The American Interest
Religion & Other Curiosities
Published on January 23, 2013
Religion As An Activity Engaged In By Consenting Adults In Private

The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University publishes a very informative electronic newsletter about religious developments all over the world. On January 12, 2013, the newsletter carried a story originally published in the Buffalo News, about Joelle Silver, a high school science teacher in a community in upstate New York called Cheektowaga.  This melodiously named place, now a suburb of Buffalo, is located in the general vicinity of the so-called Burnt-Over District, which in the nineteenth century was a hotbed of Protestant revivals and other charismatic movements (the Mormons originated in the same neighborhood). Silver (a photo shows her to be an attractive young woman) is a committed Evangelical Christian, thus more or less in continuity with the regional religious history (although the town now has a large Polish community unlikely to be strongly Protestant).
It so happens that Cheektowaga, or at least its high school, also contains a militantly secularist teenager. This individual (no name given in the story) took umbrage at Silver’s displaying a variety of religious objects in the classroom, including posters with religious messages and a “prayer request box” belonging to a students’ Bible study group. The offended student alerted the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a militantly secularist organization operating out of Madison, Wisconsin. In response to its intervention the school ordered Silver to remove her religious materials from the classroom.
Silver sued the school authorities in U.S. district court for violating her constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. Her suit was supported by the American Freedom Law Center, a foundation with headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, self-described as the “first truly authentic Judeo-Christian public interest law firm”. Both organizations engage in a mix of litigation and advocacy (respectively,  of “nontheism” and of the Judeo-Christian values supposedly foundational for American democracy). As part of its advocacy, the “nontheist” organization promotes signs wishing people “a happy Solstice” to replace Christmas messages. (I trust that they don’t put any of their signs up on public property, since someone might then sue them on the grounds that worship of the Solstice was part of the ancient Anglo-Saxon religion.)
Needless to say, both organizations deploy lawyers. Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation”, said: “Public employees, including teachers, have to act neutrally with regard to religion. They cannot push any religion.” Robert Muise, an attorney with the American Freedom Law Center, countered: “They essentially want her to cease being a Christian once she enters school district property.” He added that the other side regards any religious reference in schools “as if it’s some disease that has to be eradicated”. Dennis Kane, the school district superintendent, made a comment that is undoubtedly a correct (if you will, “neutral”) assessment of the situation—to the effect that the district was caught in the middle of a dispute between “two big special-interest groups”, and that it would be sued regardless of what it did or didn’t do.
Americans are addicted to litigation like no other people on earth. The delicate balance between the two religion principles in the first amendment to the US constitution—no establishment and free exercise—continues to assure an avalanche of lawsuits in the federal courts. But similar problems exist in other democracies. The European Center for Law and Justice, located in Strasbourg, is a Christian-inspired organization defending “the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of European peoples” (as stated in the Preamble of the Statute of the Council of Europe). In its newsletter of January 8, 2013, the Center reports on four individuals, citizens of the United Kingdom, who claim violations of their freedom of religion. The first two complaints are somewhat similar to that of the aforementioned American high school teacher. Both involve women who, supposedly as an expression of their religious beliefs, were wearing necklaces with small silver crosses. One worked as a check-in clerk for British Airways, the other as a geriatric nurse in a public hospital. Both were ordered to remove these ornaments. The BA case seems rather plausibly based on anti-Christian bias, since the airline has previously accepted Muslim and Sikh headgear. The justification of the order to the nurse to shed her cross was that a patient might be injured as a result of pulling on it (perhaps gripped by a sudden attack of “nontheist” rage?).  The second two complaints have to do with an issue south of the navel. One complainant is a public registrar, who refused to conduct civil ceremonies for same-sex couples, the other a marriage counselor who said that he felt unable to work with such couples. Both believe that homosexuality is contrary to God’s will, and both were threatened with termination.

All four cases were appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, on the grounds that domestic law in the United Kingdom has failed to protect their right to freedom of religion. Under the principle of subsidiarity, only if such failure can be shown may a case be carried to the European Court. There is a piquant irony here, given the fact that the Church of England, with the monarch as its head, is still established by law as a state religion.
I am reluctant to enter into the legal ramifications of these cases. I am not a constitutional lawyer. It seems to me that the four European cases are more serious in terms of religious rights than the case of the American high school teacher. Presumably school authorities are within their rights to limit some religious expressions in the classroom (say, by prohibiting a teacher coming in with a big sign saying “Repent, the end is nigh!”). I don’t really know whether Silver’s collection of Christian messages comes close to that limit. I would point out that whatever violations of religious freedom do exist in the U.S. and in Western Europe, they pale compared to the massive persecution of Christians in many countries, be it by states or by tolerated lynch mobs. It is useful to keep a sense of proportion in this (as in most other matters).
But I do want to make a general observation: In all these cases the authorities accused of violating the plaintiffs’ rights operate with a definition of religion as a private matter to be kept out of public space. There is here a general issue of government overreach, as clearly illustrated by the (still unresolved) attempt by the Obama administration to force Catholic institutions to provide contraception coverage in their employees’ health plans. Beyond that, though, there is a very ideological view of the place of religion in society. In other words, religion is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private. The attorney for the Judeo-Christian side in the aforementioned American case had it quite right when he compared the treatment of his client’s religion with measures of disease control. This is not an attitude one would expect to find in a Western democracy. It is curiously reminiscent of policies toward religion in Communist countries and toward non-Muslims under Islamic rule.
An aggressive secularism seems to be on the march in all these cases. It seems more at home in Europe, which is far more secularized than America. Even in the United Kingdom, it seems, the drums of the French Revolution still reverberate. But how is one to explain this sort of secularism in the United States? The “nones”—that is, those who say “none” when asked for their religious affiliation by pollsters—are a very mixed lot. One theme that comes through is disappointment with organized religion. There is an anti-Christian edge to this, since Christian churches continue to be the major religious institutions in this country. Disappointment then, or disillusion—but why the aggressive hostility? There is yet another theme that comes through in the survey data: An identification of churches (and that means mainly Christian ones) with intolerance and repression. I think that this is significant.
Let me venture a sociological hypothesis here: The new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution. Since the 1960s there has indeed been a sexual revolution in America. It has been very successful in changing the mores and the law. It should not be surprising that many people, especially younger ones, enjoy the new libidinous benefits of this revolution. Whether one approves or deplores the new sexual culture, it seems unlikely to be reversed. Yet Christian churches (notably the Catholic and Evangelical ones) are in the forefront of those who do want to reverse the libertine victory. Its beneficiaries are haunted by the nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of clerics and conservative politicians. No wonder they are hostile!

  • John B

    Given the general havoc the sexual revolution has wrought across the society (in particular among the poor and working class) opposition to it is both just and necessary.

    But I would add another viewpoint to your analysis. Militant secularism, which is really an aggressive form of anti-religion, is most entrenched among the educated elites of our society, what has sometimes been called the creative class. It is here that the likes of Richard Dawkings and Bill Maher find their largest audiences. I think class snobbery plays a part as well. Religion is seen among that section as being archaic and primitive, its teachings irrelevant in our brave new world, with exceptions made for those versions so watered down as to be essentially meaningless (I’m looking at you, Episcopalians!) Since they consider themselves as being on the cutting edge of modernity, disdaining religion and the religious can be seen as a way of confirming their feelings of superiority, setting themselves apart from those they consider lesser or inferior. It’s a status symbol and an excuse to sneer.

  • Rob in CT

    Waaaaaah. Sniff. So oppressed.

    Setting aside the whining about “aggressive” secularism, I think you are correct to cite the sexual revolution as bolstering secularism. But I think there’s more going on. We’ve simply gotten to a place where openly saying you don’t believe isn’t really a problem in many places. I have to think that has an effect on the conversation. And, a little bit like gay people being “out of the closet” the more perfectly normal, decent folks fess up to not buying what religion is selling, the harder it gets to pretend that those people are terrible or crazy or whathaveyou. Uncle Rob is going to burn in hell mommy? Why?

    I think one should also add in the Catholic Church’s molestation (and coverups) scandal. That little slow-motion train wreck has done quite a bit of damage to the supposed moral authority of the RCC. As the hierarchy thundered about unapproved sexytime, it was busy covering up the misdeeds of (a small portion of) its clergy. That’s a great way to blow your credibility. I don’t think TV evangelists (grifters) help much either.

    Easy access to information might be a factor too. One of the best arguments against any particular religion is the existence of so many competing religions (note: this diversity isn’t an argument against belief in a higher power – indeed I’ve seen it used to argue for such a power – but it does tend to undermine a given religions’ claim to being THE truth).

  • Tom

    Definitely from a more evangelical perspective, but a valuable take on this question.

    http://www.teampyro.blogspot.com/2013/01/to-use-scandal.html

  • http://kavanna.blogspot.com Kavanna

    This relationship to the sexual revolution might have been true 30 or 40 years ago, but it has less relevance today. What passes for humanism these days is itself loaded up with secular religions, starting with environmentalism and continuing with belief in The One.

