Another Assault From the Religious Right
by Paul Kurtz
Secular humanists should be aware of a new book recently published that unfairly castigates millions of Americans who are unbelievers. Mind Siege: The Battle for Truth in the New Millennium, by Tim LaHaye and David Noebel, issues a call to arms for evangelical Christians to battle against secular humanism. LaHaye is co-author of a series of eight Left Behind tribulation novels, best-sellers today: some 23 million copies of these books are in print (see Edmund Cohen's review in the Spring 2001 Free Inquiry). LaHaye is founder of the fundamentalist Creationist Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation. His wife, Beverly LaHaye, heads Concerned Women of America. David Noebel is the head of Summit Ministries and an outspoken opponent of secular humanism. Free Inquiry published an exchange with him a few years ago ("The Religion of Secular Humanism," Fall 1996).
This new book, a theological-political sequel to LaHaye's Left Behind novels, is issued by a major publisher, Word Publishing, a Thomas Nelson company. Further, Mind Siege hit the best-seller list when first published. It repeats an unfounded litany of charges against secular humanism, first aired by LaHaye in Battle for the Mind in 1980. That book was influential two decades ago in opening up a major fusillade against secular humanists and helped to galvanize both religious and political opposition to secular humanism during the early years of the Reagan presidency. Attacks on secular humanism subsided in the 1990s, as the Religious Right turned to other enemies.
What is unique this time around is that Mind Siege concentrates on Humanist Manifesto 2000, first published in Free Inquiry in the fall of 1999. HM-2000 is held to constitute "the bible of humanists," along with Humanist Manifestos I and II. The authors also attack me personally throughout the book. LaHaye and Noebel deplore "scientific naturalism" and "planetary humanism," which they charge is undermining Christian faith and American patriotism. Their scholarship is highly questionable, for they shift back and forth between the various Manifestos, even though the older ones were written decades ago when global political and economic conditions were different.
The main theses of LaHaye and Noebel are, first, that secular humanism is a "religion." One reason the critics of secular humanism sought for years to pin the religion label on secular humanism is that they hoped to extirpate it from the schools as a violation of the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment. While it is true that all the other humanist groups in America do have religious exemptions, the Council for Secular Humanism does not, and it has repeatedly denied that secular humanism is a "religion." We have affirmed that secular humanists can lead a moral life and be good citizens without religious faith. Secular humanism is an ethical, philosophical, and scientific outlook. I have called this a eupraxsophy-good wisdom in practice. In this broadside, all humanist organizations in the United States are equally condemned, though LaHaye and Noebel's main focus is on secular humanism, not simply humanism.
Second, LaHaye and Noebel claim that the secular humanist ideology dominates the major institutions of American life-including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization of Women, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the major television networks, the major foundations (Ford, Rockefeller, etc.), the National Council of Churches, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, the United Nations, UNESCO, Harvard, Yale, and two thousand other colleges and universities! This allegation of influence by secular humanism is rather amusing for secular humanists, who often feel isolated and beleaguered-though it is undoubtedly true that a secular outlook and humanist values permeate modern culture; for modernism and secular humanism are in a sense synonymous. To reject the secular humanist influence in the modern world would be to turn back the clock to a premodern age of faith to the detriment of human welfare and progress.
Third, LaHaye and Noebel unfairly indict secular humanists for having "undermined the moral fabric of America." This is a scurrilous charge against millions of Americans, which we explicitly deny. We hold that secular humanists have made significant contributions to American life, to democratic freedoms and human rights.
Fourth, LaHaye and Noebel issue marching orders to evangelical Christians (80 million strong) urging them to gear up for an all-out battle to root secular humanists out of public life; their bottom line is that "No humanist is fit to hold office." They urge that only fundamentalists be elected to office, that conservative judges be appointed, and that funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Department of Education, and other "humanist" agencies be cut.
The five tenets of secular humanism that they attack are (a) atheism, including nontheism and agnosticism; (b) evolution—Darwin is their archenemy; (c) "amorality," which they characterize as to include pre- and extramarital sex, the feminist and gay agendas, abortion, euthanasia and the right to die; (d) autonomous man—the view that it is possible to lead an ethical life without belief in God, confidence that human beings can solve problems by their own resources, and the humanist conviction that there are positive human powers for doing good that can be untapped; and finally (e) globalism—the concern with the planetary rights of all humans in the world community. They apparently want to create a theocratic Festung America!
Secular humanists should be apprehensive about this vicious indictment. Let us hope that it is not the beginning of a major new assault, and that it will not be used by the Religious Right or their cohorts in the Bush administration and the conservative media to restrict not only the rights and freedom of secular humanists but of all Americans.
Paul Kurtz is editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry. He is the author of Embracing the Power of Humanism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), among other books.
by Barry F. Seidman
Tim LaHaye is a Christian fundamentalist preacher and author. His Left Behind evangelistic horror novels (co-authored with Jerry B. Jenkins) are publishing's second best-selling fiction series, behind only the Harry Potter children's books. Mind Siege, cowritten with evangelist David A. Noebel, is LaHaye's newest nonfiction title.
