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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. wjmccartan

    Like the man said, seperation of church and state. Unless you were raised on a planet where religion doesn't exist, there is no such thing as a distinction between church and state, Americans will never put an atheist at the helm. At least not in this century. Religion will continue to play a part in the politic that is the United States, not good not bad, but it does affect politics, and will continue to do so for years into the future.

    Lucid One

    October 7, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • D Rufus Onfyre

      Society has 88 more years to prove you wrong.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  2. Colin

    Actually, "A few 100% true reasons why atheists etc.." you’ll find that most (ex-Christian) atheists don’t believe for one or more of the following reasons:

    The concept of an immortal being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-powerful being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-knowing being makes no sense to us.

    Throwing the three together into one being cubes its already dispositive implausibility.

    We tend to have a good working knowledge of the age, size and history of the Universe. The idea that a being would create the entire thing – with 400,000,000,000 galaxies, EACH with 100, 000,000,000 starts and even more planets, then sit back and wait 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he could “love them” and send his son to Earth to talk to a nomadic group of Jews about sheep and goats in Iron Age Palestine (while ignoring the rest of the 200 million people then alive) makes no sense to us. We can’t help but ask ourselves, “did God make the Jews or did the Jews make God?”

    The answers usually proffered for what we see as basic logical flaws in Christianity – “you have been blinded by your lack of faith” “God moves in mysterious ways” “God is outside the Universe” or “our minds are too small to understand the greatness of God” are never satisfying to us. We see a retreat to mysticism as the first refuge of the cornered fool.

    The common argument, “well, what caused the Big Bang?” with the implication that, because we have only theories and no iron clad explanation for the Big Bang yet, the Judeo-Christian god must have caused it – does not make sense to us. “I don’t know” does not equal “god” to us, much less the Judeo-Christian god. We feel the answers to such a question are much more likely to be found in Einstein’s equations, quantum physics, large particle accelerators and radio telescopes than in Genesis Chapters 1 through 20. We’re crazy aren’t we?

    We do not see miracles in things like tornadoes missing a certain trailer in a trailer park, cancer going into remission or Tim Tebow winning a football game.

    We understand that Christianity is one of many, many religions in the World, and we don’t think that we were lucky enough to have been born in the one part of the World that “got it right”. Likewise, we know how all faiths evolve, morph and change over time and do not think we were lucky enough to have been born in the one generation that “got it right.”

    We tend to have a basic knowledge of history and know that there is nothing magical or special about the supposed history of the Jews, gospels, letters, apocalyptic story (Revelations) and other materials that found their way into the Bible, in that they are largely indistinguishable from the other mythology and religious writings of the pre Dark Ages Mediterranean.

    Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and we see the various religious beliefs that try to “wish it away,” such as reincarnation, living happily ever after in Heaven with Jesus, having your own Mormon planet etc. as nothing more than childish stories for the more näive, timid minds among us.

    We do not see morality as predicated upon a belief in the supernatural. We accept that one can be moral without believing in the supernatural and that doing so is no guaranty that one will conform to the norms of society that people call “morality”.

    “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” is not a convincing argument to us, or even a relevant point, as in inability to disprove something is a far cry from it being true. We cannot prove that the Hindu gods Shiva or Vishnu do not exist either, nor Santa Claus for that matter, but that is hardly a reason to believe in them, or even evidence for their existence. It is impossible to prove a negative in this context.

    When one looks at the various Christian beliefs that were once firmly believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, people living to be 700 or 900 years old, the Red Sea splitting, water turning into wine, a talking snake, a man living in a whale’s belly, people rising from the dead, Jesus driving demons out of people and into pigs – but which are now acknowledged by most thinking people to be mere mythology, it is pretty hard to give a lot of credibility to what’s left.

    It is hard not to consider Christianity as based on circular reasoning. Most Christians believe in God because the Bible says so, then turn around and say they believe the Bible because it is the word of God. To draw an analogy, “I believe Mao Zedong was a great man because The Little Red Book says so, and the reason I believe The Little Red Book is that it was written by Mao Zedong, who was a great man.” Do you even have the slightest idea of how your Bible was compiled over the centuries or who decided what to include and what to exclude and on what grounds? Can you even name one of hundred plus authors who contributed to it? One of the many people who decided what got in and what didn’t?

