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My Take: The five biggest misconceptions about secularism
Misunderstandings about secularists and secularism do a disservice to America, says Jacques Berlinerblau.
October 6th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: The five biggest misconceptions about secularism

By Jacques Berlinerblau, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jacques Berlinerblau is associate professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. His book, How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom has just been released.

As far as the Republicans are concerned, President Barack Obama is secularism’s go-to guy in Washington. Newt Gingrich refers to him as a “secular-socialist.” Mitt Romney charges that his opponent advocates a “secular agenda.” And Rick Santorum frets that Obama is imposing “secular values” on “people of faith.”

The president, however, seems not to have received the whole him-being-a-secularist memo. American secularists have thrown up their hands in frustration over his supersizing of George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. They roll their eyes at his God talk. As for his recent call for days of “prayer and remembrance” to commemorate 9/11, well, would the late Rev. Jerry Falwell have done it any differently?

After spending years trying to sequence the genome of American secularism, I have arrived at a sobering conclusion: no -ism is as misunderstood as this one. All of which is bad for secularists, secularism and America. Let’s look at some of the biggest misconceptions out there:

1. Secularist: Just another word for atheist: Not true! But that doesn’t mean there is any thing wrong with nonbelievers. Nor does it mean that secularists and atheists don’t share scads of objectives in common (e.g., opposing religious establishment, securing freedom from religion, defending free expression).

American secularism’s roots can be traced to Christian political philosophy (yes, you read that correctly). Its main architects were Protestant thinkers like Martin Luther, Roger Williams, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.

What evolved was a political worldview deeply suspicious of entanglements between what these gentlemen called “the civil and ecclesiastical authorities.” They asked: “How can we configure our government so that citizens of different religious groups may all live in equality, peace and order?”

Atheists, by contrast, posit the nonexistence of God(s) and proceed to explore the implications of that intriguing premise. Let’s put it this way: While nearly all atheists in America are secularists, not all secularists are atheists. In fact most secularists are not atheists — but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

2. Secularism simply means total separation of church and state: Separationism is, undeniably, a form of secularism. But not the only form. Secularists need to accept this, if only because more and more state and federal governments are giving separationism the old heave-ho.

As conservative Christians like to point out, the Constitution never mentions separationism. That idea surfaces in Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists in which he lauded “a wall of separation between Church & State.” It was not, however, until about a century and a half later that the wall was actually built. This occurred in a series of stunning Supreme Court decisions that briskly evicted religion from public schools and spaces.

The separationist worldview crested in the 1960s and 1970s. When John F. Kennedy talked about a country where the “separation of church and state is absolute,” he articulated post-World War II liberalism’s dream. Or delusion. Even Supreme Court justices whose decisions helped erect  Jefferson’s Wall conceded that total separation is impossible to attain.

That is because the United States is historically and culturally Christian. We rest on Sundays. We close federal offices on Christmas. We put the word “God” on our coinage. Most citizens are believers. The state cannot logically “separate” from them. As Justice William Douglas - no foe of secularism - once remarked, total separation would mandate that, “Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups.”

Government and religious citizenry are entangled. This doesn’t mean we should endorse those entanglements. Rather, we must recognize separationist secularism as something extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

3. Secularism is for Democrats: This was increasingly true with each passing decade from the 1960s forward. But after John Kerry’s debilitating loss to George W. Bush in 2004, all of that changed. Party strategists now recognized the power of the so-called “values voters” — the conservative Christians whose energy and activism propelled the incumbent to his second term.

A few months before Kerry’s defeat, an obscure state senator named Barack Obama blew the roof off the 2004 Democratic National Convention with a speech in which he intoned: “We worship an awesome God in the Blue States.” It was a harbinger of things to come. By the 2006 midterms, stories leaked about Democratic consultants who advised candidates never to say “separation of church and state” on the stump.

By 2008, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton were Bible-thumpin’ with aplomb. Presidential candidate Obama, for his part, was promising to renovate George W. Bush’s faith-based Office. Separationist secularism, long in decline, was about to be rolled. What replaced it? Read on.

