Back in the 1980s, Religious Right groups frequently spread conspiracy theories about “secular humanism.” Members of this secretive, worldwide cabal, we were told, had seized control of educational institutions, the media and the government in the United States.
Like a lot of conspiracy theories, the one about secular humanism was never terribly coherent -- mainly because there didn't seem to be a lot of secular humanists arround. The conspirary theorists had an answer for that one: The strength of the conspiracy lie in the fact that its members posed as Jews, Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc. while secretly swearing allegiance to The Movement. It was only a matter of time before the nation fell totally under the iron heel of secular humanism – unless God-fearing Christians put a stop to it. (And sent a check.)
Secular humanism does exist. It’s essentially a philosophy that rejects belief in the supernatural, including gods. One of its main tenets is that humans are capable of solving problems through the use of science and reason.
The Center for Inquiry is the main group promoting secular humanism in the United States. Based in Amherst, N.Y., it has a budget of about $5.6 million per year. That’s a nice chunk of change, but it pales beside the $300,000,000 TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network raked in in 2014.
I bring this up because some Religous Right figures are still trying to play the secular humanism card. Gerald Harris, editor of the Georgia Christian Index, a Southern Baptist newspaper, wrote recently about five threats to religious freedom. Secular humanism tops the list.
“Secular humanism is supported and facilitated by the ACLU, the Atheist Alliance of America, the National Organization of Women, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Freethought Society, Center for Inquiry, and most of the secular, state-run institutions of learning from the first grade through college,” Harris opined.
Wow, those secular humanists, despite their small numbers, somehow managed to get control of just about every public educational institution in the country! I’m impressed. What I can’t figure out is this: If this is the case, why must attorneys with Americans United constantly work to stop inappropriate Christian proselytizing in public schools?
Consider this case from Florida, where the superintendent of the public schools is inviting a conservative Christian group in to meet with (read: preach to) the students. I’m ready to revoke this guy’s secular humanism card!
Harris’ other enemies of religious freedom include evolution, legal abortion, Islam and apathy. Harris quotes Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis on evolution because to him it's perfectly clear that a fundamentalist Christian evangelist knows more about the central organizing principle of modern biology than, say, pretty much every biologist in the United States. (Harris also quotes a history professor in support of creationism. That’s telling.)
When it comes to Islam, Harris isn’t sure what to do, other than spread hysteria. Muslims currently comprise about 1-1.5 percent of the U.S. population, but they have plans to outbreed us, he says.
“Muslims are not going to stop having children and they aren’t going to have abortions,” Harris asserts. “By their sheer growth through births and immigration their percentage of the population will continue to grow.” (I’m confused. So it would be OK if Muslims got abortions?)
He then, irony of ironies, warns us that “their holy book is a totalitarian ideology founded on submission and world domination.”
This sort of stuff reminds me of the anti-Catholic hysteria of the 19th century, the post-Civil War panic over Chinese immigration and the crude attacks on Latinos launched by any number of xenophobic blowhards. Claims of threats to white Christian privilege posed by nefarious outsiders (who often lack white skin) have periodically plagued this nation from day one. They are the stock and trade of wide-eyed bigots, and it’s embarrassing to see them embraced by someone who holds a position of authority in a major American religious denomination.
Harris is drinking from a deep well of ignorance and intolerance. If his Baptist forebear John Leland were here, he’d tell Harris a thing or two about real religious liberty.
It’s easy to dismiss such rants and the kooky conspiracy theories that buttress them, but remember this: Harris and people like him believe that they, by virtue of their superior theological beliefs (which, after all, are the absolute, Jesus-endorsed, God-blessed ONLY TRUE ONES, an assertion that all religious zealots of every stripe and denomination believe fervently) have the right to make moral decisions for the rest of us.
His kind would like to sit on our school boards and town councils and populate our state legislatures, our judiciary and Congress. And they will – unless you stand up to them.
P.S. Today is the federal observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Religious Right groups often try to claim that King was an ally of theirs. He wasn’t.