Friday, May 16, 2014

Secularism is at Your Graduation: Divisive Religion vs. Oppressive Statism

Its graduation season. Feel free to thank your parents, your teachers/professors, friends, and those who have influenced you along the way. Whatever you do, do not thank your Maker - especially in public. As the collegiate mind continues to close in our increasingly secular age, "God" is becoming a four-letter word. Recently a student-led secularist group at MIT shut down any reference or prayer to God at their graduation ceremony. The former president of the Secular Society of MIT, Aaron Scheinberg, led the charge and has defended himself in an opinion piece in the MIT campus newspaper entitled God is at your graduation (grab your torch and pitchforks!) Mr. Scheinberg's crusade against religion in the public square is nothing new but does illustrate just how common this has become.

My concern is not necessarily regarding his cause. My concern is the prevailing myth about religion in the public square. Near the end of his article, Scheinberg suggested:
The Founding Fathers wisely disconnected government from religion to keep the latter from acting as a divisive force. Likewise, graduation should be a great celebration of unity among MIT students — a celebration not just of our individual accomplishments, but also of our collaboration, commiseration, and common values. The ceremony should unite us. Every segment and speaker in it should make an effort to ensure the ceremony belongs to each and every one of us.
A few comments. First, I applaud any effort toward real unity, but Scheinberg's crusade does anything but that. Earlier in his article, he recommends that those who welcome God at graduation should do so privately or organize another ceremony where God was welcome. "You can thank God," he is saying, "just not here with the rest of us." That is not unity. That is a closing of the secular mind. Progressive secularists commonly defend their actions on the basis of creating unity, but their (in)tolerance rarely, if ever, does that.

Secondly, his understanding of the American experiment is simply inaccurate. The Founders were not concerned with the "divisive force" of religion, but with the oppressive force of the state. The first amendment is not a wall keeping faith out of state, but a wall that keeps the state away from religion. In this sense, the clarification that the first amendment assures us freedom of religion, not freedom from religion is certainly accurate.

Any and all worldviews are divisive including, and perhaps especially, secularism as the above situation illustrates. In the secular world of unity, only dividing and dis-inviting God is the solution. Scheinberg would be wiser to fear state oppression more than religious division.

It is commonly asserted, especially among atheists and secularists, that religion is oppressive, coercive, and violent. Wars have been fought over minute points of doctrine and over the past two millennia, thousands, if not millions, of lives have been slaughtered and executed in the name of God. The conclusion is obvious: religion is a dangerous enemy of freedom.

Though religion has been a tool of oppression over the years, such an argument misses one major common denominator: the state. This in no way excuses the acts done on religious grounds. Nevertheless, rarely is the connection clearly made between the marriage between the state and the church. Yes wars have been fought over religion, but most of them were just as political as they were religious. No pastor in history has ever had the power to raise an army or declare war. That's the role of a king. Throughout history, the state has used religion as a tool and excuse for war.

My point here ultimately is to warn secularists like Scheinberg against the direction he, and others like him, are wanting to take the country. The greater enemy is not divisive religion, as he puts it, but an oppressive state that regulates and defines what is appropriate, public, religious behavior. The Founders established a system to keep the state out of the life of religion because it understood the nature of the state. Government loathes checks and balances. It lusts for control and power.

The problem isn't with religion, with all of its rules about sex and family. The problem lies at the feet of statism with all of its regulations about what is and isn't acceptable prayer.


Aaron Scheinberg - Opinion: God is at your graduation
Friendly Atheists - MIT Secular Students Successfully Lead Charge for Non-Religious Invocations at Graduation
Ruth Wisse - The Closing of the Collegiate Mind
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