The day after Easter, a co-worker from Nigeria asked me why there is so little commemoration of a major Christian holiday? He said that it was a very big annual event in Nigeria. One answer is that this is a reflection of American society's increasing movement to secularism and our sensitivity to the fact that we are now a country with multiple religions.
That's not the answer I gave. What I told him is that there is a vocal segment of our society that is embarrassed by Christianity. I continued to think about the issue and I can identify several trends and influences.
First, there can be no doubt that there is a wide-spread, long-term attempt to eliminate Christianity from public life. The ACLU, among others, is on record as saying that religion belongs in the home and church, not in the public sphere. That this campaign has been effective is also inarguable. Not only do government entities go to lengths to avoid the word "Christmas" but even major retailers who depend on Christmas shopping now refer to it as a generic holiday ("holiday tree", "holiday cookies", etc.). What used to be Easter Break is now a generic Spring Break that may or may not coincide with Easter. All of this has lead many to believe that there is a war on Christmas or even on Christianity.
Liberals argue back that there cannot be a war on Christianity. After all Republicans control the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court. I have seen this argument several times in different forms but it ignores many realities. A big one is confusing Christians, Republicans, and Conservatives. Another problem is that this assumes that the people at the top set the tone for the rest of the nation. In fact, in our de-centralized nation, local authorities have quite a bit of power independent of the federal structure and this is where the battles are being fought.
There is a contradiction in the Liberals' argument that they are just pushing for a more mature, multi-cultural society. There are major exceptions made for other religions, particularly Islam. For example, cities with large Muslim populations Christians recognize this and it contributes to their feelings of persecution. Liberals, on the other hand, have internalized a double-standard and don't even see the contradiction.
While this does not constitute an organized campaign against Christianity, it does resemble one. There are dangers here. The liberal goal is to keep Christianity as a low-key, private movement rather than a national force. The surest way to provoke the very thing that they are trying to avoid is to make it seem that Christianity is being suppressed.
Things were not always this way. Going into the 1960s, the country was mainly church-going Protestants with Catholic and Jewish minorities and a tiny number of agnostics/atheists. Other religions were less than a percent.
40+ years later and the agnostic/atheist and "other" categories have grown significantly while the percentage of church-goers is at an all-time low. This follows a trend in countries such as France where most French are nominally Catholic but around 20% are Muslim. On a weekly basis a smaller number of Catholics actually attend church than Muslims.
So, what are the forces behind this and why were they internalized by the Liberals? There are multiple causes, many of them intertwined. i will start with the earliest and one of the strongest, the French.
The French Revolution.
The American Revolution was mild compared to the French Revolution. The Americans simply declared independence from England and continued on. The federal government took more than two decades to really coalesce and little in everyday life changed.
By contrast, the French Revolution tried to change everything. They overthrew both the church and the state. religion was banned. Even the calendar was changed to a ten day week to make it difficult for people to know when it was Sunday or when it was a religious holiday.
Eventually Robespierre, the architect of the Terror, realized that the people needed something spiritual. He tried to create a new religion, similar to some of the New Age beliefs of today. He created a new holiday for this with a huge parade through Paris. He even rode on one of the floats dressed as a god. This turned out to be his downfall. His supporters turned on him and he quickly fell from power.
Ultimately the French Revolution was a failure. Brotherhood, equality, and liberty were quickly abandoned. French governments changed quickly over the next few decades, alternating between Napoleon's empire, democracy, and a return to the monarchy.
Still the original revolution was never forgotten. Paris became a magnet for political refugees and would-be revolutionaries and the French Revolution was their template. It is no coincidence that the communist revolutions of the 20th century mirrored the bloody French Revolution. The revolutionaries believed that revolution needed blood.
They also believed that religion was inescapably tied to the old power structure. Marx referred to religion as the "Opiate of the masses." In order to free the people, the existing government, economic structure, and religion had to be overturned. Most communist governments have tried to suppress religion. The state religion of the USSR was atheism and was taught in schools.\
By the time this was boiled down to folk Marxism, it was diluted into religion = bad. Even people on the left who do not endorse communism are heavily influenced by folk Marxism.
