It is no secret that prominent religious leaders of the Christian Right have declared open war against secularism in all forms. They've declared it responsible for all of society's ills, ranging from the 9/11 attacks by Muslim fanatics to the natural disaster of the tsunami. They would like nothing better than to eliminate the "Wall of Separation" between religion and government, better known as church and state, entirely, believing a faith-based theocracy not only beneficial for the United States, but also for the world. Do the people who blindly go along with their leaders really know what kind of horrifying reality is being set up for them?
Novelist Margaret Atwood presented a clear and terrifying picture of a religious theocracy in her compelling – and chilling – book titled The Handmaid's Tale. In the fictional Republic of Gilead, women are not allowed to read. They are also not allowed to hold jobs, have their own money, or gain access to knowledge. In short, they have no rights, period. Women whose ovaries still function are forced to become "handmaids" of couples who cannot produce children of their own. Handmaids have the unpleasant duty of having to submit to the male Commander of the house in the hope that a pregnancy will result, because they are only valued if their reproductive parts still work.
Moreover, under the theocratic regime, doctors who performed abortions for women in the 'old days' are publicly executed. Handmaids who try to run away are captured and brutally beaten as punishment. Women who either refuse to become handmaids or are simply too old to carry and bear children are sent away to work at toxic waste dumps, where the deadly chemicals to which they are exposed will save the new state the trouble of executing them.
Fiction Or Fact?
Of course, The Handmaid's Tale is fiction, and there are those who say living in a religious theocracy wouldn't be that bad. They obviously have forgotten the brutal policies of the Taliban, who officially ruled Afghanistan for several years, and in some parts of that country, have never left. Under their 'benevolent' rule, women wore the dreaded bhurka, a garment that literally covered women from head to toe, with only a woman's eyes visible. Women weren't allowed to drive, even if the nearest market was miles away. They were forced to walk, often carrying heavy bags, and under the suffocating heat of the sun. They weren't allowed to speak to any men other than their husbands, fathers, or other male relatives.
In many parts of the Middle East, women are still treated as third-class citizens. They can have no opinion, and certainly no vote in their choice of a husband. It is a matter for a woman's father to decide, and whether her prospective husband will be kind or abusive is irrelevant. Women must be virgins at the time they marry, and to make sure they remain so, they are forced to endure the brutality of female circumcision, or cliterodectomy. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, this is the removal of the female clitoris, which provides pleasure and comfort for women during intercourse. Female circumcisions are performed when girls are very young, usually from the age of eight upward.
Why Secularism Must Prevail
The "Wall of Separation" between church and state in America must continue to stand firmly, not just for the rights of women, but for the rights and liberties of all individuals, regardless of their spiritual inclinations. Despite the constant whining of the Christian Right that Christians are being persecuted, this remains far from the case. Individuals who are not Christian or are religious non-believers face a much greater threat of losing their liberties than theocratic Christians whose influence, far from waning, is becoming stronger every year.
In the June/July 2005 issue of FREE INQUIRY Magazine, Editor-In-Chief Paul Kurtz appealed to all who value freedom for believers and non-believers alike: "We are facing a clear and present danger to our liberties in the United States by militant religionists. We need to forthrightly defend secularism." Needless to say, I wholeheartedly concur with Dr. Kurtz. My only question is how to defend it more strongly than we are trying to do now.
Organizations such as the Council For Secular Humanism and Americans United For The Separation of Church and State have their own web sites and publications featuring excellent and thought-provoking articles and essays by their editors and columnists. But even their efforts may not be enough by themselves. They didn't prevent President Bush, a self-proclaimed Born-Again Christian, from getting elected to a second term in office. They didn't prevent judges Brown and Pryor, known to be openly hostile to the separation of religion from government, from getting lifetime appointments to the judicial bench either.
Fortunately, the entertainment industry has some free-thinking producers, directors and writers, as the award-winning television drama West Wing demonstrated close to the end of this past season. Secularists and freethinkers were delighted to see the introduction of an openly agnostic Presidential candidate, even if some say it is "only a TV show." It will be interesting to see if Alan Alda's character Arnie Vinick will win the election next season.
But we hope these influential folks won't stop there. Secularists everywhere would welcome full-length feature films and dramatic biographical portraits of noted secularists such as Robert Green Ingersoll and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We'd also like to see some television mini-series outlining the difficulties faced by secularists opposed to the harsh doctrines of absolutist religions. Maybe, just maybe, such programs might get more Americans thinking that the American current secularist government is a very good thing after all, and they will fight to the end to preserve it.