this is why I won’t debate the Bible with Evangelicals until they have read people like Bart Ehrman) Evangelicals must see for themselves the house built on the foundation of Biblical inspiration and inerrancy is built on a faulty foundation. Ridicule, calling names, implying they are stupid, ignorant, Bible thumpers, will do little to change their thinking. Most often, it just reinforces their view of atheists, secularists, and humanists.
When Evangelicals move away from the inherent Fundamentalism found in Evangelicalism, they are likely to embrace more tolerant forms of religious expression . This is good for America and should be encouraged. Long and lasting change takes time, often decades and generations of time. Secularists and humanists must realize we are in this for the long haul. Our eyes must not only be on the present, but also on the world our progeny will inherit some day.
Evangelical power is waning, but like all authoritarian systems of belief, their death is slow and will not come overnight. We must trust we can win the battle against them in the marketplace of ideas. We must continue to demand our government live up to the secular and pluralistic ideals this country was founded upon.
We have little hope of reaching Evangelicals who have spent their life imbibing at the bar of Fundamentalism. People like me, who leave Evangelicalism after fifty years, are rare. Our focus must be on the youth of America. Rob Evangelicalism of their children and it dies. This is already happening in Evangelical groups like the Southern Baptist Convention. (the largest Protestant religious group in America)
I am not wearing rose-colored glasses. I know we have a lot of fighting left to do, and we can not afford one moment to rest. I am optimistic about the future. Perhaps, the best days for America are yet ahead. I can not predict the future. All I can do, on this day, is be a voice for the values and ideals that have the power to make America a secular beacon of freedom of liberty. We have the power to be great and good, but until we completely break the unhealthy, dangerous entanglement of church and state, we will never be great or good.