    As for sex, better to consider the possibility that young people today simply put off marriage and childbearing too long. Marriage isn’t all about sex, but there it is. We’ve turned our society into an exercise in extended adolescence.

  • WigWag

    “Let me venture a sociological hypothesis here: The new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution. Since the 1960s there has indeed been a sexual revolution in America. It has been very successful in changing the mores and the law. It should not be surprising that many people, especially younger ones, enjoy the new libidinous benefits of this revolution…Its beneficiaries are haunted by the nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of clerics and conservative politicians. No wonder they are hostile!” (Peter Berger)

    With all due respect to the erudite Professor Berger, it is hardly a great revelation that the sexual revolution has had an enormous impact on the religiosity of Americans and Europeans. But the Professor is being quite a bit too snide when he chalks this up to the desire of younger people to pursue their libidinous proclivities.

    Surprised though he may be to hear it, horny young people are not a phenomenon of recent vintage. The Professor is far too steeped in Victorian thinking if he believes that it was not until the 1960s that unmarried young people were free to act on their libidinous urges. If he has doubts, I suggest that he read any number of the stories in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” He might try “The Miller’s Tale,” “The Reeve’s Tale,” or even better, he might delve into the story relayed by the “Wife of Bath.” Somehow the Church and Christianity seemed to survive the bawdy and permissive environment of Chaucer’s era just fine.

    If he prefers, Professor Berger might study, Andrew Marvel’s famous poem “To His Coy Mistress.” It can be found here,

    http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/to-his-coy-mistress/

    The poem is perfectly emblematic of the sexual mores of England in the 1650s. Somehow the bawdy behavior that Marvel felt perfectly free to satirize in his poem and a thoroughly religious society managed to coexist just fine.

    I think Professor Berger has missed the forest for the trees. It’s not the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s that has marginalized public expressions of religion, it’s the feminist revolution. What happened was not the sudden desire of young people to throw off their chastity belts as Professor Berger suggests. Instead, the new revolutionary thought was the unwillingness of women to allow religious authorities to control their sexuality.

    There can be little doubt that one of the most prominent features of western religious ideology down through the ages has been the strange obsession of Judaism, Christianity and Islam with female sexuality.

    If you don’t believe it, think about the utterly strange regulations in Judaism pertaining to copulation with a menstruating woman. Consider the bizarre regulations in Sharia concerning divorce, female ownership of property, the role of rape or the encouragement of female genital mutilation. Why exactly are Muslim women are encouraged to wear the hijab? In the Christian world we have the obsessive focus on virginity including the strange debate between Roman Catholics and Protestants concerning whether Mary remained a virgin for her entire life. Nor can we forget the disastrous ramifications of priestly celibacy, the unwillingness of Roman Catholics to allow female clergy or the disgusting ramifications of the concept of “original sin” which, of course, is the ultimate fault of the woman in the story. Perhaps strangest of all is the creation story shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims, which contrary to everything we know about procreation, has Eve being formed by the deity out of Adam rather than the other way around.

    The real revolution that Professor Berger should reflect on begins with the advent of birth control which gave women the power to control their own reproductive lives without regard to the rules dictated to them through the oppressive power of ecclesiastical authorities. The increasing secularization of the Western world can be directly attributed, at least in part, to the ability of women to control their own sexuality.

    Libidinous proclivities are not new, Professor Berger; neither is bawdy behavior. What is relatively new is that women, for the first time have sexual options akin to the options that men have always had. Women can now ignore arcane religious rules designed to control their sexual behavior with impunity. As a result, the role of religion will never be the same.

    We can only hope that Muslim women can someday enjoy the same sexual emancipation that Christian and Jewish women now enjoy. Nothing is more likely to spur the desperately needed reformation of Islam and the Islamic world.

  • Tom

    Forgive me if I must differ with WigWag about the “disgusting ramifications of the concept of original sin.” The problem wasn’t the concept, it was the misapplication thereof.
    For that matter, the concept of original sin, properly applied, would lead to a less patriarchal society, since it would indicate that men as well as women could not be trusted with power.

  • Tom

    Oh, and one other thing. Libidinous proclivities may not be new, but we are entering a new era regarding them, in which any attempt at restricting them is wrong.

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  • John Barker

    The popularity of the now largely forgotten Alan Watts and Fritz Perls in the 1960′s must have been connected with their early advocacy of sexual revolution, the former as priest and the latter as psychoanalyst. I wonder what Freud would have said about about the sexual revolution and the reaction (formation) against religion.

  • Olivia

    It’s very likely that the study of genetics will reveal curvatus in se to be, by and large, an astute formulation and way ahead of its time.

    The Democratic Convention touched the void plainly and it will be interesting to watch the void faithful reap and ravel.

  • GMay

    Is this hypothesis based on actual history, or personal preconceptions of religion?

  • Anthony

    “In all these cases the authorities accused of violating the plaintiffs’ rights operate with a definition of religion as a private matter to be kept out of public space.”

    The traditional value system alluded to in essay originates out of long human experience which has become encapsulated in traditional ‘religion’ ( in this instance Christianity). As religion has been challenged by rationalism and secularism, the values by which Christianity/Religion lays claim are attenuated and in disrepute for many; religion for many has been reduced from a vital, widely shared world view to secular disappointment with organized religion among the uninitiated – a routine view that may enable social patterns intimated in Religion As An Activity Engaged In By Consenting Adults In Private.

  • Park Slope Pubby

    Fascinating. As a private employer, I regularly post hymns and Bible verses on the company bulletin board (I choose those that refer to God, not to Jesus, as we do have non-Christian employees.)

    Many people thank me for this. And I am in New York City!

    As always, there will be a counter-movement to secularism one of these days. Maybe not in our lifetime, but it will happen.

  • Micha Elyi

    “The delicate balance between the two religion principles in the first amendment to the US constitution—no establishment and free exercise…”
    –Peter Berger

    The “delicate balance” nonsense is spawned by the confusion by America’s semi-illiterates who confuse “no establishment” with “no mention at all”.

    The Lutheran Church is an example of an establishment of religion. An image of Jesus on the wall is not. Nor is a prayer said at the beginning of a school graduation.

  • Jennyann

    The sexual revolution cheapened sex, and therefore by extension, people. By refusing to admit that sin is real and that there are real consequences to immorality, the secularists have shaken their their fists at God and said ‘My will be done!’ God has obliged and the current cesspool of our culture is the end result. We do not break God’s laws; His laws break us.

  • jcarm01

    I am an aggressive secularist, why don’t I get laid more?

  • Billy Bob Jones

    Just to lower the level of discourse here a few notches, but I googled imaged this broad. In what universe is that an “attractive young woman”? I’ll have what he’s drinking.

    In any case there shouldn’t be any bloody religious posters in a public school classroom and it’s amazing we even have to argue about this; I imagine Mr. Berger would agree if the posters were a Best Of set of shots of Mecca, Medina, Ayatollah Khomeini, and said ISLAM IS THE SOLUTION (and he would be right).

    By the way, why is she a “committed” evangelical but the student and organization “militant” secularists? You know someone is getting ready to waste your time when they attempt an Argument by Overwhelming Use of Attributive Adjectives in paragraphs #1 and #2.

  • Sol Waxtend

    Mr. Berger, I do not believe the American case of the teacher Ms. Silver, is to be fairly compared with the European examples. That is because the government employee, Ms. Silver, proselytizes in classroom to pupils who have no emotional or intellectual defense against such acts. This is not a public place, unlike most of the others. Silver’s collection of religious maxims and artifacts, however small, is out of place unless she is actually teaching religion. Period.

  • Ken Royall

    The 60′s counterculture was the beginning of the end. We have Kennedy and Johnson to thank for making it worse by involving the US in an ill-advised war which gave the movement an issue to use as fuel to keep it alive.

    The march through the institutions began, with leftists capturing the academy, the media and with it the culture. Ironic that a movement that was ostensibly in opposition of “the man” has now become “the man”.

    The sexual revolution and the undermining of Christian values has been a disaster for the nation. The welfare state is largely a result of the government rewarding promiscuous females with benefits. They have become permanent clients of the state and will vote Democrat every time.

    Libertarians dismiss the notion of Christian values but fail to make the connection between the abandonment of them with the increasing size of government. Like Europe, the more secular we become the larger the state gets.

    Liberals claim to want us out of the bedroom but expect society to shoulder the cost of the inevitable unwanted pregnancies that result. Seems you can’t have it both ways. We can make that case without resorting to lecturing people about religion. If 2 idiots want to have an orgasm and fail to use birth control I don’t see why the rest of us should get a bill for several hundred thousand dollars to care for their offspring for the next 18 years.

  • Koblog

    “He who sits in the heavens laughs.”

    We think we’re building a new society when in reality it’s the same old abomination.

