The Established Religion of the United States

We're like a condemned man who worries about the preservatives in his last meal or its cholesterol content. We'll worry about anything but our real worries. If we lived in Sudan, we'd worry about cell phone rays or the wrinkles around our eyes. The worse our problems are, the more we agonize about something else.

I exaggerate? We live in by far the richest country in the history of the world, and what do politicians talk about? Money. We have cocaine addicts who eat organic foods, animal rights activists distraught over the deaths of gorillas in Uganda, and people terrified that Bush will discover what books they are checking out of the library and put them in concentration camps. Divorced couples fight in front of their children and are horrified by accounts of child abuse. Teachers complain about the stultifying effects of rote learning as their students learn nothing. Educators worry that their charges have read too many literary classics and not enough trash. Civil libertarians warn of a police state when most of us see police officers only when driving past them as they ticket speeders. We go years, decades, with no contact with the police whatsoever.

One of the favorite worries of the professional worrying class is the establishment of religion. After reading accounts of recent Supreme Court decisions, which rule that display of the Ten Commandments is constitutional except when it's unconstitutional, a naive person might ask, "Just what religion are they talking about? If we're in danger of establishing a religion, wouldn't we know what religion we're establishing?"

The Court can't mean Judaism. It does some bizarre things, but to attribute that much influence to Jews is to enter the realm of Holocaust denial and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Court must mean that an undiscriminating display of the Ten Commandments would amount to the establishment of Christianity, about which the Ten Commandments say nothing.

While Justice Breyer was busy defining with exact inexactitude which displays of the Ten Commandments threaten us with a state religion and which are mere memorials of a thankfully bygone era, a religion was indeed being established in America, a religion that receives hundreds of billions of dollars of public funds annually, a religion jealous of mere mention of other religions, jealous even, as in the case of the Ten Commandments, of non-mention of other religions.

An unintentionally revealing article in the June 2002 issue of Scientific American, one of the holy books of the established religion of the United States, begins as follows:

In 1998 God appeared at Caltech. More precisely, the scientific equivalent of the deity, in the form of Stephen W. Hawking, delivered a public lecture via his now familiar voice synthesizer. The 1,100-seat auditorium was filled; an additional 400 viewed a video feed in another hall, and hundreds more squatted on the lawn and listened to theater speakers broadcasting this scientific saint's epistle to the apostles.

Hawking, the rest of the article informs us, is not only God, a saint, a writer of epistles, and a Christ-figure with multitudes of apostles, but also "the Delphic oracle" and a "shaman." He gives authoritative answers to questions of "theology." He has a "transcendent mind." He preaches "sermons." He is the apotheosis of a "modern incarnation."

These surprising revelations come to us from "The Skeptic," a regular feature of Scientific American, by Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine! This particular example of skepticism is entitled "The Shamans of Scientism" (scientism being a good thing in the eyes of Scientific American, and even shamanism, at least shamanism of the scientismist variety).

"Scientism is," according to the Skeptic, "a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena." It "embraces empiricism and reason." So some form of natural theology, not a special revelation, must have proved to the Skeptic that Hawking is God. The phenomenon of Hawking's divinity has a natural explanation; empiricism and reason tell us that Hawking is God.

Veneration of atheists is not new. Some of the schizoid attitude of scientism, at once materialist and New Age, is captured in a curious incident recounted by Martin Rees in Before the Beginning: "When Hawking received an honorary degree from Cambridge, the Orator quoted the encomium of Epicurus by Lucretius: 'The living force of his mind overcame and passed far beyond the flaming ramparts of the universe, traversing in mind and spirit the boundless whole.'" Who the "Orator" is, Rees does not say, nor why he deserves capitalization, but what we have here is the praise of one atomist (Epicurus) by another (Lucretius) echoed by the praise of one materialist (Hawking) by another (Rees), with atomist and materialist praised with what can only be religious fervor.

That Stephen Hawking does indeed consider himself "far beyond" the "ramparts of the universe" that enclose ordinary universe-bound mortals can be seen in A Brief History of Time, where he portrays the universe as a 1 1/4 inch sphere, implying thereby an impossible vantage point 120 billion light-years outside it. Where is the Skeptic when we need him?

Lucretius and Rees share a vague feeling that their spiritual masters somehow transcend the material world, that there is something divine about them, materialists praising materialists with the peculiar religiosity of atheism.