4. Secularists don’t make accommodations: Although few have noticed it, the Democrats have pivoted from “separation” to “accommodation.” This means the government can fund or assist religion; it just can’t play favorites. Thus, all religions are equal in the eyes of the faith-friendly state.

Is this approach secular? The jury is still out. Accommodation does respect the First Amendment principle of refraining from federal establishment of religion.

Consider the White House faith-based office. In theory, it funds all religious groups who provide social services (hence no establishment). In practice, however, things have not worked out so well (see complaints against both the Bush and Obama offices). Further, accommodation doesn’t really accommodate or take into account nonbelieving citizens.

5. Secularists are anti-religious: In recent years some have made secularism into a synonym for godlessness, possibly because a few extreme atheist groups have taken to calling themselves “secular.” Yet the idea that believers cannot be secular is incorrect and politically disastrous.

Secularism, as noted above, was born of Christian thought. Historically, its greatest champions have been those opposed to state support of one church or religious institution, such as Baptists, Protestant dissenters, and minorities including Jews, Catholics, Sikhs and others.

Secularism’s mission is to maximize freedom of and freedom from religion. But unless we start speaking of it in precise terms, and bringing secular believers and nonbelievers into coalition, it won’t be able to render this service to America.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jacques Berlinerblau.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Church and state • Courts • Politics

soundoff (1,517 Responses)
  1. NYOMD

    If the point of this article was to educate religious fundamentalists, then the author will be sorely disappointed. Education has never been shown to be effective against blind religious dogma.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • snowboarder

      nyomd – education is the only defense against religious faith. with every bit of knowledge gained an individual relies less on religion for answers.

      it is no coincidence that the most religiously devout countries on this planet also have the lowest levels of education.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • moi

      Right. We should always push education. Some can't learn, but there will always be that percentage.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • JennyTX

      It's hard to teach brainwashed adults, but their children tend to be less religious. It's a generation thing.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • RickCO

      @jenny
      So, you're saying that any adult is brainwashed simply because they are religious, and that those who are not religious are not brainwashed?
      What about those that were once non-religious and then have a life changing accident that turns them into believers? Are they brainwashed?
      Based on your view then, anyone NOT believing as you do is brainwashed. Isn't that brainwashing in and of itself?

      October 7, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • dan o

      very true. The real test of character in life is: can you challenge dogma and what others have believed for centuries and come up with your own solution to problems?

      That's the scientific method, and it is my only belief system in place

      October 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Nii

      the problem here is that religious Atheists imagine themselves superior to religious believres. Ignorance is bliss

      October 8, 2012 at 3:31 am |
  2. Henry Allen

    I see myself as a secularist. Put in the simplest terms, if you so beilieve,I will defend your right to believe that butterlies are actually messengers sent by a god. However, I will not accept your attempts to force that belief on others or to use that belief as a justification to harm others. Nor will I accept any attempt to make your belief the most powerfully held belief in the land, thereby attempting to suppressi beliefs that are different than yours. At the end of the day, people of all beliefs or no faith have a responsibility to live with each other in peace and lawful civility.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Carla Akins

      Thank you, incredibly well stated.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • moi

      true!

      October 7, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • just a thought

      Who is forcing you to believe in any particular religion? Who forced you to read this article? Who forces you to do anything you do?

      Nobody. You read this article on your own. Should a religious person come to your door, -you have the right not to open your door or even acknowledge the people at the door. Do you stand there and listen to them? If you do, then you are inviting them to speak with you thus they are not forcing anything down your throat.

      YOU alone have a choice of either to listen or not to listen, to read or not to read. Nobody is forcing anything on you.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  3. bala narayanan

    The article is true and sincere from the author's heart.Also the '2 cents' comment from Malcolm is what I and all us need to appreciate..What a wonderful world will this be;that is what all the founders of some great religions had in mind at the time/ in those days/that age etc.The present problems rather challenge before us is:
    We are too small and insignificant in the earth,solar sytem or the ever expanding UNIVERSE that we can not find a solution but can live and let live ;time will be good healer and evolve by itself;in the mean time let us enjoy life and respect each other.
    Yes it is so fun if you laugh at yourself and respect others' sentiments.