    To be bluntly honest, the more one comes to understand mother nature, the less reason there is to believe in a god and the more one understands human nature, the more one sees why so many of us still do.

    So, before you next get frustrated at us because we refuse to agree that you know the secrets to life, death, the origins of life on Earth and the origins of the Universe, simply because your parents or priest taught you some comforting stories from late Bronze Age Palestine as a child, you might like to reflect upon the overwhelming enormity of the claims you are about to make and the complete paucity of evidence that underwrites those claims.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      Despite the seeming education and thought of Colin, the thoughts are very immature....basically reduced to " I just cant believe in such an awesome thing like God". The bible read with a mind of "a love for the truth" has brought many an unbeliever to the joyfulness and peace of belief in a loving God who has given his son Jesus for all.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • George

      Atheists are the fools of the pack, easily conned by those that molded their minds and that they are too stupid and arrogant to figure out what happened to them. Will Jesus forgive them? We'll have to wait and see.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • fofo

      Thank you.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • fofo

      I should have said, thank you Collin, so the two imbeciles who responded to you wouldn't think I was referring to their mindless minds.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • wjmccartan

      Colin

      It sounds like you have been saving a large basket of words for a long time and thought this was the point in time, I read all those words man. I appreciate the history lesson, really. I was just stating the obvious for next little bit in time, I will say though to screan aloud your ridicule of people. Maybe if you dressed it down a tad, our eyes are ears when we read. Relax, breath. Read what you write sir.

      Enjoy

      Lucid One

      October 7, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  3. D Rufus Onfyre

    "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." Stephen Hawking.
    Quoting biblical scriptures as fact is a perfect example.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  4. sean

    Besides the USA, all other industrialized, "advanced" nations of the world have long since moved on from such unworthy topics of argument. In Canada we have a Evangelical Christian for a leader but he dare not dwell on his faith here because it's political suicide to do so. Suspecting our Prime Minister somehow took cues from the Almighty would cause real concern in the general population. Rightly so. Can someone please explain to me why the States is still so bloody religious? Does it not strike the average American as troubling that Romney, as a Mormon, believes such utter nonsense taught in his religion? This is potentially the next leader of the (still) most powerful nation in the world?? That's just plain f**** up. We love you America but we're confused by your weird attraction to Dark Ages fantasy beliefs. It's enough of a concern that the whole Middle East is wrapped up in this nonsense. Not you guys too. Snap out of it!

    October 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • tony

      53% of Americans are stupid according to Mitt

      October 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • DDM

      Thank you!

      October 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Lisabeth

      I totally agree, Sean, and also fail to understand the U.S.'s refusal to join the 21st century. To have some of the best scientists in the world studying genetics to solve diseases while at the same time having an ignorant blowhard in Congress "scoff" at evolution and the Big Bang Theory (with a significant percent of the population in agreement) is truly unbelievable. Not to mention completely hypocritical when such morons take advantage of the advances in medical science. It's no wonder the rest of the civilized world views us with puzzlement and even derision.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • George

      Sean, chalk it up to learning Jesus' wisdom for which you have none.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • fofo

      Look at the history of the immigrants who first came to this country sean. Bunch of criminals who found Jesus and exploited on this idea to make money.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  5. Orygun Duck

    Money and technology has become the new religion.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  6. eroteme

    Anyone who CNN selects to submit a 'Special to CNN' is suspect.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  7. Sebastian2

    As an atheist, I'm fine with religion, as long as it doesn't try to kill anyone, deprive people of their liberties, freedom of speech or medical choices. Show me a religion that meets all of these criteria and I'd embrace it wholeheartedly. Sadly, most religions I encounter seek to do one or all of these things in one way or another; either by killing infidels, banning books, preventing transfusions, refusing marriage for those in love, or making women wear black, head-to-toe coverings in a hot desert. Same old story; worship MY version of god.... or else.
    Thanks, but no thanks.

    As for the GOP and secularism? I seem to remember a time (before Ronald Reagan permanently fused God with the Republican party) when conservatives were actually conservative; not just fiscally but socially as well. They didn't marry their religious agenda with a political one. These days? The fringe of the party have taken over and are on a freaking jihad against the rest of us. I miss the GOP of old; they were a lot more reasonable...

