Thursday, September 1, 2011

Talk Dirty to Me

Mmm. Bad words. I get off on them--well, some of them. 

Words like tolerance. Reason. Choice. Heliocentric. Evolution. And the subject of today's discourse, secular. 

Bear with me, because I have a bone to pick first. While some words can get me all tingly, I don't like being played. 

A certain element in our society has mastered the art of warping public opinion through calculated public relations campaigns. When I worked in PR, I picked up a book called Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear by Frank Luntz, thinking it would add an arrow or two to my professional quiver. It mostly just left me feeling slimed.

This is the guy responsible for changing "estate tax" to "death tax"; "oil drilling" to "energy exploration"; "global warming" to "climate change" (though he has since come to believe that humans have contributed to glo--excuse me, climate change); "healthcare reform" to "government takeover"; and "consumer financial protection"--as in, let's guard against a repeat of the the subprime mortgage meltdown and resulting financial disaster--to "excessive bureaucracy." Here you can find more on his memo to Republican lawmakers to ensure public opposition to financial reform legislation, and who is paying for his efforts.  

Back to my point: somewhere along the line, "secular" has become a bad word in some circles. We should revere the canon that fueled so many cannons in the revolutionary war: government and religion should not be intertwined. This was one of the linchpins of the enlightenment, and an axiom of the new United States' government. 

Our constitution specifically, and after great debate, laid down the framework for a secular system of governance. It includes no mention of god or provenance; rather, it comes from "We the People." The bill of rights begins with two clauses ensuring religious neutrality, and bans any religious test for holding public office.

The Treaty of Tripoli, signed during George Washington's presidency and ratified under John Adams's, includes this assurance: "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." The Baptist Joint Committee's Executive Director has a level-headed post about secularism's role in our political system in this post

Did you learn about this in high school? Probably not, and an exceptional book by James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, can explain why: our American history textbooks suck. They are designed to advance a bland, falsely glowing, overly simplistic narrative and, in an effort to gain adoption from state school boards, avoid any whiff of controversial stuff.  

This insightful essay from the author of Freethinkers and The Age of American Unreason explores the deficiencies in our textbooks and basic education, and argues that freethought and secularism should be integrated at every level of schooling.

Who is behind this campaign to sully secularism? I have no idea. But this blog post chronicles recent examples of defilement, and they are all coming from the religious right.

Talk dirty to me. I don't want trumped-up fairy tales about intelligent designers, a 10,000-year-old Earth, Christian nations and the end times. I want facts. Maybe I can't handle the truth, but I'd rather try: I want to hear about the gritty, disruptive, mistrusted, imperfect, dissident and bold ideas that have fueled true human progress throughout the millennia.  

Oh! The rapture.


  1. Carol For President!!!!

    So James Loewen wrote Free Thinkers? Everytime I read your blog I am prompted to read about the subject and then somehow life and other books get in the way. Should I start with "Lies ..."

  2. No, sorry--that was unclearly written. Susan Jacoby wrote Freethinkers, Age of American Unreason and the essay linked in that paragraph. I should have named her. Lies My Teacher Told Me would be a great book to start with if you wish to explore more about some falsehoods we've all learned along the way. It's a great read.