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September 7, 2011

by Dr. Benjamin Wiker
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side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar When I was a mere elementary school lad, I remember Mrs. Anderson calling the class to order with a "moment of silence." We weren't allowed to have a prayer, she informed us. So there we stood, heads reverently bowed, blankly making no noise together.

Now, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has commanded that the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks be commemorated in the same way, reverently and entirely without substance.

Why? Some speculate that he doesn't want to offend the victims of 9/11 by having to invite a Muslim cleric to take the stage along with a Roman Catholic priest, a Protestant clergyman, a Jewish Rabbi, etc. But that seems entirely unlikely. After all, this is the same mayor who, not very long ago, was adamantly defending the right of Muslims to build a mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero.

In personally advocating a thirteen-story mosque be erected so close to where the World Trade Center was purposely destroyed by radical Muslims in the name of their religion, Bloomberg had the temerity to say, "Democracy is stronger than this. You know the ability to practice your religion was one of the real reasons America was founded. And for us to just say no is just, I think, not appropriate..."

Somehow it has become appropriate at the 10th anniversary memorial of 9/11, and so we presume that democracy is now apparently too weak to withstand having clergy at the scene. No one seemed to mind when they showed up right after the attack to help the victims.

Perhaps the mayor could have come up with an entirely innocuous prayer that all the clergy could offer without offending anyone, say something like this: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, and our country. Amen."

Who could possibly object to that?

Read the prayer again, a slightly different version this time: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen." Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Engel v. Vitale, the landmark 1962 Supreme Court Case that struck down school prayer as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That was the prayer that some folks in New York's Long Island found so offensive that they demanded that there be no praying in any public school anywhere. They certainly won big. Since Engel v. Vitale a series of court cases have struck down, one after another, any religious expression in the public square, thereby setting one clause of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion") in direct contradiction to the clause that directly follows it ("or prohibiting the free exercise thereof").

And that is the contradiction now squeezing Mayor Bloomberg. In disallowing any public appearance of religion in the 9/11 memorial "service," he's simply taking Engel v. Vitale yet another step. No prayer in public schools. No prayer in public period. The Establishment Clause (so secularists would have us believe) demands that religion be silenced.

But then, in the name of the Free Exercise Clause, Bloomberg believes he must throw his official weight behind the building of a mosque. (Our own federal government even cheerfully paid the bill for the Imam pushing the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, to flit about the Middle East, fostering "understanding" about American Muslims, and, so it seems, to gather foreign funding to build the mosque).

What to make of this contradiction? The obvious thing to point out is that there was no such contradiction when the First Amendment was written. Or to put it another way, there were not two clauses but one: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." Note the semicolon occurs after both have been stated, showing us that they belong together, a positive and a negative, in the same clause. The whole point, in historical context, was that the Federal Government should not positively sanction one Christian denomination over another (as England had established the Anglican Church as the state church), and also negatively should not interfere in the free exercise of any denomination (as England had persecuted both Puritans and Catholics).

The contradiction between the two parts of the single clause arose when secular-minded judicial activists started using the first part of the clause to violate the second; that is, actively using the Establishment Clause to prohibit the free exercise of Christianity.

I have stated this very particularly. It is impossible to understand what is really going on in all this apart from the larger historical secular revolution occurring over the last several centuries. This larger revolution was defined against Christianity. The secular-minded Enlightenment radicals were not just trying to overthrow any religion; they were attempting to root out the Christian foundation of their own culture and sow another entirely secular culture in its place. In defining their project against Christianity in particular, they thereby built into their secular revolution an inherent anti-Christian bias.

Part of this bias was the belief that religion was bad, but any religion was better than Christianity. This same bias works today among the politically correct who charge Christians with every imaginable crime against humanity, even while affirming Islam as entirely, essentially a peace-loving religion. So it is that a particular New York mayor uses the Establishment Clause to root out Christianity, and the Free Exercise Clause to publicly affirm Islam.

I doubt that Mayor Bloomberg is conscious of following in the ruts of the large-scale secular revolution reaching all the way back to 17th and 18th century Europe; rather, he is simply following the judicial and cultural grooves cut so deeply by the American judiciary, the ACLU, and the politically-correct intelligentsia reigning in NYC who carry forth that secular revolution on our own shores.

And that's what put Bloomberg in the current pickle. In order to follow the secular logic of Disestablishment, he must violate the Free Exercise Clause and prohibit public prayer at the 9/11 Memorial, and in order to support the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in conformity to the Free Exercise Clause, he must throw governmental weight behind it, thereby violating the Establishment Clause.

That contradiction should be a sign that it is not judicial reason that brings two parts of one clause into crashing opposition, but an ideology that has broken the clause into two pieces and is using them for its own purposes.

