Hopefully, I will finally get my podcast up and running soon; “soon” meaning before Jesus returns to earth. I have taken to listening to secular, atheist, and humanist podcasts hoping to learn how best to put together a podcast. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to some podcasts. Great production value and content. I have also been appalled by some of the podcasts. Awful quality, shallow, rambling, at times, incoherent content, and hosts who think they are doing stand-up comedy at a late-night gig in front of two people. Such is the nature of the internet, I suppose, but I have always been of the opinion that if I am going do something, I am going take the requisite time, effort and money the necessary to do a good job. Whether it’s writing for this blog, giving interviews (I have two this month) or producing a podcast/video, I want my work to be well received, even by Evangelicals who generally disagree with every word I say or write.
With these things in mind, what secular, atheist, or humanist podcasts do you recommend? Please leave your suggestions in the comment section. Links are appreciated. I am especially interested in podcasts of storytellers; men and women who have stories to tell.
Many of my fellow atheists and agnostics have a hard time understanding why, exactly, people are religious. In particular, many godless people are befuddled by Evangelicals. How can anyone believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant; believe the earth was created in six twenty-four-hour days; believe the universe is 6,024 years old; believe Adam and Eve were the first human beings; believe the story of Noah and Ark really happened; believe that millions of Israelites wandered in desert for forty years, and believe a Jewish man named Jesus was a God-man who worked miracles, was executed on a Roman cross, and resurrected from the dead three days later. I could add numerous other mythical, fanciful, incredulous Bible stories to this list; all of which sound nonsensical to skeptical, rational people. Here we are living in 2020 — an age driven by technology and science — yet millions of Evangelicals and other conservative Christians flock to Kentucky to tour Ken Ham’s monuments to ignorance: the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. These same people helped to elect Donald Trump, the vilest, most unqualified man to ever sit in the Oval Office. Why is it that Evangelicals continue to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?
From a rational perspective, none of this makes any sense. Most Evangelicals have at least a high school education, and many of them have college degrees. Many of them are successful business owners, with more than a few of them amassing wealth most unbelievers covet. Many atheists and agnostics wrongly believe that the typical Evangelical is a poorly educated white hillbilly from Kentucky or Mississippi. Pan the crowds gathered at countless American Evangelical megachurches and you will find all the markings of well-off, educated people. Why, then, do Evangelicals believe the nonsense mentioned previously?
The best way to understand Evangelicalism is to view it from an economic cost-benefit perspective. Think of Evangelicalism as a club. To join the club, certain things are required. Every prospective club member must agree with the club’s stated principles and beliefs and pay annual dues to their local club. Once a prospective member publicly affirms the club’s stated principles and beliefs, undergoes a rite of initiation (baptism), and pays his annual dues, the prospect is granted entrance to the club. Membership in the club comes with several benefits:
Weekly instruction in the club’s principles and beliefs
Answers to life’s pressing questions
Classes for every age group, from infants to senior citizens
Opportunities for entertainment, often called fun, food, and fellowship
Access to counseling services
Wedding and funeral services
Support for conservative Christian social and political views
Bumper stickers, shirts, and other swag that advertises your membership in the club
Promises of forgiveness, happiness, and life after death
As long as these benefits outweigh the costs, people will continue to embrace Evangelical beliefs. Rationalists think that truth is all that should matter, and when it comes to truth, atheists/agnostics/humanists/skeptics/freethinkers have it, and Evangelicals don’t. True, but what do we offer besides truth? I’m waiting . . . Therein lies our problem. Yes, truth is on our side, but we lack appealing social structures (clubs), and, to many questioning/doubting Evangelicals, the cost of saying, “I am an atheist/agnostic” far outweighs the benefits. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist.) If we want to attract people to truth, to our cause, we must find ways to change the cost-benefit dynamic. “Dammit, Bruce, truth should be enough!” Yep, and I agree with you. Unfortunately, you and I are not like most people. “What’s in it for me?” many people ask. “What are the benefits of joining your club?” Fuss and fume all you want about this, but the fact remains that most people want to belong to things that benefit them; that give them something tangible.
