If Jacques Berlinerblau's How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is the best show that committed secularists can put on in the contemporary US, the small band of devoted people who call themselves "secular" are going to be disappointed. Apparently, they have a record of all but consistent recent defeat at the hands of their religiously devout opponents, whom the author calls "revivalists." "Over the past few decades, the Christian Right has pulverized secularism," the author writes. "Simply pulverized it!" Secularism, in Berlinerblau's frank admission, is singularly unpopular. "What the people don't want," he confides early on, "is, well, secularism."
The author, a professor and director of Jewish Studies at Georgetown University, defines secularism as "a political philosophy, which at its core is preoccupied with, and often deeply suspicious of any and all relations between government and religion." So far, so good: Many Americans, including many devout Christians, don't want the government fiddling around in any way with religion.
There are two major challenges to any traction that secularism might otherwise gain with the American public. First is the reluctance of most Americans to go whole hog down the separationist road. Americans don't want a theocrat in the White House, but they don't appear to want an atheist either. Second, as Berlinerblau admits, there are some nasty edges to secularism. "Secularism's zero-tolerance for disorderly religious acts," he admits, "unfolds into another unflattering truth. The secular vision is statist to the core. In a dispute ...1