That things have changed and stayed the same can be seen in Cicero's De Natura Deorum:

Hereupon Velleius began, in the confident manner (I need not say) that is customary with Epicureans, afraid of nothing so much as lest he should appear to have doubts about anything. One would have supposed he had just come down from the assembly of gods in the intermundane spaces of Epicurus. (VIII)

(The atomist Epicureans did not believe that the gods did not exist; they believed instead that gods were material beings, of a very tenuous substance, that were indifferent to the affairs of men.)

Velleius denounces philosophers and religious believers with the vehemence of the Skeptic and praises Epicurus as an earlier Hawking: "Anyone pondering on the baseless and irrational character of these doctrines ought to regard Epicurus with reverence, and to rank him as one of the very gods," though presumably without their callous disregard of human suffering.

Making fun of such obvious buffoons as God, the Skeptic, and the Orator is good sport and, what's better, easy, but their buffoonery conceals an evil stratagem. Trusting them is a lot more dangerous than trusting shamans to cure serious illnesses. The Skeptic may pretend to give a lighthearted look at the adulation accorded Hawking, but he has a serious point: "Scientism is courageously proffering naturalistic answers that supplant supernaturalistic ones and in the process is providing spiritual sustenance for those whose needs are not met by these ancient cultural traditions" ("religion and theology"). Translated into English, this means that scientismists are fanatically ("courageously") striving to crush ("supplant") Christianity and Judaism ("these ancient cultural traditions") and replace them with a state religion, the state funding it under the guise of science and repressing its rivals on the pretext that the Constitution prohibits an establishment of religion.

The United States will have an established religion, if it does not have one already, that justifies its establishment with the transparent fiction that it is not a religion, that its saints, shamans, oracles, apostles, and God provide spiritual sustenance without ever breaching the wall of separation between "supernatural and paranormal speculations" and the repressive apparatus of the state.

Scientism is inherently totalitarian. Since it is "a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena" [emphasis added], it leaves no room whatsoever for any other worldview. Everything else is "supernatural and paranormal speculations" that must be rejected as unscientific and allowed no place in government as a matter of law and no place in society as a matter of justice.

Scientism is not science, which is why the open advocacy of it by Scientific American, instead of its usual covert support, is so surprising. Science rejects hypotheses on the basis of evidence; scientism, for which there is not a whit of evidence, nor could there be, is the a priori rejection of contrary hypotheses. Science requires debate; scientism stifles debate. Science flourishes in conditions of freedom; scientism puts an end to freedom. Science cannot be the basis of a state religion; scientism can be--and is.

Current events, including the debate over the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, make a lot more sense if we stop taking at face value claims of the Court majority that it is preventing an establishment of religion and recognize that it is instead defending an establishment that has already taken place. How else can we explain what otherwise appears to be a paranoid fear of an establishment of Christianity despite the near total lack of advocates of a state church? The Court is not afraid of an establishment of Christianity; it is merely doing what established religions do, which is to wipe out the opposition.

Scientism is not the whole of the established religion of the United States, which is called "secularism," though it is not at all "secular" in the sense that the term is commonly understood, that is, "non-religious." Perhaps we should call scientism the core of established secularism, with the surrounding parts pretending to be analogous to it, much as Marx and Engels spoke of "scientific socialism" or academics today speak of "social sciences."

By defining the government as secular and secularism as scientific, our establishmentarians have used the prestige of science and the intolerance of scientism to achieve power for themselves and means to defend it. Were we a less rambunctious people, they would get away with it.

An indication of where things are headed is the report in The New York Post that Hillary Clinton has been forced to fire consultant "Gia Medeiros, who believes tales of the supernatural can be used to pitch products to teens," for impolitic comments about the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

What Hillary Clinton was doing with a consultant who advocates "tales of the pitch products to teens," the Post does not say. "Clinton aides declined to describe the nature of Medeiros' job with Clinton, saying only that she had been working on a research project." A reasonable inference would be that Medeiros was studying how to use tales of the supernatural to pitch Hillary Clinton and the government she wishes to head. After all, The New York Times has called her "Saint Hillary," which is not so improbable if Stephen Hawking is God.

Speaking of buffoons, Al Gore presented himself in Earth in the Balance as another Epicurus or Hawking, come to save humanity from the "spiritual crisis in modern civilization that seems to be based on an emptiness at its center and the absence of a larger spiritual purpose." For Al Gore, "faith" is "akin to a kind of spiritual gyroscope that spins its own circumference in a stabilizing harmony with what is inside and what is out." Al Gore, a few chad short of a presidency; the United States, a few hangings short of a religious tyranny.

Jonathan David Carson, Ph.D.

This essay appeared in the October 7, 2005, edition of The American Thinker.