A piece of treacherous language has made its way into our public discourse. Where once words such as “religion,” “Christianity” and “Judaism” were heard, public figures now speak of “persons of faith” or “people of faith,” “the faith community” and “faith-based.” Moreover, anything “faith-based” is axiomatically good, and anyone who questions the presumption is axiomatically bad.
These expressions divide us into believers and nonbelievers, with the believers or persons of faith enjoying not only an alleged numerical majority but a moral superiority as well. It follows that anyone living outside the community of faith is a bottom-dwelling, life-hating, secular pederast destined for pain eternal in the land of Tophat.
Saints and sinners are being lined up and divided everywhere. Have you seen Robert Novak on TV telling all who will listen the whys of his becoming a Roman Catholic? Woe to him who cannot claim membership among the faithful.
The term “people of faith” has come to be used interchangeably with the word “American.” If there’s a politician left in the United States who doesn’t season his speech with tremulous references to the “peoples of faith,” I can’t recall his name. The Democrats-who are supposed to have a weakness for killing the unborn and sexually assaulting the underage-have given up their advocacy of vice and perversion; they, too, now speak in deferential tones of the “people of faith,” whose votes they seek to corral by pious faces and reverential references to “the God of us all.”
The expression “people of faith” conveys the idea of a holy (or not-so-holy) alliance of religions, united for good against the disorganized forces of anarchic relativists, secularists, and people of little or no faith. They have values-a good thing. The rest of us (few in number though we may be) stand for what is destructive of hearth, community and country-a bad thing.
The people of faith are sympathetic to the Republican Party and its objectives. Democrats, intimidated by the religiosity loose in the country, have come to accept the premise that the test of public policy is how a measure is greeted by the faith community. At the rate the faith juggernaut is moving to govern the nation, the once-red-hot liberal patootie, Hillary Rodham Clinton, now a wifely Mrs. Hillary Clinton, will soon be campaigning against Roe v. Wade. Judging by who Ms. Clinton was in the days of yore as against who Lady Clinton is nowadays, you would have to agree that faith can pass miracles.
Hillary is not alone. Can you think of a single person of stature in public life who dares to challenge the people of faith? Maybe a shock jock here or there has the onions to take on this coalition of the altogether too godly. Nobody else does.
The closest thing we have to organized opposition to the religious domination of public life is Americans United for the Separation of Church and State-but though their geeky hearts are in the right place, I wouldn’t want to speculate on the location of their heads. Battling the appointment of faith-based judges and preventing public buildings from being festooned with Bible quotations is well and good as far as it goes, but it isn’t far enough.
Somebody or something has got to start battling religion itself. God is the enemy-meaning the God locked up by organized religions and guarded by ministers, priests, rabbis, popes and mullahs.
This is not a struggle to be carried on in the law courts and the legislatures. Religionists are crawling in everywhere, swarming the schools, movies, medicine and research labs. Their intent is to install a faith commissar to oversee every major social institution. We don’t need lawyers here; we need fumigators. We need people in HAZMAT suits to go in and smoke ‘em out.
We need people to stand up in public against the Christo-Islamic alliance’s assaults on relativism. It’s been more than a generation since anyone with access to a significant pulpit stood up for relativism. The clerics have made “relativism’ into a dirty word instead of what it actually is: a term for the application of reason to public affairs.
Turn your back on relativism and you get absolutism. Show me a true believer and I’ll show you a bigot. Absolutism is at the heart of every religion-our dogma or nothing. The absolutist foundations of every faith preclude compromise, adjustments, deal-making, pragmatism, the changing of opinion, the admission of new evidence-all the tools necessary for running a complicated, polyglot, poly-religious, poly-ethnic, poly-cultural modern, science-based, technology-dependent society. The absolutism that underlies religious faith closes the door marked “Reason” and opens the door labeled “Holy War.”
There was a time when the evangelical Calvinist form of the Christian religion was so prevalent that it could run American society with some success-but that was 200 years ago. Even then, people of non-faith tried to beat off the religious prohibitionism that strove to close the country down on Sundays, to suppress music, dancing, baseball, Sabbath smooching and the joy of life and replace it with on-your-knees worship and clerical rule. The coming of large numbers of Roman Catholic immigrants touched off the public-school wars of the 19th century. Religious absolutism being what it is, the fight over whose dogma and morals were to be inculcated into the students had to be resolved by kicking all religion out of the schools. That never completely happened, but at least God was pushed into the corner with the elimination of school prayer and the exile of religious symbols and activities. Recently, though, God has been making a comeback-and God help us all if He is successful.
The alliance among the various religions embraced by the people of faith is a tenuous one; in the end, every religion hates every other religion. The day before Benedict XVI was elected, The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article about how Islam was converting people faster than the Catholic Church-which, rousing itself from a certain evangelical torpor, was starting to say, “No more Mr. Nice Guy! We can’t let the towelheads get ahead of us.” (The language used, of course, was more decorous, but the meaning was there.)
The triumph of absolutist faith over relativism, of religion over secularism, will start up a new era of religious strife, if it hasn’t already begun. The history of religious contention in the West does contain instances of peace, moments when religions signed truces and stopped the warfare, but social peace didn’t prevail until religion was booted out of the marketplace, driven out of the halls of power and sealed up in private homes and places of worship. Religion in private may be a good thing; religion in public is a menace.
In the U.S., with a growing Muslim population, a super-energetic Jewish population and an increasingly crazed Christian population, it is but a matter of time before the “people of faith” coalition falls apart and we get down to some good old-fashioned religious throat-slitting. Religions are tolerant only when they lack the power to be otherwise; turning the country over to one of them or all of them combined is daft. Historically, the people of faith have a war-crimes record longer than your arm.
A good guess would be that only a minority of the population is infected with virulent forms of faith. But it’s an organized minority, awash in money. We of little faith and less zeal are neither organized nor rich nor eaten up with a need to proselytize, and therefore we are without defenses against God’s putschists.
To stop them, we don’t have to pass laws. It’s not vital to get “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. What is vital is that we, the faithless, raise a hullabaloo every time the people of faith play the family-values card, every time they claim that their faith puts them at the head of the line, every time they presume to decide what we should see, hear and do. What is vital is that we bray, honk, whinny, oink and screech at every public assertion that superstition trumps science, that they’ve got a god and that those of us without one are no damn good.
Shout out the facts: They put “in God we trust” on the money, and every year it’s worth less than it was the year before.
Follow Nicholas von Hoffman via RSS.