Today is something called “National Reason Day,” on the atheist calendar. The National Day of Reason committee describes their goals in this apocalyptic register:
Now, more than ever, America needs a Day of Reason.
With the religious right’s influence in Congress, and with the threat to our Judiciary looming large, there has never been as important a moment in which to affirm our commitment to the Constitutional separation of religion and government, and to celebrate Reason as the guiding principle of our secular democracy.
During the past year we have witnessed the intrusion of religious ideology into all spheres of our government, with such assaults on the wall separating church and state as:
- Faith-based initiatives in federal agencies that give preferential treatment to religious organizations which proselytize and employ discriminatory hiring practices;
- Restrictions on important scientific research on the basis of religious objections;
- Attempts to introduce biblical creationism and its alter-ego “Intelligent Design” into our public school science curricula;
- The appointment of judges who willingly place their religious beliefs above our laws;
- Battles over the display of the Ten Commandments and other overtly religious icons in schools and on courthouses;
- Religiously motivated restrictions on access to reproductive services and information;
As in previous years, this year’s National Day of Reason coincided with the Congressionally-mandated and federally-supported National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 4, 2017. We thank all who value the separation of religion and government & joined us in commemorating this year’s Day of Reason, and in building awareness for this important cause.
How can a body supposedly devoted to reason make such unreasonable claims?
For example, there has never been a separation of religion and government in the United States. This is a total myth, more strongly, a lie. The wall between church and state was intended to protect the former, rather than the latter. Furthermore, not only has the US favored religion in the public square, but it has tended to favor certain particular manifestations of it (Mainline Protestant) against others. The whole dirty story can be found in Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom. I’m not trotting this out because it favors me, being Catholic and all it’s quite the opposite, but because that’s the truth about American politics, not the Reason Day alarmism.
Once we sincerely and reasonably acknowledge this most of the other objections (no matter how silly some of them are theologically) fall away. Both bad religion and good religion have always heavily influenced American politics and learning.
European theory usually does a better job of explaining American experience. Which is why we’re going to try something completely different now.
There are atheist philosophers such as Marcel Gauchet (The Disenchantment of the World) and Jean-Luc Nancy (The Dis-Enclosure of Christianity) who argue there’s a reason why atheism could only develop within the bosom of Christianity. Namely, because Christian mercy permits the persistence of that which is not God, namely, sinners. The communion of sinners is just as much a part of Christianity as is the Communion of Saints.Even stranger, we find atheists trying to recover religious language for their own purposes, because they admit they cannot gain legitimacy for themselves on purely atheist footing. On a crassly popularizing level you have someone like Alain de Botton (Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion) and on a much more sophisticated level there is someone like Simon Critchley The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments In Political Theology.
These two groups of thinkers make me wonder whether their explorations are what Simone Weil meant about atheism when she said in Gravity and Grace:
Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong.
The Evangelical salvation-language Bill Nye used during the March for Science confirms all this, although he’s has as much nuance as the National Reason Day…. It makes you want to throw your arms up in frustration. Sometimes you want to give up, but when you do don’t forget even those truly lazy disciples of Jesus eventually woke up. Be patient, wait for the godless, and don’t lose your religion over National Day of Reason.
The symmetry between low church Evangelical pietist enthusiasm and the enthusiastic science pietism of Nye and the Reason Day crowd fits into a larger historical pattern of atheist protest mirroring the practices and ethics of predominant religious cultures in the regions where the atheist movements emerge. That pattern is discussed in detail in Atheists: The Origin of the Species, a book by Nick Spencer that I’ve feature in Atheism’s Ancient Creation Myth.
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