The Slow Triumph Of Secularism

The main reason that gay people have been second- and third-class citizens in this country, let’s face it, is because of religion, mainly the Christian religion. And today, with the Supreme Court deciding not to decide the issue of gay marriage (at least for now), we have not only witnessed a big win for our gay citizens, we have also witnessed a big, big win for secularism.

Religious conservatives can jump up and down and shout all they want about what they call the sin of homosexuality; they can scream from their Sunday pulpits about how America is in moral decline; they can shake their fist at the various federal courts that have found their legal arguments wanting. But their real beef is with the Founders, even though most of the Founders might have been as homophobic as they are. Jefferson’s Virginia, for instance, required castration as the punishment for “sodomy.” The original colonies and eventually all of our states, at one time, criminalized homosexuality, some of them making it a crime punishable by death.

But the Founders, despite themselves and their own hangups about homosexuality, gave us a Constitution that, eventually, led to this glorious map, provided today by MSNBC:

same sex marriage by state

That’s a bunch of states, people, and some of them are as blood-red Republican and Christian conservative as you would ever want to imagine. Secularism is winning and that means the American experiment is working.



  1. Duane, you’ve got me thinking here and I’m going to suggest that your premise, that the cause of homophobia is religion, is not correct. I would agree that the Christian religion enables it because of a couple of fuzzy and obscure references in the bible, but as I know that you know, there are many such references, notably in Leviticus, that do not enable behavior because they are nonsensical and culturally moribund.

    This is picking nits, I know. Your central point is valid in that culture is tending away from religiosity toward secularism, and that means toward rationality, and that’s a good thing. Marriage itself is another topic that probably deserves more thought. When the country was almost all agricultural, marriage meant a more stable and productive population, but with half of all marriages now failing and most women working, I’m not so sure any more. How is a married couple any more deserving of tax breaks than any other compatible couple or group that want to combine their assets for mutual benefit?


    • As an old nitpicker myself, I would say that I didn’t exactly claim that the cause of homophobia is religion (although I think it is a major contributor). What I said was,

      The main reason that gay people have been second- and third-class citizens in this country, let’s face it, is because of religion, mainly the Christian religion.

      I was speaking of the religious motivation behind those who want to deprive homosexuals of their plainly constitutional rights. I think any fair examination of the fight against such rights for gay people will find that the motivation for such a fight is exclusively (or something close to it) due to religious beliefs.

      As for your point about married couples and whether they are “any more deserving of tax breaks than any other compatible couple or group,” I admit that is an intriguing idea. But I will have to think about it more before I could embrace it. I still tend to think that marriage does contribute to overall social stability, even these days.



      • I still tend to think that marriage does contribute to overall social stability, even these days.

        I used to think that too, but the more I think about it the more I question it. As you’re pondering the question, consider that most American women have abandoned their traditional homemaker role for full-time jobs, that children are mostly raised in day-care centers and school because parents are too tired for socializing at the end of a day of work and commuting, and that domestic abuse is widespread and likely under-reported.

        The world has changed, and in my opinion, not for the better, but given that reality, I wonder if the Israeli kibbutz system might not be preferable to what we have now, which is a mess of broken homes, single-parents, and kids coming to school on empty stomachs. The school food programs might already be a move in the kibbutz direction.

        Apart from religious tradition, what is marriage anyway, but a legal contract for the sharing of financial responsibilities? And when marriages break up, my impression is that the result is most always unfair to one party or the other. In the case of military retirees, for example, the service member’s retirement is split 50/50 regardless of the history of the two parties. And there’s no safety net for the kids.

        I’m not so naive as to think that could really happen any time soon in this country, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, as the old Chinaman said.


        • Getting large numbers of Americans to accept collectives would be a very, very long journey, Jim, that’s for sure.

          As for social stability and marriage, I agree that what we see today, with the problems you highlight, is a big, big problem. I just don’t know if reducing marriage to nothing more than a legal contract would make any difference. What might help some is a revamping of our social systems, like allowing more paid time off for mothers and fathers to spend with their kids (the current FMLA law has little teeth in that respect), as well as providing more food assistance, not less, and providing affordable college educations for qualified students (which might reduce the stress for families). Domestic abuse has many causes, only some of them having to do with economic stress. But passing laws that, say, restrained CEO pay as compared to the pay of the average worker, might do something to raise real wages. So would the minimum wage, although that would affect a smaller percentage of workers. Those things, and other similar approaches, might help a bit.

          But I’m afraid the situation is so complex that no obvious public policies are readily available to adequately address it. Children going through breakups in the home are victims, that’s for sure. Boys in those situations have special problems, including the tendency to react by engaging in anti-social behavior. Even in countries with fairly robust welfare programs, boys from broken homes are more likely to engage in criminal activity than other boys. I’m afraid the best we can do is to try to manage the situation.