As a pastor, I learned that people look for perceived value. Our church would sponsor a free concert with a contemporary Christian artist and fifty people would show up. Charge $5 admission for the same concert and hundreds of people will attend. Same artist, just a different perceived value. As long as Evangelicals think that the benefits of club membership outweigh the costs, they will continue to be members. Our goal should be to make rationalism and progressive politics appealing. We must develop social structures that advance the humanist ideal. And then, we must become the public face of our club, a face that says, “you are welcome here!” Constantly fighting with Evangelicals on social media does what exactly? Sure, it feels good to drown Evangelicals in seas of truth, but what have we gained? Engaging in shit-throwing contests on Twitter with Evangelical trolls might make for good entertainment and provide a brief dopamine rush, but what is really accomplished by doing so? In 2012, tens of thousands of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and freethinkers gathered on the National Mall for the Reason Rally. What an awesome moment, a coming-out party, of sorts. Eight years have passed since this rally. What progress have we made towards coalescing into a credible, appealing club for likeminded people? If we truly want to give Evangelicalism the death it so richly deserves, we must offer to people a better way. We must offer them benefits that outweigh the costs of publicly saying “I’m an unbeliever” in a country that is still dominated and controlled by Christianity. We may laud recent upticks in polls for our kind, but this growth pales when compared to the sheer numbers of religious people. Yes, as a block, we now outnumber Evangelicals, but make no mistake about it, they still hold political and cultural power.
After the 2012 Reason Rally, I told readers that it was time for rationalists, skeptics, and freethinkers to move beyond skirmishes with Evangelicals. I still believe that today. That doesn’t mean we stop exposing Evangelical beliefs and practices for the nonsense they are. But we must find ways to build social connections; ways to build clubs that are appealing to, particularly, younger Americans. Trying to reach Evangelical Baby Boomers and the Great Generation is unlikely to succeed. It is with young people that the future of, not only the United States, but the world, rests. We oldsters have a lot of wisdom to offer, but as long as we sit silently in our homes, that wisdom goes to waste. Imagine how different our country might be if every county had a local humanist/skeptics club; a place where young and old alike meet to plan ways to Make America Rational Again; a place where atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers can gather and feel at home. Until we figure this out, people are going to continue to gather at local Evangelical clubs to worship the dead Jesus.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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Appearing on a radio show hosted by New York Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan last week, Barr tore into church-state separation once more, this time blaming “militant secularists” for a host of problems.
“I feel today religion is being driven out of the marketplace of ideas, and there’s an organized, militant secular effort to drive religion out of our lives,” Barr said. “To me, the problem today is not that religious people are trying to impose their views on non-religious people. It’s the opposite. It’s that militant secularists are trying to impose their values on religious people, and they’re not accommodating the freedom of religion of people of faith.”
When you read something like this, you really can’t help but ask yourself a pertinent question: What planet does Barr live on?
For the past three years, the Trump administration has been laboring to turn religious freedom into an instrument of discrimination, a device to treat some people (LGBTQ folks, women, Muslims and other religious minorities, nonbelievers, etc.) as if they have second-class status.
This administration has repeatedly sought to deny people access to contraceptives because some bosses claim it offends their religious beliefs. It has backed religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption programs. It has issued rules that put the most vulnerable members of our society – the poor, the homeless, those grappling with addictions – at risk by stripping away their protections in “faith-based” programs. It has traded in crude stereotypes against Muslims and undermined their right to travel to the U.S. It has argued that government has the right to display towering crosses, the central symbol of the Christian faith, on public property, and charge the taxpayer for it. It kicked transgender people out of the military because the Religious Right doesn’t like them. It supports immersing houses of worship in partisan politics. It has worked to end reproductive freedoms. It told the Supreme Court that taxpayers should be compelled to support religious groups and religious schools.
The administration did these things – yet we’re to believe that “militant secularists” are the problem? That “militant secularists” are the ones trying to force their views onto people?
Barr, like his boss Trump, is a master gaslighter. He repeatedly asserts that things are the opposite of the way they really are. In his strange world, up is down, black is white and you can’t believe the evidence of your own eyes.
Key to this is Barr’s use of words – and how he defines them. To Christian nationalists, “militant” is anyone who dares to stand up to them and expose their theocratic agenda for the freedom-crushing miasma that it is. And a “secularist” to Barr and his allies must be someone who hates religion.