    And when we finally get it juuuuust right, and finally eradicate that silly and ridiculous religion thing, the society will end. Suddenly. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

    The fool says in his heart “There is no God.”

  • Recovering Lutheran

    Rob in CT said: “…diversity isn’t an argument against belief in a higher power – indeed I’ve seen it used to argue for such a power – but it does tend to undermine a given religions’ claim to being THE truth.”

    Really? This is like arguing that when a group of mathematicians work a tough problem, and there is a diversity of answers, we can’t really know if any one particular answer is THE answer, and that any mathematician who tries to make his or her case needn’t bother. The cold, hard fact is that a variety of religions claiming to be the true one does not by itself diminish a particular religion’s claim. Your argument is rather weak and sneering.

  • Abdul

    Well, I think the problem is that she’s making her religion part of the classroom. As a former Muslim I can say I’d have felt uncomfortable if at a young age my teachers had been putting up prayer boxes and Christian poems and prayers around the classroom. Wearing a cross, no problem. Answering questions about her faith, no problem. Setting up her religion as a classroom “norm” is the problem.

    Now a tolerant atheist, I am often made uncomfortable with the militant anti-religious. But I do think public employees need to remember that they don’t only serve those members of the public who belong to the same faith group.

    And I don’t think it’s about the sexual revolution…there are plenty of secular reasons not to be wantonly promiscuous.

  • Recovering Lutheran

    Sol Waxtend said “Silver’s collection of religious maxims and artifacts, however small, is out of place unless she is actually teaching religion. Period.”

    Does that also include politically partisan textbooks and campaign paraphernalia? Last year many public schools I went into looked like Obama campaign offices. Taking offense at Joelle Silver’s religious items smacks of bigotry. Ban it all, or ban nothing.

  • Sgt. Friday

    This was an interesting article, until he got to the point about the chastity belt. Huh?

    In America in the 1960′s abortion, homosexuality and pornography were basically criminal offenses.

    It’s against that standard that we have changed. This has nothing to do with chastity belts. Gimme a break.

    As for (Judeo)Christianity, it was nothing if not a critique of sexual pagan practices. You can read that in any standard history. The New Testament focuses most on divorce, and women in general, who certainly in pagan days and to a lesser extent today (because of broader notions of equality) have been the victims of libertinism. But the theologians ware broad spectrum.

    The Occam’s Razor explanation is that we are returning to paganism.

    And if so, what does that portend? Per people like David Goldman and somewhat improbably now Joel Kotkin, it doesn’t look good.

    The Jews, who focused on patriarchal family values and the Chinese, as well, are still going strong.

    But the orginal pagans are gone. In the case of the Golden Age Greeks, who perhaps reveled in this the most, their run was particularly short.

    We’ll see what the future holds in the West, and in the non-childbearing regions of East Asia as well.

    But whatever happens, chastity belts will have nothing to do with it.

  • Ruby Rube Rube

    WigWag writes: “Women can now ignore arcane religious rules designed to control their sexual behavior with impunity.”

    Really?! With impunity? Come on, WigWag. I can tell from your writing that you’re smarter than that, but I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that grad school has warped your perspective on this. Birth control isn’t 100% effective and abortion isn’t without consequences (physical, emotional, and yes – for some – spiritual).

    Yes, we women may now have in some ways the “same” sexual options that men do – but that doesn’t mean we’re wired the same. Women will *always* have more at stake in any sexual encounter, if only for purely biological reasons.

    And that doesn’t even begin to address the growing body of scientific evidence that suggests female promiscuity (or if that term is too loaded, how about “polyamorous behavior”) has profound consequences on the ability of women to form lasting emotional attachments, enjoy certain levels of intimacy later in life, etc. There’s even evidence that suggests that promiscuity isn’t a symptom of depression in some women, it’s a cause. This can’t all be written off to “societal pressure,” or side effects of religious superstition. There’s something going on at the bio-chemical level and it’s being confirmed by objective scientific inquiry – not God-Squad “wackos” who embrace “arcane religious rules.”

    So relish the fact that your elitist meter “goes to 11,” celebrate our sisters’ newfound ability to emulate the unchecked male libido and get all “Sex and the City” with our emancipated “no-longer-naughty” bits. Yeah, even sneer at the “religious rubes” if you must. But let’s at least be intellectually honest enough to acknowledge there’s a potentially devastating downside to these trends. And I think we’re doing women (and men) a disservice in pretending otherwise.

  • lawrence franko

    As one who is currently involved in resisting an attempt to obliterate any mention of Christanity at a ‘public occasion’ (a memorial service at a University founded by Christians), I see the legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution vastly more in evidence than that of the ‘sexual’ one.

  • Sgt. Friday

    Per 25, I saw once in a George Will column, who is generally pretty prudish, that a chemical is released in women’s brains that changes their emotions about their mate. (I’m being prudish here as well, but you get the point.) So yeah.

    Also, Lionel Tiger, who used to get to publish in the WSJ, until they went libertarian left under Murdoch (I guess) argued that abortion was imposed on women in the 1960′s, primarily by fathers and brothers, when boyfriends wouldn’t marry the girlfriends they got pregnant.

    Betty Friedan certainly didn’t mention abortion in the Feminine Mystique. Why women have since gloamed on to it remains something of a mystery. Perhaps false consciousness, as the Marxists would say.

    Finally, yes, “ware” was a typo.

  • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

    Never forget … the secularist position is based just as much in faith (aka assumptions) as any spiritual worldview.

    Unfortunately, the Establishment Clause has a loophole that the secularists take advantage of to push their faith as the One True Way … if you don’t name a supernatural Deity as part of your belief system, you are free to push your faith in our public institutions, with no disclaimers about it being other than conclusively-proven fact and reason.

    And they push it, with a fundamentalist zeal that makes Baptist pastors look like libertines out for beads at Mardi Gras.

    What drives this zeal, though is a simple human desire … the desire to not have your mellow harshed about your choices in life by credible criticism.

    While this desire does drive the secularists to defend the Sexual Pyrrhic Victory, er, Revolution, this desire extends well beyond sexuality, to the full spectrum of choices in life … particularly when it comes to the credible criticism of consequence, which the secularists have been attempting to raise buffers against since the 1960′s if not before, often by taking others’ wealth by the coercive force of law to do so.

    This also explains why conservative leaders are smeared by ANY means necessary, no matter how intellectually dishonest … for were they to gain credibility, the streets would be sticky with harshed mellow, even if the activity of such leaders is nothing more than a statement that “you know, that wouldn’t be prudent”.

    IMO, this is why the anti-war movement gained so much support during the Bush years, only to dry up after 20 Jan 2009 … because to the foot soldiers in that movement, it was primarily about beating the Bush, more than it was about ending the war.

  • Danny K.

    1. I am also glad that Dr. Meade picked up on the irony that people are being forced to express their religious beliefs in private, much as you had to do under communist regimes in the Eastern Bloc.

    2. A second irony is that smut that used to be sold in brown wrappers from the back of a counter can now be flaunted out in the open, yet religion can’t leave the confines of your home.

    3. Here is a link to an article in the Jewish Quarterly that gives an overview the Jewish roots of America’s pornography industry and the Jewish roots of the sexual revolution. If you read the article, there is outright contempt for Christianity which underpins the sexual revolution.

    http://www.jewishquarterly.org/issuearchive/articled325.html?articleid=38

    4. This is just a theory of mine, but it seems that the same elements that brought atheism to Eastern Europe were the ones who have been conducting a jihad against religion in this country. In the Eastern Block it was somewhat understandable as the national churches were intertwined with the monarchies that were toppled. But here there was no monarchy, only the church to attack.

    5. I heard someone on EWTN explain the notion that the Bible was a gift from God, and this person explained that it had life figured out for you. The Bible isn’t so much a punitive set of legalistic rules, but more of an instruction manual for how best to live your life. If you follow biblical teachings, generally your life is more drama free than if you don’t. Imagine if there
    were no bible and each person had to figure out life on their own? Great point. Think of the even bigger social mess we would have on our hands today.

    6. It seems to me the more secularism is accepted by people, the more damaged people we have in society (compare social metrics of 1960 to today). The more damaged people we have, the more they are dependent on government. Wouldn’t the conspiratorialist say that this was always their end game?

    7. Finally, it seems to me that like everything else pushed on society, secular values are taking the easy way out. Pleasure first over delay of gratification. This has become a society that values pleasure above all.

    I have more I can add … but those are enough talking points for now.

  • Randy

    Here are a few things some Christians have been up to in the area of education that the professor might want to consider as he contemplates why many are not so enamored with Christianity these days:

    1. Efforts to teach creation myths as facts in science classes and/or remove evolution from class.

    2. Efforts to keep young adults ignorant about sex by not teaching sex ed. and substitutiing abstinence programs instead.

    Is it any wonder why students and parents might have concerns about overt religiosity in faculty and staff in public schools?

    WigWag: Great post.

