-A review of Barry W. Lynn’s new book God and Government, by Don Ardell.
I don’t think the Religious Right understands that religion thrives best where government takes no sides and offers no ‘help.’ There are two thousand different religious groups in the United States and tens of millions of Americans who choose no spiritual path. We all live in relative harmony. Look at Iran; look at Northern Ireland; look at Afghasastan – state-sponsored religions and the wars against other faiths it engenders should teach us all that we have a pretty good thing going here. In fact, the separation of church and state is probably the single best idea that our two-hundred- year experiment in democracy has engendered.
Barry W. Lynn, “God and Government, p. 61.
Introduction: Barry W. Lynn
Barry Lynn once confessed, though not, I suspect, with heavy heart, that the Reverend Jerry Falwell does not like me. That was about as caustic and mean-spirited as Barry can manage but, oh my, how incisive, informative and entertaining he can be defending and advancing church/state separation. Make no mistake—this book is timely, for such a defense is vital at this time in the nation’s history. God and Government demonstrates as well as the landmark books by Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens, if in a nice and velvet glove way, that secularists are in a serious battle against a home grown Right Wing ISIS-of-the-mind religionists whose passions extend well beyond denying evolution, science, climate change, women/gay and unbeliever liberties and the human right to be free from religion. They want what they have long and falsely claimed the founders of this country wanted America to be—a Christian nation.
Were it not for Barry Lynn and others like, if not quite the equal of him, we might be such a society already.
Mr. Lynn has for decades been the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU). I’ve listened to him in person on several delightful and inspirational occasions. (I refer to him with the Reverend deliberately omitted — I don’t care to utilize the Reverend prefix, even though he has earned and never abused it. I try to avoid use of all religious titles, including Father, Your Excellence, Your Holiness, Your Eminence and so on. If Mr. Lynn desired it, however, I’d make an exception in his case, and for other heroic figures with clergy credentials. I’m still a little flexible. For now, I prefer The Most Right Honorable and Highly Esteemed Sir Barry Lynn.)
Like millions of others, I’ve enjoyed Mr. Lynn’s articles and countless media interviews and appearances before Congressional committees. (His description of an encounter before a committee chaired by the god-addled Republican Congressman from Texas, Louis B. Gohmert, is hilarious. You can find that on page 289.)
Mr. Lynn is a lawyer and minister in the United Church of Christ. The latter background is, no doubt, a big boost for his effectiveness with Christians and others who still have some respect for faith-based thinking, despite the superstitions that attend the dogmas, grotesque policies and deviant behaviors professed and/or exhibited by many religious figures.
Real Wellness and Religion
Liberty is one of the four dimensions of REAL wellness: separation of church and state helps preserve our secular democracy. This is more important than ever now at a time when the Protestant Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy seek a Christian nation agenda. While I believe most Christian leaders favor an American theocracy, this goal is rarely expressed publicly. Of course, to a regrettable extent, America is already something of a theocracy, given In God We Trust on our money, in courtrooms, in the Pledge of Allegiance and with enormous tax exemptions for religions and on and on. If there were a god that controlled everything, as most Americans seem to think, I’d thank him, her or it for Barry Lynn, who among other stalwarts for secularism works tirelessly and effectively to keep American ununited in church and state. So far, they are succeeding, if just barely.
Religion and REAL Wellness Are Incompatible
Reason, the R in REAL wellness, and religion represent two distinct ways of thinking. One trusts in revelation (i.e., assertions based on authority); the other is found upon critical thinking, evidence and an objective search for understanding the true nature of reality. Religion does not blend well with democracy, freedom, human rights, joy, happiness, wellness orgasms or other states that secularists seeking well-being of the mind and body associate with quality of life pathways. Religion is antagonistic to reason. Religious authorities insist that the faithful submit their wills to a higher power (whose wishes only they can interpret). They demand belief in religious dogmas, adherence to rituals and respect for all of these things from the rest of society that has and seeks no part of any of it. They make a virtue of faith (aka believing what you know ain’t so, as Mark Twain put it) which, by definition, means lacking evidence or other rational bases. Religions have no use for such life-affirming, reason-based democratic principles as expressed in the Affirmations of Humanism, or in the U.N’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
While there is no connection with the A (athleticism or exercise and nutrition), the E (exuberance) and L (liberty or personal freedoms) dimensions are equally incompatible with the toxicity of religion. Thus, it seems entirely legitimate and reasonable if not imperative for REAL wellness enthusiasts to address religion in the context of describing the nature and dynamics of living a healthy, happy and meaningful life guided by reason and freedom that facilitates exuberance.
Thus, Barry Lynn’s God and Government could be and in my view is a REAL wellness worthy publication. One needs not be a history professor to know that religions have not displayed much enthusiasm for or tolerance of qualities associated any one of these three dimensions.
God and Government
Mr. Lynn’s latest work, published by Prometheus Books, contains ten chapters that represent a mix of his columns, testimony and speeches over the course of two and a half decades. The book contains extensive notes (references) and an index. Hundreds of the author’s encounters with Religious Right theocracy-promoting activists are described with wit and humor. Among my favorite sections are those dealing with these critical church/state issues:
- School prayer and prayer everywhere else.
- Taxpayer-subsidized vouchers for religious schools.
- Creeping religious beliefs into the public sector (e.g., preventing end-of-life choices, promoting censorship and so on).
- The imposition of religious beliefs by legislators into policies and laws.
- Opposition to science in a broad sense and evolution in particular.
- Attempts to proselytize by including religious content into public educational curricula.
- Religion in the military, the court system and local governments.
- Tax preferences for clergy; subsidies for chaplains, etc.
- Criminal clerics.
- Encounters with nice and strange famous people while fighting the battle of church and state.
- Descriptions of historic events that shaped the current standoff so far preventing the loss of our right to freedom from religion.
I fully agree and endorse what comedian Lewis Black, author Frank Schaeffer (Crazy for God), Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal and filmmaker Jill Soloway wrote in blurbs for God and Government, respectively:
- No one is more on top of the challenges facing the first amendment than Barry Lynn…with intelligence, wisdom, humanity and a devilish wit, Lynn makes the issues come alive.
- This book is literally a defense of freedom against the theocratic illness.
- Barry Lynn knows all the tricks, twists and turns of those who want to turn the clock back several centuries.
- Barry Lynn has the extraordinary ability to demonstrate how religious fundamentalism poisons almost every public policy debate that matters.
To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen’s tribute to Robert Green Ingersoll, Barry Lynn’s God and Government demonstrates what he has done for equality, education, progress, free ideas and free lives, against the superstition and bigotry of religious dogma. We need men like him today more than ever. His writing still inspires us and challenges the ‘better angels’ of our nature, when people open their hearts and minds to his simple, honest humanity. Thank goodness he (is) here.