U.S. Scholar Wages Battle for Secularism

Winnipeg Free Press, September 22, 2012 | Go to article overview

U.S. Scholar Wages Battle for Secularism


Bill Clinton's supremely polished speech at the 2012 U.S. Democratic National Convention was preceded earlier in the day by a very messy delegates' "voice vote."

This sudden, controversial, muddled oral vote successfully rammed language of "Israel" and "God" back into the official Democratic platform, sledging away once again at the supposed wall between church and state in the U.S.

Somewhere, Jacques Berlinerblau threw his arms up in the air in familiar frustration.

Berlinerblau is a Georgetown University professor and the director of its program for Jewish civilization. He stands publicly as a cutting-edge theorist of secularism, the role of religion in American politics and the increasingly crucial importance of pervasive biblical literacy.

He has for a decade and a half been a champion of the precise articulation of the history and ideology of "secularism" and a fierce, untiring advocate for religious education for laity of all stripes.

How to Be Secular is very much in line with his previous books, especially The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (2005) and Thumpin' It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today's Presidential Politics (2008).

With all these, Berlinerblau appoints himself a kind of public educator, stepping out of the ivory tower not only to inform the masses but to shake some sense into the very audience he studies.

Berlinerblau believes powerfully that secularism, its history and its relationship to outright atheism have been massively misunderstood by almost all. Worse, secularism has been deceitfully deployed to ruining effect by many on the Christian right.

In How to Be Secular, he expertly, elegantly and eloquently tries to stem those tides and undo some of the unwelcome renovations to the global and, especially, American landscape.

Large parts of the book feature Berlinerblau repetitively declaring not so much what "secularism" is as what it is not. Secularism is not total "separationism" (defiantly keeping church and state utterly discrete); it is not agnosticism; and it most definitely is not atheism.

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