    Bala East windsor,nj usa

    October 7, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  4. MagicPanties

    “How can we configure our government so that citizens of different religious groups may all live in equality, peace and order?”

    That's the heart of secularism.
    Why are Christians so threatened by it?
    I'd guess it's that secularism doesn't posit Christianity as 'the one, true religion'.
    Or, it may be due to tea-nuts confusing the term with atheism.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  5. Chris

    I just farted

    October 7, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Karloff

      God made you fart.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • moi

      magic fart into magic underwear

      October 7, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • just a thought

      magic fart (smelly) into magic underwear (white and symbolic as sacred) leaves residue (brown stain).

      October 7, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • moi

      I guess atheism is the brown, organic stain in those magic underwear..... ;(

      October 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • 110

      Brown stain is of protein composition. Use spray and wash to clean.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  6. snowboarder

    an interesting article. i am not sure i agree with all of it, but it makes some good points.

    of course secularism stems from the diverse nature of the early settlers of this country. this country has never been one with a single religion, and was never meant to be.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • snowboarder

      the founders of our government understood very well the divisive nature of religion, even among denominations of the same religion, and the injustice caused by any one group gaining authority over the others.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • centeredpiece

      Well, actually in the beginning our colonies DID have an "established" religion – Anglicanism. Many colonies restricted rights to Anglicans, disenfranchising people of other faiths – like Catholics and Jews, who could not own property or vote. Some few colonies, such as Rhode Island, eventually became havens for religious rebels and tolerated people of diverse beliefs. The First Amendment's first protection was to guarantee, not mere toleration, but actual freedom of religion. This wonderful clause grew out of Thomas Jefferson's statute on religious freedom in Virginia. Whatever his personal beliefs (which are, and probably always will be a matter of some dispute), Jefferson was a champion of protection and freedom for all beliefs. What began as a small group who sought freedom to practice their own particular religious beliefs became, because of people like Jefferson, a country where we have true freedom of belief.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • snowboarder

      centered – it is true that their were official religions, but they were certainly not universal. the founders of this country were intelligent enough to know that humanity transends religious boundaries.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • snowboarder

      it is true "there" were.

      my fingers seem to have a mind of their own as i type.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  7. EVN

    One thing would help immensely in getting the religious out of politics and help the country's finances. End the tax exempt status of all religions. They are businesses, they just happen to be selling faith. They do good deeds sometimes (and lots of mischief too), so for their truly charitable functions, give them a deduction. So long as they have tax exemptions they are being "established" by the state – whether "equallly" or not is beside the point.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Why not tax the atheists triple? That sounds just as reasonable as your post.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • snowboarder

      sent – you know your statement is false. religion is the one receiving special treatment.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • rickbliss

      I agree. Religions sell faith and should be taxed as commercial enterprises.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • centeredpiece

      EVN – I hope you are prepared for a huge tax increase! Many religious groups provide many social services that you will need to start paying for. When do you plan to work at the local soup kitchen? When is your shift at the overnight hypothermia homeless shelter? Will you cover the hospital bill for a working poor single mother? Are you going to pay for the counseling provided by rabbis, ministers and priests at no charge? Will you organize a food pantry in your community? Unless and until you are going to step up and provide these services – or get out your check-book and double your tax contribution – I think you might want to rethink your position on tax exemptions for religious groups.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • snowboarder

      centered – ending the tax exempt status for religious organizations would effectively raise those taxes you suggest.

      or do you suggest that without an exemption for religious donations, people will stop donating? that would be incredibly shallow of the faithful.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  8. snowboarder

    sometimes it is difficult to get the most mundane posts through these filters.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  9. Gene Gormley

    America was founded on these bedrock principles: government by the people, no monarch rule, no ecclesiastical rule. Current widespread orchestrated attacks on our founding secularism by religious power groups have been accelerating for forty years. We now see schools, towns, counties, and states bombarded with templated legislative proposals for a broad range of religious privileges and exemptions. TAXPAYER DOLLARS near $100 billion go to religions, and they want more! Why don't mountains of taxpayer dollars go to astrology groups, or bigfoot societies? The fantasy level is the same. Politicians in major parties have not the courage to call this out, for the wrath of fictional supernatural creatures shall descend upon them. Wimps all.

