WHO'S AFRAID OF SECULARISM?

Author:Boston, Rob
 
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The U.S. Constitution Mandates That Our Government Be Officially Non-Religious. To Christian Nationalists, That's A Problem.

Attorney General William Barr was on a tear.

Speaking to the University of Notre Dame Law School and de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture Oct. 11, Barr unleashed a stinging attack on one of the Religious Right's favorite targets: secularism.

"I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack," Barr told the crowd. "On the one hand, we have seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square. On the other hand, we see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism."

But Barr was just getting started. He proceeded to tick off a number of negative social trends he laid at the doorstep of secularism. Among them were "the wreckage of the family ... record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic."

Asserted Barr, "I will not dwell on all the bitter results of the new secular age. Suffice it to say that the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it immense suffering, wreckage, and misery. And yet, the forces of secularism, ignoring these tragic results, press on with even greater militancy.... We are told we are living in a post-Christian era. But what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system? What is it that can fill the spiritual void in the hearts of the individual person? And what is a system of values that can sustain human social life? The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion."

The speech reflected Barr's long-held views on Christian nationalism. While serving as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, Barr, a devout Roman Catholic, gave several speeches bashing secularism.

Addressing a conference of governors on juvenile crime in Milwaukee on April 1, 1992, Barr blasted public schools for their secular nature. Public schools, Barr said, have undergone a "moral lobotomy." He blamed this on "extremist notions of separation of church and state."

About six months after that speech, Barr struck again. Addressing the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a far-right Catholic group, on Oct. 6, 1992, Barr called for the imposition of "God's law" in America and lit into secularism once again.

"To the extent that a society's moral culture is based on God's law, it will guide men toward the best possible life," Barr said. He blamed "modern secularists" for sparking cultural decline in America and told attendees, "The secularists of today are clearly fanatics."

After his first stint as attorney general ended, Barr continued promoting these themes. In a 1995 essay he wrote for Catholic Lawyer titled "Legal Issues In A New Political Order," Barr asserted, "Traditional Judeo-Christian doctrine maintains that...

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