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Responses to: us versus them

Your claim that atheism has caused more slaughter than religion misleading. The brutally murderous regimes of the former Soviet Union and communist China etc were not caused by atheism per se, but the fact that these empires have been ruled by monstrously evil tyrants who just happened to be atheists. However, it cannot be denied that religion has caused an enormous amount of slaughter and brutality over the ages. Christians who bridle at calling Islam the "religion of peace" conveniently ignore the fact that Christianity has not exactly been a religion of peace itself in the past 2,000 years. The crusaders slaughtered an enormous number of innocent Muslims,including women and children, who had done them no harm and were in no way a threat to them. The Catholic church is responsible for less than pretty events such as the slaughter of the Albigencian heretics in the south of France in the middle ages, and the slaughter of an enormous number of women who were accused of being witches, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. And of course, Muslims have slaughtered an enormous number of people, including fellow Muslims . So religion per se is not necessarily a bad thing. But neither is atheism. The vast majority of atheists are not evil and murderous people, quite the contrary,in fact. Atheists are not the kind of people who fly airplanes into tall buildings, murder doctors who perform abortions or bomb women's health facilities, execute homosexuals , stone women for adultery, mutilate the genitals of little girls etc. Many atheists behave far more ethically than people who claim to be religious. - R.B.

Benjamin Wiker responds:

First, to say that "atheism per se" isn't responsible for the approximately 100,000,000 deaths that occurred at the hands of 20th century communists is, frankly, a disingenuous strategy used by both atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher, among others, to get around the very embarrassing fact that atheist-based regimes have been so thoroughly barbaric. If you can’t see what’s wrong with your strategy, imagine if I, as a Christian, said that the slaughter during the Crusades was done by brigands and adventurers who just happened to be Christians, or that the killing of Albigensians was done by French land-hungry noblemen who happened to be orthodox Christians. Christianity, therefore, is not to blame!

So point number one is this. If Christians must "man up" and admit their sins in the Crusades or Witch hunts, then atheists must likewise "man up" and admit that Marxist atheism saw no limits to what it could do to dissenters, especially Christians, and so it slaughtered as no one has ever slaughtered before. Let us both be honest about our brutality.  Christians killed Albigensians because they were heretics. Lenin and Stalin weren’t tyrants who happened to be atheists, but tyrants because they were atheists—i.e., because they understood clearly that, with no God, they were entirely free to do anything to advance their cause.

Second, and related, there is the question of scale. You are a bit vague about the numbers actually killed by Christians. But the days of wild exaggeration about the millions upon millions killed by Christians is over. As scholars have now made clear, the numbers killed in the Crusades, the Inquisition, and witch hunts number in the thousands and tens of thousands, and the numbers killed by Marxist atheists number in the millions and tens of millions.

Third, there is the question of motive. You imply that atheists are morally superior because, say, they don’t kill women whom they think are witches, but you fail to note that they have killed thousands of women because they were nuns and thousands upon thousands of men because they were priests. Atheists may not have flown airplanes into tall buildings for their religion, but they have destroyed churches and monasteries because of their ideology. Atheists may not kill atheist abortionists, but they do not condemn the killing that goes on in the abortuary. Atheists may not stone women for adultery, but Stalin had no qualms about purposely starving millions for the sake of collectivism.

Dr. Benjamin Wiker: Religion is a subset of the much larger question of existence. Here is my short response to your long "Us Versus Them" column in tothesource on Sept 1, 2011. Existence exists. There is an explanation for existence. The human being does not know the explanation for existence. The human being is not the explanation, nor the reason, for existence. There is no "afterlife" for the human being, or the monkey, or the ant, or an ear of corn. Common sense tells me that there is no afterlife, because life after life is a contradiction in terms. There are many human constructs to explain existence, including existence of the human being, that have been constructed and developed over thousands of years. Prominent human constructs include Religions, God, Intelligent Design, Evolution, Stephen Hawking's quantum theories, and many others. There have been, there are, and there will be many other explanations for existence. Until the human being knows the explanation for existence ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE! I WOULD LOVE TO BE WRONG and find that one of the possibilities is that there is afterlife in "Heaven." Respectfully, N.H.

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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

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Ben Wiker Trans Benjamin Wiker
Author and speaker Benjamin Wiker holds a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary's University (MN), Thomas Aquinas College (CA), and Franciscan University (OH).

He is a Senior Fellow of the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College, a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute, and a Senior Fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

Dr. Wiker has written nine books, including Ten Books that Screwed Up the World, Ten Books that Every Conservative Must Read, and his newest, The Catholic Church & Science: Answering the Questions, Exposing the Myths. His website is benjaminwiker.com.
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