  • Publius Civis

    Like it or not, the aggressive anti-religious secularism being promoted, in the Ninth Circuit and beyond, is making Secularism, the de-facto State Religion of the U.S., and crushing both the free-religion and free-speech aspects of the First Amendment, setting up the (I think wrongly overinterpreted) Separation clause above the rest of that amendment.

  • http://yahoo Philip

    “Militant” secularist, “committed” evangelical? How intellectually lazy can you get?
    The “new” American secularism has, in my opinion, nothing to do with the sexual revolution: rather it is directly related to a growth in confidence in the scientific/ technological
    revolution we are living through. Superstitious belief systems have taken a most decided battering over the past century or so, and to many people are now completely discredited. In the light of scientific knowledge religions appear as groundless as any other superstition (ghosts,fairies,goblins,black cats etc).But what would seem to really buttress secularism is the failure of religious faith to put forward a single creditable intellectual defense of its dogmas. Have the arguments of R Dawkins been comprehensively challenged and shown to be groundless, by anyone anywhere?

  • Snorri Godhi

    “Even in the United Kingdom”? American prejudice at work here. The plain fact is, that sort of things only seems to happen in the United Kingdom: 4 out of 4 cases cited in this article.

  • SDN

    “But I do think public employees need to remember that they don’t only serve those members of the public who belong to the same faith group.”

    Of course, Abdul has absolutely no evidence that anyone being persecuted in this account has done that. All that they have done is declined to be as ashamed of their faith as the anti-theists think they should.

    Oh, and the Anti-Christian Leftists Union is far less concerned about Muslims praying on school grounds during school hours. Could it be because the history of Christian responses is less “explosive”?

  • Peter

    On of the reasons many vote in a knee jerk fashion for the Democratic Party is becasue they want to keep the sexual revolution — which I suppose is now the status quo — alive and well.

    For millions, this trumps all else — economics, foreign affaires, etc.

  • Eric R. Ashley

    Phillip,
    The majority of the evidence supports the theistic pov. Darwin was a second rate experimentalist and a not that great philosopher. And if you want to know how he got so famous despite these flaws….Pet Rocks.

    Humans are goofy/stupid or as the Bible puts it ‘sheep’.

  • Andrea

    Philip says: “But what would seem to really buttress secularism is the failure of religious faith to put forward a single creditable intellectual defense of its dogmas.”

    In your broad & extensive education, have you never heard of the word “theologian”? Try reading the works of few. Actually, Pope Benedict XVI makes excellent arguments for choosing Catholicism as a belief system. He’s a fine writer in general too, with a knack for beautiful phrases and crisp logic. Just be prepared to grapple with some deep, hard thinking as he shows the limits of secularism.

  • Andrea

    ” Pope Benedict XVI makes excellent arguments for choosing Catholicism as a belief system”

    Excuse please. Should be Christianity instead of Catholicism.

  • http://yahoo philip

    Eric,
    Well, its my impression, having read widely in philosophy/theology/ science, that there isn’t a single coherent refutation of scientific reason. And I’ve looked hard for one!
    P

  • Andrea

    Scientific reasoning has the definitive answer to the question is there more than what we can know in our existence? Doesn’t sound like you’ve had Philosophy 101 to me, let alone being widely read in philosophy/theology/science.

  • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

    Randy … here are a few things many secularists have been up to in the area of education that you might want to consider as you contemplate why many are not so enamored with secularism these days:

    1. Efforts to extrapolate the THEORY of evolution into a comprehensive and definitive explanation for the origin of all life, then proclaiming it as conclusively-proven fact … when preponderance of evidence combined with gross assumptions about time-invariance of the processes involved is NOT equal to conclusively-proven fact … then use dissent from that position as prima facie evidence of ignorance.

    2. Efforts to keep young adults ignorant about sex by limiting their education to “values-neutral” mechanics-only curricula, where consideration of the emotional and ethical impacts of sex outside marriage is not covered to avoid being “judgmental” … sending the dual message that, while we would like you to wait, it’s OK if you go ahead; you’re “protected” … while ignoring abstinence, which is the only 100% effective form of contraception and STD avoidance.

    Is it any wonder why students and parents might have concerns about the overt expressions of secular faith … and yes it is faith; faith in one’s own omniscience … in faculty and staff in public schools?

  • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

    Philip, my problem with the secularists is that they refuse to acknowledge Callahan’s Principle of Leadership: a man has got to know his limitations.

    As an engineer, I depend upon sound science to make my living … and what I am hearing from many so-called “scientists” today is mere agreement with conventional wisdom, especially when the Powers That Be wish to have that conventional wisdom reinforced in order to support their agendas … even if it requires leaps of faith/assumption to agree with that conventional wisdom.

    Such as these have become what you decry, as much or more (since the object of their faith is a being with a well-documented record of error and mendacity) as those of us who hold spiritual worldviews.

  • Julian

    Philip, if you think that Richard Dawkins is a paragon of deep thought on theistic questions, you are a shallow, poorly-read fool.

  • Sergey

    Philip, of course there isn’t a single coherent refutation of scientific reason. And can not be, so even to look for it was futile and absurd. It is a strawman built by anti-theists that religious people deride science and reason. The only thing we, people of faith, assert, that every method has its inherent limitations, and scientific method has its own too. This limitation is indeterminism which permeates universe and makes impossible to reduce all events to their causes. And where causality breaks, scientific explanation is not anymore possible or sufficient, and Providence takes its precedence. This is important to cosmology, biological evolution, human free will, history and lots of other phenomena where no scientific reasoning can give us sufficient explanation of the most striking features of existence.

  • ltlee

    If a government assumes the stance of an agnostic, religion as an activity could only be practiced in private. If a school serves beef in its cafeteria, it might be viewed by some as against the Hindus religion. If it serves pork, it might be viewed as against the Jews and the Muslims. Of course, most people do not see through the religious lens. The government could similarly view other subjects such as Ms Silver’s
    poster and box?

    From an agnostic government’s point of view, Ms Silver’s religious poster is just another poster and the prayer box is just another box. They should be justified on whether they could help, in this case, Ms. Silver’s classroom performance and nothing else.

  • WigWag

    One of the reasons Professor Berger writes the most interesting blog at the American Interest site is that while the other bloggers who post here write mostly about contemporary politics, Berger has bigger fish to fry. He writes about broader issues in a fascinating way. I find myself thinking about his posts days and sometimes weeks after I read them for the first time.

    Two thoughts come to mind about this post. First, I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been if rather than practicing an evangelical form of Christianity, Joelle Silver had been a Scientologist. Would those who are aghast at the idea that Ms Silber should be precluded from displaying posters advancing biblical messages and themes feel the same way if those posters contained messages from “Dianetics” or some of the other writings of L. Ron Hubbard? Somehow, I doubt it.

    Secondly, while I suspect that he is unaware of it, Professor Berger is being unintentionally ironic when he attributes the putative desire of young people to cast away their chastity belts to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

    The irony is that an observer as sage and sophisticated as Professor Berger actually thinks a revolution took place in the 1960s that upended sexual taboos that were centuries old. If a commentator as wise as Berger is still be so inculcated with Victorian propaganda that he believes the sexual attitudes of the 1960s are new, then the Victorian ethos is still very much with us.

    The “sexual revolution of the 1960s merely restored the attitudes about sex that have characterized society for thousands of years. It’s the sexual attitudes of the Victorians, that Berger mistakenly implies represents a baseline, that are, in fact, the anomaly. It’s not the only anomaly; in the English speaking world, the Puritan era was similarly anomalous, but for much of the past several thousand years, the attitudes about sex that reemerged in the 1960s were pretty much par for the course.

    Perhaps Professor Berger thinks the sexual revolution changed attitudes about homosexuality in an unprecedented way. If he does, he should reflect on the Roman and Greek attitudes about homosexuality; the modern idea about gay relationships really can’t be all that modern if those attitudes would have been considered mundane more than two millennia ago. If references to the Greeks and Romans are too archaic, Professor Berger should read some of the poetry of Christopher Marlowe or even better, some sections of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” In “Song of Myself” when Whitman writes about “love root, silk thread, crotch and vine” what do you suppose he was talking about? Whitman died 70 years before the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

    Those who think that “free love” is a concept that had its genesis with the sexual revolution should consult the work of the Epicureans; their attitudes were hardly the Victorian attitudes that many contemporary Americans seem to think had been the prevailing attitudes until they were upended in the 1960s.

    There are numerous other examples. After Charles the Second was restored to the English throne after an 18 year period of Puritan rule, quite a bit more was restored than the British monarchy. Culturally speaking, England returned to its bawdy ways; loose attitudes about sex that had characterized English culture since before the days of Chaucer returned with a vengeance. If Professor Berger would like to get a taste of what that was all about, he should consult any number of restoration era comedies. What he will find is that all of them are sexually explicit enough to make a 21st century American teamster blush. One in particular worth taking a look at is “School for Scandal” by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (the play is not exactly from the restoration era, it was written a bit later but is a good exemplar of what the plays from that era were all about.)