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

      Good old Jerry Falwell. That should have been the end of the tax exempt status.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Nat Q

      Agreed. I am atheist and I don't give two whits about an individual's personal religious beliefs or expression of those beliefs–UNTIL that expression is expanding to negatively impact the rights, lives, liberties, and property of another person (regardless of if that person's beliefs are in alignment or not). Any time a religious belief is the instigating basis for a law or policy in a nation that is expressedly secular, that is wrong.

      For example, if someone wants to personally believe being gay is a sin, fine, but to vote to strip civil, legal, secular rights away from gay people on the basis of nothing more than that religious belief is ant.ithetical to everything this nation has been built upon. People can personally believe what they want, but they cannot extend those beliefs to others and infringe upon the rights of others in a secular society. And in trade, the rights of others cannot be brought to infringe upon their own. That is the trade off to live in a stable, secular society. It does mean people may say things you find offensive or live lifestyles you don't agree with, but so can you–both of you can up until one seeks to negatively impact the rights of another.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • George

      Ting, you watch too much television.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  8. tony

    Worshiping money will get you a much better life here on Earth. And all the evangelicals, social conservatives, bankers and oil companies will do almost anythingt to elect you as President

    October 7, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Susie

      Another delusional leftie...

      October 7, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • tony

      . . .who just happened to have taken two of his start-ups through successful IPOs and retired rich at 49.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  9. Flint Rock

    Freedom is just another word to those who want their government to push fairy their fairy tales on others.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  10. Jesus Christ Son of God

    My comments keep disappearing. My dad works in mysterious ways...

    October 7, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • a dose of reality

      good one!

      October 7, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  11. Ed

    "Live and let live" seems not to be a secular value. One of my kids figures that we will have "gulags" for "Believers" in her lifetime.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Fn0rdz

      Your kid- and you- are quite wrong.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • roadkilled

      I do not want to impose my beliefs on you. I will resist you imposing your beliefs upon me. As a Christian, I try to live Christ-like. This means to adhere to "Render unto Ceasar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's".

      October 7, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • FloydZepp

      They're called MegaChurches. You find them along Interstates.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Seyedibar

      gulags for believers? a better idea would be a colisseum full of lions

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

      FloydZepp,

      Nice.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  12. :)

    Few 100% true Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things:

    † Atheism is a religion that makes you angry, stupid, brainwashed, ignorant & blind.
    † Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
    † Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here on CNN blogs are posted by closet atheists)
    † Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
    † Atheists are misguided and causes problem in our religious & public society.
    † Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
    † Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
    † Atheism making you agree with Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler (denied his faith later), Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders who killed religious people because of their religious cult!
    † No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
    † Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
    † Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
    † Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
    † Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
    † Most atheists are uneducated... No atheists could run for presidency.
    † Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
    † Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
    † All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
    † The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
    † Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate & Communist countries = Atheism!
    **Only 2-3% of the U.S. are atheists/agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**

    † † Our Prayers goes to atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator † †

    PS! the USA is a † nation and will always be. You know it's true and stop being ignorant and arrogant!
    (Take a look at our federal/state holidays, 99% of our presidents, blue laws in parts of the nation, name of some cities/counties/streets, the majority of people, some laws, calendar, culture, etc.)
    http://rightremedy.org/tracts/7

    ¦There is only one God and it is to Him that you pray. All others pray to false gods and idols. Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist are all lost unless they know Jesus as their Lord & Savior.¦
    .

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

      I think you should have said those are a gazillion percent true, or at least a billion percent. I'm religious so I don't know and bigger numbers.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Wootings

      ...and this is a perfect example of how religion deludes the believer, 100%. Since 100% of those assertions are false.

      Religion is at best willful ignorance and a combination of mass/self-delusion. You can hate on agnostics and/or atheists all you want to...we will pity you.

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

      Evangelicals are so desperately clinging to their dying religion that they have to find someone to be against in order to validate themselves. Its fun to watch.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Fn0rdz

      This is such a ridiculously wrong list that I think it's satire. It can't be real.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Al

      You are 100% wrong.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      I'm telling my dad what a good boy you are, stupid, but a good boy.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Mike

      I stopped reading after number one, that atheism is a religion. Do you even know what greek and latin roots me. A=without and theism=belief in a diety. How can atheism be a "religion."? It's religion that's absolute nonsense and poison and very dangerous to mankind. Most wars are because of religion.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Lisa

      I guess this is meant as sarcasm but it fails to be witty so I'm unsure of it's intent.

