On a June day in 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate and challenged the Soviet Union with words that still stir the soul of every freedom-loving person. “Tear Down This Wall!” he exclaimed. He was speaking of the Berlin Wall, a barrier between East and West during the Cold War that symbolized the dehumanizing policies of the corrupt communist regime. Many thought Reagan’s treatment of the Soviets was too extreme. After all, earlier he had labelled the Soviet Union the “evil empire.” But in the end, Reagan saw the fulfillment of his dream to help bring freedom to an oppressed people.
Today in America, atheists in increasing numbers stand before courts of law and utter a similar cry. Their targets are not evil empires suppressing the will of the majority, but rather symbols -yes, symbols – of Christianity. One particular effort – to tear down the cross on Mt. Soledad in San Diego – has met with considerable success, as federal judges declare the cross on Mr. Soledad to be unconstitutional and opportunities to appeal these rulings dwindle.
I offer here no commentary on the wisdom or validity of the legal reasoning employed. Suffice it to say that the Founders would no doubt be surprised that the land they envisioned in which freedom to worship was to be scrupulously honored has become a land in which every vestige of public expression of faith must apparently be wiped away.
The removal of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of a new freedom for the people trapped behind it. Do atheists really believe that they are enhancing American freedom by pressing for the removal of all Christian symbols? What freedom is actually at play? The freedom to not see the symbols of a faith that one doesn’t share associated in any fashion with “government” land? But the Mt. Soledad cross wasn’t erected to “establish” Christianity as an official state religion. It was not meant to offend or to suppress contrary faiths, but instead to honor fallen soldiers, many (probably most) of whom were Christian. Its offense, however unintended, is that anyone viewing it would deem it a “government endorsement” of a particular faith. Really? In America today, can you find anyone so lacking in awareness of his surroundings and the culture in which he lives as to conclude that a Christian theocracy is actually running government? Or poised to make some move to take over?
The atheist tries to soften the rhetoric. For instance, according to one spokesperson for the ACLU, “We support the government paying tribute to those who served bravely in our country’s armed forces, but we should honor all of our heroes under one flag, not just one particular religious symbol.”
The atheist reminds me of the child who, not liking the game that’s being played, takes his ball and goes home. We must play by his rules or no one will be allowed to play at all. The thought that perhaps he can erect his own symbol to honor fallen atheists is, understandably, not appealing. (What’s the point, after all, of honoring oblivion?) He must stop others from drawing solace from their beliefs, by forcing into the public square a false notion that there is no God, there is no law-giver, there is no transcendent source of truth and of values. Claiming to seek neutrality, they instead sterilize the landscape, using the force of government to insist – contrary to the beliefs of the vast majority who have ever walked the earth – that nature is all there is.
Ideas have consequences. The Founders understood this. They understood the importance of the government not establishing a particular sect or doctrine as the official federal religion. But they also understood that the morals and values necessary to viability of this experiment in self-government found their best expression in the Christian worldview. The many American soldiers who gave up their lives in World War II and in the later fight against Soviet communism pitted that faith system against one based on the absence of God. We see the striking differences in those competing worldviews when we consider America’s treatment of its vanquished enemies – not the plunder and enslavement which historically followed victorious military effort – but the outpouring of countless dollars to rebuild and to re-welcome into the brotherhood of humanity those against whom we had taken up arms. How different the world would look today had Americans of that era accepted the principles and premises that underlie an atheistic worldview.
Sadly, when atheists seek to prevent others from expressing in the public square their sense of devotion to those fallen in the service of their country, in the service of transcendent values and ideals which have elevated humanity in so many ways, he does great damage to the nation he claims to support. But more to the point, he betrays the emptiness of his own belief system.
Many committed Christians are no doubt angered at these developments. Might I suggest that pity is a better response? Christianity has weathered far greater challenges. This particular cross may be torn down, but the shadow of The Cross will always cover the Earth, and in the end, every knee will bend.
But seeing the pettiness that drives these efforts, a bit of sympathy may be our best first response.
Posted by Al Serrato