But at least since Mr. [Bill] Barr’s infamous speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, in which he blamed “secularists” for “moral chaos” and “immense suffering, wreckage and misery,” it has become clear that no understanding of William Barr can be complete without taking into account his views on the role of religion in society. For that, it is illuminating to review how Mr. Barr has directed his Justice Department on matters concerning the First Amendment clause forbidding the establishment of a state religion.
In Maryland, the department rushed to defend taxpayer funding for a religious school that says same-sex marriage is wrong. In Maine, it is defending parents suing over a state law that bans religious schools from obtaining taxpayer funding to promote their own sectarian doctrines. At his Department of Justice, Mr. Barr told law students at Notre Dame, “We keep an eye out for cases or events around the country where states are misapplying the establishment clause in a way that discriminates against people of faith.”
In these and other cases, Mr. Barr has embraced wholesale the “religious liberty” rhetoric of today’s Christian nationalist movement. When religious nationalists invoke “religious freedom,” it is typically code for religious privilege. The freedom they have in mind is the freedom of people of certain conservative and authoritarian varieties of religion to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove or over whom they wish to exert power.
This form of “religious liberty” seeks to foment the sense of persecution and paranoia of a collection of conservative religious groups that see themselves as on the cusp of losing their rightful position of dominance over American culture. It always singles out groups that can be blamed for society’s ills, and that may be subject to state-sanctioned discrimination and belittlement — L.G.B.T. Americans, secularists and Muslims are the favored targets, but others are available. The purpose of this “religious liberty” rhetoric is not just to secure a place of privilege, but also to justify public funding for the right kind of religion.
Mr. Barr has a long history of supporting just this type of “religious liberty.” At Notre Dame, he compared alleged violations of religious liberty with Roman emperors forcing Christian subjects to partake in pagan sacrifices. “The law is being used as a battering ram to break down traditional moral values and to establish moral relativism as a new orthodoxy,” he said.
Barr watchers will know that this is nothing new. In a 1995 article he wrote for The Catholic Lawyer, which, as Emily Bazelon recently pointed out, appears to be something of a blueprint for his speech at Notre Dame, he complained that “we live in an increasingly militant, secular age” and expressed his grave concern that the law might force landlords to rent to unmarried couples. He implied that the idea that universities might treat “homosexual activist groups like any other student group” was intolerable.
This form of “religious liberty” is not a mere side issue for Mr. Barr, or for the other religious nationalists who have come to dominate the Republican Party. Mr. Barr has made this clear. All the problems of modernity — “the wreckage of the family,” “record levels of depression and mental illness,” “drug addiction” and “senseless violence” — stem from the loss of a strict interpretation of the Christian religion.
The great evildoers in the Notre Dame speech are nonbelievers who are apparently out on the streets ransacking everything that is good and holy. The solutions to society’s ills, Mr. Barr declared, come from faith. “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct,” he said. “Religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.” He added, “The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.”
Within this ideological framework, the ends justify the means. In this light, Mr. Barr’s hyperpartisanship is the symptom, not the malady. At Christian nationalist gatherings and strategy meetings, the Democratic Party and its supporters are routinely described as “demonic” and associated with “rulers of the darkness.” If you know that society is under dire existential threat from secularists, and you know that they have all found a home in the other party, every conceivable compromise with principles, every ethical breach, every back-room deal is not only justifiable but imperative. And as the vicious reaction to Christianity Today’s anti-Trump editorial demonstrates, any break with this partisan alignment will be instantly denounced as heresy.
“What does Bill Barr want?”
The answer is that America’s conservative movement, having morphed into a religious nationalist movement, is on a collision course with the American constitutional system. Though conservatives have long claimed to be the true champions of the Constitution — remember all that chatter during previous Republican administrations about “originalism” and “judicial restraint” — the movement that now controls the Republican Party is committed to a suite of ideas that are fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution and the Republic that the founders created under its auspices.
Mr. Trump’s presidency was not the cause of this anti-democratic movement in American politics. It was the consequence. He is the chosen instrument, not of God, but of today’s Christian nationalists, their political allies and funders, and the movement’s legal apparatus. Mr. Barr did not emerge in order to serve this one particular leader. On the contrary, Mr. Trump serves a movement that will cynically praise the Constitution in order to destroy it, and of which Mr. Barr has made himself a hero.
