Who's Secular Now? Take the Quiz!
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 12:24:46 AM EST
The terms secular, secular humanist, secular fundamentalist, secular left, and many more variations are at the center of our political discourse these days. Yet depending on who you talk to, they mean something completely different. I am not going to make any attempt to sort it all out today. However, as the discussion of the role of religion in public life moves front and center, we will have to sort these things out if we are going to know what each other is talking about. (We might even want to check ourselves and see if we, in fact, know what we are talking about.)

The other day, I posted a piece taking two prominent Democrats to task for muddying these waters and adopting one of the central "frames" (in the George Lakoff sense of the term) of the religious right. I think some of the points were lost in the blogospheric hoo ha, so let me raise them in a hopefully fun new way.  

Test your knowledge!  Here are ten quotes from a pool of 20 well-known Democrats and Republicans, and leaders of the religious right and the nascent religious left. Can you figure out who said what?

Each question is multiple choice. You will have to keep track of your own score... but let us know how you did!

Here is a quickie run down of the 20 names you will have to navigate to find the identities behind the ten quotes:

Evan Bayh -- Democratic Senator from Indiana
George W. Bush -- whatever
Robert Byrd -- Democratic Senator from West Virginia
Wesley Clark -- retired General, U.S. Army
Hillary Clinton -- Democratic Senator from New York
John Danforth -- former GOP Senator from Missouri
Tom DeLay -- former GOP House Majority Leader
Jerry Falwell -- televangelist and founder of the Moral Majority
Al Gore -- former Democratic Senator from Tennessee
Tim LaHaye -- co-founder of the Moral Majority and co-author of the Left Behind series of novels
Richard Land -- head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention
Daniel Lapin -- conservative rabbi, head of Toward Tradition
Joe Lieberman -- Democratic Senator from Connecticut
Michael Lerner -- progressive rabbi, head of the Network of Spiritual Progressives
Barack Obama -- Democratic Senator from Illinois
Ralph Reed -- former exec. director of the Christian Coalition
Pat Robertson -- televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition
Antonin Scalia -- Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
Jim Wallis --  progressive evangelical head of the organization Call to Renewal
Rick Warren -- conservative evangelical, author of The Purpose Driven Life


The greatest threat to religious freedom in America, are secular fundamentalists who want to ghetto-ize religious faith and make the wall of separation between church and state a prison wall keeping religious voices out of political discourse.

George W. Bush
Robert Byrd
Richard Land
Barack Obama
Pat Robertson


The secular fundamentalism of the left is as much a problem as the religious fundamentalism of the right.

Evan Bayh
Hillary Clinton
John Danforth
Antonin Scalia
Jim Wallis


The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this [9/11] because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad.I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays  and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU,  People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America-I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

George W. Bush
Robert Byrd
Jerry Falwell
Pat Robertson
Jim Wallis


I have no question the devil is behind what the apostle Paul called 'the wisdom (philosophy) of this world' and controls many of our courts and other areas of influence... in the nineteenth century this anti-God secular man-centered philosophy conquered the universities of Europe, trained journalists, educators, and entertainers, and today controls the countries where the church is impotent...  Europe, once the center of evangelical Christianity, Bible translation and distribution, and even revival, has bought into the philosophy of secular humanism. That philosophy is based on atheism, evolution, autonomous self-centered man, and socialism."

Robert Byrd
Tom DeLay
Tim LaHaye
Pat Robertson
Rick Warren


Today, there are new fundamentalists in the land.  These are the "secular fundamentalists," many of whom attack all political figures who dare to speak from their religious convictions. From the Anti-Defamation League, to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, to the ACLU and some of the political Left's most religion fearing publications, a cry of alarm has gone up in response to anyone who has the audacity to be religious in public. These secular skeptics often display amazing lapse of historical memory when they suggest that religious language in politics is contrary to the "American Ideal."

