Dan Barker’s Freedom from Religion Foundation is immersed in their annual war against all things religious. That is of course how they view it: a war. In this war, they have had quite a few successes, in large part because they realized early on that public sentiment was not on their side. That is, they could never achieve their goals legislatively. Their only hope was to turn to the courts, and here the playing field is more to their advantage. After all, it is easier to persuade one judge or three than it is a million, hundred thousand, etc.
In a guest view posted today in the La Crosse Tribune, Dan Barker comes out in defense of the ‘in your face tactics’ that his organization has been employing. Basically his argument is this: religious people have been ridiculing nonbelievers for thousands of years, so turnabout is fair play. We of course will bear in mind the common view taken by nonbelievers that they are morally superior to believers–the present example a good illustration of how well they ‘rise above’ the bad behavior of religious people… by joining in.
“What is wrong with ridicule? What is wrong with protest?” Dan Barker wants to know. “Protestantism is based on protest–it’s right there in the word itself.” The irony, here of course, is that Dan Barker and his ilk does wish to immunize their viewpoints from public scrutiny and ridicule. If you raise your voice, even ever so slightly, with a new atheist, you will practically drive them to tears and indignation. You see, they can be as rude as they like. Not only must you treat them with extreme politeness, but of course you must give into their every whim in the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity.’
One searches for the appropriate prism by which to view such attitudes, and I think we have at least our first hint in Barker’s letter. “To us nonbelievers, the nativity scene is a ridicule of human nature. … Believers might see a cute baby in a manger, but most nonbelievers see a reprehensible put-down of humanity.”
This is akin to the claims often heard that the mere sight of Ten Commandment tablets on public property, or lighted crosses, or whatever, causes them great mental anguish. Of course, we know the truth: they need to say such absolutely asinine and ridiculous things in order for their court cases to go forward. Personally, I doubt very much that they are as effected, but let’s take Barker at his word in this case: the mere sight of a nativity scene evokes the sense that they are being ridiculed and reprehensibly put-down.
Through what prism should we view such people? I think we must regard them as being more like children than anything else. If there is anything that drives children batty, it’s seeing other people enjoying a toy that they themselves cannot have. If they can arrange it–and bullies have some skill with this–when they get the toy, they will guard it fiercely to keep others from sharing in the pleasure. In my household, I have seen my own children hide items that they had lost all interest in just so that their siblings couldn’t have them.
Similarly, the mere sight of something that offends a new atheist is enough to drive them batty. Not content to do what adults learn to do (change the channel, avert their eyes, shop somewhere else, ignore, etc) they’ve got to put a stop to it. After they’ve put a stop to it, of course they have to make sure that no one else can do the same, even if it doesn’t impact them in the slightest. I don’t know how else to view this behavior other than childish.
I will now be seen as ‘ridiculing’ them by this characterization. Well, sometimes the truth hurts. Mere ridicule is meant to merely hurt. Telling the truth is meant to convey a benefit. I do earnestly wish the new atheists would grow up. After all, if you put children in charge of the operation of heavy machinery, the odds are that someone will soon get very hurt. However, if someone decides to view it simply as mockery, then I appeal to Dan Barker for my defense: “What is wrong with ridicule? What is wrong with protest?”
Another characteristic of children is that they can dish it out, but they can’t take it. I doubt we’ll see anything in the comment section on this that will prove me wrong in my assessment. In religion they see a perceived slight, and in response to this perception, they have no qualms against dishing out actual slights. They expect everyone to be cowed by this, but having been on the receiving end of actual physical threats by new atheists, I assure you, this is one writer that won’t be.
Unfortunately, these children are more canny than most and, again, most unfortunately, have access to ‘heavy machinery.’
Buried in Barker’s screed is an even more pernicious goal that his FFRF has, beyond merely being jerks trying to prove a point:
In America, Christians are welcome to celebrate whatever they want. We are happy to share the season with them. They just can’t use the government to privilege their party over everyone else’s.
Christians can do whatever they like in their churches and private property, but in the American public square, there is room at the inn for all of us.
The idea that putting up nativity scenes or other icons of religion ‘privileges’ religious folks is so absurd that I cannot even believe that we have to take it seriously. I think it is clear from the foregoing that on the merits, I don’t. However, the argument and attitude encapsulated in the two quotes above must be taken very seriously because the stakes are very high, indeed.
