Most of the Church’s Year of Faith will take place in 2013, and it comes just in time — because 2012 was the "Year of Faithlessness."
The year saw a surge in anti-religious sentiment that is beginning to look like a new atheistic ethos. It wasn’t just words either — the federal government took actions to curtail believers’ freedoms as atheists activated political operations in every state.
This year, the old stories about the "war on Christmas" seemed almost quaint. Atheists succeeded in stripping nursing homes of Christmas trees and erected billboards like the one in Times Square: "Keep the Merry — Dump the Myth." The billboard was part of an atheist "You Know It’s a Myth" anti-God campaign.
But atheists didn’t just proselytize in 2012. They also pressed to impose their beliefs legislatively. In this election year, attacks on the very idea of God entered political debate as never before.
The Jan. 25 edition of the U.K. Guardian proved to be a prelude of things to come. Because Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said that even those conceived in rape are children of God, the paper published this headline: "Rick Santorum thinks pregnancy through rape is God’s gift? Seriously?"
The same suggestion that the children of rape victims are somehow abandoned by God would be hurled at U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana.
But it started with Santorum. Maureen Dowd ridiculed "Mullah Rick" as a fanatic for being a believing Catholic who accepts the teachings of the Church.
Perhaps that’s understandable in the year of the Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate — the Obama administration’s decision that "religious freedom" applies to what Catholics do with their time on weekends, not what they do with their money at work.
One group in support of the mandate was the Secular Coalition for America. Hundreds of its representatives went to Washington on March 23, 2012, to support the HHS mandate and other legislation, under the leadership of new executive director and former Republican lobbyist Edwina Rogers.
Rogers expressed her worldview in response to Legatus’ resistance to the federal government’s intrusion. "Every American is entitled to their personal religious beliefs and practices," she said, "but they do not have the right to impose them on others — including their employees — or ask for privileging from the government."
Translation: Secularism should be imposed on everyone in the public square; religious beliefs must be kept "personal" and private.
Atheists don’t consider this a rhetorical argument only; they consider it a blueprint for legislative change — and they are organized and efficient. The Secular Coalition for America spent the year reaching its goal of having a lobbying chapter in every state.
What sorts of changes might they make? Steubenville, Ohio, found out.
There, the Freedom From Religion Foundation lobbied successfully in July to remove the distinctive architecture of the Franciscan University chapel from the stylized skyline in the city’s logo.
Said the organization’s president, Annie Laurie Gaylor: "Crosses do not belong on the logos of American cities. We are not a ‘Christian nation’ or a theocracy, but were first among nations to adopt a secular constitution."
In other words, the organization that wants to force the people of Steubenville to pretend that the church isn’t part of their city’s architecture also wants to force Americans to pretend that God isn’t part of our nation’s founding structure.
But the most surprising political manifestation of the new atheist ethos happened at the Democratic National Convention. Party leaders earlier in the summer had updated the party platform and made two changes: The platform no longer called Jersualem the capital of Israel, and it no longer said workers had God-given potential.
After Christians and Jews objected, President Barack Obama himself arranged to put God and Jerusalem back in the platform.
The problem: When the party changed the language back, announcing the fix on the floor of the convention, the crowd erupted in boos. This was, in part, a reaction to the hastiness with which the change was made. But only in part. If a hasty change had been made to make the platform more pro-homosexual rights or pro-handicapped, it is hard to imagine loud boos erupting. But making it "pro-religion" — that was angrily denounced.
The secularist activity would have been alarming enough, if it hadn’t been punctuated by a bizarre act of violence. On Aug. 15, a homosexual-rights activist fired a gun inside Family Research Council’s Washington headquarters. No national news agencies connected the dots or raised any question with another bizarre terrorist act — atheist activist Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson the year before.
Of course, most atheists are nothing like their gun-wielding confreres. But it is astonishing that a media so keen on connecting harsh speech and acts of hatred in other spheres of life are so unwilling to pursue it in today’s aggressive secularism.
After all, harsh speech is becoming far more common from secularists on the left: This was the year that Chick-fil-A was banned from cities and targeted with campaigns of hatred because of the moral beliefs of its CEO.
Salon, a popular, self-identified liberal online publication, surprised Christians when it published a criticism of Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas’ faith. Wrote Mary Elizabeth Warren: "[A]fter her victory, one of the first responses that truly resonated for me was from a colleague who noted, ‘I would like her more if she were not so, so, so into Jesus.’"
That was one of several pieces Salon published friendly to the new atheistic ethos. One regretted that some secularists were supporting non-liberal causes: libertarianism, torture and racial profiling of Muslims.
But the harshest of Salon’s pieces was a book chapter from Adam Lee’s Daylight Atheism. Lee is a leading atheist commentator, and the book is a kind of manifesto of his philosophy. It compares the world’s great religions to the festering corpses from millennia ago that created fossil fuels.
"Instead of the compressed remains of long-dead living things, the religions that dominate our world today are made up of fossilized dogmas," he writes. "Religion, too, has its impurities, but instead of sulfur and mercury, humanity’s beliefs are contaminated with impurities of tribalism and xenophobia, fractions of hate and fanaticism and glorification of martyrdom."
The chapter helpfully catalogues the worldview that is on the march in our day.
"Religious conservatives oppose abortion, oppose birth control, oppose gay adoption, oppose same-sex marriage, oppose euthanasia — in short, they want to control how people are born, how they marry, how they raise families and how they die," he writes.
Ironically, he doesn’t see that blind certainty about secularism has led atheists to the killing of unborn children, forcing others to pay for their prophylactics, driving churches out of adoption assistance, abolishing marriage as a procreative institution and setting up incentives to kill the elderly.
For Greater Glory
There is no reason to despair, however. This is nothing Christians haven’t seen before, many times over. From France’s guillotines to Stalin’s gulags, from the Roman Colosseum to Tiananmen Square, secularists have always considered themselves the chosen enlightened who are here to make things right by opposing the embarrassing, oafish Christians.
It will probably get much worse before it gets any better, but it will get better. Secularist rage rises against Christians in waves, and once it crashes in its violent way, it always recedes, leaving calmer waters.
As Chicago Cardinal Francis George put it, "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square." But he added: "His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history."
And while this year saw many low points in the battle for belief, it saw some great high points as well.
The movie For Greater Glory, which is as flawed as the Cristero movement itself, nonetheless brought public attention to the last time enlightened secularists were on the march on our continent — in Mexico — killing priests.
Hundreds of thousands of ralliers showed their support for religious freedom in hundreds of cities across the country at "Stand Up for Freedom" rallies, at the U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom or by flocking to "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."
There is a thriving culture of young Catholics and Christians of all kinds. With the truth on their side, we will be surprised by how much they accomplish.
Atheists always follow the same cycle — peaceful beginnings grow to angry denouncements and, often, to violent force. But the Christian cycle of persecution, death and glorious resurrection is always more powerful — because it is founded in love and not hatred.
Tom Hoopes is writer in
residence at Benedictine College
in Atchison, Kansas.