Berlinerblau (Jewish Civilization/Georgetown Univ.; The Vow and the ‘Popular Religious Groups’ of Ancient Israel, 2009, etc.) offers a solid history of secularism in America and a defense of its virtues at a time when conservative Christians attack it as a moral evil and advance the “flawed” idea that one cannot be both religious and secular.
Arguing that the revival of religion in the United States since the 1970s has led to the ascent of the Christian Right and the crackup of secularism, the author cites examples of ways in which traditional boundaries have been breached, including the creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and frequent threats by elected officials to establish Christianity as the national religion. Berlinerblau calls for the strengthening of secularism to guarantee “both freedom of and freedom from religion in American life.” In tracing the roots of the American secular vision, the author points to the shared beliefs of Martin Luther, Roger Williams, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Despite their differences, each warned about mixing religion and governmental power, celebrated religious freedom, emphasized the need for social order and argued that all religious groups must be equal in the eyes of the state. The author recounts secularism’s rise and broad public support from the 18th century through the mid-20th century, when separatism became the preferred secular policy of the U.S. Supreme Court. Responding to the “signature” secular decade of the 1960s, conservative Christians began an attack that has left secularism in a state of exhaustion. To ensure the future of secularism and its “virtues of moderation and tolerance,” millions more Americans must declare themselves secularists, including followers of liberal faiths and religious minorities.
An impassioned argument for “a firm and dignified defense of the imperiled secularish virtues and moderation, toleration, and self-criticism.”