George W. Bush
Robert Byrd
Jerry Falwell
Tim LaHaye
Jim Wallis


Similarly, many Jewish organizations and even many individuals of Jewish ethnicity who possess the title "rabbi" are not guided by the principles Judaism found in the Torah. Instead, like the NAACP and NOW, they are guided chiefly by the principles of secular fundamentalism. Nothing else can explain their dogmatic and ideological commitment to causes such as homosexuality and abortion,

Jerry Falwell
Daniel Lapin
Michael Lerner
Joe Lieberman
Pat Robert


We contend today with both religious and secular fundamentalists, neither of whom must have their way. One group would impose the doctrines of a political theocracy on their fellow citizens.  The other would deprive the public square of needed moral and spiritual values often shaped by faith.

Wesley Clark
John Danforth
Al Gore
Michael Lerner
Jim Wallis


But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square... To say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

George W. Bush
Wesley Clark
Al Gore
Barack Obama
Antonin Scalia


The most alarming thing about this pair of rulings is that the decision to accommodate a Ten Commandments display donated by a nongovernmental source only won 5-4, which shows the degree to which this court has embraced secular fundamentalism as its religion...  The Kentucky courthouse decision shows that, as Justice [Antonin] Scalia said in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas opinion [striking down state anti-sodomy laws], the majority of this court has 'taken sides in the culture war,' and it's the side of secular fundamentalists.

Robert Byrd
Richard Land
Joe Lieberman
Ralph Reed
Rick Warren


But unfortunately, secular humanists very often act as though they have no tolerance - except that of a person on a higher plane looking down at the poor inferiors below them who happen to have a different religion than their religion. So the criticisms that I have... are for those who are "secular humanist fundamentalists." The fundamentalists are those who think they have all the truth, and that nobody else has any truth. Just as I'm very critical of Christian fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists, and Hindu fundamentalists, so I'm also very critical of secular humanist fundamentalists.

Hillary Clinton
John Danforth
Michael Lerner
Joe Lieberman
Rick Warren

1)Richard Land
2)Jim Wallis  
3)Jerry Falwell  
4)Tim LaHaye
5)Jim Wallis  
6)Daniel Lapin  
7)Jim Wallis  
8)Barack Obama  
9)Richard Land  
10)Michael Lerner  

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 12:43:26 AM EST
I admire your writing on the religious Right, but attacking Wallis and Lerner for getting caught in their opponents' frame misses an important point.  The Right uses the "secular" label to discredit the religious Left, essentially saying: it's a fast slope from caring about creation to denying the existence of God.

What astute folks like Wallis and Obama do is give the growing number of moderate believers room to get progressive without losing their religious bona fides. Now the faithful say, with increasing confidence: If Wallis, Campolo, et al still see room for improvement for the Left, then maybe I can care about the environment, poverty, etc.

Fighting the "secular" shibboleth" often works to reinforce its presence in the minds of our opponents. When moving moderate minds, it helps to take control of a familiar term and then wield it for our own agenda.

See more here: http://blog.faithinpubliclife.org/

by Alex on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 12:40:01 PM EST

I appreciate it.  

I am sorry to say however, that Obama and Wallis have demonstrated none of the astuteness, they clearly have in many other areas. No doubt, far more than I.  

However, I maintain that the labeling and demonization of unnamed others, ostensible allies, is divisive and self-defeating, and I know for a fact this turns off people of what you describe as moderate minds; particularly those who are astute enough to recognize the opportunistic knocking down of strawmen out of 1) ignorance 2) personal or political ambition or 3) both.

Setting my posts aside for a moment -- look at the divisions that Obama's speech has already created as Democrats polarize against themselves over this.

I agree that the religious right uses the term secular to attack and to diminish everone else's religion. (but that is not its only use or meaning) But if you take your George Lakoff seriously -- and I do -- it is time to reframe all this. And at Talk to Action, that is part of what we are doing.

