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Bill Barr Secularizes America

U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s recent comments to Notre Dame law students Law are spot on. But in raising concerns about the “forces of secularization,” he and other religious conservatives need self-reflection. They have done more to secularize America than the combined efforts of liberals, atheists, and card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In his speech, Mr. Barr perpetuates long held inaccuracies now resembling truth. Using a broad brush to call the Founding Fathers, Christians (and let’s not forget Founding Mothers), is inappropriate.

Read the “Jefferson Bible.” Thomas Jefferson didn’t think Jesus the son of God, but a delusional humanist with a handful of lessons worth embracing. Benjamin Franklin was a closeted agnostic while Thomas Paine advocated a militant, humanistic atheism. James Madison thought making Christianity Virginia’s official religion repugnant.

If Mr. Barr wishes to waft poetically about Judeo-Christian values in the early republic, explain slavery with its raping, shackling, whippings, and the selling of young children. Explain the murder and mistreatment of native peoples.

Is dehumanizing political opponents, fowl-mouthed language at political rallies, pulling children from parents at the border, and shaking down foreign leaders for political favors a reflection of a secularized America? Who is responsible?

Are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s three divorces, with the third resulting from an affair during the Clinton impeachment, the result of a secularized America? Or maybe the devil, no doubt a liberal, made him do it. Ironically, the woman who chose to have an affair with a married man is now the ambassador to the Vatican.

Are concerns by supporters of Liberty University regarding impropriety and ethical lapses the result of liberalism? Is a foul mouthed president who mocks, demeans, and denigrates others an ideal champion of Christian values? Or is this better understood as a fake-Christianity? Is this secularization?

Is the hands-off capitalism, aggressively endorsed by religious conservatives, creating payday loans and credit card usury exploiting the poor and middle class, a positive result of God-talk in public policy making? Is the corporatization of Christianity, especially among evangelicals leading to millionaire televangelists, the fault of atheists?

Religious conservatives would do well to remember history. Catholicism during the French Revolution, Eastern Orthodoxy during the Russian Revolution, and Protestantism during the time of Hitler, were all compromised due to a Faustian, incestuous relationship with secular government.

The holy and sacred were cast aside. Religion protected corrupt, immoral regimes while benefiting financially and politically. Speaking truth to power was not considered a virtue. Those with the courage to speak out were demonized, not unlike those in America today who publicly challenge morally bankrupt religious leaders.

Mr. Barr and his religious conservative brothers and sisters are fully engaged in America’s secularization. It’s why the sacred must always be kept separate from the political, temporal, and transitional.

Separating church and state dates to John Smyth in 1612. In 1644, Roger Williams, founder of Providence, Rhode Island, wanted a separation to keep the “wilderness of the world” from soiling God’s “garden” and “paradise.” Williams wanted faith in the world, yet not of the world. Mr. Barr doesn’t see the distinction.

The attorney general is wrong when he laments that “salvation” isn’t found on “the picket line.” Martin Luther King Jr., as one of many examples, found salvation in the picket line. Rev. King also found picket line salvation for America by helping end segregation. Better to be a picket line Christian or humanist than a Pharisee advocating for a fake morality.

There is hubris to think other people of faith like Unitarians, Episcopalians, or members of the United Church of Christ, among others, must believe a certain way. Yet that’s what Mr. Barr and his brothers and sisters like Newt Gingrich and Jerry Falwell Jr. infer. This is a corrosive spiritual pride.

What would happen if Jesus came to America today? There’s a lesson in Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. Jesus is likely to be mocked, shunned, and told he’s not needed. The presence of Jesus in America would disrupt the order, power, and wealth of today’s Pharisees – conservative religious leaders who shout loudest about liberty and freedom.

Ironically, those expressing concerning about liberty and freedom do so while advocating for the restriction of someone else’s liberties. It’s not about freedom. It’s about power and control at someone else’s expense. It’s the antithesis of Christ’s message.

It turns the sacred into the tawdry. It’s because of this self-righteous, false humility the spiritually hungry question religion’s place in society. People aren’t attacking religion. They’re challenging conservative religious leaders who are today’s Pharisees. These Pharisees secularize America.
Paul Peter Jesep is a New York attorney. He is a graduate of Bangor Theological Seminary and an ordained Eastern Orthodox priest. In his ministry, Fr. Paul has supported marriage equality, advocated for women’s ordination, and called on Orthodox leaders to acknowledge and stamp out anti-Semitism. He was the only Eastern Orthodox representative at the interfaith processional of New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

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