    Almost every play by Shakespeare is chock full of pornographic references and sexual innuendo that audiences in Elizabethan England (up to and including Queen Elizabeth herself) found hysterically funny. What made them so funny is that they riffed on the sexual attitudes that prevailed at the time. Contemporary English and American audiences, unfamiliar with the Elizabethan idiom usually have these references sail right over their heads. The knowing reader finds them everywhere. Those who would like help in deciphering the ubiquitous pornographic references in Shakespeare’s plays should get a copy of “Shakespeare’s Bawdy” by Eric Partridge. Anyone who reads it will never look at Shakespeare the same way again.

    The point is that the sexual revolution of the 1960s was far less influential than Professor Berger or others imagine if Victorian values are still so prevalent that educated people consider those values to be the historical norm rather than the historical exception. Those who have commented on this thread complaining that the 1960s upended age old Christian values are mistaken; it’s not Christian values that were upended, it was idiosyncratic Victorian values that were upended.

    Judaism and Christianity have managed to thrive for thousands of years in an environment where the inclination of people to follow their libidinous urges was par for the course. The fear of the chastity belt is not what is driving contemporary Americans and Europeans away from religion; that fear has never been especially relevant to the survival of religion.

    What has injured religion in the Western world over the last 50 years is the new found willingness of women to tell their priests, ministers and rabbis to keep their hands off their vaginas.

  • Tom

    With all due respect, that’s not it.
    Religion hasn’t cared about women’s vaginas.
    What religion cares about (at least regarding law), is what comes out of a woman’s vagina as the end product of nine months of pregnancy.
    And, if you think that the new era of sexual freedom has been totally awesome for women, you’ve been missing some things.

  • Alan

    “The “nones”—that is, those who say “none” when asked for their religious affiliation by pollsters—are a very mixed lot. One theme that comes through is disappointment with organized religion. There is an anti-Christian edge to this, since Christian churches continue to be the major religious institutions in this country. Disappointment then, or disillusion—but why the aggressive hostility?…”
    –Peter Berger

    There is another factor, that some of you are going to dismiss out of hand. And that is that Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity, has gutted itself in the sense that deeper, more hidden meanings and teachings have been systematically weeded out, so that intelligent people who outgrow the surface-level teachings have nowhere further to go. They feel betrayed because they realize the shortcomings of the surface teachings after having subscribed to them for a time.

    Religions are like onions, with many layers of truths and teachings. In its preaching that the Gospel is so simple that anyone can grasp it, much of Christianity has effectively cored its onion, leaving only a very few outer layers for the masses and little of substance for the more advanced seeker. No wonder the folks who wake up and leave are disappointed. The power, beauty, universality, and growth enhancing tools that they seek are in many cases no longer there.

  • OutofCountry

    Two quick comments. Many claimed that what injured religion was the women rebelling. If one looks at statistics however, they will find not women abandoning the church and suing people to get rid of posters and crosses – it is men. If anyone would attend some churches, they would find the congregation composed of 60-95% female.

    A second note is this: I currently live and work in an officially atheist country – and there seems to be fewer worries about religion than in my home country of the USA. The text books which they supply include learning about creation (Genesis 1-3), the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of them had extensive explanations about how protestants believed that salvation was by faith in Jesus Christ and not in good works!

    I was told that there was freedom of religion but no proselytizing. I worried about how much freedom I would have until I looked at the textbook and what I was supposed to teach!

    Once you get outside the western world – you will find that many of the things that people obsess about are just not that relevant.

    This society, by the way, without the church, has a very strong stand on sex outside of marriage – even though it still happens. It is not the church that has held this view but one that goes back thousands of years dealing with a man’s responsibility to provide and inheritance.

  • http://yahoo Philip

    @Richie the Riveter: I think you’ll find that evolution is no longer a theory, but scientific certainty (not of course the same thing as a common sense fact). The actuality of evolution is at the heart of modern biology, which would make no sense (would not work)if evolution were not the case. I think you may be being led astray by the debates about what exactly is involved in descent from common ancesters etc. There is disagreement among such theories, but there is agreement about the central insight.
    Also i think the word “theory” is misleading you:for example, the heliocentric theory of Copernicus,that the earth goes around the sun,are you suggesting that this is a “mere theory”?

  • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

    Philip, “consensus” is not the same as “fact” … otherwise, Galileo would have been wrong.

    From evolution to climate change, I see secularists playing the role of the Catholic Church in today’s version of the Galileo drama … a belief that we KNOW, even though we CAN’T know the whole story because of the time scale involved … and that those who Know have the right to declare those who disagree as ignorant, simply because they refuse to confess that they Know.

    It is a convenient tool to discredit those who one might disagree with on other issues … especially when one desires to sit with the Cool Kids at lunch time, and be thought of as “cool” and “enlightened” and “intellectual” themselves.

    But it is not truthful.

  • pashley1411

    +10 for Wigwam’s comment above.

  • http://yahoo philip

    @ RTR: well, I have no idea what The Truth is, or even if there is such a thing.Scientific knowledge in general is not predicated on absolute certainty but on empirical testing and convergent scientific evidence. So we are dealing with probabilities, rather than certainty (if only religion could open itself up to this sort of reasoning!). All the evidence we have, across biology,paleontology, genetics,ecology, etc, point to the conclusion that all life on Earth is related by common descent. I would say that it is now incontrovertible. But thats not to say that there aren’t disagrements about the finer points.
    I know nothing about climate change. P

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Now I know what those protest signs mean that say: “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.”

  • Sharon Kass

    Religion and traditional values can be revived. But it will take the following:

    o Conservatives abandoning public schooling (at all levels) and create and run schools and learning centers they can run their own way, with conservative morality.

    o Conservatives building a much bigger media system–for communication, news, comment, and entertainment.

    o Conservatives ending the fraud of the normal “gay” and building up a conservatively grounded psychological/mental health system. (www.narth.com)

    o Conservatives bringing psychotherapeutic services and family life coaching to all sectors of society. Self-control is an emotional as well as an intellectual matter. Narcissism often runs deep, and has to be treated skillfully.

    o Conservatives fostering a culture of chastity for singles and developing lots of ways for chaste singles of all ages to find and get to know each other.

    o Conservatives building up our private sector forces in social work, criminal rehabilitation, foster care/adoption, adapted employment for the noncompetitive, and so forth. Society needs to know that the conservatives have the help that really helps.

    o Giving our successful efforts a lot of publicity. Making sure Republican politicians and other leaders are talking about our good work.

  • Gary Novak

    Since my felt response to Wig Wag’s first post on this topic was much like Ruby Rube Rube’s, I waited to see if and how Wig Wag would respond to Ruby. I was surprised that Wig Wag’s second post seemed pointless—a virtual repetition of her first: Berger is a wonderfully thought-provoking Victorian ignoramus who keeps her up nights wondering how he can be so clueless. Then, of course, it struck me: the point was NOT to dignify Ruby’s post with a response, not even the eye roll Berger merits. Ruby, after all, is an essentialist. She believes that boys and girls are wired differently and that, therefore, it might be a disservice to both women and men to preach that redemption lies in the deconstruction of that ecclesiastically-sanctioned oppressive double standard that winked at Marvell’s hooking up with his coy mistress but placed a scarlet ‘A’ on her.

    Wig Wag argues (incoherently) that religion has gotten along just fine with bawdy behavior throughout history and that Berger foolishly believes that sex was invented after the Victorian era. What happened in the sixties, she believes, was not a sexual revolution (none was needed) but a feminist revolution. Thanks to birth control, women could now have the sexual freedom of men with no bastard burden. But if birth control did not change “attitudes” toward bawdy sex, it certainly increased its incidence (because of the impunity Wig Wag herself celebrates), and that changed behavior is precisely the sexual revolution she regards as a myth. Birth control, not free-floating “attitudes,” caused the sexual revolution. Well, it’s still a revolution, Berger’s points (and questions) remain valid, and Wig Wag continues to ignore Ruby’s doubts about the wisdom of regarding the elimination of unwanted pregnancies as “impunity.” Emotional and spiritual misery are heavy punishments, indeed, if any grad school radical feminists care to listen. Wendy Shalit’s “A Return to Modesty” (1999) rings true and ought to make “essentialism” worthy of more than a turned-up nose.

    Wig Wag treats Berger himself as a curiosity. Observe the remarkable residues of Victorian propaganda. How droll, how curious. Is Wig Wag, then, simply getting into the spirit of a blog on religion and other curiosities? Hardly. Berger’s audacious faith that, at bottom, the universe is benign is what enables him to actually see, hear, and appreciate the curiosities of God’s creation. He is like the mother he describes in “Rumor of Angels” who tells her child crying in the night, “It’s OK, everything’s in order.” How is everything in order? The kid will go to school, get bullied, get zits, get married, get divorced, have his teeth fall out and drop dead. How is everything in order? We don’t know, but somehow faith is possible and liberating. Berger has the leisure to contemplate curiosities, because he believes the universe is in good hands. Is anything more obvious than the fact that Wig Wag does not see Berger? Her pose of dispensing wisdom from Mount Olympus is an affectation belied by the nontheist rage that emerges when she speaks of the dictatorial, authoritarian, oppressive, patriarchal ecclesiastical conspiracy to get priestly, rabbinical, ministerial hands on the innocent vaginas of the world.