The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message—concern for the poor and the oppressed—was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race, especially in the United States, became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the mounting despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was deadly serious about the term “fascists.”
Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice controlled by Christian fascists. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with secular humanists and Muslims, is seeking to destroy America, and Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than in a marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.
The ideology of the Christian fascists panders in our decline to the primitive yearnings for the vengeance, new glory and moral renewal that are found among those pushed aside by deindustrialization and austerity. Reason, facts and verifiable truth are impotent weapons against this belief system. The Christian right is a “crisis cult.” Crisis cults arise in most collapsing societies. They promise, through magic, to recover the lost grandeur and power of a mythologized past. This magical thinking banishes doubt, anxiety and feelings of disempowerment. Traditional social hierarchies and rules, including an unapologetic white, male supremacy, will be restored. Rituals and behaviors including an unquestioning submission to authority and acts of violence to cleanse the society of evil will vanquish malevolent forces.
Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions. It is impervious to the education, dialogue and discourse the liberal class naively believes can blunt or domesticate the movement. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we too have Christian “values.” This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own. We will transform American society to a socialist system that provides meaning, dignity and hope to all citizens, that cares and nurtures the most vulnerable among us, or we will become the victims of the Christian fascists we created.
He [U.S. Attorney General William Barr] is a devoted Catholic who has said he believes the nation needs a “moral renaissance” to restore Judeo-Christian values in American life. He has been unafraid to use his platform as the nation’s top law enforcement officer to fight the cultural changes they believe are making the country more inhospitable and unrecognizable, like rising immigration and secularism or new legal protections for L.G.B.T. people.
A series of assertive public appearances in recent weeks, laced with biting sarcasm aimed at adversaries on the left, have brought a sharper focus on Mr. Barr’s style and worldview, both of which share aspects with the president’s.
He [Barr] has painted a picture of a country divided into camps of “secularists” — those who, he said recently, “seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience” — and people of faith. The depiction echoes Mr. Trump’s worldview, with the “us versus them” divisions that the president often stokes when he tells crowds at his rallies that Democrats “don’t like you.”
His politicization of the office is unorthodox and a departure from previous attorneys general in a way that feels uncomfortably close to authoritarianism, critics said.
“Barr has believed for a long time that the country would benefit from more authoritarianism. It would inject a stronger moral note into government,” said Stuart M. Gerson, who worked in the Bush Justice Department under Mr. Barr and is a member of Checks & Balances, a legal group that is among the attorney general’s leading conservative detractors. “I disagree with his analysis of power. We would be less free in the end.”
He’s [Barr’s] offering a fairly unabashed, crisp and candid assessment of the nature of our culture right now,” said Leonard A. Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society and a prominent advocate for socially conservative causes. “There’s certainly a movement in our country to dial back the role that religion plays in civil society and public life. It’s been going on for some time,” Mr. Leo added. “That’s not an observation that public officials make very often, so it is refreshing.”
Mr. Barr helped make the case for conservatives to shift to war footing against the left during a speech at Notre Dame Law School in October that was strikingly partisan. He accused “the forces of secularism” of orchestrating the “organized destruction” of religion. He mocked progressives, asking sardonically, “But where is the progress?”
And while other members of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis have acknowledged that the sexual abuse crisis has devastated the moral authority of the church in the United States and is in part to blame for decreasing attendance, Mr. Barr outlined what he saw as a larger plot by the left and others. He said they “have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”
At one point, he compared the denial of religious liberty protections for people of faith to Roman emperors who forced their Christian subjects to engage in pagan sacrifices. “We cannot sit back and just hope the pendulum is going to swing back toward sanity,” Mr. Barr warned.
Republicans control the White House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. They have 27 governorships and governing trifectas in 21 states. But many conservatives — particularly Christian conservatives — believe they’re being routed in the war that matters most: the post-Christian culture war. They see a diverse, secular left winning the future and preparing to eviscerate both Christian practice and traditional mores. And they see themselves as woefully unprepared to respond with the ruthlessness that the moment requires.
Robert Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute, estimates that when Barack Obama took office, 54 percent of the country was white and Christian; by the time he left office, that had fallen to 43 percent. This is largely because young Americans are less white, and less Christian, than older Americans. Almost 70 percent of American seniors are white Christians, compared to only 29 percent of young adults.
