Reviewed: Sean Faircloth’s “Attack of the Theocrats”

attack of the theocrats, sean faircloth, richard dawkins

Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. – Mitt Romney

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution. – James Madison

Freedom of religion is one of the cornerstones of American democracy. Sean Faircloth, former Director of the Secular Coalition of America (SCA) and Director of Strategy and Policy at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science,  would argue that freedom from religion is as crucial an aspect of our democracy is the freedom to engage in various religious practices. His book Attack of the Theocrats: How The Religious Right Harms Us All – And What We Can Do About It outlines a path to liberation from what Faircloth perceives to be religious oppression at the hands of theocratic usurpers.

Faircloth argues that religious biases in American culture promote discrimination against members of the military, inhibits the progression of legislation serving and protecting women, slows the progress of potentially life-saving health research, degrades our educational system, and much, much more. Faircloth, a former attorney, makes his case by listing repeated examples of the harm done by religious fundamentalists, repeatedly driving his point home. The message is clear early in the book, and it is reinforced emphatically for the majority of its pages: Religious involvement in public policy severely inhibits social progress.

Beyond the legislative dangers posed by theocrats, Faircloth warns of a creeping philosophical shift that is distinctly un-American.  The second chapter, entitled “Our Secular Heritage: One Nation Under the Constitution,” describes the Enlightenment-era philosophy upon which the American political system was built. In Faircloth’s estimation, secularism and skepticism are synonymous with American patriotism.

One interesting feature in Faircloth’s book is a chapter devoted to a group of Congressmen whose violations of the separation clause are particularly frequent or egregious. He labels these offenders “The Fundamentalist Fifty.”

Faircloth includes a chapter devoted to the SCA’s blueprint for maintaining the U.S.’s status as a secular nation. He calls the plan Our Secular Decade: A Patriotic Plan to Reclaim America, and it provides guidance for individuals who are interested in secular political advocacy. Faircloth understands how effective grassroots movements begin, and he encourages the secular faithful to get involved in the fight to preserve secularism by lobbying congress and making contact with the media. Also, Faircloth says the SCA is striving to help at least ten openly secular citizens get elected to Congress by 2020. For some deeper exposition regarding the history of secular philosophy, I highly recommend Susan Jacoby’s excellent “Freethinkers.”

Faircloth’s tome is quite short and it moves at breakneck speed. He writes with conviction and a sense of urgency, pleading with readers to take action before Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state is irreparably damaged. This is nonfiction with a purpose, and it is written by a man who wholeheartedly believes every word of his own message. Some may be turned off by Faircloth’s assertions, as well as his insolent delivery, but it’s hard to debate the merits of his arguments. He is simply and justifiably offended by the legislative coup d’état taking place in our nation’s capitol.

Faircloth makes numerous examples of the insidious and toxic practices brought about by misguided legislation, so initially it may seem as if this book has a somewhat pessimistic tone, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The essence of this book is rooted in hope and in patriotism. Faircloth writes, “We must protect the religious liberties guaranteed in the Constitution, including the rights of the so-called Moral Majority and their allies to express their ideas with absolute freedom. However, special privileges based on their religious bias, or anyone’s religious bias, must be removed from our laws. We must devote ourselves to rebuilding Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state, a wall that has crumbled so terribly these last thirty years .We must reinvigorate a culture of innovation. And if we do these things, a great America will become even greater, a proud America will become even prouder.”

This book is a must-read, no matter who you are. If you are a secular American, this book may inspire you to become more active in your community and it will certainly broaden your perspective on the legislative quagmire that is currently slowing down our nation’s social progress. If you are a religious American, you’ll benefit tremendously by learning more about how the loud, influential, powerful fundamentalists in Washington D.C. are doing you far more harm than good. If you’re not an American at all it’s still worth reading to gain some thoughtful insight into how the political system of one of the world’s most powerful nations has been subverted by semi-crazed ideologues. I truly cannot think of a more relevant and crucial book for any socially conscious person to add to their library.

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