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The Atheist Civil-Liberty Union?

Michael Novak

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Michael Novak argues for the need for religious faith in culture.

The American Civil Liberties Union has a public agenda...to make the United States in all her public manifestations reflect an atheist's view of the nation's Founding and continuing existence...

Secularism, the world's best hope for tolerance, will then rule triumphant, sweetly, having driven its foes from every inch of public existence.

Problem is, such fellows blink at the point grasped so fearlessly by Nietzsche. If the answer to the Big Question is chance, then all the coherence among the little questions may mean nothing at all -- is intelligible only in appearances, and is otherwise a big lie. Courage is not really any better than cowardice; that's only a preference. Hate is not really worse than love; to think so is merely a weakling's prejudice. Freedom is no better than slavery; both are equally absurd. Destructiveness is no better and no worse than creativity.

What makes the life of the ACLU difficult is that the actual history of the United States has been borne aloft on the wings of Jewish and Christian faith since its very beginning:

The first act of the First Continental Congress in 1774 was a motion to pause for prayer...

Commander-in-chief Washington ordered his soldiers to begin each day with public prayer...

During the Jefferson administration, the largest church service in the United States was held in the US Capitol Building, and Jefferson publicly attended...

There, for Madison (as for the Virginia Declaration of Rights and Statute of Religious Liberty), on ground that comes not from philosophy but from Judaism and Christianity and them alone, lies the foundation of natural rights. Arguments from philosophy may complement this religious conviction. But they are not nearly so tight or precise in pinpointing the individual conscience, or the source of its sacred inviolability.

So also, Tom Paine sailed to France in 1789 to beg the French revolutionaries not to turn to atheism, lest in that way they undercut the ground of their human rights. Paine was no orthodox Christian or Jew of any stripe, but from such sources he had imbibed much about conscience, Final Judgment, and the ground of human rights. He warned the Jacobins that atheism would lead to rivers of blood. He was thrown into jail as many meddlesome preachers before him had been. A great deal of blood flowed, in the name of Reason, as he had feared.

For the complete article go to the National Review Online website.



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