May 20, 2005


By Nicholas von Hoffman ,
The New York Observer, May 4, 2005

En garde!
A piece of treacherous language has made its way into our public
discourse. Where once words such as "religion," "Christianity" and
"Judaism" were heard, public figures now speak of "persons of faith" or
"people of faith," "the faith community" and "faith-based." Moreover,
anything "faith-based" is axiomatically good, and anyone who questions
the presumption is axiomatically bad.

These expressions divide us into believers and nonbelievers, with the
believers or persons of faith enjoying not only an alleged numerical
majority but a moral superiority as well. It follows that anyone living
outside the community of faith is a bottom-dwelling, life-hating,
secular pederast destined for pain eternal in the land of Tophat.

Saints and sinners are being lined up and divided everywhere. Have you
seen Robert Novak on TV telling all who will listen the whys of his
becoming a Roman Catholic? Woe to him who cannot claim membership among
the faithful.

The term "people of faith" has come to be used interchangeably with the
word "American." If there's a politician left in the United States who
doesn't season his speech with tremulous references to the "peoples of
faith," I can't recall his name. The Democrats-who are supposed to have
a weakness for killing the unborn and sexually assaulting the
underage-have given up their advocacy of vice and perversion; they, too,
now speak in deferential tones of the "people of faith," whose votes
they seek to corral by pious faces and reverential references to "the
God of us all."

The expression "people of faith" conveys the idea of a holy (or
not-so-holy) alliance of religions, united for good against the
disorganized forces of anarchic relativists, secularists, and people of
little or no faith. They have values-a good thing. The rest of us (few
in number though we may be) stand for what is destructive of hearth,
community and country-a bad thing.

The people of faith are sympathetic to the Republican Party and its
objectives. Democrats, intimidated by the religiosity loose in the
country, have come to accept the premise that the test of public policy
is how a measure is greeted by the faith community. At the rate the
faith juggernaut is moving to govern the nation, the once-red-hot
liberal patootie, Hillary Rodham Clinton, now a wifely Mrs. Hillary
Clinton, will soon be campaigning against Roe v. Wade. Judging by who
Ms. Clinton was in the days of yore as against who Lady Clinton is
nowadays, you would have to agree that faith can pass miracles.

Hillary is not alone. Can you think of a single person of stature in
public life who dares to challenge the people of faith? Maybe a shock
jock here or there has the onions to take on this coalition of the
altogether too godly. Nobody else does.

The closest thing we have to organized opposition to the religious
domination of public life is Americans United for the Separation of
Church and State-but though their geeky hearts are in the right place, I
wouldn't want to speculate on the location of their heads. Battling the
appointment of faith-based judges and preventing public buildings from
being festooned with Bible quotations is well and good as far as it
goes, but it isn't far enough.

Somebody or something has got to start battling religion itself. God is
the enemy-meaning the God locked up by organized religions and guarded
by ministers, priests, rabbis, popes and mullahs.

This is not a struggle to be carried on in the law courts and the
legislatures. Religionists are crawling in everywhere, swarming the
schools, movies, medicine and research labs. Their intent is to install
a faith commissar to oversee every major social institution. We don't
need lawyers here; we need fumigators. We need people in HAZMAT suits to
go in and smoke 'em out.

We need people to stand up in public against the Christo-Islamic
alliance's assaults on relativism. It's been more than a generation
since anyone with access to a significant pulpit stood up for
relativism. The clerics have made "relativism' into a dirty word instead
of what it actually is: a term for the application of reason to public

Turn your back on relativism and you get absolutism. Show me a true
believer and I'll show you a bigot. Absolutism is at the heart of every
religion-our dogma or nothing. The absolutist foundations of every faith
preclude compromise, adjustments, deal-making, pragmatism, the changing
of opinion, the admission of new evidence-all the tools necessary for
running a complicated, polyglot, poly-religious, poly-ethnic,
poly-cultural modern, science-based, technology-dependent society. The
absolutism that underlies religious faith closes the door marked
"Reason" and opens the door labeled "Holy War."

There was a time when the evangelical Calvinist form of the Christian
religion was so prevalent that it could run American society with some
success-but that was 200 years ago. Even then, people of non-faith tried
to beat off the religious prohibitionism that strove to close the
country down on Sundays, to suppress music, dancing, baseball, Sabbath
smooching and the joy of life and replace it with on-your-knees worship
and clerical rule. The coming of large numbers of Roman Catholic
immigrants touched off the public-school wars of the 19th century.
Religious absolutism being what it is, the fight over whose dogma and
morals were to be inculcated into the students had to be resolved by
kicking all religion out of the schools. That never completely happened,
but at least God was pushed into the corner with the elimination of
school prayer and the exile of religious symbols and activities.
Recently, though, God has been making a comeback-and God help us all if
He is successful.

The alliance among the various religions embraced by the people of faith
is a tenuous one; in the end, every religion hates every other religion.
The day before Benedict XVI was elected, The Wall Street Journal ran a
front-page article about how Islam was converting people faster than the
Catholic Church-which, rousing itself from a certain evangelical torpor,
was starting to say, "No more Mr. Nice Guy! We can't let the towelheads
get ahead of us." (The language used, of course, was more decorous, but
the meaning was there.)

The triumph of absolutist faith over relativism, of religion over
secularism, will start up a new era of religious strife, if it hasn't
already begun. The history of religious contention in the West does
contain instances of peace, moments when religions signed truces and
stopped the warfare, but social peace didn't prevail until religion was
booted out of the marketplace, driven out of the halls of power and
sealed up in private homes and places of worship. Religion in private
may be a good thing; religion in public is a menace.

In the U.S., with a growing Muslim population, a super-energetic Jewish
population and an increasingly crazed Christian population, it is but a
matter of time before the "people of faith" coalition falls apart and we
get down to some good old-fashioned religious throat-slitting. Religions
are tolerant only when they lack the power to be otherwise; turning the
country over to one of them or all of them combined is daft.
Historically, the people of faith have a war-crimes record longer than
your arm.

A good guess would be that only a minority of the population is infected
with virulent forms of faith. But it's an organized minority, awash in
money. We of little faith and less zeal are neither organized nor rich
nor eaten up with a need to proselytize, and therefore we are without
defenses against God's putschists.

To stop them, we don't have to pass laws. It's not vital to get "under
God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance. What is vital is that we, the
faithless, raise a hullabaloo every time the people of faith play the
family-values card, every time they claim that their faith puts them at
the head of the line, every time they presume to decide what we should
see, hear and do. What is vital is that we bray, honk, whinny, oink and
screech at every public assertion that superstition trumps science, that
they've got a god and that those of us without one are no damn good.

Shout out the facts: They put "in God we trust" on the money, and every
year it's worth less than it was the year before.

Nicholas von Hoffman is a former columnist at The Washington Post. He
now writes a regular column for The New York Observer.


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8:44 AM  
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