    Berger’s hypothesis is that the presumptive beneficiaries of the sexual revolution are hostile to religion because they fear that creationists on Capitol Hill will rollback its advances by, say, overturning Roe v. Wade or otherwise reinstituting “chastity belts.” Incidentally, Berger would be happy to give Sgt Friday a break and proclaim that he is not really talking about chastity belts, which are only a dream symbol (in the nightmares of free-loving hippies) for external constraints on the expression of libido. But the metaphor of the chastity belt does suggest that Berger has in mind primarily external constraints on sexual expression.

    But the issues raised by Ruby’s post suggest a deeper antipathy between religion and sexual license. Some of the defenders of (“bawdy”) libertinism are beginning to suspect that religion is not only powerful but (partly) right. They are beginning to notice that when Jesus saved the woman taken in adultery from stoning and forgave her, he nevertheless told her to go and SIN no more. And he was doing so well—why did he have to get judgmental about hooking up? Because maybe hooking up doesn’t work (emotionally, spiritually). And for those committed to the feminist project of androgyny, that can be a Weberian “inconvenient fact” of massive proportions. So massive that the only endurable response to a good faith challenge like Ruby’s is avoidance. It is for that avoidance that I rebuke Wig Wag. I feel a bit like Mr. Knightley scolding Emma on Box Hill in the Jane Austen novel. And you know how THAT turned out. So don’t call me ungenerous; say rather that I am practicing tough love.

  • Jim.

    Interesting historical observation-

    The social mores of today quite closely resemble those of Regency England. Regency England was followed quite closely by none other than the Victorian Age, when Europe (led by those stuffy, prudish, arch-social-conservative English) technologically leapt ahead of preceding generations and took over most of the rest of the world.

    People who think that progressing from our current licentious era to one of more traditional values is unlikely or impossible just don’t read their history very carefully.

    Modern Europe’s influence is on the wane, perhaps terminally. The rest of the world will become ever more important, influential, and ready to question Europe’s recent adventures in social engineering. It’s just as likely — perhaps more likely — that the social consensus that emerges will resemble what the majority of humanity has always held, rather than the ideas of Europe in its decline. Honestly, what conclusion should the rest of the world draw, when it compares the dying Europe of today with the rising, dynamic Europe of the 19th century?

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  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell

    “In all these cases the authorities accused of violating the plaintiffs’ rights operate with a definition of religion as a private matter to be kept out of public space.”

    I disagree. The Cheektowaga case focuses on a narrower issue: the conduct of public employees in the performance of their duties. Outside of her classroom, Joelle Silver may evangelize, go door to door handing out inspirational literature, and preach on the sidewalks.

    There is a difference between what gets done in the public space, and what gets done with government sanction or as part of a public official’s duties. That difference is important to US law. It is a line that religious conservatives try to erase when they argue that secular groups want to drive religion out of the public space.

  • Melissa

    It would be interesting to try to somehow find a way to get beyond assertons about the reason(s) for the rise of “aggressive secularism” and to try to use the scientific method to identify the reasons why people have left the churches, and to quantify which reasons have had the most impact.

    A few different reasons have been asserted in the article and ensuing discussion.

    So far, no one has mentioned some of the (additional) reasons that were important to me, as someone who grew up as a very devout evangelical, who then identified as secular for a while, and who is now a (very, very, liberal) Jew (who doesn’t take scriptures as historic or scientific fact). Here are some of my reasons:

    1. The arrogance: Having to believe that I knew more than any obviously kind, smart, conscientious non-Christian person,and that I had nothing to learn from them spiritually but they had everything to learn from me.

    2. The dissonance: Explicit directions from God in the Torah and Jesus in the New Testament to do things that as far as I am concerned are obviously “sinful,” “evil,” or just manifestly wrong. I’m too lazy to get the citations but the religiously knowlegeable here will remember that in Exodus God tells Moses to commit genocide against the inhabitants of Canaan, and that Jesus tells people to “hate” their father and mother. (For those of you who are inclined to rescue the text through exegetical contortions, that may work for you but it doesn’t for me.) Not to mention the (to me) unrelentingly violent, vindictive, and hateful God depicted in the book of Revelation. And I am well aware that other religions have “texts of terror” (as some scholars have called them)>

    3. The sexism and the racism. As a young person in my twenties, I actually did try to find my way back into Christianity through various venues…at one point I was attracted to Catholicism, despite the male only priesthood, becuase of the racial diversiy of the congregations where I lived at the time (compared to the informally segregated Protestant congregations). But when I heard the priest say, basically, that women are to men as humans are to God, that was a bridge too far. I walked out and never looked back.

  • Newton

    How would you feel if a public school teacher started actively promoting WIcca in her classroom. Or Islam? Not so understanding, I’m guessing.

    If you really want a teacher to be able to promote his or her own religious beliefs in their public school classroom, then you are going to have to accept other religions (and pseudo-religions like Scientology) as well. Is that really what you want?

  • Dan

    From descriptions of Silver’s classroom I’ve read elsewhere, I think she crossed the line into proselytizing.

    As a Jewish kid, I had an elementary school teacher whom I knew was a devout Christian, who was also a great teacher. However, she gave my home address to members of her evangelical church, who came often to my house in between the time I came home from school and when my parents came home from work. They left Bible tracts, which seemed foreign and absurd to me. Initially I hid them from my parents because I didn’t want the teacher to get into trouble, and when I did tell my parents about the visitors, I didn’t tell them they were sent by my teacher.
    We stopped answering the door, and one day my brother made a mound of the Bible tracts they had left and set it on fire in front of our house just before the evangelicals arrived.

  • DuaneBidoux

    How would Berger feel if the teacher publicly displayed a box with prayers to some other non-Christian religion? Probably exactly like I’d feel then.

    In my mind he is confusing two types of “public” space: that in view of everyone vs. that being paid for by everyone.

    The plumber down my street has a Christian fish symbol on his truck (which in my Jewish neighborhood seems of dubious business sense). But then I don’t have to pay his salary.

    The teacher? I, a non-believer, pays his salary too. All taxpayers deserve to be represented by this teacher.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Overheard in a coffee shop: Swedish single women are free to pick a boyfriend for what they are rather than their income because the state guarantees their standard of living. So a possible nuance to Berger’s hypothesis is that any threat to the welfare state — e.g., religion — is a threat to their freedom to pick a near-do well or a Bohemian as a boyfriend. And you can take that to the bank!

  • Jim.

    @Wayne Lusvardi-

    Ironically, that’s about the most mercenary and materialistic thing they could say… they would never consider going without their worldly wealth for the sake of love.

    It’s also quite a foolish thing for a government not to work to prevent… men are far less likely to actually get our acts together and become fully mature adults unless we have to become strong enough for a family to depend on. Ultimately, the government does in fact depend on us too, as an irreplaceable part of the tax-paying foundation of the state.

    Watching Sweden (and the rest of Europe) collapse — its birthrate (policy-driven spikes notwithstanding) is abysmal — should be a wake-up call as dramatic as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. We’ll see if anyone listens, before it’s too late.

  • Tom

    It should be, but if you look at the leftist response, seen in several places on this thread, it won’t be.

  • Gary Novak

    What I find remarkable in Melissa’s interesting and enjoyable post is how close her views are to Berger’s. (1) She doesn’t want to be an arrogant know-it-all, (2) She doesn’t want arrogant know-it-alls to require her to accept doctrines dissonant with her experience (contorted exegesis means “exit Jesus”), and (3) She can’t abide religions that violate inviolable human dignity.

    As a result, she is a very, very liberal Jew and Berger is a liberal Protestant. Of course, to be a liberal anything means that one is still connected with a tradition, even if one is taking liberties with it. For Melissa, the sexist priest is the face of the Catholic Church. She sees no way to be a “very, very liberal Catholic.” She does find an uncontorted exegetical way around the commanded genocide in Exodus. It’s in the wings, not in her post, but I think it is safe to say that she is not attempting to “rescue the text” but to explain (to herself first of all) why that stumbling block should NOT be taken as the face of very, very liberal Judaism.

    The question is not whether Christianity or Judaism deserve a second look after their sins. The question is whether, in walking out and never looking back, we are leaving behind both wheat and chaff. In becoming her own “theologian,” Melissa is able to continue cultivating what Berger calls the “nexus” between religion and experience, thereby both rendering justice to religion and not doing an injustice to herself. (“The nexus comes about when I relate the tradition to my own experience and am compelled to say, ‘yes, yes– this fits!’”) That is why I find her post interesting and enjoyable.

