There is a coordinated and powerful assault on religion in America from modern secularists and progressives driven by the complete moral relativism that defines their worldviews. This sustained assault was recently described eloquently by Attorney General William Barr in a wonderful speech delivered at the Notre Dame Law School: “Secularists, and their allies among the ‘progressives,’ have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia, in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values. These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy, but also drown out and silence opposing voices and to attack viciously and hold up to ridicule any dissenters.”
One of the most destructive and comprehensive results of this massive assault on religion in America is that according to an August Wall Street Journal poll, only 30% of 18- to 30-year-old Americans listed religion or belief in God as very important, compared with 50% of Americans overall and two-thirds of those 55 and older. In other words, today’s generation of young people is the least religious generation that America has ever seen.
Ideas have consequences; bad ideas have bad consequences. The secularist attack on religion has hollowed out the faith of our nation, especially among the young. We must respond with a clarion defense of the Gospel of life in Jesus Christ.
The attorney general helped in this effort by starting his address to Notre Dame students by enunciating an eloquent defense of religious liberty—what my Baptist forefathers called “soul freedom.” He pointed out quite correctly that our founding fathers believed emphatically in religious freedom for many reasons, perhaps chiefly because they believed religion was indispensable in sustaining a new and unique free system of government articulated in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution. Our founding fathers called our Constitution “the great experiment.” Placing their trust in the American peoples’ self-restraint, doing the right thing because a higher power expected them to do so.
As Barr pointed out in his speech, “This is really what was meant by ‘self-government.’ It did not mean primarily the mechanics by which we select a representative legislative body. It referred to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.” As John Adams, our second president and a chief architect of the Constitution put it, “We have no government armed with the power which is capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
Without a religious people voluntarily obeying the law, our freedoms will wither into license and lawlessness and die and will in all probability be replaced by a far more restrictive and oppressive government presence in order to restore “order” over chaos.
As the British philosopher G. K. Chesterton observed in “What I Saw in America:”
“America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived.”
Back to Barr’s speech—the attorney general went on to say that “one of the ironies, as some have observed, is that the secular project has itself become a religion pursued with religious fervor. It is taking on all the trappings of a religion, including inquisitions and excommunications. Those who defy the creed risk a figurative burning at the stake, social, educational and professional ostracism, and exclusion waged through lawsuits and savage social media campaigns.”
In other words, the new irreligion is terribly intolerant. The attorney general points out as well that as the social consequences of this moral relativism pile up, today “instead of addressing the underlying causes, we have made the State in the role of Alleviator of Bad Consequences,” calling “on the State to mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility. … The reaction to drug addiction is safe injection site. The solution to the breakdown of the family is for the State to set itself up as an ersatz husband for single mothers and an ersatz father to their children.”
Barr goes on to explain that Judeo Christian moral standards “are like God's instruction manual for the best running of man and human society.” As religion has come under unprecedented assault from secularists and progressives in America over the past half century, the results have been catastrophic. As Barr concluded, “The campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it immense suffering, wreckage and misery.” He then asked the progressives rhetorically, “Where’s the progress?”
The attorney general then pointed out that secular religion is very intolerant of any dissent and is weaponizing law and government to coerce people of traditional faith to violate their deeply held beliefs and consciences. He also points out that irreligion and secularists are forcing their values and their beliefs on people of traditional faith, seeking to coerce them under penalty of law. Mr. Barr then pledges to defend freedom of conscience as long as he is the attorney general of the United States.
Barr identifies and unmasks the unprecedented secularist onslaught against traditional religion in America and the dire consequences it has brought upon our society. The attorney general points out that as Christians, we need to promote renewal by making sure we are putting our spiritual beliefs into practice in our own lives and the lives of our families. “We understand that only by transforming ourselves can we transform the world beyond ourselves.” He closed by promising that as long as he was attorney general, the Department of Justice would vigorously defend religious freedom.
I, for one, am very grateful to God that he has raised up Attorney General Barr to defend freedom of conscience and religious liberty in time of great peril.
Predictably, the reaction to Bill Barr's speech was swift, apoplectic and shrill. As my East Texas grandmother used to often say, “You throw a rock into a pack of dogs. It’s the one that yelps that got hit.” Well, the yelping was loud, frantic and immediate. A few examples: The infamously wrong Paul Krugman accused Bill Barr of “religious bigotry.” Richard Painter tweeted that Bill Barr sounded like Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. Meanwhile, retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, once chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that Barr is “Torquemada in a business suit,” a reference to the Spanish Inquisition’s infamous grand inquisitor.
It sounded an awful lot like yelping to me. Thank God for Bill Barr.
(Dr. Richard Land is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and serves on President Donald Trump’s faith advisory board.)