          Because I like to look for good news in all this darkness, I found an old article from over a decade ago. It was about a massive study done on single-parent kids (“almost 1 million children over nearly a decade”) being twice as likely “to develop serious psychiatric problems and addictions later in life.” The “good” news is this:

          The chances of any child developing serious psychiatric problems is very small. In two-parent homes, this study indicated about 1 in 200 boys and 1 in 100 girls would experience problems serious enough to be hospitalized. So a doubling of the risk results is a still small chance of problems. But because so many millions of children live in one-parent families, the numbers can add up.

          That’s the best I can do, my friend.



  2. ansonburlingame

     /  October 7, 2014

    Duane and Jim,

    Wow, here we go, maybe, on a great topic. Boil it down and we may well be into the pro’s and con’s of a secular society vs a religious society and who should decide what their own society might be in such distinctions.

    Conincidental to this blog, yesterday I began reading World Order by Kissenger. Most of it is historical in nature, it seems so far, comparing societies of old and how the “world” was “ordered” (meaning stability achieved) between very distant regions. Look just at the late 15th century, at the time of discovery of America. China was governed by an Emperor and that rule was predominantly secular but spread over “1/3rd” of the world. The Ottoman Empire’s stablility was religious in nature, the tie that bound many different ethnicities but under the dictatorship of the Muslim religion. Europe was united in one religion, Catholic Christianity but each region within Europe was free to establish laws and practices according to secular decisions, each King making such decisions. As long as a King did not “piss off the Pope” he could do just about whatever he decided to do, secularly. So way back when Europe established religions unity but secular pluralism as the way to govern that “1/3rd” of the world.

    It took Europe about 100 years to decide how to govern with religious plurality. The Protestant Reformation, ending in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, made that happen. Since then western societies have allowed (to some degree at least) religious differences under a secular government, some with real secular differences. Balance of Power (between secular powers) politics in Europe became the norm, balances in secuar power keeping some form of political “peace”. That of course led to a European settlement of the New World with neither the Ottomans or China having much influence at all in that effort.

    What was observed after WWI was the western attempt to secularize the old Ottoman Empire. The West drew lines on a map and suggested each nation thus created do its own thing, secularly. And here we are today some 100 years later. China remains China more or less. And the Middle East is pushing hard to return to a common religious form of government with secular authority bowing to and obeying religious fundamental control. The West continues to promote secular pluralism and religious diversity with secular powers only deciding the “law of the land”, but not the faith of the land.

    My experiences growing up were not dictated by religion, in terms of homosexuality or race. I learned from peers that “Queers were wierd”, different. I didn’t even know what a “queer” might be for a while, I just knew that calling someone a “queer” showed disdain for mannerisms, style of dress, etc. I learned that about the same time that the N-word came into my mind. That word was used to demonstrated differences, superiority on my side against the other side. Us white kids are better than all those “N….. and queers”. Religion had nothing to do with it it was a matter of establishing societal superiority as little kids.

    The same approach was used by Europeans to colonize vast new areas to fhe world, the western hemisphere and Africa. “Onward Christian soliders” so to speak and kill anyone that failed to convert and submit to secular power of Europeans. Even if they, indians in Mexico for example, converted, Europeans still killed them to get gold and silver and other forms of wealth and power. The ultimate motivation was European power and religion was used to support that quest for secular power, including untold wealth in gold and silver as just examples.

    As for concerns on my part of a religious takeover of America, I have little concern in the long term, the macroscopic view, if you will. The chances of American government being run by an Old (or New) Testament Caliphate is just beyond my realm of comprehension. When people like Santorum and Akins rise, policially, I just laugh at them and remain confident that the majority of voters will do the same. Having a fire breathing preacher in the White House and governing accordingly (like a Grand Mullah) is about as remote as a black man ruling therein and converting whites to slaves. That just won’t happen in America.

    As a kid I would no more have played with “N’s and Q’s” than fly to the moon. “They” were just “different” and my own friends would have disowned me had I done so. Of course I changed, as almost all of my young friends from that time have changed in such views. Part of it was good education, good parenting, growing up and learning about the real meaning of words like equality, justice, fairness, human conditions, etc. Even by the time I was a freshman in high school (we integrated our school that year, 1956) and one cross was burned at night in the school yard, I resented that action by “hoodlums”, white kids that I knew of but did not like, in my southern home town.

    Perhaps if the Kingdom of God in fact “ordered” the World, it would be an ideal world. No war, no arguments, just boundless love between all humans, etc. But for 4 Billion years Earth has yet to find the “one true god” and we have slaughtered god’s only know how many humans in that quest. I’ll stick with individual spiritual beliefs of any sort and firm secular rule by governments using basic moral values to determine how to govern. But of course humans cannot even agree on “basic moral values” either, today.