      As an atheist, I must be sorely lacking in my duties. Married for decades to the same person, do not worship Satan (that's kinda the point – we don't buy into the whole supernatural thing – Duh), don't do drugs, don't smoke, have committed no crimes, have a Master's degree... and I'm not the least bit worried about my so-called soul. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we all return to the earth after we die.

      The post makes me feel like a failure as an atheist.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Rain

      I don't understand what evolution has to do with morality? Also, I looked up the statistics of how many atheist make up our prison system. Only 11% of inmates identify as atheist. Overall these statements seem based on the authors own fear and misunderstanding and this line of thinking is exactly how people like Hitler are able to convince people to murder millions of people. If you truly believe atheist are all degenerate, ignorant, drug addicted criminals with no morals who act like animals it only matter of time until you desire to see them eradicated. This tirade reads very much like a condensed version of Hitlers views on the Jews in his book Mein Kampf! He detailed his belief of the true nature of Jews in very much the same way. Hitler blamed the Jews for all of societies woes and this person blames the atheists. Very dangerous to hold such misguided and extreme views of hate against anyone!

      October 7, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • a dose of reality

      Ten Reasons You Know you are an Atheist.
      1. You were likely brought up a theist (probably a Christian if you live in the USA) and had to do your own thinking to rise above the beliefs that still occupy the mind of the believer. This usually involved being smart and working hard at school and college so as to get a good, accurate view of the natural Universe and overcoming significant social pressure to dumb yourself down and conform. In short, you had the guts to ask the hard questions and the brains to spot the weak answers. The more you came to understand the Universe, the less reason there was to believe in a god and the more you came to appreciate human nature, the more you understood why billions of us still do.
      2. While rejecting the supernatural elements of the Bible, you nevertheless retain a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent you reject Christian morality, it is where it is mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, your basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – you just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over your head in order to act in a manner that you consider moral.
      3. You know a great deal more about the Bible than most believers. This is because you took the time to read it yourself and did not rely on the primary-color simple stories you learned in Sunday school. You have also probably done some research into the historical Jesus and have a good handle on where he REALLY fit in to the broader picture of the Middle East at the time. Needless to say, his miracles and other magic powers soon started to look pretty unlikely.
      4. Your knowledge of basic science and history is much stronger than that of your average believer. You likely have a basic working knowledge of physics, astronomy, evolutionary biology and cosmology and a good idea of the history of life on this planet. This acc.umulated knowledge puts you in a position to judge the claims of the Bible in a critical light and they are almost always found wanting. To the theist, this makes you “elitist” and ‘arrogant”.
      5. You relish your role as a religious minority in the USA, as this gives you an impetus to fight and you understand how others with unpopular, but doubtlessly correct views have felt throughout history. There is something altogether satisfying to you about having a deep conviction you are right and being viewed with disdain for your views by the errant majority. You feel a quiet confidence that future generations will look back on you as a member of a class of trailblazers, as religious supersti.tions go into inevitable decline in popularity.
      6. You are likely more environmentally aware than your theist friends and colleagues and unlikely to fall for claims of industry and wind-bag politicians concerning the impact of man’s activities on the environment. You could no more act in an environmentally irresponsible manner because “god will keep us safe” than you could jump of a ship, believing King Neptune will keep you safe.
      7. You generally have a live and let live atti.tude, but will fiercely defend any attempts by theists to thrust their views on you or your children, directly or through control of school boards, the legislature or the executive. While you are prepared to debate and argue passionately with the theist on an intellectual level, you would never wish them harm or ill will. You know you are likely to be smugly told you will “burn in hell for all eternity” for your healthy skepticism. This highlights what you despise about religion, as you would not wish a bad sunburn on another, simply because they have a different religious view to you. You have never heard of an evolutionary biologist strapping a bomb to himself and running into a church yelling “Darwin-u akbar”.
      8. You likely know more about other religions than your average theist. This makes you less fearful of them and enables you to see parallels. You realize that, if you were born in India, you would have been brought up with a totally different religion. You realize that every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. They cannot all exist and you see the error all faiths make of thinking only theirs exist(s). This “rising above” the regional nature of all religions was probably instrumental in your achieving atheism.
      9. You likely have a deep, genuine appreciation of the fathomless beauty and unbelievable complexity of our Universe, from the 4 nucleotides that orchestrate every aspect of you, through to the distant quasars, without having to think it was all made for you. You likely get more out of being the irrelevant ant staring up at the cosmos than you do in having to pretend that it was all made to turn in majestic black-and-white pirouette about you.
      10. While you have a survival instinct, you cannot fear death in the way the theist does. You know that the whole final judgment story, where you may be sent to hell if you fail, is Dark Ages nonsense meant to keep the Church’s authority. You also know that you were dead for 13,700,000,000 years before you were born. It is impossible for you to fear death, for the simple reason that you know the capacity to fear (or to feel pain or discomfort) itself dies. You will not even know you are dead. Fear of death is as meaningless to you as is the fear of a vacuum, the fear of not being born. You feel a lot more secure, and indeed a deep comfort, in this knowledge, than you would in trying to yoke yourself to some quasi-hope that every part of your intellect tells you is untenable.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Mike