  • bpuharic

    Part of the problem is one of omission. Many churches, especially conservative ones, staked SO much of their credibility on sex that they lost the ability to discuss other aspects of society. Poverty, racism, greed, war, inequality, many of these issues were ignored by churches.

    And we found that there was nothing wrong with being gay. Nothing wrong with sex before marriage (proper and responsible precautions). We DID see the conservative churches siding with those who oppressed blacks all the while shrieking about sex.

    So it’s not sexual ethics, but the fact these churches have made themselves irrelevant. Now that they have, hostility to regulation of personal behavior is an inevitable outcome.

  • Ranger G

    Interesting article, but the conclusion is a disappointing sidestep. Those of us who think that the sexual revolution was not a good thing are not interested in cornering the market for chastity belts. We are interested in solving societal problems by channeling sexual energies into areas where sex benefits, rather than harms, society. I’d argue that were sexual relations normatively played out within stable male/female marriages, we’d see a wholesale reduction in violence, drug use, abortion, out-of-wedlock births, and so on, with a corresponding uptick in economic stability, scholastic achievement, durability of relationships, etc. Mark Regenerus at UT Austin has some compelling work in this area. And on the anecdotal side, when you start ticking through the list of mass murderers for the last decade, you’ll easily find a strong majority who had tenuous relationships with parents, or a severed relationship with fathers in particular. Would restoring life-long, faithul marriage between a man and a woman as the societal norm impinge a bit on others’ libido? You bet. Would we benefit as a culture from it? Well, I’d rather walk a dark street in a city full of stable nuclear families…. I, for one, am tired of subsidizing sex by any and all, and then subsidizing the numerous failed state programs trying to cure the results of that multi-generational orgy.

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  • http://www.peterjessen-gpa.com Peter Jessen

    Wow! What a wonderful range of views. With 66 comments, this is the largest response I’ve seen so far. I feel as though I’ve stumbled onto a giant cock tail party. I’m in agreement with George Bernard Shaw’s comment, when told that people at dinner parties in polite society didn’t discuss politics, religion, or sex, that those are the only topics worthy of discussing. And Berger and commenters here have not disappointed, with many being interesting and informative and enlightening reads.

    From my perspective, Wig Wag is correct about her general comment (Berger writes the most interesting blog) and his specific comment (Berger has bigger fish to fry). In a word, Berger is interested in the curiosities of human behavior all along the biographical progression of life (hence the title of his text book, “Sociology: A Biographical Approach”). From his Sociology of Knowledge standpoint, he is interested in everything that passes for knowledge and why. The key words are “passes” for knowledge and “why”. Thus, nothing is left out nor locked up in separate drawers.

    This is why It seems to me that those overlaying strict “I know” about Berger in their critiques miss the fine tuning Berger brings to this exploration of what he finds curious abd why, causing me, as a newbie, to scratch my own curiosity and look up his first blog essay of July 9, 2010, (I’m tempted to say something about its proximity to July 4th, but I’ll resist).

    It was helpful. Having read his recent memoir and other works such as Pyramids of Sacrifice (an exploration of the socialist and capitalist development models), The Capitalist Revolution and The Homeless Mind, I have a better understanding of his sociological map than I do of the various cognitive maps of contributors. The anonymous aspects of many contributors also clouds the various social and political “locations” that may or may not help interpreting their contributions better as well.

    The “big curious” in this essay are three, as I understand the essay:
    (1) the attorney “compared the treatment of his client’s religion with measures of disease control. This is not an attitude one would expect to find in a Western democracy. It is curiously reminiscent of policies toward religion in Communist countries and toward non-Muslims under Islamic rule.
    (2) that the survey data shows love-they-neighbor” Christian churches identified “with intolerance and repression.”
    (3) his curiosity leading him to this thesis: “American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution.”

    What wonderful responses from so many. Much to ponder and consider, and much to look forward to in future essays and responses, especially when coming back to Berger’s key question expressed in his recent memoir, “What is an acceptable model of development?” (p. 129).

    From his global comparisons and “the weight of evidence” from his research, he writes that “I came down clearly on the side of capitalism as the only viable model of development” (p. 135), that has raised more people out of poverty than any other. There is relevance here to the sexual revolution.

    His other major change of mind, again based on the weight of evidence, he no longer adheres to the secularization theory (p. 135), that although “modernity produces pluralism, pluralism does not necessarily produce secularity” with no “world view” able to be “taken for granted” and that “individuals have to choose among the different world views,” some of which will be religious, and that, in fact, “in most of the contemporary world they are” (p. 99).

    As I wrote in my late response to his Jan 23rd essay, humanism and sociology and religion are not, in Berger’s view, in any way mutually exclusive. In my late response to his January 16 essay, I used Berger’s thought experiment of what would a Martian think and ask about the nature of our society on their first visit to our planet.

    That leaves me to be a Martian and ask (be curious) as to the various responses to this essay to Berger’s “sociological hypothesis” that “The new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution.” I’ve had a number of young ladies knock on my door with various petitions related to various environmental and other Oregon causes (so far, all liberal). When they bring up “liberation of women” and comments like “our turn,” I deliberately ask Martian-like questions, but only as an information seeker, not as a debater (they are not convertible).

    What surprises me is their almost complete unawareness of the difference between women liberated in this country and not liberated in so many others, combined with their inability to grasp that women, in the days of nursing one, having a second tug on their skirt, with a third growing in their uterus, not to mention short life spans for men and women, there was not much room for other activity in the “man’s world” and “woman’s world.” They still speak resentfully of being oppressed rather than celebrate being liberated by modern technology (birth control) and liberal social mores (hooking up, living unmarried without Scarlet Letters around their necks).

    Much research has gone into demonstrating the negatives involved for many in this ideology of the sexual revolution. In their book “Red Families v. Blue Families,” Naomi Cahn and June Carbone argue that however their attempt to navigate post-sexual revolution America without relying on abortion, there is a divergence by education and class, influencing how abortion seems, both morally and practically, to have “the big secret…[that] very few are willing to discuss … that abortion rates do seem to correlate with greater commitment to marriage.” So, “In conservative communities, the hardening of anti-abortion attitudes may have increased the acceptance of single-parent families. And by contrast, in less conservative communities, the willingness to accept abortion has helped create more stable families. Of the “40 percent of children now born to women who aren’t married,” the majority are non-elite, non-college educated. The majority of elite women with college education abort and wait for marriage and thus have far rewer babies out of wedlock and thus do not go on to raise them as single mothers but wait to raise them in marriage. Very curious indeed.

    An even greater curious part of this aspect of the sexual revolution, according to sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, in their “Premarital Sex in America,” is that “the evidence of religious influence on sexual decision-making is slim,” making it very secular indeed, suggesting Berger is spot-on when he says “the new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution

    What is missed by many in the responses to this blog essay “religion as between consenting adults,” is Berger’s sense of humor. My sense is that he is chuckling a great deal reading these responses. He famously wrote in the 1960s, that things “should not be taken so seriously that they preclude the capacity for laughter.” And 35 years later he wrote a book entitled, “Redeeming Laugher.” Any who have read his books know about his sense of humor. The “chastity belt” usage was his sense of humor kicking in. His placing the Silver incident in the “Burnt-Over District” signals the wide range of understanding that he has of the various “revolutions,” and that he clearly understands what Shaw meant when Shaw wrote “there is only one religion though there are a hundred versions of it.” The phrase by Catholics is that “all roads lead to Rome.” That was common term in the BCE period and referred to the Roman road system throughout the empire all leading back to the center of their empire: Rome. The Roman Catholic church appropriated everything about new lands, and thus uses it to suggest all religions come back to the center: Rome.

    Thus for us, where will our curiosities take us as we attempt to unravel how do we bring all of the “One Way” political and religious roads to engage progress (whether regarding technological advances or regarding an ideology about the evolution of human beings) to bear for the best development in terms of society, technology, bureaucracy, and governing, especially in the areas of education, jobs, housing, and governing?

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  • R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.

    There are simple solutions to this mess. The militantly secularist teenager flunked sandbox 101, getting along with others. He should be spanked. The article is not clear, but indicates that the teacher displayed religious articles in the class room. This has educational value, learning about the world. The Constitutional issue centers on First Amendment rights, the prohibition against the governments power over the individual. There is no right not to be offended by another’s speech. If the kid is offended by seeing religious articles, tough beans. If the class room can not function because it now is a church, the teacher should back off; she is there to instruct.
    It is impossible to litigate good manners, which is the central problem. The money spent on the law suits is a waste.

  • S Alt

    It’s really simple: Ms. Silver doesn’t have to “stop being a Christian” when she comes to school… but when she comes to school, her personal views on religion are not to be discussed or displayed via posters or prayer boxes. The *same* rules go for an atheist teacher (unless we’re okay with a “God is fake” poster in some classrooms), so she is clearly not being discriminated against.