    So, for those who commit great allegiance to the fanciful and grotesque musings of pre-literate, pre-science tribes of the middle-east, I leave you with words superior to any that I could assemble:
    "Faith is believin' what you know ain't true." – Mark Twain
    And, since today is Sunday I'd like to wish all of my Roman Catholic friends and relatives a very fulfilling trans-millenial cannibal ritual! Remember, only those who are damned to eternal perdition would doubt the truth of your magic-spell meal.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • centeredpiece

      Gene, you sound very, very angry. And you are very misinformed about Catholic teaching. The Catholic Church does not teach that only Catholics are saved; in fact, we leave that up to God. You might well have met some uninformed or misinformed Catholics, but the actual teachings are much different. Many, like you, who spew hate about Catholicism know very little about its actual teachings.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Bobby

      Once again the disgruntled ex-catholic rationalizing hate.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • moi

      I didn't get "angry" from Gene's post at all.... I only got laughter. Gene has a great sense of humor. Go Gene!

      October 7, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • 110

      Can you name a few of those tax payer funded religious events?

      October 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  10. Mike

    The USA, as a political society, must STRIVE for secularism. It is the foundation of tolerance.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Strive to be a coward who stands for nothing, does nothing, believes in nothing but themselves, same difference?. No thanks.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • centeredpiece

      Mike – we have FREEDOM, not TOLERANCE. There is a huge difference. If secularism provides for freedom of religion, I have no problems with it; but if it merely provides for religious tolerance, then I oppose it. The first provision in the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, not merely government tolerance of religion. We are free from both government establishment of a religion and free from government restrictions on our expressions of religion. That goes way beyond mere tolerance of belief. Tolerance permits (usually somewhat grudgingly) people to practice their faith; freedom guarantees their right to express their religious beliefs.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • moi

      Agreed Mike, and it's a GREAT misconception that atheists, agnostics, secularists, or humanists believe in "nothing". Although we do eat babies.....

      October 7, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  11. Everything in Moderation

    Bravo!

    Well thought out article. It's intelligent and explains much.

    Thank you.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  12. 0007

    History

    The term secularism was coined in 1851[9] by George Jacob Holyoake to describe "a form of opinion which concerns itself only with questions, the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life."[10] Once a staunch Owenite, Holyoake was strongly influenced by Auguste Comte, the founder of positivism and of modern sociology. Comte believed human history would progress in a "law of three stages" from a theological phase, to the "metaphysical", toward a fully rational "positivist" society. In later life, Comte had attempted to introduce a "religion of humanity" in light of growing anti-religious sentiment and social malaise in revolutionary France. This "religion would necessarily fulfil the functional, cohesive role that supernatural religion once served. Whilst Comte's religious movement was unsuccessful, the positivist philosophy of science itself played a major role in the proliferation of secular organizations in the 19th century.
    Historical use of the term humanism (reflected in some current academic usage), is related to the writings of pre-Socratic philosophers. These writings were lost to European societies until Renaissance scholars rediscovered them through Muslim sources and translated them from Arabic into European languages.[11] Thus the term humanist can mean a humanities scholar, as well as refer to The Enlightenment/ Renaissance intellectuals, and those who have agreement with the pre-Socratics, as distinct from secular humanists. In the 1930s, "humanism" was generally used in a religious sense by the Ethical movement in the United States, and not much favoured among the non-religious in Britain. Yet "it was from the Ethical movement that the non-religious philosophical sense of Humanism gradually emerged in Britain, and it was from the convergence of the Ethical and Rationalist movements that this sense of Humanism eventually prevailed throughout the Freethought movement".[12]
    As an organized movement, Humanism itself is quite recent – born at the University of Chicago in the 1920s, and made public in 1933 with the publication of the first Humanist Manifesto.[13] The American Humanist Association was incorporated as an Illinois non-profit organization in 1943. The International Humanist and Ethical Union was founded in 1952, when a gathering of world Humanists met under the leadership of Sir Julian Huxley. The British Humanist Association took that name in 1967, but had developed from the Union of Ethical Societies which had been founded