      Well if I was to burn a Bible right now would that mean a bolt of lightening would strike me dead? I'll try this experiment today!

      October 7, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • ann

      You need to seek professional help immediatly .

      October 7, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • The False Prophet

      Everything you just said perfectly describes religious people. Thank you for summing up all the reasons I chose to forsake faith for sanity and reason.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Craig Pierson

      "† Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists."
      That is the best one of all. Logic that keeps us in the stone age... if you don't know something, God must be the answer! Makes perfect sense!
      BTW the closet atheist comment is nonsense... I would agree to meet anyone face-to-face with a calm discussion on my views verses theirs. floyd_29@yahoo.com NJ area. Ball's in your court.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Barry

      Haha, I get it. Just one point to consider though, Satire is a very challenging writing style, and not everyone can do it well.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  13. YES!!!!!!!!

    "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"

    – See, we're a Christian nation!

    October 7, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • FloydZepp

      But the true Sabbath is Friday to Saturday.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Fn0rdz

      We're a Christian nation in the sense that most of the citizens profess to be Christians. But we weren't "founded" as a Christian nation.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Ting

      Government offices are closed on Saturday too. Does that make us a Jewish nation? As America becomes more diverse, we will see the "In God We Trust" disappear from the currency to appease the ones with a different invisible friend. I think it should be changed to "In Moon We Trust". We can see the moon. The tide goes in, the tide goes out.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • a reasonable atheist

      "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to pet.ition the Government for a redress of grievances."

      The First Amendment of the U.S. Const.itution disagrees with your a.ssertion.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  14. Jon

    There is also another sense of "secularism" (or, some would prefer the term "secularity) which is important for the lives of individual believers: That religious leaders are not authorities of non-religious truth. Thus, religious leaders are not authorities on how to run a business, how to do science, or even how to run government. Although religious leaders do remind us of the important *values* that should guide us in doing these things, and point out when these values seem to not be followed, it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual professional believers in the world to judge how these values should be realized in their field.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  15. OBAMA '12

    All I need to know is that OBAMA WILL WIN THE ELECTION, so this article is moot.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      I don't want to be FORCED to wear "magic Mormon panties."

      October 7, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • a dose of reality

      Obama/Romney...meet the new boss, same as the old boss. This country will downward spiral until we get a VIABLE third political party. The dems and the Pubs are SO polarized that all they do is fight each other and have stopped working to together for THE BENIFIT Of THE PEOPLE.... They are as Dogmatic as religion and will say ANYTHING to get elected.

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

      Surely, by now, you've started to believe those that tell you how to think.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  16. Carroll

    A secular government does not deny the existence of God nor punish a people for their belief in God. Established in the First Amendment, it prevents this government from creating a Church of the State or punishing someone because God sez – I.E. spectral evidence used in the Salem Witchcraft Trials. It is a system of law where truth is divine through due process based on evidence. For a great example watch “A Man For All Seasons.”

    October 7, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  17. plumbline

    Let the redeemed of the Lord say so..........

    October 7, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Todd

      enough with the fairy tale quotes as if it is fact. The sooner we eradicate religious nonsense from this world the better off we will be. Replace it with a society based on science, reason and logic.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Just please keep it to yourselves, huh? Everyone who is NOT a member of your church is tired of hearing about it.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Seyedibar

      I find it humorous that people would create a god that is all powerful, all knowing and then imbue him with the worst of human characteristics such as jealousy, spite, egotism, and wrath. Your idea of redemption fits this well.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • D Rufus Onfyre

      "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." Stephen Hawking.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  18. NorthVanCan

    Can you believe that most of America thinks the Bible is a true story!
    Yikes!