    Also, the “militantly secularist” student and the “militantly secularist” organization defending them don’t appear to be forcing atheistic values on anyone, they are merely supporting the Constitution (no establishment, anyone?) and the rule that public entities should not promote any single religious viewpoint over others.

    Don’t forget that if Ms. Silver wins her battle, somewhere in the U.S. we will have a “God is fake” poster on the wall, a prominent Quran on the bookshelf, and a Book of Mormon on a desk, and Wiccan tracts on a table, and you won’t be able to remove any of them. Beware of what you ask for!

  • BeamMeUp

    Here we go again. Some Christian evangelicals are eager to spread their “true faith” to others (and in the process criticize them for their different beliefs). It’s not enough for the evangelicals to have their many places of worship, their books and TV shows. They need to use public schools and other government avenues to “spread the Word.” And they call themselves victims when their criticized or challenged for their intolerance of other beliefs.

    Beyond situations like this teacher feeling a need to use the classroom for her propaganda, other evangelicals want to mandate school prayer and the teaching of creationism or at least is watered-down cousin “intelligent design.” Do they dare debate the downside of having school prayer or debate about creationism. No way. They demonize their opponents. Why? Like the welfare state liberals, they know their beliefs can’t compete in the marketplace of ideas. Creationism has been laughed out of the classroom and university.

    Religion should be a private matter. Throughout history and today (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Taliban in Afghanistan), when government becomes the sponsor of religion, intolerance breeds in the form of censorship and the loss of freedom of belief.

    Some evangelicals would like to go back to the 1950s, when people of alternative lifestyles stayed in the closet and non-Christians kept quiet. Well, it’s not going to happen. Don’t like the competition of other beliefs? Too bad.

    I grew up as a Lutheran (not the bible-thumping, fire-and-brimestone kind) but became an atheist because science made more sense than religion. Where’s the proof that any supernatural deity exists? (But that’s another story.)

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  • Mark

    It isn’t a question of Government overreach for the teacher to be told not to preach to her children. If I walked into a classroom and ‘Allah is the answer’, ‘Vishnu loves you’ or any other religious nonsense was being forced on me I would complain too… And I imagine that most Americans would vociferously complain if the religion was not Christianity. The point is, children are obliged by law to be in that class to learn about factual events and concepts, the teachers totally unfounded hypotheses on how the World came into being does not fit under that category and its totally inappropriate for her to be using her position to force her beliefs on people.

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  • Phil Beaver

    Peter Berger’s thesis
    is catchy: “religion is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in
    private.” The statement lacks consideration of children. But I want to address four
    issues: “secular,” the preamble to the United States Constitution, a people as
    defined therein, and the sexual analog to Berger’s idea. I think Berger is
    premature in his predictions about America, where a people is emerging but few people know about it.

    Berger cites four court
    cases then states, “An aggressive secularism seems to be on the march in all
    these cases.” I suggest that “secular” is a circular
    idea imposed on a people by religion, perhaps Christianity. “Secular” means
    first “not religious.” Not religious is meaningless until you define religion.
    But a civic people does not need to debate religion. A civic people need to
    civically, candidly discuss civility: the law. By accepting the label “secular”
    a people unintentionally isolate the people in the religious domain of public
    debate: mere personal opinion. Both
    theists and non-theists, persons, want peace so that they can each pursue the
    happiness they perceive, not their government’s idea of happiness. However,
    their institutions keep them from discovering this commonality, by prejudicial
    meanings such as “non-religious,” “under god,” “god bless,” when religion is
    not the object of civic accommodation. The preamble to the United States Constitution
    is a civic sentence.

    The preamble to the US
    Constitution lies fallow, perhaps because it is maligned as a secular idea in a
    country that in 1790 had 100% Christian citizens, 99% Protestant. However, in
    2014, 227 years after 70% of the delegates to Philadelphia signed the preamble
    along with the articles that follow, a 77% Christian population has 51%
    Protestants. A minority holds a new view of that civic sentence, and it like
    everything else in the US Constitution can be amended or merely employed in its
    new meaning by a people. The new view may be expressed in paraphrase: A people
    agree to govern on three levels in order to fulfill eight civic goals in
    negotiating civil order. Our goal is for 70% of citizens by September 17, 2017,
    to be pursuing the cooperative happinesses they perceive in every decade of
    their lives and using the preamble to
    compromise with each other so as to accommodate fellow citizens in civil order
    (the law and its institutions). Dissenters may reform or risk the rule of law
    as it stands, as always.

    Berger argues that “The
    new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution. Whether one approves or deplores the new
    sexual culture, it seems unlikely to be reversed.” Berger’s conclusion, when
    viewed from a civic perspective
    instead of the non-religious
    perspective seems predictably false. America, with 319 million people, has over
    110 million who suffer sexually transmitted disease (STD) with 20 million new
    cases each year, primarily among the young. Some STD increase rates are highest
    among same-sex partners. Marci Hamilton’s work suggests that over 30% of
    Americans are involved in child abuse. A people cannot continue such neglect of
    its posterity. Two concepts are expressed by the people who support use of the
    preamble as described above: first, benefitting
    from the ethics of physics and second, use of that ethic to civically provide a
    community that is welcoming to both the children and the children to be born.

    Berger would influence
    more than observe when he asserts,

    Yet Christian churches
    (notably the Catholic and Evangelical ones) are in the forefront of those who
    do want to reverse the libertine victory. Its beneficiaries are haunted by the
    nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of
    clerics and conservative politicians. No wonder they are hostile!

    It is novel for a same-sex advocate to admit to
    hostility; but maybe Berger is just throwing daggers. Berger’s liberal hyperbole
    perhaps reflects the difference between European acceptance and American
    determination, maybe resulting from America’s colonization by European powers
    and the European inability to relate to American independence. Transcending an
    unrecognized “too holy alliance of clerics and . . . politicians,” Americans, fortuitously
    pursue the benefits of the ethics of physics. Take, for example, vehicular
    regulations. An ethical nation continually improves the efficiency of vehicular
    technology and limitations in order to protect the safety of citizens. The ethics of physics requires both 1)
    drivers to know and observe vehicular regulations and 2) the nation to provide
    the best facilities and regulations. In a “soft” example of the ethics of
    physics, conversation-efficiency is lost when people lie to each other and the
    consequences are inevitably costly: The ethical practice is not to ever lie, so
    that people may communicate.

    Americans deliberately
    manage their religious institutions in privacy. However, so far, the people
    have brooked politicians who, upon election, claim divine authority through “legislative
    prayer” and “ceremonial religion.” But Americans have the means to govern of by
    and for a people any time Americans decide that a people will emerge.

    Burger did not give his
    brilliant idea the balance it needed. His idea mimics “sex is to be an activity
    engaged in by consenting adults in private.” This statement is limited by
    civics. For example, if the activity subjugates one of the parties, causing
    physical harm or death, it is a civic matter. If the adults have the intent to
    procreate, it is a civic matter. If procreation occurs, it is a civic matter:
    The conceiving adults are both civically obligated to the child for life. Civic
    equality and dignity begin with the ovum, which should not be abused. If one
    party would expose others to STD, it is a civic matter. These points relate to
    the STD and child abuse issues I raised earlier, and civic matters must be negotiated by a people to arrive at civil order. If these arguments are
    accepted regarding sex, what is the implication for the religious analog?

    Repeating, “Religion is
    to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private.” A first concern
    is the exclusion of children, which I need not resolve, since Berger did not
    support his claim. The tendency to restrict religious expression in public is
    understandable, based on past abuses of non-religious minorities. Another
    approach is appreciation of religious
    and cultural diversity among a people who nonetheless attend to their civic
    obligations–govern selves civically so as to accommodate all other citizens.
    This requires the integrity of
    appreciation of the other citizen’s private sources of motivation and
    inspiration. The result is separation of church and state, but not separation
    of citizens. Religious institutions aggressively negotiate civil order that
    fulfills a people; there cannot be governance under theism. As a consequence,
    international religious institutions that oppose American law must have American
    leaders who do observe American law. If the international organization
    separates from its American leaders, it is a private issue. Moreover, government must give up the notion
    of “legislative prayer,” and election to divine authority. A people must
    impress elected officials that a people does not brook claims of divine
    authority: Authority to govern comes from a people, even when a mistaken
    majority has voted. In America, a people is defined by the preamble to the
    United States Constitution, and governance of by and for a people pursues
    benefits from the ethics of physics.

    These ideas are
    developed more fully yet incompletely on the blog promotethepreamble.blogspot.com.
    The purpose of the blog is to expand the idea of mutual civic accommodation by
    a people, which can happen efficiently if people (candidly) comment: please
    comment.

    Copyright©2014 by Phillip R. Beaver. All rights reserved. Permission is
    hereby granted for the publication of all or portions of this paper as long as
    this complete copyright notice is included.