I invite Wallis and Obama -- or anyone else -- to show us how the alleged scourge of secularism and/or secular fundamentalism and/or secular humanism and/or the secular left, is preventing people "of faith" from entering and participating in "the public square."  For starters, they can define the terms and tell us something about this power to which they profess to be speaking truth.

I understand that my zeroing in on the way that Wallis and Obama have internalized the frame of the religious right is upsetting to some. I do not undertake this lightly. But I also believe that for all of the good things in their work -- and there is very much -- that good is radically undermined by the adoption of this frame.

This is not a matter of the word secular. Obama and Wallis can't own and control it -- they have not even bothered to define it.  It is not a matter or words; it is a matter of the frame.

Here is the thing as I see it, Alex.

The religious right is at war with religious pluralism and the frame is a core ideological aspect of that war. It is well advanced in its useage, and resonates in the culture. We cannot rally people around religious pluralism and respect for religious difference in "the public square" or anywhere else, if our core ideology is at war with itself.

I might add, the best of the things that Wallis and now Obama are expressing are not new.They are a refresher of an approach to political life that is as old as the nation. That many Democrats found themselves out of practice; unconnected to their core values and spiritual life after allowing themselves to be shaped by a generation of political consultants, fundraisers, and spin doctors, and a culture ofInside the Beltway selfcongratulation out of touch with ordinary voters -- while turning a blind eye to the attacks on their own churches by agents of the corporate and religious right -- are we really surpised by any of this?

Naturally the Inside the Beltway crowd would rather blame mythological devils, -- secular fundamentalists are as good as any-- for their own errors and limitations, but we do not all have to go along for that ride -- especially if we see our leaders once again charging off in the wrong direction.

Obama and Wallis cannot have it both ways. So you will have to forgive me if I experience no spirit of celebration in what I would prefer to be a more stirring moment for us all.

Meanwhile, keep up all your good work. We are all in this for the duration.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 02:06:44 PM EST

What is really absent from this on-line debate over Barack Obama's speech and Jim Wallis' influence is ordinary Christian people. It is disconcerting that 70% of ordinary, White evangelical Christians vote regularly for conservative (often right-wing) Republicans. These people are generally good, decent people with much more nuanced views on homosexuality and abortion and racial matters than the Right, which tries to represent them.

My interpretation of Wallis and Obama, now, is that they are attempting to reach out to these people, who do feel alienated by the Democratic Party and the Left because of their faith, to find ways to address the problems of poverty and war.

For intellectual discussion it may be appropriate to more properly define the word, secular, and to be more precise in how some of these issues are addressed. However, Wallis' book and Obama's speech were not addressed to intellectuals on the Left. The response to Wallis' book in churches around the USA is evidence enough that he is touching something that many 'conservative' Christians are feeling.

Perhaps, Clarkson and Talk2Action are correct when they say that the use of a 'secularism' vs spiritual framework has a certain intellectual weakness. Perhaps this framework was constructed by the Right. However, my question is where on the Left are the people who are deconstructing this framework and addressing the concerns of a large portion of the religious people in this country.

by chipmunk on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 03:50:40 PM EST

I agree with you about Wallis and Obama's effort to do outreach to evangelicals and others.

First, if you read my first post on Wallis I am quite clear that I support his connecting historic Christian values with public policy and politics.  Try reading the first couple of chapters and look at the outrageous, unsubstantiated assertions; the labeling and demonization tactics, the ugly, unsupported attacks on the ADL and Americans United. (page 69).

This is not a matter of intellectuals of the Left. This is a matter of political common sense, common decency, and the basic idea that you back up your opinions with facts -- and that people who are not able to do that don't keep their credibility very long.  If Wallis and Obama wish to reach new voters they do not need to discredit themselves with other voters along the way.

As for the frame borrowed from the religious right, there is no "perhaps" about it. If you, like lots of people are new to the idea of framing, there is a little book called Don't Think of an Elephant, by George Lakoff. It has sold 2 million copies in the past 2 years, and is accessible to just about anyone with some political literacy.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 07:34:59 PM EST

Cognitive dissonance : who said what now ?.....

