The New York Times‘ Frank Bruni Enters a Secular State of Mind

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni did a facepalm when he saw Senator Mark Pryor‘s preening I-love-the-Bible commercial, and was inspired to write in opposition:

“So help me God.” “Under God.” “In God We Trust.” Perhaps we’re meant to register these ubiquitous phrases as unspecific inspirations, vague recognitions of an undefined higher power, general appeals to generous living. But they’re rooted in a given religious tradition and are arguably the gateways to the Arkansas ridiculousness and to the overwrought accusations of a “war on Christmas” that herald the holiday season as surely as Frosty the Snowman and Black Friday do.

Three of four Americans are at least nominally Christian. But that leaves one in four who aren’t. One in five Americans don’t claim any binding religious preference or affiliation, and their ranks have grown significantly over the last two decades. Out-and-out atheists remain a sliver of the population, but a restive sliver at that. On some Sundays in some cities over recent months, they’ve gathered by the hundreds for church-style celebrations without psalms, making the point that good will and community don’t depend on divinity.

The centrality of religion in this country’s birth and story can’t be denied. And shouldn’t be. And having the Bible at inaugurations honors tradition more than it offends pluralism. But using the Bible as a litmus test for character betrays the principles of religious liberty and personal freedom, along with the embrace of diversity, that are equally crucial to America’s identity and strength. It also defies the wisdom of experience. How many self-anointed saints have been shown not to practice what they preach? How many of the ostentatiously faithful have fallen? Theirs is an easy pose, and sometimes an empty one.

The crescendo:

Letting the government and its servants go too far in celebrating one religion over others creates the possibility of looking up someday to find that the religion being promoted isn’t your own.

He must’ve read my mind.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • WalterWhite007

    It wouldn’t matter if there was only one atheist/skeptic/ freethinker/non believer in religion, in the whole of the USA. That person would be correct and all the others would be wrong. Consensus doesn’t make ‘right’.

    • keddaw

      Well that’s just nonsense. The (super) majority of people, states etc. can, and often do, alter the basic rights of the people and limits on government. Consensus, in this sense, is right, i.e. Constitutional, by definition. Assuming they used said majority to alter the Constitution.

  • firestarter

    This type of atheism bothers me. Its organized religious nature seems to go against what atheism means. It’s like an Americanization of atheism, not unlike American “football”, baseball (cricket), and Christianity (Mormonism, evangelicals). These are American things I cannot relate to, and as a result feel excluded by this very American notion that it must be made American to be accepted.

    • Richard Thomas

      You know the author of this piece isn’t American, right? I’m also not sure what you mean by ” organizated religious nature.” If you feel excluded it’s because you are pushing away, not us.

    • Rain

      Point taken. There is a lot of American stuff around here. If you mean “American Atheists”, well they are allowed to have an organization, but the name does seem a little anachronistic in a global internet world. Organized is not a synonym for religious though. No, religion can’t have that one too. They already hijacked enough words for themselves.

    • Paul Hemphill

      I don’t think I see what you mean by “this type of atheism.” Do you mean atheist Sunday gatherings? I really don’t see how anything in the article could be described as “Americanization of atheism.” But then again, I’m an American, so my ability to recognize such things is limited.

      • Graham Martin-Royle

        Just a quick point, the atheist gatherings were started by non-americans from the UK.Hardly an american thing then. I think this writer has got it all wrong. Let’s face it, although the writer of the original post was born outside the US, they live and work in The US and this website is based in the US, so of course it’s going to have a US slant to it.

    • Rogue Medic

      This type of atheism bothers me.

      The concern troll strikes!

      Are you bothered by the type of atheism that understands the law?

      Our Constitution requires that government and religion be separate. Is your atheism the kind that needs to have a government religion to feel adequate?

      Please elaborate.


  • Houndentenor

    Again we see an indication that the religious right don’t really believe what they say. If they honestly believed that they are being persecuted by the government, then they’d want to reinforce the wall between church and state as much as possible. Instead they want to tear it down. That’s hardly the action of people who think they are becoming a persecuted minority.

    As for politicians, Pryor is pandering and is doing it in spades because he’s a Democrat and already held in suspicion by voters in Arkansas. (I lived in Arkansas for five years and grew up on the border to that state. My ideas about the state are based on personal experience.) We find plenty of politicians doing this. Hardly any of them, in my opinion, mean a word of it. Sort of like they say what they have to on pretty much every other topic.

  • Rain

    What does the senator do? The ol’ random pointy finger at a random Bible page trick? How the hell else is anyone supposed to get “guidance” from all those zillions of conflicting pages. The whole thing is so messed up we don’t even know if he’s allowed to boast or not boast. Who knows! Flip a coin. (Apparently he is allowed to boast though.)

  • HS

    Sorry, a pet peeve of mine. “Crescendo” does not mean “climax” or “apex.” Otherwise, thanks for posting this, I read it yesterday, nice to see someone calling out the craziness I’m the mainstream press.

    • faithnomore

      Hmm..then what does it mean? Dictionary lists as synonyms for climax and apex! It is not ONLY a musical explanation. When a story builds in intensity and reaches that highest point, that is a crescendo. Or….?

      • Jennifer

        A crescendo is the PROCESS of building intensity, not the result. A climax happens at the peak of a crescendo, not the crescendo itself. The phrase, “building to a crescendo” is, well, wrong and should be banished. ;-)

        • Cindy

          Sorry, pet peeve of mine…words change meaning from the original narrow jargon of their field from time to time. Crescendo has come to mean the climax. Want to discuss what “theory” means inside and outside of a science lab?

        • faithnomore

          Merriam Webster:
          1 a : a gradual increase; specifically : a gradual increase in volume of a musical passage
          b : the peak of a gradual increase : climax (complaints about stifling smog conditions reach a crescendo)

          Words often have more than one meaning…