The Pew Research Center reports that the percentage of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has risen significantly in the past decade, and now stands at more than a quarter of the population. The portion who call themselves Christian, meanwhile, has dropped from 77% in 2009 to 65% now.
It confirms two things that should qualify as common sense today: America is generally becoming a less religious nation than it used to be; but a still-overwhelming majority of Americans continue to embrace religion, particularly Christianity.
Growing but still vastly outnumbered, these nonbelievers are exactly the kind of population the Constitution is structured to protect, within a system that gives power to the majority while safeguarding the rights of the minority. In fact, the very first words of the First Amendment to that Constitution could have been written with them in mind: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”
Reconcile that, if you can, with the recent speech by America’s top legal official, essentially declaring that only Christian Americans are real Americans.
Do I exaggerate? Consider these words from Attorney General William Barr in his bombshell speech at Notre Dame earlier this month: “In short, in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.”
And not just any religious people. “In fact,” said Barr, “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct.”
So it seems Muslims, Hindus and, heaven forbid, atheists can’t hope to be as “moral” as a Catholic attorney general who, for example, stonewalls Congress about the administration’s abominable family-separation practices at the southern border.
Barr sets up his premise with some passages that make you wonder if he has ever truly pondered the walking Roman orgy of a president he serves.
“Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large,” said Barr, presumably without irony. When this top Trump administration official further warned of the dangers of “licentiousness,” you have to wonder if a knowing titter rippled through the audience.
Lack of self awareness aside, Barr’s speech becomes truly chilling when he finally gets to his central argument. The man who gaslighted America into believing that the damning Mueller report was actually exculpatory is pushing a new fable: The U.S., Barr seems to say, was actually supposed to be a Christian theocracy all along. He doesn’t use that phrase, but he might as well.
Social order, Barr says, “must flow up from the people themselves — freely obeying the dictates of inwardly possessed and commonly shared moral values.” True enough — or at least, it can be. In a democracy, the people decide for themselves which standards to use in choosing leaders, and moral values can certainly be among them.
But then Barr adds: “To control willful human beings … those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will — they must flow from a transcendent supreme being.”
So now a “transcendent supreme being” is choosing our leaders?
Then how in God’s name did we end up with Donald J. Trump?
It’s hypocritical, but not especially surprising, that this and other Christian proselytizing enables a president whose entire personal, business and political life looks like a systematic campaign to violate the Ten Commandments, one by one.
In backing the most irreligious president in America’s history, the Christian right is playing the same cynical game as the country-club Republicans who wanted their tax cuts; the same as the white supremacists who wanted political relevance; the same as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who wanted a malleable White House. Trump isn’t particularly concerned with any of their imperatives — a textbook narcissist, he ultimately isn’t concerned with any imperative beyond the image he sees in his gilded bathroom mirror every morning — but in him, these disparate crusaders have all found a useful idiot.
That’s the scariest part of this tirade against “militant secularists” and other non-Christians (which, incidentally, was posted to the Department of Justice’s official, tax-funded website): Unlike Trump, Barr seems to believe it. And he’s in a position to act on it.
“We must be vigilant to resist efforts by the forces of secularization to drive religious viewpoints from the public square and to impinge upon the free exercise of our faith,” said Barr, managing to make America’s two-thirds Christian majority sound like a persecuted minority. “I can assure you that, as long as I am Attorney General, the Department of Justice will be at the forefront of this effort, ready to fight for the most cherished of our liberties: the freedom to live according to our faith.”
As for the one in four Americans who choose to live without religious faith: The top legal official of your government has just told you that, as far as he and his office are concerned, you don’t count — because you don’t pray.