    And thus World Order is a moving target, for 4 Billion years and counting.



    • Anson,

      As far as I’m concerned, there are no “pros” of a religious society. Only cons. And I think history proves it.

      As for your your statement that, “My experiences growing up were not dictated by religion, in terms of homosexuality or race,” I submit otherwise. Your experiences may not have been directly dictated by religion, but where do you think your “peers” came by their views on homosexuals? Certainly some of their views were informed by their parents’ religious beliefs, or otherwise transmitted through pulpits all over Kentucky. And even if they came by such views as part of what you called “establishing societal superiority as little kids,” those views were obliquely supported by what they heard from the lips of their parents or Sunday school teachers. As you pointed out about the nature of conquering power, it tends to use religion to support and justify its ambition.

      Having said all that, once again I am happy to agree with you on a very basic, but important, point:

      I’ll stick with individual spiritual beliefs of any sort and firm secular rule by governments using basic moral values to determine how to govern.




  3. ansonburlingame

     /  October 11, 2014


    I will reaffirm that NEVER was I subjected to a religious dictate from the pulpit, my parents, anyone on matters related to “queers”. I was using that word before I even knew the “facts of life” and when my parents discussed that topic with me, homosexuality never came up. It was a school yard, locker room type of display of “they are queers and we are not”. My small town Kentucky in the late 40’s and 50’s never even mentioned “sex” of any sort, directly, even when Playboy hit the magazine racks in 1953. I looked at the pictures and got “excited” but only in a closet somewhere!! The closests I came to seeing sexual restrictions was all the Southern Bapist kids that I went ot school with would never dance at a sock hop, crazy as that seems today, or even then, to me. I sure was glad however that I was not a Southern Baptist in those days.

    Now for Jim where he stated the view “….what is marriage anyway, but a legal contract for the sharing of financial responsibilities?” That is probably the case for a lot of people today, but it is a view that certainly weakens things in society that are “good”. But even back in the middle 60’s marriage was becoming something less than “traditional”. My mother-in-law, an interesting and outspoken woman once told me (around 1968) that “men get married for regular sex and women get married for security”. That sounded VERY close to why her daughter and I had gotten married a couple of years earlier. We both wanted something, for ourselves, and we got married. The hard work that followed was …….., for the next 33 years.

    Right or wrong being beside the point, “For better or for worse ……..” is meaningless today in many marriages. When the going gets tough, both parties get “going”, right to a divorce court to argue over “coat hangers”.



    • I don’t get it at all. Just what did you think was “queer” about somebody you all called queers? You can’t tell me that the perception of some kind of femininity in your male targets had nothing to do with it. And I specifically said that the religious influence may have been indirect, not something you may have heard someone say directly to you. It was, nevertheless, part of the culture, part of the background and fabric of your life, whether you knew it or not. If the targets of all those “queer” epithets were, say, handicapped kids, would your parents or teachers or pastors have tolerated such a thing? Of course not. But labeling gays was tolerable because being gay was something “all of us” knew the Bible condemned.


  4. henrygmorgan

     /  October 13, 2014

    Duane: I become nervous when I hear inklings of the “Only the informed should be allowed to vote” argument. It veers very closely to a form of intellectual snobbism. How would we establish the base line of knowledge for such a jufgment. Should we say that only Ph.D’s should vote? M.A.’s? Only Political Science profs? College grads? High School grads? Should we establish committees to evaluate would-be voters? What would their criteria be? Who would establish these parameters? Having been a faculty member at four different colleges or universities, I have lived much of my life surrounded by Ph.D.’s, enough to reach the conclusion that educational level is no predictor of intellegence or of wisdom.

    The Founding Fathers debated this issue in some depth and ultimately decided that the only restrictions they thought fit to establish were of age, gender and property ownership, all of which we have since chosen to change or eliminate. And most of the Southern states establshed Literacy requirements that of course, few if any Aftican-Americans passed. Because of their universal ignorance as compared to whites? I seriously doubt it, and I think it likely that there was some other factor involved.

    I realize that an informed electorate is highly desirable, but how do we insure that result? I certainly would not welcome Todd Akin’s knowledge into the voting booth, or congress persons who say the most absurd things imaginable without a shred of evidence and do so without blushing. The best we can do, in my opinion, is to go on, trusting in the system that has brought us Jefferson, Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, et al. Not a bad record.



  5. henrygmorgan

     /  October 13, 2014

    Duane: I mis-posted this. I meant it to be in the “It’s enough to make you swear” post. Sorry. Bud


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