Jacques Berlinerblau: Secular America Wins!

I could go through this article point by point and how how a materialist, non-sacramental worldview shapes how a person sees culture and politics. I am not going to do that. Instead, read through the article to understand how a person committed to radical secularism interprets the Obama victory. It’s a revealing and, in its own way, honest article that illustrates the crisis and divide that America faces.

Source: Huffington Post | Jacques Berlinerblau

After last night’s election, secular Americans can do things they haven’t done in years: They can celebrate. They can feel a smidgen optimistic about the future of their country. And they can stop prattling on about repatriating to Canada.

For a while there, house-hunting expeditions in Manitoba seemed like a plausible course of action. After all, “secularism” in 2012 was the dastardly -ism whose name could not be spoken. Across nearly 18 months of garrulous campaigning, I counted fewer than a dozen references to the S-word by presidential candidates. Even less was said about secularism’s preferred policy variant: separationism. The concept of a “wall of separation” was hardly ever mentioned, except by Rick Santorum, who reported that it turned his stomach.

Today, secularism should feel just swell. Those groovy and positive vibes, however, are not entirely attributable to Barack Obama’s victory. Truth be told, our president’s commitment to classic secular values has been uneven at best. One could argue that the prayerful Obama is responsible for moving his party away from the separationist secularism it espoused for half a century.

Sure, the president bravely held his ground against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a surreal and time-warping controversy about, of all things, access to contraception. Still, a glance at this campaign video celebrating his leadership with “faith values” indicates that Barack Obama was no Mario Cuomo.

So let me be precise: Secularists are euphoric less because the Democrat was re-elected, and more because his Republican adversary was defeated. Even this statement needs to be qualified. A different iteration of Mitt Romney might have made a perfectly fine secular president. After all, secularism is perennially concerned about protecting religious minorities. A member of the LDS Church such as the former governor of Massachusetts might know a thing or two about the plight of small, vulnerable communities of faith.

In theory, Romney could have been a reasonable option for secularists. In practice, Romney constantly disappointed on this score. He ran as an “Evangelical Mormon” in 2008, going out of his way to lambaste secularism in his “Faith in America” address. While strategically dialing back the God Talk in 2012, Romney did occasionally make pandering gestures about “religious liberty,” all the while playing the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage cards. So much for the “Massachusetts Moderate.”

Gov. Romney ‘s running mate Rep. Paul Ryan did little to balance the ticket. Just a few weeks back he suggested the question of school prayer was an “issue of the states” (“states rights” being a code word for endeavors to de-secularize America). In his last Faith and Values pronouncement before the election, Rep. Ryan fretted darkly about the president’s threat to Judeo-Christian values.

Yet whatever fears secularists had about Romney and Ryan, those paled in comparison to their concerns about the party these men represented. For in 2012 the GOP seemed hellbent on pulverizing every existing American secular conviction, and with a crusading snarl no less.

While secularism strives to ensure the rights of religious minorities, Herman Cain expressed doubts about Muslims serving in his administration (though here Romney did the right thing and called him on it). Secularism cautions against real or symbolic establishments of religion. So what to make of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas kicking off his campaign by praying for 13 minutes in front of throngs in Houston?

We secularists warn about religious rhetoric in the public sphere getting overheated. But there was Rick Santorum complaining about Obama’s “phony theology,” Newt Gingrich lamenting an imminent atheist/Islamic takeover of America and a Rick Perry supporter calling Mormonism a cult.

Secularism urges politicians to bracket their personal faith convictions in their capacity as public servants. Yet candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum testified incessantly about the impact “biblical worldview” had on their thought. The secular ideal is one that values the role that science can play in policy formation. But this campaign featured one GOP candidate after another denying climate change, basic facts of reproductive biology (and math).

Most importantly, secularism seeks to prevent particularistic religious doctrines from being imposed on all citizens. Conservative Christian Republicans in 2012 became obsessed with reducing access to legal abortion and contraception, all the while trying to endow zygotes with constitutional rights.

Yesterday, Americans — believers and unbelievers alike — repudiated some of the GOP’s worst, anti-secular impulses. Marriage equality initiatives fared well in four states. An openly gay candidate, Tammy Baldwin, was elected senator in Wisconsin. An amendment in Florida permitting taxpayer monies to go to religious schools was defeated. No fewer than 18 women are now sitting in the U.S. Senate and the GOP’s loathsome “rape slate” was sent packing.

Had the Republicans won last night, they would have controlled both the executive and legislative branches (and soon enough the judicial one as well). That didn’t come to pass; not since the Dover Trial on the teaching of Intelligent Design has secular America had as much reason to celebrate.

Still, a few words of caution are in order. The Christian right never gives up. They are built-out for activism and they will see the razor-thin popular vote as a mandate to double down (my bet is Rick Santorum is their frontrunner for 2016).

As for the Democrats, if they are pro-secular they sure seem hesitant to say so in public. Unless America’s leaders in both parties can actually bring themselves to talk about “secularism” and its value to our democracy, last night’s victory will be short lived.

Jacques Berlinerblau (@Berlinerblau) is associate professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and author of How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.


  1. Two things: the incredible amount of egalitarianism that undedlies this gentleman’s philosophy and an equally incredible faith in human beings to do good.

    Since neither assumption has any basis in reality as the human heart seeks both hierarchy (its an integral part of creation–even the materialists recognize that) and has shown a gross inability unaided (seclular) to do much more than destroy each other in the cruelest ways imaginable in our quest for power and in service to other multitudinous lusts.

    The secularists answer has historically been to use the power of the state to imprison, maim and kill in order to supress all aspects of humanity, even what little virture we can muster. Lord of the Flies writ large.

    From whence comes the optimism?

  2. It’s startling (and kind of scary) to see how differently people living in the same nation and culture as I do can view the world. This guy’s perception seems so skewed, his fundamental values so far apart from mine, that I’m not sure where a dialogue with him could ever even begin. I guess we’d have to try to find common ground somewhere and then go from there. Yet it’s unlikely our arguments would make much sense to each other: the foundations of one or the other of our worldviews would have to be overthrown fur us to be able to see eye to eye. Like I said, scary.

    • What real dialog can there be between a person who assumes not-god and then wants to base everything on the unaided ability of the human rational mind and a person who assumes a loving Incarnate God and seeks to know Him and His love?

      It is a more difficult task than the Apostles faced, because at least the pagans believed in something other than animal humanity. I’ve come to think that materialist rationality is the mark of the beast and we attempt dialog and understanding with it to our peril.

  3. Like so many secularist/atheist writers, Berlinerblau rejects what he thinks is universal fundamentalism among conservative Christians while taking a fundamentalist attitude towards his own beliefs. He does not (cannot?) engage Christianity on any higher level. I’ve heard Christopher Dawkins do the same thing in the apparent belief that Christianity can be dismissed by sniffily labeling it to be superstition. It gets wearisome after awhile.

    One of those women now sitting in the Senate is Nebraska’s Deb Fischer, who, along with Kelly Ayotte, is one of just two pro-life woman senators.

  4. Yes, our predicament is indeed rooted in secularism. That said, this particular election would have gone otherwise had it not been for widespread election fraud.


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