    October 7, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • moi

      you don't understand science, clearly, with your statement that it is about absolutes. THAT would be religion. Science is about the scientific PROCESS....look it up!

      October 7, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • moi

      sorry.... that post m=was meant for another person... ;(

      October 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  13. Karloff

    This use of the word "nonbeliever" to describe atheists is bothersome. Religionists think we don't believe in anything because we don't believe in god. I, for one, believe in science and rational and critical thinking–I am a BELIEVER. Lawdy!

    October 7, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • truth be told

      God gave science to mankind, you are not even close to belief.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Everything in Moderation

      I believe in the correct use of words within a language.

      When somebody calls somebody else a "nonbeliever" in an article about religion, they are referring to a belief in god(s).

      October 7, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Gene Gormley

      I believe you! Peace, bro!

      October 7, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • a dose of reality

      Truth be told......You are making a joke right???? God gave mankind science????? Now there is some serious religious Delusion!!!!

      October 7, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • centeredpiece

      Would that be the "science" that last week said drinking coffee is good for us, or the "science" that this week says it is bad for us? The problem with reliance on scientific "absolutes" is that it usually devolves into "scientism," which is the belief that a statement couched in rationalistic, "scientific" terminology expresses absolute truth. In that regard, it differs not at all from absolutist religious doctrine. Science is a tool, not a belief. It sets out (or seeks to) neutral, objective methods of testing various hypotheses as to whether they are more likely to be accurate or less likely to be accurate, given a known set of experimental variables. As anyone familiar with science knows, experimental conclusions are far from statements of absolute truth and often are later shown to be inaccurate. The goal of science is to keep questioning, not to select one explanation from many and decide it is absolute truth. So, anyone who expresses a religious-like zeal in claiming science as his/her belief system is missing the point of science altogether!

      October 7, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • moi

      So.... I guess if god gave science to us, then biology, specifically evolutionary biology which underpins all of the natural sciences was just placed there by god to test us?.... or was it satan's temptation? Don't you guys ever get tired of your ridiculous fantastical answers to these questions? Isn't it EMBARRASSING for you? I guess that's the bliss of ignorance...embarrassment has no recognition, no cognizance, no effect. There IS power in ignorance!

      October 7, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • moi

      @centerpiece: you don't understand science, clearly, with your statement that it is about absolutes. THAT would be religion. Science is about the scientific PROCESS....look it up!

      October 7, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  14. stjdsj

    “The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.
    The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
    They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.
    Do all the workers of wickedness not know, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?
    There they are in great dread, for God is with the righteous generation.” (Psalm 14:1-5)

    October 7, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • moi

      No one cares. You can't read your book to defend your book. that's circular... (logic 101). go away with your dumbness, you're wasting screen space.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  15. secularism is also known as pantheism
    October 7, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • No it isn't—except maybe in your church

      but you got it wrong.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • awaysaway

      No it is not

      October 7, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    October 7, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn is praying that you get a clue.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • aWitchintheWoods

      No, prayer doesn't change anything...unless those who are doing the praying get off their backsides and actually DO SOMETHING to affect a change.

      You can pray to a jug of milk or a "god" and get the same answer every time.."yes," "no," and "wait."
      Don't believe it? Explained on http://whydoesgodhateamputees.com/video8.htm

      October 7, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Gene Gormley

      We are all the same.
      When atheists use their brains to think, they can hope, and wish for outcomes, and plan to help others, and they can be thankful. They can even dream. They just don't kid themselves that a ghost is listening. That should not be a threat to anybody at all, except for the powerful rich charlatans in the ghost industry.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • moi

      don't feed the OCD troll.....

