One of the things that profoundly changed my thinking about religion and about liberalism was contrasting the belligerent anti-religious atmosphere in Berkeley with the tolerant Christian environment I encountered in Texas. This is not to say that all non-religious places are belligerently anti-religious, or that all Christian environments are tolerant. However, it did teach me a very useful lesson, which is that secularists can be every bit as rigid, dogmatic, and prejudiced as anyone else.
What’s interesting about secular prejudice is that it’s nihilistic. Christians want to bring you to something; secularists want to back you away from everything.
The almost random hostility that is aggressive secularism reared its head in West Marin recently. The Catholic Youth Organization (emphasis mine) sponsors all sorts of sports here in Marin. Sign-up is open to everyone, not just Catholics, but the CYO doesn’t pretend not to be a Catholic organization. It crossed a Marin line, however, when it announced that, before basketball games start, it wants to have a prayer. A very non-denominational, practically Unitarian, prayer:
CYO Athletics provides an atmosphere of sportsmanship for youth that fosters their physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual strength.
Although it is not mandatory, we invite athletes, coaches, parents, and officials to take a moment to remember that God is present in each of us as we come together not just as competitors but as brothers and sisters. Please stand as we pray:
God, we pray that our hearts be open to see your presence in and through sports.
We pray for athletes who, through sports, develop character and values.
We pray for coaches who place players before winning and value sportsmanship.
We pray for parents who love their children for who they are, not for how they perform.
We pray for officials who inspire fair play.
We pray in God’s name. Amen.
It takes a special kind of mentality to be offended by a polite and voluntary request to a higher being asking for character development, sportsmanship, parental love and fair play. Fortunately for blogging fodder, here in Marin we have those special mentalities. While some understand that a private organization sponsored by the Catholic church is within its rights to ask people to join it in a prayer, others are up in arms. Some merely express discomfort — a la “religion has no place in sports” — but some are much more aggressive in their hostility to the idea:
A decision by Catholic Youth Organization leaders to ask young athletes to pray before basketball games has touched a nerve among residents of the San Geronimo Valley.
“I understand that if we rent to one religious group, we have to rent to them all. But I still don’t like it,” said Richard Sloan, a trustee of the Lagunitas School District, which co-owns the San Geronimo Valley Gym. “I’m going to put up a sign in front of the gym: ‘If you don’t pray in my school, I won’t think in your church.'” (Emphasis mine.)
At least Sloan is honest about his incredible prejudice. Others are trying different tactics, including the claim that many parents had no idea the Catholic Youth Organization was actually Catholic; that no one needs to ask God for help with pushy parents because there are only a few of them out there in West Marin; and that West Marin’s varying faiths are so delicately balanced against each other that no end of chaos could result because of this bland little prayer for good sportsmanship.
In a funny way (or maybe it’s not so funny at all), this secularist hostility and its aggressive efforts to shut down all forms of privately expressed faith in the public square reminds me of a problem I’ve always had with Islam: namely the Islamists’ incredible fear that their religion can’t compete, so that the only way to preserve the faith is to kill (really kill, with sword, stone, hangman’s rope and bomb) the competition.
I like having a marketplace of religion. This marketplace is not one in which practitioners of one religion coerce, kill, harass, humiliate, stone or demean members of other faiths. Instead, it’s a marketplace in which various religions generously and often lovingly make their activities and rituals available to others, secure in the belief that there’s a viable product, one that builds, rather than destroys. I’d be a lot happier if the secularists would have the same approach, rather than aping the Islamists, by trying to shut everyone else down.