So from the French we get the idea that religion, especially organized religion is a bad thing.
The counter-culture movement of the 60s and early 70s was a general rejection of traditional American values. It became fashionable to read Marx (or at least to quote Marx). This included the rejection of organized religion. Marx was against it and it was part of whitebread America so it must be bad.
For a few years Buddhism and Buddhist-inspired cults became popular. Most of the people who tried these eventually abandoned religion completely.
An other facet of the rejection of whitebread America was the rise of nativism. There was a strong belief that American culture was artificial and had been imposed on immigrants. Most other cultures were regarded as "more authentic". This led to programs designed to discourage assimilation. Immigration laws were changed to favor non-Europeans.
A lasting contribution of nativism is that allowances are made for non-Christians. This is one reason that Muslims appear to get favored treatment.
Much of today's multi-culturalism is water-down nativism. It is the reverse of social Darwinism. We must make sure that no portion of our culture is offensive to other cultures.
Much of today's left is rooted in the 1960s. This is when folk Marxism and nativism went mainstream. It was also marked by a general rejection of traditional American values including organised religion.
In 1972, the Democrats began to actively court feminists. This meant adopting the feminist agenda as their own, especially abortion. It is not possible to be an anti-abortion Democrat. By 1980, the Republicans had taken advantage of this to attract the right-to-life advocates. While some people are against abortion on ethical groups, most organized support for this position comes from Catholics and Baptists. This polarized the parties on religious grounds and is the reason the the Republicans continue to attract religious fundamentalists. In response, the Democrats increasingly see church-goers as the enemy. This makes liberals/Democrats more likely to support restrictions on Christians.
First, I want to make it very clear that I am not saying that Jews are attacking Christianity. Just the opposite - some Jews believe that they are defending themselves against Christians.
Jews and Christians have lived together for over a thousand years and there have been a lot of rough spots. Even countries that were considered open to Jews could turn on them. Spain in the 15th century (up until 1492) and Germany in the 19th century were very hospitable to Jews. Then these countries turned on them.
As related here, many Jews are told almost from birth that Christianity and nationalism were responsible for the Holocaust and that the best defense that Jews have is to try to fight both of these causes in the public sphere.
Unquestionably the organization that leads the attack against public expressions of Christianity is the ACLU which is disproportionately Jewish.
I could write a whole column on xenophobia and how outsider groups are usually treated
poorly regardless of the religions involved so I think that blaming the Holocaust on Christianity is off-base. The point is that people in the ACLU think otherwise and are so dedicated to this that they have someone working full-time just to eliminate Christian symbols from government seals.
For an other example, look at the initial reaction to the Passion of the Christ. Even before it was released, there were predictions that it would cause anti-Semitic violence. This was an attempt to suppress a movie based on the most important event of Christianity. The only explanation is that some people assume that Christianity is fundamentally anti-Semitic.
This is also a factor in the perceived double standard of treatment for Islam. It is not seen as a threat to Jews (!!!).
So we have an ethnic group who worries that public expression of Christianity will lead to persecution.
Put this together and we find that liberals have internalized a set of values that teach that religion is bad, especially Christianity. It is a belief that keeps people from being free, has historically caused the death of millions of people, is anti-feminist, and is only believed in by Republicans.
This is why Howard Dean was so uncomfortable talking about religion in presidential debates and why John Kerry had to go back to his childhood experiences as an altar boy.
At the same time, not every slight seen by Christians is an attack. Evolution is a science, Intelligent Design is opinion. The Gospel of Judas is a legitimate historical document copied from an oral tradition created within living memory of Christ by early Christians (Gnostics).
That brings us to the present. Christians see repeated attacks and believe that they are under an organized attack. Liberals don't even see these actions as attacks and are very uncomfortable with the resurgence of fundamentalist Christians. The fundamentalists in turn see this discomfort as a new attack. The two sides are locked in an increasing state of polarization with no end in sight and no understanding of the other side.