      October 7, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  17. Richard Fore

    Hello

    October 7, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  18. karriepgh

    Every time I read an article about faith or religion, I remember a couple of things. That when I was a small child in the 1960s, we had moved to our new home and my mother and I walked down the street to see if there were any other children that I might play with. We spotted some, playing in their driveway and front yard. We stopped to ask them if I could play, and they all stopped and asked me if I was Catholic. We were not (Presbyterian). They said I couldn't play with them, and they couldn't play with me because they would burn in h3ll if they did. Fast forward to the 19800s-1990s. I had a close acquaintance that was a born-again Christian. I had abandoned any kind of practicing of faith by then, and one day she asked me why. I told her, and thus she began about how my parents and I were 'doing it wrong'. That kind of cemented me avoiding ever walking into any house of faith again. I do not believe I can walk this earth and do whatever I please. I believe in rules needed for an ordered society whether it be the basics of Christianity or Emily Post. So please, unless a black eye is what is wanted, please leave me alone and keep the mouth shut when comes to what I do in the faith department. If I want, or don't want, a relationship with a higher power, that's my business and nobody else's. I won't pry into yours. Keep your opinion out of mine.

    October 7, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • karriepgh

      I forgot as a child, I was also going to burn in h3ll because I was not Catholic. Most of the street was Catholic. I ran into that in high school too. So I just gave up.

      October 7, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • just sayin

      There is a joy in Holy prayer, known to quite a few. This day with hope and faith and love that joy can be with you. God bless

      October 7, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • xeno

      I was going to a Methodist bible school when I was eight. I walked into a room where I found an upstanding member of the church, a woman that considers herself superior to most in matters of religion, with a classmate of mine who happened to be one of the poorest children in school. The child was there by herself, seeking religion in the absence of her parents. This woman, this upstanding church member, had ahold of her upper arm, was shaking her, in her face screaming at her that this was God's house, how dare she come into God's house dressed in such filthy garb, that she was not welcome there unless she could find something nicer to wear. She berated her viciously for being such a filthy child for what seemed like five minutes before she kicked her out of church. The thing is, this girl WAS wearing the nicest thing she owned, a dress I had never seen her wear before. She and I both walked out and never returned.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Sam

      A Christian's desire to ask you about your faith or lack thereof is the fundamental duty of all believers in Christ. Matthew 28: 19, "Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations." You won't think much of this post, but there's why Christians "interfere" in your faith. I, myself, have my troubles in wholeheartedly following the ideals of Christians, but at times, I recognize their significance.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • The Justice

      @karriepgh
      That didn't take long did it, just saying, in your face when you asked him and those like him to butt out. This is exactly the problem, if you politely ask the to stop, they just can't control themselves. Probably a born again.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • aWitchintheWoods

      This is exactly the problem with religion. It divides people into "us" vs "them."

      October 7, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Everything in Moderation

      We were a protestant family in an all-Catholic neighbourhood, too. We were never treated like that, though. It bothers me to hear it. I dislike people using faith as a weapon against others.

      As for the interfering? Yeah, it's part of the creed to go out and ask…and also to condemn as a means of "spreading the good news." When I was a fundie, I was being trained to do just that. Then I learned about all the rotten stuff churches did all over the world after having spread that "news."

      THe argument that tearing down somebody else's belief so you can replace it with your own is fundamentally flawed. The Christianity being referred to in the bible no longer exists…even if some likeness out there is still alive, it's more likely in the Amish community than anywhere else.

      The bible makes it clear that you should show people the way by showing the love in you, not by attacking, insulting or governmentally enforcing Christianity.

