Every “Holiday Season” Americans are given a glimpse of the most serious social and political enemy we face. I do not mean the atheism that prompts the ACLU, leftwing Jewish groups, and the rest of the anti-Christian lobby to challenge public displays of manger scenes. Atheism and anti-Christianity are serious problems, but the equally serious problem of public moronism. It is not just that most Americans in public life are stupid or drunk or even stupid drunkards like Senator Max Baucus, whose slurred speech and dim-wittted ramblings have made him an Internet star for several days.
In the case of stupidity, Baucus comes by it honest, as we used to say. What I have in mind is not the congenital idiocy of politicians but the painfully acquired moronism of American political commentators, including the minority who rise to the heights of average intelligence. Listen to this from the the great conservative Prophet of Little Rock, Paul Greenburg, who is commenting on the atheists’ successful campaign to install their own display near a crèche at the State Capitol.
“The folks in charge of maintaining the grounds at the Capitol made their big mistake when they forgot about that quaint old American practice called the separation of church and state. Instead of giving the hazy line between the two a wide berth, they concluded it would be permissible to put up a religious display on public property, which the state Capitol most certainly is.
“Welcome as the Holy Family are, they should have been directed to the nearest private inn instead, or even offered home hospitality. Instead, they were treated as wards of the state. Surely a better solution to this seasonal wrangle could have been found than to put them in public housing.”
This Greenberg, remember, is editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and a frequent contributor both to Jewish World Review and NR’s Town Hall. I used to think Arkansans had retained a residuum of common sense, but, if they had, they would long ago have given Greenberg a one-way ticket to New York.
Greenberg apparently thinks he can delude his readers into believing that it is the fault of the vast Christian majority in Arkansas, if they don’t object to the sight of Christian symbols on the property they own. If Christians did not insist upon offending Greenberg by being Christian, then the atheists would give up their campaign against Christmas. But casual atheists don’t hate Christmas. They leave that to anti-Christian bigots who don’t have the courage or mental clarity to call themselves atheists but take refuge in the meaningless term “agnostic.”
When I was a young atheist, I saw nothing wrong in the Christmas pageants put on in my public school or in the obligatory prayers during home room. Only a tiny embittered minority has ever seen anything wrong in a manger scene on the property the people own, and if we follow this argument to its logical conclusion, we shall be forever giving ground the anti-Christian minorities. We shall have to outlaw public consumption of alcohol to please the Muslims, lift the ban on polygamy to make the Mormons happy, and enforce kosher laws in restaurants . But for the “conservative” Paul Greenberg, the rights of the minority obviously trump every other consideration, including constitutional law and common sense. This is not merely moronic, but self-consciously and deliberately moronic.
Greenberg’s conscious and deliberate recourse to stupidity is revealed in the subterfuge apparent in his diction. He does not refer to a legal or constitutional separation of church and state, because he may be just smart enough to know that there is no such thing. A personal letter from Thomas Jefferson to a group of worried Baptists does not constitute a constitutional amendment. Instead he invokes “that quaint old American practice called the separation of church and state.” But, even a Paul Greenberg has to know that there is nothing quaint or old about this alleged practice. It is a modern weapon of the federal courts used to undermine both the Constitution and American religious freedom. If there is one thing even moderate Republicans have traditionally claimed to oppose it is the federal courts and their imperialistic expansion of power at the expense of the rights and liberties of citizens and the states (unless, of course, the states are Southern and the Republicans see a chance to take a trick by playing a race card.
With people like Greenberg prancing around as a conservative Republican, it is small wonder that neither the Republican Party nor the “conservative movement” will ever lift a finger in defense either of the American Constitution or the majority of Americans who describe themselves as Christian.
In the next few days, I shall post some things I have written in the past, showing what any educated American is supposed to know, namely, that the Constitution of 1787 says nothing about religion, because it takes for granted the powers of the separate states to decide for themselves if they wish to have a religious establishment, that the First Amendment was written and past to prevent the Federal government from interfering in the religious practices of the states, that, for decades after passage of the First Amendment, some states had religious establishments and other states had religious requirements for public office. In other words, until the mid-2oth century, state and local governments were free to encourage any version of the Christian church they liked, though in practice this meant a generalized form of Protestantism. There is no constitutional basis, no law, no custom, and no quaint practice that can be invoked to justify the “separation of church and state” in these United States, and anyone who tries to do so is arguing from ignorance or bad faith or both.
This insulting preamble was composed not to inaugurate a conversation about that quaint and now entirely irrelevant document known as “The Constitution of the United States,” but to clear the way for the more interesting discussion of the proper relationship between religion(s) and a commonwealth or kingdom. Once we disembarrass ourselves of the platitudinous thinking of both Paul Greenberg and the ACLU and the Federalist Society and the Megachurch TV watchers, we might arrive at a deeper understanding of what is at stake.