    October 7, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Seyedibar

      not surprising considering a similar number of people believe in ghosts and alien spacecraft. It seems humans just want to believe in anything that takes away the mundanity of life.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Julie

      Well, given that man has created space craft it is equally possible that some form of alien life exists and has created spacecraft. The part that gets less likely is that the space craft has come anywhere near Earth.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  19. NotaCreationist

    How did life begin?

    October 7, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • One one

      No one knows. How is this relevant ?

      October 7, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Chemical rains of hydrogen, sulfur, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorous intermingled for millions of years until some formed bonded structures of nucleic acids that over another few million years learned to use catalyzing reactions to reproduce itself. There's a good chance that the first organisms were colonies of living chemical soup, which spent a few hundred million years as microcscopic protozoa. it's really less of a miracle and more of a game of long odds over long time.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Colin

      The theory most scientists currently favor for the origins of life is called “abiogenesis,” the gradual emergence of life on Earth from non-living matter. To understand why it is thought that life arose on Earth from non-living matter, one has to understand some basic biochemistry.

      All life is comprised of complex arrangements of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, all orchestrated by DNA and/or RNA. DNA/RNA and proteins are by far the most important components of a living organism, carrying out virtually every function in a cell. Fats and carbohydrates are generally simpler molecules and play critical, but subordinate roles in cells.

      DNA and RNA are made of five nucleotides – adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine and uracil. They act as the cell’s “mission control,” orchestrating the cell’s activities. Proteins are made of 20 amino acids. They are the workhorse of the cell – the nails, wood, steel beams and machinery that make the cell run. It is the order of amino acids in a protein that determine its shape and, therefore what it does. This order and shape of proteins is itself dictated by the DNA through RNA.

      So, in short, life is made up of complex arrangements of:

      The five nucleotides – adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine and uracil – arranged into DNA and/or RNA
      The twenty amino acids – that form all proteins, including enzymes and the other 100,000 or so proteins in a complex organism’s body.
      Carbohydrates – literally “water-carbon,” which include sugars and starches. These are much simpler elements than proteins or DNA/RNA and act as an energy source.
      Fats – also called lipids, these are important in constructing cell membranes.

      The simplest cells are prokaryotic cells. They exist today principally as bacteria. Stromatolites and other fossils from all over the planet suggest that, for the first billion years of life on earth, all life was simple, prokaryotic life. These cells consisted of a fatty cell membrane, like a balloon skin, with DNA/RNA, proteins, fats and carbohydrates on the inside. They had no nucleus. Cells with nuclei, called eukaryotic cells (which make up virtually all multi-cellular organisms) are much larger and more complex that prokaryotic cells and likely resulted from the early combining of prokaryotic cells.

      So, can a simple prokaryotic cell come into existence without the intervention of God, Allah, Shiva, Vishnu, Yahweh or any other divine/magic being?

      Beginning in the 1950s, scientists started trying to mimic the conditions on the early Earth to see whether some kind of “life-fairy” was necessary to get things started. In the most famous experiment of this era, the Miller-Urey experiment of 1952, Stanley Miller demonstrated that heating and running an electric spark through an atmosphere of water vapor, ammonia, methane and hydrogen for a few weeks resulted in these very simple molecules self-assembling into all 20 of the amino acids upon which life on Earth is based. This is a startling result. All 20 building blocks of proteins, which comprise over 99% of the cell’s functional structures, self-assembling without a magic wand from God, Shiva, Vishnu, Allah etc!

      The experiment was groundbreaking because it suggested that, under the perfectly natural conditions of early Earth, the building blocks of life can and will self-assemble. Indeed, it now seems that major volcanic eruptions 4 billion years ago would have created an even more diverse atmosphere than Miller used, including carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). When these were added to the mix in subsequent experiments, they have resulted in the creation of all 5 nucleotides, all 20 amino acids and basic fatty membranes and various carbohydrates. That is to say, with no magic/divine intervention, all life’s building blocks WILL self-assemble.

      But nails, wood, wiring and bricks a house do not make. Even the simplest life requires these building blocks to be arranged in very, very complex ways. In various experiments with various conditions, scientists have been able to create a wide range of cell-like structures of increasing complexity on the road toward a simple self-replicating organism. These creations are called protobionts or coacervates and if you “you tube” or google these terms, you will see many examples.

