Reflections on the Heresy Called Religion

For David....

Reflections on the Heresy Called Religion
by Fred Reed

I find myself wondering why the ruling classes of America are so
grindingly antagonistic to religion. I understand having no interest in
religion. I do not understand the animosity.

One might say, "The world's religions are so many, so internally
inconsistent and contradictory of each other, and so dependent on
assertions which seem to me not to be factual, that I cannot believe any
of them." The position is neither unreasonable nor rabid. One holding it
might go about his affairs, leaving others to believe as they chose. He
might respect the faith of others without sharing it, might regard
religions as harmless and colorful folklore, might indeed regard them as
socially beneficent.

In the Unites States, though, we see something very different: an
aggressive hostility to religion, a desire to extirpate it and, though
no one quite says this, to punish its practitioners. A curious
witch-hunt continues in which people seem to look for any trace of
religion so that they can root it out. I would call it vengeful, except
that I do not know for what it might be revenge.

Why? The explanations given do not make sense. A store whose sign says
"Merry Christmas" is a threat to nothing, just as a nativity scene can
offend only one who is looking very hard for something to offend him.
The stridency of the evolutionists seems overblown, since a mention of
the theory of intelligent design in the high schools would hardly lead
to the closing of departments of biochemistry.

The notion that the Ten Commandments on the wall of a courthouse will
lead to an established religion is palpable nonsense. Constitutional
piety doesn't wash either. If nativity scenes contravene the
Constitution, why was this not noticed by anyone, assuredly including
the authors, until at least 1950?

(I am reminded of the old joke about the high school that issued a boy a
condom, and expelled him when he was discovered praying for a chance to
use it.)

A common reading is that the sciences have become a sort of secular
religion, with the Big Bang replacing Genesis, and evolution as a sort
of deanthropomorphized god chivying humanity onward and upward. There is
a large element of this, yes. The self-righteous intolerance directed by
disciples of evolution against religion assuredly resembles the
intolerance of religion against heresy. Does this explain the anger of
the rooters-out? Is it partly that believers in America tend to be
Southern or Catholic, both of which are regarded as politically
inappropriate conditions?

Why have the sciences achieved such power over the popular mind? Obvious
answers are that they work spectacularly within their ambit, that they
produce wondrous gadgets, that they are swathed in incomprehensible
runes such as triple integrals or tensors dripping with sub- and
superscripts, and have resounding incantations like "pentaerythritol

I wonder whether something else is not involved. Today most of us live
in profound isolation from the natural world. People in large cities can
go for decades without seeing the stars. Should they drive through the
countryside, it will be in a closed automobile with the air-conditioning
running. On a trip to the beach, the sand will be overrun by hordes of
people, half of them on whining jet skis.

We exist utterly in a manmade cocoon, as much as desert termites in
their mud towers. This, I think, profoundly alters our inner landscapes.
Live in the rolling hills around Austin, say, as they were before they
were turned into suburbs, with the wind soughing through the empty
expanse and low vegetation stretching into the distance, the stars
hanging low and close in the night, and you get a sense of man's
smallness in the scheme of nature, of the transitoriness of life, a
suspicion that there may perhaps be more things in heaven and earth. It
makes for reflection of a sort that throughout history has turned toward
the religious.

People no longer live in large wild settings, but amid malls and
freeways. The ancients believed that the earth was the center of the
cosmos. We believe that we are. There is little to suggest otherwise in
manicured suburbs and cities where the sirens will be howling at all
hours. It is an empty world that begets philosophically empty thinking.

Without the sense of being small in a large universe, and perhaps not
even very important, the question arises, "Is this all there is?" and
the answer appears to be "Yes." Without the awe and wonder and mystery
of a larger cosmos, existence reduces to blowing smog, competitive
acquisition of consumer goods, and vapid television with laugh tracks.
We focus on efficiency, production, and the material because they are
all we have. It is not particularly satisfying, and so we are not
particularly satisfied.

I suspect that the decline of religion stems less from the advance of
scientific knowledge than from the difficulty of discerning the
transcendent in a parking lot. Certainly the scientific has generally
replaced the religious mode of thought, even in people who believe
themselves to be Christians. For example, it is amusing to hear them
saying that the parting of the Red Sea refers to diminution of water by
a wind in what was essentially a swamp. That is, God is all-powerful,
but only to the extent that he behaves consistently with the prevailing

Yet note the decline of even non-religious contemplation of such matters
as meaning and purpose, right and wrong, ultimate good, and so on. It is
not that people behave worse without faith, but that they cannot explain
why they do not. The use of the sciences as a substitute for belief in
God or gods has produced a religion that cannot ask the questions
central to religion. It has also made discussion of such questions a
cause for eliminating the offender from the guest list for the next
cocktail party.

But this does not answer the question of why the hostile stalking of
religion that pervades the ranks of the educated and influential in the
United States. In almost all times and places, disbelief and secularism
have existed, yes. Few educated Romans actually believed in Jupiter the
Lightning Chucker. There have been Cathars and Wiccans and Manicheans
and innumerable agnostics. Yet, so far as I know, only communism and
Americanism (is that the word, perhaps?) have tried to eradicate

Mexico has separation of church and state, and yet a bus driver can
display a crucifix without upsetting anyone. I do not know how many
Thais are believing Buddhists. Certainly Buddhist symbols are visible
everywhere, and it doesn't seem to have engendered disaster. Why the
angry rejection in the US? I will get email telling me that it is a
Jewish plot, like everything else, but in fact it is the default
attitude of the educated. Why? Who cares?

February 10, 2006

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a

Copyright (c) 2006 Fred Reed

Could the author be confusing intellectuals with the ruling class? Does anyone happen to know how many atheist Federal Senators and Representatives we currently have?

I wonder why the anti-religion "ruling classes of America" still choose to force children to profess a belief in religion (via the pledge) or feel the need to print proclamations of religious belief on every dollar.

-- Steve