You've raised the bar for me. Thanks. ;)

Also, I think you've noticed a few good ones I missed.  Nothing like a close, rigorous reading of a text.... Except a quiz based on one !

Nobody pays attention really now, do they ?  This is a classic "emperor wears no clothes" outing, and it deserves legs - and whatever shape those fit into.

Satire ?  Parody ? Farce ?  High Comedy ? - I'm stumped. It just makes me laugh. Because it's so true.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 01:27:49 AM EST

There is much fun to be had out there.

(I suspect that Chip could put together a quiz that would grow the hair back on the top of my head.)

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 01:42:25 AM EST

That was an awesome piece of research, Fred.  I am not even going to try to top it.  Thanks
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 09:49:17 AM EST
I guess that means I gotta keep that bald spot.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 10:52:36 AM EST

here's another from evangelicalright.com

Evangelical Quiz

by Sinner on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 10:04:48 AM EST

Wasn't familiar with that site. Another one to bookmark.

by Psyche on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 01:30:09 AM EST

Isn't the danger in muddling together beliefs and actions?

Suppose one person opposes war because of the teachings of his religion and another opposes war because of a "secular" belief in the value of human life. Do we not want them working together?

We have many pressure groups which try to influence government policy. What is the difference in principle between the NRA pushing its preferred gun policy and a religous denomination pushing its views on marriage?

The fundamental issue which is what I think underlies sites like this, is that there is a fear that powerful groups, using the banner of religion, are succeeding in pushing policies regarding personal liberties which are restrictive and anti-democratic.

I don't have any answers, just questions.

-- Policies not Politics
by rdf on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 11:36:10 AM EST

and our topic is the political/social movement known as the religious right, and what to do about it. That covers a pretty vast area, but that is our necessary focus. Why?  Because there has been no reporting, analysis and discussion forum, fully archived ever before.

The religious right is one of the most successulf political/social movements in American history; having acheived extraordinary power and influence in a remarkably short period of time.

And along comes Jim Wallis who tells us that unnamed "secular fundamentalists" are as big a problem as the religious right.  And along comes Barack Obama, apparently buying into that false equivalence, but certainly at least buying into the frame.  

If there is an equivalent threat to the religious right, I daresay it is ignorance about the religious right; accompanied by the theatrics of the knocking down of strawmen in books, speeches, and in witless media coverage.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 12:55:32 PM EST

I understand your outrage and I'm not trying to be deliberately provocative, but I do think you need to address the issue of why the "religious left" has any more validity in forming social and government policy than does the "religious right".

So far, the primary tool has been appeals to the constitution and the intentions of the founding fathers, but as we well know even simple declarative statements like those in the 1st amendment have been twisted of late.

I certainly don't know what resonates with religious moderates/liberals, but it seems to me there needs to be more than one arrow in one's quiver.

Pandering by people like Obama need to be addressed, not only in the negative but also by offering examples of what he should have said.

I know you are trying, but I'm just hoping for an even more effective program.

-- Policies not Politics
by rdf on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 04:35:51 PM EST

when someone gives me a full time salary and a staff, I'll be able to roll out a more comprehensive program. Meanwhile, we will all have to be patient.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 07:38:07 PM EST

Haven't seen anything here suggesting that people can't or shouldn't work together toward common goals whether those goals are derived from religious or other values.

As for the second paragraph, it seems to me there is a difference between the NRA and the religious right here (although there may certainly be some overlap in group membership). NRA members - whether we like it or not - are defending their "right to bear arms." The religious right, in contrast, is attempting to restrict the rights of others to marry persons of their choice when the others do not share their beliefs. There has only been one amendment to the Constitution that restricted rights (prohibition) and it was later repealed. I think we would agree that a major concern is the restriction of personal liberties which is anti-democratic.

by Psyche on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 01:24:45 AM EST

I think we would agree that a major concern is the restriction of personal liberties which is anti-democratic.