LaHaye and Noebel claim American freedoms are endangered by today's onslaught of scientific knowledge and critical thought. They say ruthless "brainwashing" is perpetrated every day by arrogant scientists, self-serving educators, and social advocacy groups, and-most particularly-those whom LaHaye thinks worship the philosophy of secular humanism, which he calls a "religion." Didn't secular humanists win that battle twenty years ago? If Mind Siege has the kind of reach and impact its authors hope for, perhaps not.
LaHaye and Noebel open with a Dickensian vision of a near future in which secular humanism has taken over, launching American society on a downward spiral. A terrified father learns that public school teachers are indoctrinating his son in multiculturalism and multigender-based philosophies; a secular view of American history; the theory of evolution; quantum physics; and why kids ought to use all the condoms they can carry. A SWAT team chases praying students from school grounds. Biology students are "brainwashed" to believe that the human being is just another primate. If some of this were true, more power to the public schools! Of course, real-world public school students suffer from declining standards and a wholesale retreat from science, reason, and skeptical thought. Where LaHaye and Noebel take note of these trends, they welcome them. Their "battle for the mind" is real, but it is the side of reason, not that of conservative religion, that is losing ground.
Mind Siege complains that America's very intellect is dwindling beneath the secularist onslaught. This elegy for excellence might ring more true if the book were more carefully researched and assembled. Writing errors abound, of which an embarrassing passage that speaks of deprivation when depravity is clearly meant is only typical. Perhaps LaHaye and Noebel yearn to ingratiate themselves with that latter-day master of malapropism, George W. Bush.
A more substantive objection concerns the authors' derogatory critiques of secular humanism, a philosophy neither seems to have read much about. Free Inquiry founder Paul Kurtz is treated as America's living moral bogeyman. LaHaye and Noebel warn that Kurtz's "godless" ideal can only lead to amorality, yet never discuss the fully realized humanist code of ethics and moral behavior that inform Kurtz's voluminous writings. LaHaye and Noebel base their gross misinterpretation of secular humanism on an incomplete reading-and a dishonest analysis-of a handful of its texts. They call the three Humanist Manifestoes "the Bibles of humanism" and claim they are binding on every secular humanist. In fact, Humanist Manifesto (HM-I) (1933), Humanist Manifesto II (HM-II) (1976), and Humanist Manifesto 2000 (HM-2000) were each composed as documents for their time, and sometimes offer conflicting recommendations. In any case, most real-world humanists barely know what's in any of them! LaHaye and Noebel quote interchangeably from all three Manifestoes, yet never mention A Secular Humanist Declaration (1980). Like HM-II and HM-2000, the Declaration was drafted by their favorite antagonist, Paul Kurtz. Like HM-2000, it was published by the Council for Secular Humanism. Why do LaHaye and Noebel seem unaware of its existence?
In Mind Siege, secular humanism is said to depend on five principles-Atheism, Evolution, Amorality, Autonomy, and Globalism—each of which LaHaye and Noebel subject to a simplistic attack. The authors belittle evolutionary theory by suggesting it is only a convenient tool to help atheists justify their nonbelief in God. About amorality, the authors warn, "If you believe that man is an animal, you will expect him to act like one." Unfortunately they never talk about the fact that humans, under allegiance to this or that God or religion, have murdered countless members of their own species and others over the millennia. They do not mention that human morality and ethics developed long before modern religions were born. Likewise, the authors' attacks on autonomy and globalism—two ideals surely required if we are to survive the next millennium—seem little more than veils for authoritarianism, jingoism, and bigotry.
Next comes a purposely distorted review of American history designed to show that the Founding Fathers were uniformly religious and that "separation of church and state" meant only a bar on establishing a national religion. It's a breath-taking compendium of all the pseudo-historical doublespeak Religious Right ideologues have flung since organized prayer and Bible reading were evicted from public schools in the early 1960s.
LaHaye and Noebel yearn for a future America where abortion is illegal, where homosexuals cannot marry or adopt, where evolution is replaced by creationism, and where the immoral teachings of the Old and New Testaments become the law of the land-in other words, a theocracy so vile as to make the ones early Americans fled from seem downright democratic.
In the end, is it really so important what one very popular evangelist author and his literary sidekick du jour have to say? Will Mind Siege influence many minds? Secular humanists dare not underestimate that possibility. No less disconcerting, some of the minds influenced by Mind Siege might themselves command great influence already. Mind Siege's dust jacket quotes two of them: U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas ("the struggle with the Secular Humanism for the soul of the American culture is as real as ever") and Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana ("We are now at the barricades in what may be the last days of the moral values upon which our nation is anchored"). Unpack that mixed metaphor later, but read Mind Siege for a revealing glimpse into the minds of our opponents.
Barry F. Seidman is administrative coordinator of the Center for Inquiry New Jersey / New York City.