To explain, allow me to frame it this way. Every December we have to deal with a bunch of whiny, perpetually offended atheists, chiseling away at all religious expression the public square. Dan Barker says that ‘there is room at the inn for all of us’, but if he believes that, my regard for his intellect goes even lower than it was. I think the evidence is that he does not believe that and in fact he is purposefully trying to achieve the opposite. In Barker’s world, any religious expression in the public square constitutes ‘using the government to privilege one religion over another.’ “Christians can do whatever they like in their churches and private property” but in FFRF’s conduct we know that they cannot do anything they like outside their churches and off their private property.
By way of example, a slew of atheists filed an amicus brief against Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran School in their attempt to fire someone who flagrantly disregarded the beliefs and values of that institution. The FFRF is not a signatory (a surprise, honestly) but they are all the same crew. In the amicus we read:
Amici wish to bolster the principle of religious neutrality that government may not prefer religion over nonreligion [..] A decision of this Court recognizing the ministerial exception would have the constitutionally impermissible effect of denying equal protection of the laws to the employees of religious organizations and of advancing religion by creating special rights for religious defendants, and in so doing undermine the rule of law.
You can stop laughing now. No, really. They actually said that they cared about the ‘rule of law.’ Stop your chuckling and attend to my words.
You see in this comment the exact reference to ‘the principle of religious neutrality’ that Barker made.
In a bizarre twist, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the atheists. Where that puts the American Atheists/Humanist’s assertion that the Sixth Circuit’s argument was ‘based on a misreading of the Constitution’ I don’t know. Still my point in referencing this example is to show that in point of fact, atheists do not think that “Christians can do whatever they like in their churches and private property.” Actually, they believe that this constitutes ‘special rights for religious defendants.’
Now, are they lying about their true position or is their worldview so incoherent that even four fabulously progressive liberals on the Supreme Court couldn’t get it to align with reason? I don’t have the answer to this question, but personally I think it is a little of both, with the addition that they say some of the stupid things they say as part of a legal strategem. (Really? They’re offended by a baby in a manger? I find it hard to believe.)
For our purposes it doesn’t matter how we answer that. What matters is that we are aware that there are bigger things afoot.
It is worth mentioning here that Hosanna-Tabor was up against the Federal government itself– the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In short, the Obama Administration. (One more reason I’m perplexed by the decision, since two of the SCOTUS appointees were made by Obama.)
The Obama Administration buys into the new atheist argument that the Constitution implies a ‘principle of religious neutrality’ that entails no ‘special rights for religious defendants.’ Indeed, we just saw them enact HHS rules requiring religious organizations to fund behaviors that they find morally objectionable: contraception; which of course sometimes is identical with abortion itself. (I understand that many liberals view abortion itself as contraception. I’m referring to the fact that some contraceptive drugs are actually abortifacients.)
Here again we discover that the secular humanists do not really believe that “Christians can do whatever they like in their churches and private property.”
What Obama has been saying is that the Constitution enshrines a ‘right to worship,’ but in his conduct, as well, we see the same sort of dilemma where we either have to conclude that he has jello for brains or he is simply a liar. Even in his book, Christians can’t do whatever they like in their churches and private property.
Now let us compare these sentiments with the actual words of the Constitution:
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 petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Usually we talk about the first half of this–the establishment of religion. Atheists have made great headway towards creating the precedent that allowing nativity scenes on public property constitutes an ‘establishment of religion.’ On this view, a Christian’s bumper sticker on his car on a public road constitutes an ‘establishment of religion.’ He is, after all, on public property. But my point is to the second part of the clause: “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
I will casually note that the clause does not go on to say, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof in their churches and private property.”
With all religious expression in the public square fiercely attacked every year at this time and the atheists and Federal agencies with Obama at the head pushing headlong into the affairs of ‘their churches and private property’ one is hard pressed to imagine just what kind of ‘free exercise’ these folks will actually allow. To me, it seems to consist solely of singing Kum Bah Yah, provided that no one else can hear you.
This is a far cry from what the Constitution says or implies. It is quite clear from the words of the first amendment that, contrary to modern assertions otherwise, that the government cannot limit religious expression in the public sphere, period. Moreover, since the same sentence forbids and establishment of religion even as it forbids prohibiting the free exercise of religion, the framers obviously did not perceive that the latter necessarily amounted to the former.
