On just the second page of his introduction to Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris says it is well known that “the beliefs of conservative Christians now exert an extraordinary influence over our national discourse – in our courts, in our schools, and in every branch of government.” The key word is “now,” which is inserted to create the false impression that we are a nation moving away from secularization – perhaps even towards a theocracy.
It is difficult to imagine how anyone with an IQ above room temperature could imagine that we are not becoming an increasingly secular society – witness, for example, the accelerated and largely successful efforts to remove prayer or any mention of God from the classroom. That the beliefs of conservative Christians are exerting less influence in these realms has never been a question for serious debate. The debate has always centered on the effects of these rather obvious trends.
A native of Wilmington, North Carolina recently asked me some rather pointed questions about the state of education in America today. He attended New Hanover High School several decades ago when prayer in schools was still legal. He also claims to remember when students put their shotguns in their lockers and went hunting after school. Perhaps his best question was this: “Why is that we have more violence in schools years after we took the guns out of students’ lockers? Do you think that has something to do with us taking God out of our schools, too?”
The question is not an easy one at all. It requires a thoughtful, or, one might, say, “nuanced” response.
Christians who believe that restoring prayer in schools is a “solution” to the “problem” of school violence are deluding themselves. The issue is so much more complex than that. Along with the removal of God from our schools we have also seen the removal of fathers from our households. And we do a disservice to ourselves to focus merely on what is missing from our schools and from the lives of our students. We must also look at new threats they are facing.
Just across the street from New Hanover High School there are crack houses and heroin houses. Sadly, some of them have been owned by local community “leaders” who have turned a blind eye to what their renters have been doing just a stone’s throw from our public schools and school children. Conservatives are right to point out the fact that so many of these dealers are products of a failed experiment in welfare – and this also speaks to the issue of the absence of fathers. But liberals are right to point out that Wilmington’s drug problem skyrocketed during the 1980s when conservatives were leading the so-called war on drugs.