I have to give props to my Jewish friends. Judaism seems to be the only belief system whose adherents aren’t out actively recruiting people. The Tribe doesn’t feel the need to have me as a member. And I appreciate that. Their lack of zeal is nice. I used to be able to say that about my fellow atheists. But not anymore. If they ever start coming to my door, I’ll tell them — figuratively, of course — to go to hell.
Indeed, the controversy surrounding all these atheist ads is distracting us from the most dangerous false god of all: government.
I have admitted in these pages before that I’m an atheist. But these evangelical atheists are acting like an oppressed minority. To that I say, “My God. Gimme a break.” Similarly, I’d like to see all the Christians who’re suddenly in a huff about the ads take a moment to consider just ignoring them and the controversy — just like we all ignore the door when the Jehovah’s Witnesses ring while we’re eating breakfast.
Even thinkers I deeply admire in their respective fields — Dawkins and Hitchens, for example — seem to be out evangelizing against religion. This might be appropriate in places where church and state aren’t sufficiently separated — like Iran. To these godless evangelicals I would say: if you’re going to gripe about any institution, gripe about the government. Because this is where the action is when it comes to the worship of false gods.
Before the Tea Parties, it seemed Americans had found something new to believe in. Government seemed to offer everything a hungry spirit requires. Consider the parallels (X = God or Government):
1. In times of crisis, people turn to X to give them comfort and pray X will solve all their problems.
2. X possesses special knowledge about the affairs of ordinary people, which these ordinary people do not possess.
3. X has a special power to intercede in their affairs to positive effect, as long as they are faithful and obedient.
4. Forces beyond anyone’s control can be tamed by the will of X.
5. X can work through proxies and agents to exert its will. The agents and proxies are anointed by X.
6. X requires sacrifice, whether in tithes (taxes) or submission to its will.
7. Such sacrifices to X are rewarded tenfold (by X), because it has infinite resources.
8. People organize and evangelize to their fellow men in order to convert them.
9. Raids and crusades have been justified in the name of X, particularly during times of crisis.
10. X is personified in the form of a messiah.
There’s one little catch. Madison reminded us over 200 years ago: men are no angels.
Indeed, I rather prefer faith of the religious variety, as long as it is kept to a slow burn within the hearts of individuals who tolerate religious difference in others. What distinguishes the faithful from the worshipers of government is that most religious folks in America see charitable acts as motivated from within — and moral responsibility for one’s fellow man lies in one’s breast.
Worshipers of government are not so tolerant. They’re not nearly as concerned with your intentions. They have apotheosized compulsion itself, which means they’re worshiping government power. Despite all the talk of “social justice” and the “common good,” they cannot escape the fact that politics is the means by which men bend other men to their will and call it “good.” The casualty is liberty.
I’ll be celebrating Christmas this year with my Christian family. I might even bless the food. (They all love when that happens.)
The great thing about America is that we’re a pluralistic society. That means it takes all kinds. Luckily the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and expression. You might say we have a free market in belief. And guess what? There’s no shortage of it here — however you like it, however you arrive at it, and however it floats your boat. Likewise, as long as the market for everything else is free, there will be plenty of everything people want and need — including charity.
Some contemporary debates center on questions about God in government: Were the Founders attempting to create a secular state in which church and government were strictly separated? Or did they have in mind a republic that gave a nod to Judeo-Christian moral foundations? In the face of unprecedented socialization in healthcare, banking and other sectors, worrying about whether the word “God” appears on a nickel is like worrying about a spider in the bathtub while someone torches your house. In other words, God in government is a conversation for another day. Government as God? This is what we should be talking about.
Max Borders is a writer living in Austin. He blogs at Ideas Matter.