In 2018, Americans who claim no religion passed Catholics and evangelicals as the most popular response on the General Social Survey. That arguably overstates the trend: The GSS breaks Protestants into subcategories, and if you group them together, they remain the most populous religious group, at least for now. But the age cohorts here are stark. “If you look at seniors, only about one in 10 seniors today claim no religious affiliation,” Jones told me. “But if you look at Americans under the age of 30, it’s 40 percent.”
These are big, dramatic changes, and they’re leading Christians — particularly older, white, conservative Christians — to experience America’s changing demographics as a form of siege. In some cases, that experience is almost literal.
The political commentator Rod Dreher blogs for the American Conservative, where he offers a running catalog of moral affronts and liberal provocations. He doesn’t simply see a society that has become secular and sexualized, but a progressive regime that insists Christians accept and even participate in the degeneracy or fall afoul of nondiscrimination laws and anti-bigotry norms.
The irony of all this is that Christian conservatives are likely hastening the future they most fear. In our conversation, Jones told me about a 2006 survey of 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, that asked 16- to 29-year-olds for their top three associations with present-day Christianity. Being “antigay” was first, with 91 percent, followed by “judgmental,” with 87 percent, and “hypocritical,” with 85 percent. Christianity, the Barna Group concluded, has “a branding problem.”
It seems unlikely that that branding problem will be fixed by a tighter alliance with Trump, who polls at 31 percent among millennials and 29 percent among Generation Z. If young people are abandoning Christianity because it seems intolerant, judgmental, and hypocritical — well, intolerant, judgmental, and hypocritical is the core of Trump’s personal brand.
[U.S. Attorney General] Barr gave a fiery speech denouncing the threat to America posed by “militant secularists,” whom he accused of conspiring to destroy the “traditional moral order,” blaming them for rising mental illness, drug dependency and violence.
Consider for a moment how inappropriate it is for Barr, of all people, to have given such a speech. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion; the nation’s chief law enforcement officer has no business denouncing those who exercise that freedom by choosing not to endorse any religion.
And we’re not talking about a tiny group, either. These days, around a fifth of Americans say that they don’t consider themselves affiliated with any religion, roughly the same number who consider themselves Catholic. How would we react if the attorney general denounced Catholicism as a force undermining American society?
And he didn’t just declare that secularism is bad; he declared that the damage it does is intentional: “This is not decay. It is organized destruction.” If that kind of talk doesn’t scare you, it should; it’s the language of witch hunts and pogroms.
It seems almost beside the point to note that Barr’s claim that secularism is responsible for violence happens to be empirically verifiable nonsense. America has certainly become less religious over the past quarter-century, with a large rise in the number of religiously unaffiliated and growing social liberalism on issues like same-sex marriage; it has also seen a dramatic decline in violent crime. European nations are far less religious than we are; they also have much lower homicide rates, and rarely experience the mass shootings that have become almost routine here.
Nonetheless, William Barr — again, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, responsible for defending the Constitution — is sounding remarkably like America’s most unhinged religious zealots, the kind of people who insist that we keep experiencing mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution. Guns don’t kill people — Darwin kills people!
So what’s going on here? Pardon my cynicism, but I seriously doubt that Barr, whose boss must be the least godly man ever to occupy the White House, has suddenly realized to his horror that America is becoming more secular. No, this outburst of God-talk is surely a response to the way the walls are closing in on Trump, the high likelihood that he will be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Trump’s response to his predicament has been to ramp up the ugliness in an effort to rally his base. The racism has gotten even more explicit, the paranoia about the deep state more extreme. But who makes up Trump’s base? The usual answer is working-class whites, but a deeper dive into the data suggests that it’s more specific: It’s really evangelical working-class whites who are staying with Trump despite growing evidence of his malfeasance and unsuitability for high office.
I mean look, we’ve taught our kids that they come about by chance through primordial slime and we’re surprised that they treat their fellow Americans like dirt. It’s time we talk about the result of the Left’s systematic march through our institutions, driving religious expression from the public square.
It’s tragic and at some point we have to realize we have a problem as a nation, and the problem is not the absence of laws, it’s an absence of morality — really, the result of a decades-long march through the institutions of America, driving religion and God from the public square.