      This is still a far cry from a cell, but the important thing is that the experiments uniformly demonstrate that organic molecules have a natural tendency to clump together in increasingly complex ways under early Earth-like conditions. They are not being pushed into doing something “against their will”.

      Where it gets really suggestive is that scientists have been able to isolate what they believe to be some of the most primitive genes of Earth, by comparing the DNA of two organisms whose last common ancestor lived soon after the formation of the Earth. For such genes to be common to both such organisms, they must be very, very old. When these ancient genes produce amino acids, they are rich in the amino acids most common in the Miller-Urey and similar experiments! This suggests that these experiments do indeed reflect early Earth conditions and that life itself did arise under such conditions.

      The other important factor is that these impressive results have been achieved in laboratories over small periods of time. Imagine the whole Earth as the “Petri dish” and hundreds of millions of years as the timescale. Simple life gradually emerging from such a “soup” does not seem at all incredible, certainly not incredible enough that we in the USA have to give up and call the remaining gap in knowledge “God,” while our Indian colleagues do the same and attribute it all to the Lord Shiva.

      Scientist are also approaching it from the other side too, gradually stripping away at prokaryotic cells to see how stripped down they have to become for life to “stop,” while others continue to build up from coacervates and protobionts. The gap is narrowing as our knowledge continues its inexorable march.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Orygun Duck

      Stanley Miller's experiment in the 1950s has been largely discredited because as science has progressed it has become clear that his calculations of the chemistry of the early Earth's atmosphere is way off.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  20. repeatrepeaterrepeaterepeaterrepeatrepeaterrepeaterepeater

    NorthVanCan
    Why is every article I read that contains a religious subject matter leave me fuming angry?
    When will we ever learn ?
    Religion in the church and science in the school.
    Now , was that so hard?

    October 7, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
    21k
    who cares what you call it, it is a step towards rational thought: ie, the fact that god does not exist. even if god did exist, would you really want to spend eternity with a being that would not stop hitler, even though he created him?

    October 7, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse | Reply
    Mauser
    As a secular minded individual whose family is extremely right winged religious fundamentalists-I have to applaud this article for the clarity it brings to the secular debate.
    Written quite well.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
    palintwit
    Repeated studies have shown that there is a greater incidence of child molestation and incest among southern white evangelical christians than in any other group that participated in the study. Living in cramped quarters (such as trailer parks) is one of the main causes of perverted behavior among christians. Those requiring further proof need only to take a casual drive south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The abundance of toothless christian cretins you will encounter are a direct result of generations of inbreeding. Historians have long theorized that the south lost the civil war because of the many mentally challenged soldiers in the Confederate army, another resulut of this inbreeding.
    Oddly enough, many of these christian misfits make their way north or west where they can be found working in gas stations and car washes. And yes, some do end up in Congress on the republican side of the aisle. And some end up in mainstream cinema, appearing in such classics as Deliverance and Smokey and The Bandit

    October 7, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
    21k
    don't forget country musicians.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    Galaxy Prime
    Okay, I can tolerate the casual religious person who believes in god and accepts that there are people who believe in a different god or none at all – but the ultra-religious nutjobs who think EVERYBODY should get on their knees and pray to THEIR god, put Christian bibles in public schools, and have the Ten Commandments hanging on walls in US courthouses are no different than those religious nutjobs in the Taliban. Keep your religion to yourself!

    October 7, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
    Mauser
    Couldn't agree more!
    I hate the extreme views of those religious nutjobs.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    Colin
    A quick quiz should help us understand why the Seperation of Church and state must be maintained at all costs, especially in our education system.

    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:

    (a) Children’s fairytales;

    (b) Medieval mythology;

    (c) New age pseudo science; or

    (d) the most politically powerful religion in the USA

    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am

    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;

    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly

    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or

    (d) your average voting Christian

    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:

    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;

    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;

    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or

    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.

    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty" like protect myself with a condom. I am

    (a) A victim of child molestation

    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover

    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions

    (d) A Christian who can influence access to condoms and other birth control

    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:

    (a) historian;

    (b) geologist;

    (c) NASA astronomer; or

    (d) Christian who can infuence education policies

    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am

    (a) A failed psychologist

    (b) A fraudulent geneticist

    (c) A sociologist who never went to college; or

    (d) A voting Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.