This is exactly the type of formulation I would like to see more of. The appeals to people should be on the basis of universals such as freedom, liberty, equality and fairness. (I usually add economic efficiency, but it mostly goes over like a lead balloon).

What I think is counter productive is appeals to religious teachings, as in: "this is an un-Christian" thing to do/advocate. It implicitly grants whatever relgious doctrine is being quoted as a valid authority in what should be outside the sphere of religion (namely government policy). It also leaves those not of  the same faith (or not so conversant with doctrine) out of the debate.

Using religious precepts to shame others who are violating them is, I think, appropriate.
-- Policies not Politics
by rdf on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 09:21:36 AM EST

Thanks for taking the trouble to do this - post deserves wide circulation. Hope you'll at least cross-post on Kos (and maybe Street Prophets?).

Makes the point in a far more powerful way than yards of debate.

by Psyche on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 12:11:08 PM EST

It probably wasn't the best time, but I knew I would not have time to deal with it today. I will do SP, maybe later today.

Also, more to come from me on this general subject over the next little while.

Incidentally, there is a chance I will be coming to Ohio for a relevant project this summer.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 12:24:00 PM EST

Please let us know if plans firm up and if there's anything we can do to help. Hope it won't be late July-early August (when I'll be in MA).

by Psyche on Thu Jul 06, 2006 at 12:52:19 PM EST

Obama's refrain about our law being a codification of Judeo-Christian morality is a reflection of conventional wisdom. He's stating what most Americans believe. That doesn't mean most Americans are correct.

We all hear that refrain about America's Judeo-Christian legal foundation. But the refrain begs SO many questions. And it is, in the end, a gross over-simplification at best.

Here's but one of 100's of questions it raises: What's Judeo-Christian (similarly, what is so biblical) about representative democracy modeled on Greco-Roman republicanism and influenced by later episodes such as cranky English barons forcing a king to sign the Magna Carta ensuring their rights (including, in the first draft, the right to rebel through force of arms)?

Yes, I'm sure Thomas Jefferson and company had their Bibles open to St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, or maybe the Book of I Samuel, when they penned the Bill of Rights. Oh, and that U.S. Constitutional principle about citizens not having to shelter troops. Yes, that's right out of the Gospel of Luke, I suppose.  

And our commonsensical laws forbidding, say, murder? As if such an essentially universal law can't or hasn't existed anywhere in the world at anytime independent of the Torah or Holy Bible having been read by a state's, nation's, or kingdom's lawmakers.

I'm not saying there's NO Judeo-Christian influence on our laws. After all, I still can't buy beer in NYC before noon on Sundays.

by IseFire on Sat Jul 08, 2006 at 03:45:26 PM EST

I think the dialogue has been so thoroughly infected by memes from the religious right that it's almost impossible to discuss important issues without getting hung up in some of their "code." That's part of the problem with Wallace and Obama.

Yet, the founding fathers managed to write a Declaration of Independence, a Constitution, and a Bill of Rights with virtually no reference to religion except to guarantee its freedom.

Given all the talk about "framing" and reframing, why can't we go back to the founders' frames and talk about the way that liberal policies are based on those principles. Don't think this approach will alienate religious or non-religious moderates and liberals. It's not just Christianity and the bible that have been stolen by the Right, it's the Constitution as well. Time to take it back and educate the populace.

by Psyche on Sun Jul 09, 2006 at 09:40:10 PM EST

It takes a little effort to do these things, but it is worthwhile.  

Mouthing the religious right's slogans about wanting to allow people of faith a voice in the public square -- as if they were not there all along, speaking about whatever they want, whenever they want to -- is not going to cut it.

We can reclaim the Constitution and the unambiguous intentions of the founding fathers. Religious freedom and equality are  progressive values; labeling and demonization tactics are not.


by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jul 10, 2006 at 01:07:54 AM EST

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