Half and Half

Came across this interesting article on Reason about fight against the secularization of America. The article itself was mostly a summary and review of the book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, dealing with the very non-religious ideas of the Founding Fathers. I found myself both agreeing with and being troubled by many of the assertions that author made.

First, the good news. I agree with the premise that our nation’s Founding Fathers were, in fact, trying to create a wall of separation between church and state. If not, why isn’t the Constituion more explicitly religous? Society at the time would have been much more receptive to overtly religious statements in the Constitution, but the framers remember where they came from. Keep in mind that the Puritans (who many today would call radical Christian fundamentalists) came to the New World to avoid the persecution of the Church of England. The leaders at the time had the foresight to realize that they were escaping a government dictated by a bureaucratic religion, and they wisely avoided the same mistake. People that try and paint Thomas Jefferson or other framers as “devoutly religious” men don’t know their history — Jefferson himself rewrote sections of the Bible to make it less religious.

But, now, the bad news. The author makes the mistake of claiming the secularists have the majority. If there is a backlash against secularism, it’s because the vast majority of Americans will associate themselves with a religion. Here are some statistics. 76% of the U.S. population consider themselves Christian. Only 13% call themselves “nonreligious”, and a whopping 0.4% consider themselves atheist. If there is a backlash against secularism, it’s because only a small percentage of the population is “non-religious.” But, like I said, I don’t disagree with the book’s premise — our nation was not (and is not) a Christian nation, despite what the numbers say. Our laws are nothing more than a reflection of natural law (just about anyone would agree with the basic rights affrorded to us), and attempts at further attaching national law to Biblical law have failed. We are truly a melting pot, even today, and that will invite the sort of tension the article identifies.