We must think very seriously about what may happen if the lunatics consolidate their control over the asylum. If the Obama administration and his atheist backers succeed in driving ‘religious expression’ into the deep recesses of our skulls, allowing it public expression only insofar as one is publicly seen moving from one’s car to one’s church, what kind of society can we expect?
I would like to answer this question by pointing out that Christmas is not the only holiday that Christians have given us. The list is actually quite long–atheists of course have not given us any–but there is one in particular I want to emphasize: Independence Day.
As Barker correctly notes, European settlers to the Americas were driven on in search of religious freedom. (He incorrectly has the Puritans fleeing the Roman Catholics.) The first people to come to America were deeply concerned about the ‘establishment of religion’, which is reinforced by the fact that the first ten words of the entire Bill of Rights moves to prohibit it, and the next six words insists that religious expression shall not be prohibited. Then comes the right to free speech, the right of a free press, and so on.
Compare the placement of these words and their emphatic nature with a comparable document that would arise shortly after, in the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man“, one of the founding documents of the French Revolution.
10. No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.
11. The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.
As the French Revolution played out, the import of the italicized caveats became clear. Spurred on by Enlightenment principles (ie, ones that disparaged religion and held ‘free thought’ very high, indeed), in very short order there came massacre upon massacre. Something called “the Committee of Public Safety” (not to be confused with the Health and Human Services department) established itself as a virtual dictatorship, and in the ‘Reign of Terror’ some 40,000 people were simply executed. After all, each shall be responsible for the abuses of their freedom, and by no means should the public order be disturbed.
This is an aside, but an important one: it may seem odd that the Committee of Public Safety, acting on principles espoused in a nice sounding document such as ‘the Declaration of the Rights of Man’ could turn so viciously upon their own fellowman, but there was something else in that declaration that goes far to explain it–
3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.
In other words, the nation comes first. Individual rights come from the nation–and can be taken away. The nation is everything, and anything that undermines the nation must be violently dealt with.
Compare and contrast with the first words of the American Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
In other words, the individual comes first. Their rights come from God and not even a nation or ‘social contract’ can obliterate them. The former principle led to the slaughter of tens of thousands, the latter principle to the freedom of millions.
With some exceptions, sadly: the American founders did not do the right thing and abolish slavery as they ought to have done so right at the start. In the name of the ‘nation’ (ie, the former principle, and not the latter) they sacrificed their own principles. In about sixty years, Abraham Lincoln would rise victorious in a conflict that would slay 500,000 people: in the name of the nation. (Stand by for cheap shot: It is probably a coincidence that Lincoln is a favorite of many atheists.)
I think it is safe to say that nothing but blood and terror has followed where the principle that the nation stands above everything else, and everything else must answer in accordance to whether or not it ‘disturbs the public order.’
The American framers understood that checks and balances were absolutely necessary for a fair and just society to exist–because “We are all damned sinners who need to be ‘saved’ by bowing down to the baby in the manger.” In other words, they saw as a simple statement of truth about humans what atheists regard as a “reprehensible put-down of humanity.” Original sin is real. If you believe as such, liberty is the result. If you don’t, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Holocaust, Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, and so on and so forth, is the result.
Understand why I say this. It is different than the typical battle over atheism’s role in 20th century atrocities. Yes, most of the revolutionaries referenced in these examples were atheists, but one does not need to be an atheist in order to fall into the trap that the ‘nation’ is a thing to be upheld at all costs.
That was a long aside, but it had to be said, because this is essentially the same issue that is before us today: to what exactly will we give our highest allegiance and who will decide this question?
The Christian men and women of early America argued that God warrants our highest allegiance, but this question is worked out individually, not collectively. Their beliefs gave us Independence Day, another holiday that ‘we get to stay home for.’ Driven on by their religious beliefs, they gave freedom to all.
To put the whole thing another way, just as you can only have pacifists in a country ringed by armed protectors, you can only have atheists in a country where the ‘free expression’ of religion in all spheres–public and private–are welcome. Only in a country where it is actually the case, and not mere lip service, that “there is room at the inn for all of us”, can there be life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Dan Barker and the New Atheist Quest for the Freedom From Religion, if successful, will end in their own slavery, along with everyone else’s, because if ever our fellow man is given the right and authority to decide where we put our ultimate allegiances, abuse and tyranny is bound to follow. So is the testimony of history.
So, while the efforts of the FFRF are very childish indeed, their successes do not bode well for the future. Not ours, nor theirs, either.