    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:

    (a) Architecture;

    (b) Philosophy;

    (c) Archeology; or

    (d) Religion

    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:

    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they must believe under threat of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;

    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is one god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;

    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or

    (d) All of the above.

    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:

    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;

    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;

    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or

    (d) my religious belief.

    If I am worried that my children, who I love very much, will not believe something I tell them, such as "smoking is bad for you," I should:

    (a) have our family doctor explain to them the various ill effects of smoking.

    (b) show them a film produced by the National Inst.itute for Health on the topic.

    (c) set a good example for them by not smoking; or

    (d) refuse to give them any evidence of the ill effects of smoking, insist they rely on faith and then take them out into the backyard and burn them to death if I ever catch them smoking.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse | Reply
    Sagebrush Shorty
    Obama is what he is ,and becomes anything that is necessary for re-election.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
    moi
    In case you didn't notice, drone-head, this is an article about secularism. Yes, Obama is who he is (as everyone is), but the second part of your statement is confusing Obama for Romney, who has proven himself a substance-less joke.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    tony
    A great, thoughtful and sensible US President, who happens to be black, and therefor automatically hated by a large percentage of core republican voters and particularly their chosen elected congressmen.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    heeeey
    Secularism works in Canada. By having non-profit socialized medicine and banking laws that protect the countries AAA+ credit rating and peoples money, that seems more "Christian-Like" than what goes on in the US.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
    fibergirl
    great article....now hurry up and tax the churches already.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse | Reply
    moi
    Amen to that! My thinking exactly....so what's the hold up? Oh wait, that's right, no one with that agenda can get elected with our fervent, insane religious right populous.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    GAW
    I guess that 5 is the new 3.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
    Nietodarwin
    Our test scores will continue to drop below other western nations as long as these religious sickos and "Talibangelicals" are left in our government. Bill Nye is correct to point out that creationist beliefs are "not good for kids" and parents should stop teaching this nonsense to their children. GOP Rep. Paul Broun from Georgia, (a Doctor who is on the House Committee for Science and Tech.) is now on record as saying evolution, embryology, and The Big Bang theory are "lies from the pits of hell" Religion is UNPATRIOTIC. Most christians I know don't vomit at the table while others are eating, yet they behave that way toward our governance.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse | Reply
    NorthVanCan
    Obama needs to say what people want to hear in order to get elected. He's a politician , god dam it!
    Why are so many people so gullible ?

    October 7, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
    fibergirl
    Funny, I said the the same thing about Bush

    October 7, 2012 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    Luis Wu
    That's what I've been saying about Romney.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    moi
    They are all politicians. Only half the population is smart enough to take this into consideration. The other half..... well...

    October 7, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    bosefasaurus
    @Glenn I don't really see any difference between a Muslim and a Christian president. They both believe in an invisible man in the sky. I would much prefer an honest president that didn't believe in any gods.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
    Helena Handbasket
    AMEN!

    October 7, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    moi
    Never going to happen...as hard as we pray for it;)

    October 7, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    Caleb
    Your history is a bit off on point #2. The first written point of this being a secular nation was in 1796 in article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli when this country was described as "...the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." The "wall" as you put it had to put in place later because people seem to have forgotten what we stood for.
    You also neglect to mention that we added the word "god" to our money in 1861. We replaced our motto "E pluribus unum" in 1956 with "In God we Trust". The words "Under God" were added to our pledge in 1954. If this was the intention of our founding fathers, surely it would've been in place while some of them were still alive. In my opinion, these are some of the greatest shames the religious community has yet placed on our nations history, however I'm sure it wont be the last.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse | Reply
    Nietodarwin
    Way to go Caleb, it brightens my day to see these corrections made and facts about money and the pledge reiterated.
    Religion is the opposite of education. Have a good day.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    Glenn
    I bet people would be clamoring for a wall between church and state if Obama(hypothetically) proclaimed himself a Muslim after winning the election.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
    frank montgomery
    Subdue trolling, very nice.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |

    October 7, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • palintwit

      You forgot your meds again. Idiot.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • a dose of reality

      Palintwit, did you forget your meds too? Or, is all that fact too much for you?

      October 7, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Wow, someone escaped the bin this morning.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:30 am |
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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.