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Responding to the Religious Right

by DJ Grothe

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 22, Number 3.

When I attended college—a Christian liberal arts academy in east Texas—my favorite professor assigned one textbook that changed my life. Written by David Noebel, head of the Christian campus outreach organization Summit Ministries, it was called Understanding the Times. In this book, as in his New York Times best-selling Mind Siege, Noebel makes the case that secular humanism is a religion. More than that, he argues that its the state-supported religion of America's public schools. David Noebel gave me my first-ever introduction to secular humanism.

Last spring, I had the opportunity to debate Noebel on the Bob Grant radio show. I was on a trip to Colorado, visiting secular humanist groups allied with the Council for Secular Humanism and our international college outreach program, the Campus Freethought Alliance. I loved the chance to debate Noebel, since I'm grateful to him for writing the book that helped me start questioning my fundamentalist Christian beliefs. For two hours on the radio show, we debated the question of whether secular humanism is America's tax-supported religion. And it was my pleasure to agree with him on many points.

DJ Grothe (left) shares a studio with
critic of secular humanism David Noebel.

How the Religious Right Is Right

Of course, we disagree about the definition of the word religion—I hold the consensus definition of scholars in the field of religion; Noebel holds a definition that's decades old, dismissed in the academy because it is too broad. But we do agree that secular humanism has had its effects on society, notably in the classroom. Noebel is right when he says that secular humanism is the dominant intellectual and cultural worldview of the modern world. Conservative intellectual Michael Novak has even equated secular humanism with the whole project of modernity.1 I agree with them when they argue that the secular revolution of modernity attempted to wrest control of the institutions of society away from church domination—and largely succeeded in doing so.

But Noebel and other powerful religious-political extremists seek to mobilize their followers to "take back America from the secular humanists." In language reminiscent of Usama bin Laden, these Christian activists call for "Christian foot-soldiers" to be prepared to "fight with blood, sweat, and tears" in the "battle for the heart and soul of America."2 Faced with this kind of religious-political activism, secular humanists must respond. Secularists and humanists need to work together to defend and promote free inquiry, secular values, and the good life. We must stand up against the assault on our freedoms posed by these evangelical Christian activists. Therefore, the editors of Free Inquiry are devoting this space to share news of the Council, our outreach and educational activities, and to highlight events of the organizations allied with us across the country.

Humanist and Council Activities Nationwide

June 22: Secular, humanist and freethought organizations in the Pacific Northwest present the Fifth Annual Oregon Secular Symposium. Sponsors include the Corvallis Secular Society, Humanist Association of Salem, Humanists of Greater Portland, Humanists of North Puget Sound, and the United States Atheists, among other secular and humanist societies in the region. Featured speakers are Frank Zindler of American Atheists and Margaret Downey, founder of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia. In addition, there will also be discussions and workshops. Members of the
Campus Freethought Alliance, and other secular, humanist and freethought groups in the Pacific Northwest are invited to attend. For information, visit www.css.peak.org/symposium/.

July 14-28: The Center for Inquiry Institute is dramatically consolidating and expanding its educational and campus outreach initiatives through the creation of a two-week summer school. For the first time, transferable undergraduate college credit will be available through the State University of New York. This is in keeping with the Council's tradition to hold an annual summer conference for students involved with the Campus Freethought Alliance. The Institute's summer school will establish a permanent, annual academic calendar for CFA members and grass-roots secular and humanist activists. Visit www.centerforinquiry.net or contact Austin Dacey, institute director, for information on scholarship opportunities or for an application: adacey@centerforinquiry.net, (716) 636-7571 ext. 223.

What You Can Do Today

The Campus Crusade for Christ has an annual operating budget approaching $400 million for campus outreach and proselytizing. Other Christian campus groups have budgets of similar scope. With infinitely less money, the Council's Campus Freethought Alliance supports affiliates on over a hundred campuses around the world. To counter such hefty resources of the Religious Right, we invite you to share Free Inquiry with freethinking students today. Encourage them to join CFA by directing them to www.campusfreethought.org. Membership is free; benefits include admission to student conferences, a special Free Inquiry subscription rate, educational and promotional materials, and much more.

The Council is proud to be America's leading organization for ethical, nonreligious people. We look forward to working with you to advance our shared high ideals in your area.


1. Michael Novak, "The Most Religious Century." New York Times, May 24, 1998.

2. This claim comes from the Mind Siege training video, published by Word/Nelson Publishing. Thousands of copies of this tape have been distributed to churches across the country to "educate" and motivate "Christian foot soldiers."

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