Apostates often desperately cling to remnants of their rejected faiths long after leaving the fold, which slows the secular progress.

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Whatever we’re doing now to ensure church-state separation clearly isn’t working as the Founding Fathers intended.

The problem is that even former true believers still have religion on the brain—literally—as do continuing true believers. I’ll explain later.

The upshot is that until we change the U.S. Constitution to explicitly, categorically separate all religious intrusion and orthodoxy from tax-supported public institutions—federal, state, and local government, educational establishments, courts, etc.—the faithful will keep unconstitutionally trying to insinuate and embed themselves and their fanciful notions in public life.

Because that’s what evangelical Christians believe Jesus demands of them.

And they will succeed. As they are now succeeding. A review of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions pointedly accommodating religious encroachment in the public sphere and dismissing secularist concerns ominously symbolizes this success. This year has been particularly florid for the Court regarding privileging of religion, mainly Christianity, the nation’s still-dominant faith.

Founders envisioned a secularly governed republic

This really isn’t what the Founders of the American experiment had in mind for their envisioned secular republic with prescribed church-state separation.

In a recent op-ed piece in The Hill, Steven M. Freeman, vice president of Civil Rights at ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), explained the history of church-state separation in America, quoting late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Founding Father (and fourth president) James Madison.

“Supporters of the basic concept of church-state separation have long understood that religion legitimately occupies a very important place in the home and in houses of worship, but not in public school classrooms or the halls of government,” Freeman writes.

So why are well-funded evangelical organizations, like Project Blitz, laboring so mightily to insert Christian dogma and symbols in “public school classrooms and the halls of government”? Like legislatively mandated and Supreme Court-authorized “In God We Trust” signs in a number of states.

Because that’s where the rubber meets the road in American democracy—where healthy change, as well as poisonous laws, are born. And regarding children, specifically, evangelists see innocent, vulnerable kids as the vanguard of the next generation of tithing believers, who must be indoctrinated in the arcane imaginings of “faith” before they know their own minds and can spot the ruse themselves.

Because Christianity over centuries has become ever-more-deeply embedded in American culture, whether everyone buys into the dogma or not, I am wary of too casually accommodating evangelical political machinations, which never stop.

And I’m extremely wary of yielding to any church or ecclesiastic representative an inch of space in the “state” domain.

Apostates who cling to religion

So when I read essays about former religious believers who call themselves atheists or agnostic or simply “not religious” but still can’t entirely break free of their birth faith (whatever it is), I am disappointed and alarmed.

Like in a recent article, “I’m a devout Muslim: Here’s what I love about religion,” by Muslim apostate Zeeshan Aleem, a senior staff writer at MIC, a news-and-views website that “helps young people process the present.”

“[H]aving been a devout atheist for all of my adult life, in recent years I have developed a far more sympathetic perspective toward those with faith,” wrote Aleem. “Liberated from the pressure to accept religion in its entirety, I’ve been able to sort through it like a toolkit, discarding the things I don’t like and embracing the ones I do. I now find debates about the existence of higher beings less interesting than before and prefer instead to study the ability of religion to organize and inspire human behavior.

“I remain as resolute an atheist as ever, but I encourage my godless brethren to consider the vast offerings of the world’s religions with care. The scope of faith in religions extends far beyond belief in God. It invests a valuable kind of hope in community, purpose, ritual and gratitude, ideas that can be embraced without embracing religion itself.”

Well, sure, religion has provided all those things over millennia but under the overweening guise of a completely fabricated reality supposedly controlled by deities. So, in my view, this enormous subterfuge—people are trained from birth to have absolute faith in nonexistent entities—largely cancels out the good stuff, which is just incidental, not foundational.

Nothing justifies believing in made-up tales or in the presumed benefits of believing in made-up tales to escape reality’s inherent difficulties. It just masks them, while the difficulties remain undiminished.

To my mind, what Aleem is doing is glorifying religion’s side-effect benefits— “community, purpose, ritual and gratitude”—as a template for secular life. And a distraction from religion’s fundamental paradox: it ain’t true.

Why reference religion in the first place?

But the question is, why even reference religion in the first place? All its positive outcomes are fully available to godless heathens even if the concept of “religion” never existed. Humanism, for example, can just as easily provide “community, purpose, ritual, and gratitude,” and it has the enormous added virtue of being verifiable.

Like many once-faithful apostates, Aleem remains filled with warm memories of the many dopamine hits his former religious life once delivered—like the joy of the closely shared communal experience.

But that doesn’t automatically make the delivery system OK.

I categorically don’t think people should, as Aleem promotes, “consider the vast offerings of the world’s religions.”

That would be like pushing recovering alcoholics, for instance, to enthusiastically patronize bars for their ritualized communal atmosphere, which is partly why some people develop drinking problems in the first place.

Getting hammered with your friends isn’t too unlike experiencing God with them. Both activities are addictive, and both provide “hope in community, purpose, ritual, and gratitude.”

Not that those things, in isolation, aren’t beneficial.

But when you credit them in any way to religion, their independent good is grossly devalued.

Unlike, as Aleem argues:

Many atheists look at religion as a device for averting one’s eyes from the harsh realities of an indifferent universe and the certainty of death. This line of thinking states that faith in God is a form of self-deception to avoid uncomfortable conclusions. The atheist’s response is to balk; the prospect of meaninglessness might be terrifying, but that doesn’t justify making up tales to escape it.

The idea of religion can’t be reduced to avoidance. It also springs from a human impulse for people to ground themselves in something bigger than themselves.

To which I respectfully say, hogwash.

Despite religious belief, human difficulties remain

Nothing justifies believing in made-up tales or in the presumed benefits of believing in made-up tales to escape reality’s inherent difficulties. It just masks them, while the difficulties remain undiminished. It’s simply self-delusion.

And while it may be a seemingly hard-wired human impulse to wish for omnipotent saviors somewhere in the cosmos, it’s a fantasy.

For sure, beings greater than ourselves may actually exist somewhere out there. But there’s zero evidence that any of them, if they exist at all, are “gods” that rule the natural universe. Or rule us.

As far as we can tell, only nature does that. But indirectly.

What’s also natural is banishing the unnatural delusions of religion from all of the public square’s necessarily secular realms.

This is made much harder when even Americans who escape religion’s tight grip still, perhaps unconsciously, cling desperately to the vestiges of their faith and resist secularization.

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...