Everyone is religious. Christians are religious. Hindus are religious. Muslims are religious. And believe it or not, atheists are also religious, as are secular humanists and others. Everyone has a set of beliefs and values that they live their life by. If a person does not believe in and worship the one true God, then they will find another god.
Often that god is self – or some cause that people devote their lives to, or some belief that they commit themselves to. They will give themselves over to some ultimate explanation of life, some moral cause, or some purpose greater than themselves.
Such belief systems, philosophies, or worldviews serve “to interpret the universe for them, to guide their moral decisions, to give meaning and purpose to life, and all the other functions normally associated with religion” as Nancy Pearcey puts it. Thus there is such a thing as secular religions.
In the West today we find countless people who have rejected Christianity but have not stopped being religious. They have simply substituted other gods for the God of the Bible. They still want their life to have meaning and purpose. They still have a sense of making atonement of some kind for their various failings and shortcomings. They still have guilt feelings that they seek to deal with.
Thus they will often find substitute religious causes to join. These groups have secular versions of biblical themes such as some sort of beginning, a fall, sin, redemption, and eschatology. These counterfeit religions give these folks a sense of meaning and fulfillment. That is because they are in fact made in the image of God, and if it is not the true God that they worship and follow, then they will make up their own.
One of the big god-substitutes of today is the green religion. Many people who have rejected more traditional religion have embraced environmentalism as their big picture belief system. It gives them a sense of belonging and purpose, and it assuages their guilt.
As I watched the new PBS film and revisited the 1970 documentary, it struck me that Woodstock was a fundamentally religious event: a worship service for a secular age; a liturgy of liberation where the object of devotion was not God, but freedom. The event signaled the dawn of a new spiritual ethos that would extend far beyond the world of hippies: a rejection of authority in almost every sense except for the authority of the expressive self.
Among the ways Woodstock marks a key moment in Western cultural history is that it helped solidify the move of transcendence and religious awe from the church and institutional religion, into the realm of popular culture. After Woodstock, the outdoor music festival became a key liturgy of secular religion: sacred spaces of communion with nature and fellow man, where music and drugs and alcohol contribute to feelings of physical elevation, emotional escape, and spiritual transformation.
Woodstock lives on, both in its legacy for the world of music festivals but also as a microcosm of the 1960s cultural revolution that still shapes our world today.
The reverberating echo of Richie Havens’s “Freedom!” is still our culture’s rallying cry. The impulse to “look within” for transcendence remains pervasive—if not in acid trips and gurus, then in mindfulness apps and “wash your face!” self-help.
Meanwhile, progressivism is still trying to figure out how to reconcile the dual values of unrestrained personal autonomy and “help each other” communal responsibility, as well as how to speak with moral authority on pet causes (LGBT rights, global warming, abortion rights) despite having built itself on the (inherently unstable) foundation of anti-authoritarianism.
And just as the masses at Woodstock longed for an “alternative city” where they could be known and understood, singing praises (of sorts) with one voice, so do the masses today. The lost souls who flocked to Woodstock were looking for meaning, just as their 21st-century counterparts are when they crowd into stadiums, theaters, concert halls, national parks, or wherever they go to “worship.”
These pilgrims are looking for something more. Revival. Purpose. Transcendence. Something of substance. What can Christians do to present the local church as a place where spiritual wanderers might find these things? Because even as the Western world became more secular, the religious impulse never went away. The human need to worship never fades, as Woodstock’s “worship service” so vividly shows.
But worship satisfies only when its object is utterly and eternally worthy. That’s why, when all the secular liturgies of this age fail to satisfy, the church of Jesus Christ will still be there—singing to the same God she always has, with words and rituals that have outlasted countless cultural trends and countercultural zeitgeists.
What these persons fail to understand is that it would have been redundant to include such a phrase [separation of church and state] in the Constitution. The document as a whole embodies the view that government is not to meddle in religious matters. The federal government is given very specific, limited powers only over various secular matters. It has no powers relating to religion. The government is secular both in its origin (the consent of the governed) and its function. The government and religious institutions are completely separate and have nothing to do with each other. To insist that the Constitution doesn’t mandate separation of church and state because it doesn’t contain that phrase is more preposterous than a person who is not named as a beneficiary in a will insisting he has a claim on the estate because the will does not specifically exclude him by name.
— Dr. Ronald Lindsay, The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do, December 2014