      That is why I left organized religion behind.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Croco3

      I think many people can relate.
      I went to this Christian reformed school, where many of my fellow schoolmates believed Catholics (which I was till then) were non-believers and only people of their faith were going to heaven! That was in the early 2000s.
      I think a certain amount of respect is needed, on all sides, because I don't think we're totally rid of our tendency to persecute each other, which has always been destructive

      October 7, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • centeredpiece

      I am fine with each of us having our own beliefs, but please do not judge an entire faith community based on the biases of a few children decades ago!!! Yes, sadly, there are catholic bigots. There are also undoubtedly Presbyterian bigots (and atheistic bigots and secularist bigots). Bigotry is an equal opportunity blindness.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • moi

      Many of us can TOTALLY relate, but you have to take that anger and put it towards promotion of science and promoting calm logic and reason. I understand your anger, I've wanted to punch a few jehovah's witnesses, seventh day adventists, Southern Baptists and Mormons. But, an angry nonbeliever is just giving them what they want. It proves their case. However, a confident, happy nonbeliever is very confusing to them. Confuse them. It's good for them.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  19. The Justice

    I liked the article and in particular "Secularism's mission is to maximise freedom of and freedom from religion." I find it strange that religion plays such a large part in our politics. When you look around the world at other mature democracies the religious belief and/or affiliation of its leaders is of little importance. I would challenge others on this blog to name the church that the leaders of Germany, Denmark, Britian, France, Australia, Canada, Sweeden, etc., etc., attend. The great melting pot that is America has to accomodate minorties of almost all the religions of the world, including the new ones that pop up from time to time, and those that wish to be free of any God/religious belief. The only way to achieve this is to keep religion out of public inst*itutions or allow comparitive studies of all the main religions and secularism, including in schools. Many still maintain tha America is a christian nation, I disagree, it is a multi- cultural nation, and the inclusion of God as part of the national identi*ty is a recent practice, dating from the 1950's.

    October 7, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • centeredpiece

      Justice, for those of us with religious beliefs, faith is not something confined to one hour a week; it informs our entire lives. How can anyone separate their values from their voting? I believe – and my faith teaches me – that racial discrimination is wrong How do I separate that teaching from the way I vote? Personally, I would not want to. The reason the civil rights movement succeeded in this country is that people of faith looked into their hearts, informed by their faith, and found that racial animas was wrong. Don't forget it wasn't Mr. King, but the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who led that struggle and led it well because his mind and his heart drew from his deep faith. Similarly, before him, the Quakers, Methodists and other religious groups spearheaded the abolitionist movement. Considering that history, do you really wish people would keep their religious beliefs out of politics?

      October 7, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • The Justice

      Yes. You imply that only people of faith fought to end racial discrimination, you are re-writing history. Do you not remember that it was in the Bilble Belt that racial discrimination was the most rampant, the good christians in that area had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new era. There is still subtle discrimination in many places in the south.

      October 7, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  20. Malcolm

    Just my two cents here, take it or leave it...

    1) One of the things that aggravates me the most with it comes to secularist, atheist secularist especially, is the complaint anytime someone mentions prayer or moment of reflection. No one is saying you have to pray to this or to that or even pray at all, but you all jump on the bandwagon and "Ohhh....he/she said prayer...ohhh..." The expression that one has faith in a higher power should not affect you one way or the other. I'm not saying there is or is not (a) god(s) here, just saying you don't have to get all up in arms because someone else believes.
    2) We shouldn't, as a country, continually bend over backwards to hurt the majority just to appease the minority. One prime example is the replacement of people saying Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays. I'm not saying it's wrong to say happy holidays, just saying we shouldn't be chastised for saying Merry Christmas. Christmas is a holiday, it is on the calendar, and it is celebrated all over the world. Also, I believe we are to the point of commercialization here, that you can deal with it. I don't have problems with my Muslim friends celebrate Ramadan or my Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah. We should all be able to walk up to each other and share in our celebrations with each other, not try to persecute each other until we have to hide our beliefs.
    3) For the Bible thumpers out there that want to discredit science, Take a good, hard look at the Bible. Then think about when it was written, what translations it has gone through, when it was translated and the area it originated. If you really think and take to heart the different meanings of the words that are there, you will find that the Bible and Science can coexist. Matter of fact: Re-read Genesis 1 and replace the word "day" with "age."

