Pew Research has been reporting for several years that “The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace.” Pew refers to these people as the “nones” because they will not self-identify as atheists or agnostics or as Christians or as Muslims or as having any religious views whatsoever.
But all human beings have religious views. A mere few seem to genuinely have no opinion whatsoever on whether or not God exists, but everyone has definite opinions on how human beings ought to treat each other, on what they owe to whom and on what their relationship is to everyone (or everything) else that exists. Those are religious (or metaphysical, if you prefer) views.
I was walking through a public middle school the other day (I always like to spend time around those who are better educated than me) and my eye caught a poster with the following quote:
The Earth does not belong to man; Man belongs to the Earth – Chief Seattle
What would happen if the poster had contained the following quote:
And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28
Both quotes offer a religious (or metaphysical, if you prefer) message about the relationship between human beings and the natural world. The first quote espouses a view that is commonly held by (among others) self-identified atheists, agnostics and “nones.” The second quote espouses a view that is commonly held by (among others) self-identified Jews and Christians.
We all know what would have happened if the second quote had been found in a public school. Someone would have had a conniption about proselytizing in schools and the mixing of government and religion. The first amendment would be proclaimed to be in jeopardy and the offending poster would have been removed immediately.
My point here is not to debate the merits of the oneism of the first quote vs Russell Kirk’s transcendental order. The point, rather, is that we allow the first view but not the second view to be taught in our schools, and we tell each other this is because the schools have to be neutral. By labeling their opponent’s view as “religious” and their own view as “non-religious” one group has won the privilege of advancing their metaphysical beliefs through (among other places) the public school system.
I don’t always disagree theologically with the “nones.” I’m delighted to see that in Hollywood they are now turning out one show after another that preaches overtly the moral obligation of each child’s mother and father to stay, whenever possible, physically present in the child’s life. But we should be able to honestly admit that this is, in fact, preaching. Not only is it preaching but is the preaching of a view that would have been condemned by “nones” in the 1980s as “backwards” (that’s kind of like a “none” word for heresy).
We live in a nation that was founded by people who believed that God exists, that He creates all that exists, and that He endows each person that He creates with certain inalienable rights. Because of those beliefs they embraced the freedoms of our constitution protecting even those who spoke against those same beliefs.
I hope these beliefs will always be common in this country because they are all true. But as opposing views become more common and more powerful in our political discourse let us at least be honest with each other about the preaching of these views and not let one side be impaired with the label “religious” while the other side is allowed to pretend it is somehow above, beyond or distinct from religion.