Sunday is, for many in my culture, a day of religious observances. As many of my Facebook friends and acquaintances know, I often take this sacred moment to share a little antitheism. I do this to get folks to consider things in a different light, namely the light of secularism and, more broadly, human rights. Today’s bit of light is a hypothetical (albeit I lift some verbiage from a website of the character I mock here) that speaks to the secular foundations of the American Republic and the Establishment Clause, which forbids public institutions from promoting religion.
Is there a public relations outfit called “Book a Christian” (BAC) promoting Christianity by creating sympathy for persons persecuted as Christians, seeking to improve Christianity’s image by offering Christians who will talk about forgiveness, love, mercy, and tolerance?
If there were, I think some items on the “About” tab on its web page might look something like these:
“What is Book a Christian? BAC celebrates the talents, expertise, and stories found within the Christian American community. It takes pride in its diverse and engaging roster of speakers, performers, and artists. BAC strives to provide speakers and performers of high caliber.”
“Why Book a Christian? Christians are often talked about, but not always heard from, and we strive to change that. By giving Christians and their allies the opportunity to share their narratives, skills, and expertise, we are breaking down barriers, combating negative stereotypes, and giving voice to the diverse and authentic Christian American experiences.”
Imagine that one of BAC’s stars, let’s say his name is Norman Crosby, represents himself as the victim of widespread Christophobia, as well as the human face of Christianity. Imagine Crosby telling a harrowing story of surviving an attack by two terrorists at a Christmas Party in which fourteen Christians were killed. Injuries suffered in this event left Crosby permanently disabled. He tells a story of compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. These qualities, he will tell his audiences, represent the true spirit of Christianity. You can take his word for it. His identity is his proof.
Wouldn’t this sound to some folks like a project to spread Christian theology (an irrational, patriarchal, and heterosexist ideology responsible for a lot of pain and suffering in the world) by manufacturing the illusion that Christians were a persecuted lot in need of special consideration? Wouldn’t it sound like resistance to medievalism, atavistic desire, the child terrorizing myths of hell and eternal damnation, the imposition of Christian ideas in public spaces, and the other injustices of Christianity was being portrayed as the work of a hateful army of bigots and xenophobes, ignoramuses who don’t know what’s in the Bible, who are uninformed about all the wonderful things Christians have done throughout history? Have they even read the Bible? Do they even know what’s in it? Was it the English translation?
Certainly such a PR outfit is free to exist. But how should one feel if taxpayer dollars were spent on pro-Christian propaganda by booking BAC speakers, performers, and artists at public institutions, such as a university? Not a student group booking Crosby, but an initiative of the university itself. What if it were turned into an all day event in which other Christians were gathered to tell their stories before wide-eyed audiences desperate to signal their ecumenical virtue. What if students were led in Christian prayers and encouraged to express positive sentiments about Christian doctrine?
As most of you who read my blog know, I am not a Christian. I have never been a Christian. I never will be a Christian. Christianity is responsible for a lot of what is wrong in the world. I have personally suffered on its account. Others have suffered far worse than me. The good that advocates of Christianity purport to offer is found elsewhere, for example, in the rational ethics of secular humanism. It is not found in other religions. I would be personally offended if such an event were held at a public institution at my expense. My tax dollars already do too much work for religious institutions and practices.
This is not just a matter of my feelings. We live in a secular country, one that, at least in principle, separates church and state. The government, we are told in our foundational system of rights, explicitly enshrined in the first of these, shall never respect an establishment of religion. Teachers are not to lead students in prayers—not in our public spaces on our time and on our dime. What they do on their own time using their own money is their own business; those who subscribe to religious beliefs are free to exercise them in any manner than does not infringe on the liberty of any other persons. That’s the bargain: you get to believe in absurd things; I’m not forced to pay for it.
It’s wrong for the government to enlist the resources I provide with my labor in the promotion of religious ideas—whether I agree with them or not. My country is founded on this principle. Such an event as I describe here, if there ever were one, should be held in a church, or some other private space, funded by private interests.
If such an event happened at a public institution funded by tax dollars and I missed it, I would ask that it never happen again.