    October 7, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • The Justice

      I respect your views but I see them as rather narrow. The larger question should be "Is religion (all religions, not just the various christian faiths) a force for good in the world?" It is unfortunate that there are still religions in this world that are equivilant to what christianity was in the dark ages. Those that oppress their women, murder innocents, mutilate their children, you get the idea, in the name of religion still exist today. The answer to the question must be no: would humanity have been better of if they had not creared the many Gods?, an impossible question to answer.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • jmcondreay

      Love the comment about science and religion coexisting. The Bible says that God said let there be light, and there was light. What's the first thing given off in an explosion? What would be the first thing given off in a "Big Bang"? Light.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • David

      1) 1) Atheists don't complain about what people believe and how they practice that belief. They don't advocate for abolishment of religion either. What they try and do is separate those MANY different beliefs of gods from all forms of government and power. If atheists had a stronger voice 100 years ago there would not be gods inundating our currency, pledge of allegiance, court houses. Since atheist only claim that gods do not exist. They are frustrated seeing so many religious zealots dominate their daily lives. You don’t see it because your part of the system.
      2) It doesn’t hurt the majority to say Happy Holidays vs. Marry Christmas. People are free to say both. If stores prefer to be more politically correct that is their business. You have been watching the news too much. If you believe 3 percent of the population has any influence over some 90 percent you should reevaluate your understanding of the world. News reports do not reflect reality. All media seeks to stir the pot and create outrage/ratings. Christmas is the best time to fuel those news stories. I guarantee 1 Christmas under attack story every day for the next 3 months! Don’t blame the atheists for silly reports.
      3) The bible thumpers have a hard time separating science and religion. To them it is all one big “god did it” story. They are unable/unwilling separate their beliefs from reality. This is why they don’t belong governing others. Asking them to re translate their text (replace day with age) is pretty silly. The Mormons did it around 100 years ago and I am guessing they will be the last to re translate a bible.
      P.S. I enjoyed reading your comment. I hope mine helps clarify were you are wrong.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Croco3

      The segment about Religion and Science brought Galileo to mind; the folks in the 16th century thought heliocentrism was unbiblical, didn't they! Look around now! (I can't however rule out the possibility that some of our Creationist friends haven't come around yet!)
      As for the other points you made; this country presents itself as the home of equality, and "appeasing the minority" becomes not a compromise of any kind, but a logical necessity. I agree that there's a certain amount of bullying that's been going on lately (where Christianity has found itself victim), however, I don't see this as a surprise, given the extent to which Christian groups went to in the past, to marginalize religious minorities (which hasn't fully stopped)
      My hope is that we all can leave that mindset behind some day, and that will only be possible if we can get rid of the "militantism" that continue to be rather big part of our living out our faiths.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Zach

      Good grief, Malcolm. You really brought up the recent fuss over "Happy holidays" versus "Merry Christmas"? I have always said Happy holidays because I and wishing people a good time over Christmas and New Years. Hence, "happy holidays".. Lots easier than saying "Merry Christmas and Happy New Years". And any mantra repeated over and over has little real meaning and becomes more of a social obligation anyway- like most people saying "Hi, how are you" don't really want you to tell them how you are. They could care less.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Bobbiathan

      David, read through the comments here, and in other religion-focused pieces. Athiests (not all, of course), very much want to push their own belief (non-belief?) system on the religious believers. They call whatever god being discussed a sky wizard and make comments about fantasy and how they're deluding themselves. Religion has been the basis for a lot of horrible behaviors throughout human history, but it's also been a good influence on those who don't become overzealous about it. Imagine if no one in the world, throughout history, ever had a sense of accountability hanging over them. Imagine if no one ever believed they'd be struck down and sent to hell if they killed someone who made them mad – even if there wasn't any person around who could ever tell the tale. It's possible that has saved more lives than the religious wars have caused. Then again, it's possible that's not true at all.

      October 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.