On being a secular Christian

Attorney General William Barr, a “devout” Christian by his own admission, gave a speech on October 11 at the University of Notre Dame Law School in which he claimed people were “attacking” religious values. He linked a movement of “militant secularism” to societal maladies including the opioid epidemic and “an increase in senseless violence,” CNN reports.

I assume Mr Barr thinks a secularist is an atheist, which is not what the word means. Atheism is a belief that God does not exist, while secularism is a conviction to keeping religion and religious forces out of some other aspect of our lives, to erect a wall between our personal religious beliefs and the parts of our lives that are more public. Jesus himself advocated for such a structure (Matthew, Chapter 6):

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy
closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray
to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father
which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

I am a Catholic, which I realize doesn’t sit well with many “Christians,” and I therefore espouse the beliefs of Christianity. When I can, I attend daily mass at St Alphonsus Church in downtown Baltimore (a beautiful cathedral if you ever get the chance to attend mass there). What I like about the daily mass at St Alphonsus is that the priest doesn’t offer a sermon or homily; it’s worship at its purest. There’s no attempt to sway me to hate the Supreme Court, to hate Democrats, to hate abortion doctors, or to hate anyone. There is just me and God.

Then after mass, I walk down to my office, which is just two blocks away, and do work that, I hope, makes our schools better for our children. The one aspect of my life has nothing to do with the other, at least in public, though I believe my faith has led me to achieve goals and persist in my job.

The Constitution of the US also declares a reference to secularism: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” says the First Amendment. In other words, the government cannot in any way outlaw me from going to church and praying as I see fit. It applies to people who believe differently in different ways perhaps, but that’s my own personal take on it. Maybe the atheists are right, and maybe they’re not. But if there is a God, I know that what Jesus taught us about God, through words recorded in Scripture, is as close as I’m going to get.

I have not gone to church on Sunday as much as I used to, mainly because the pulpit has turned into a campaign stump for Republican-conservative dogma. These words, spoken by priests, who collectively can claim no exclusive right to any moral high ground, have turned me away from this organization they call a church. If it were truly God’s church, they would not be acting in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus.

This has, in fact, turned many people away from the church, especially young people who have no need for the social benefits belonging to a religious group brings. Some do have this need, of course, but the church as an organization, in service to Republican dogma and despite tangible evidence, has turned its back on those children, specifically children being torn from their families at our nation’s southern border, specifically students being shot dead in our schools at the hands of a God-fearing belief in the Second Amendment, specifically priests abusing children sexually and invoking God’s name to cover up their actions.