Using the worn-out and misused phrase, "separation of church and state," hundreds of atheists in Denver rejoice in their recent cultural salvo against religion.
Their effort, totaling an unprecedented five anti-Christian billboards, especially focuses on Christmas. One in particular is supposedly a conversation-stopper: "Stop government support of religion. Move this Denver nativity scene to a church."
Having any public money or influence in favor of Christianity is taboo. It is a political sin.
In fact, for some any argument defending Christianity in the public square is a violation of this precious doctrine. Laws should have no religious referent or even religious origin for fear of a "theocracy."
Instead, laws should be based on logic, common-sense, science or some other non-religious standard of right and wrong. Incipient in this reasoning is that the best voters and leaders are those with such a this-worldly grasp of morality. God is dead (or at least the Christian God is irrelevant) and man is in charge.
For the more self-consistent (and self-reflective) proponents of this worn out doctrine, the church does not exist as far the the government is concerned. Such a "gulf" between church and state does not mean the church losses its tax-exemption, it means the government cannot take cognizance of its existence.
But such an absurd position is rare.
All of these variations on a theme have one thing in common: Christianity is wrong about its relationship with the state.
It is not that institutionally the church and state are separate (virtually all Christians agree with that!) but that religion and the state should be separate because religion is a private matter about irrational beliefs that should have no place in a secular, reason-based government.
And this unargued assumption lies hidden behind the entire debate. It is not that they "dislike" Christmas, but that Christmas represents a public slap in the face by irrational religion. Separation between church and state in such a worldview is more accurately represented by the national organization entitled, Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Then "Separation of church and state" becomes codeword for "freedom from religion" and its dangerous influence upon the state.
Never seeing the light of debate, this premise undergirds the rationales of many atheists and secularists alike. And as such they support the largest question-begging enterprise in politics.
Many Christians believe it is their duty to vote and resolve political issues in accordance to the Bible.
For many atheists, this is a violation of church (religion) and state. To vote like a Christian, to lead like a Christian, to pass laws like a Christian is wrong. But such reasoning is rarely articulated so explicitly.
Because of the other First Amendment clause, "prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Who wants to be accused of "prohibiting the free exercise" of Christianity?
But that is exactly the practical effect whenever a secularist declaims a Christian-based political position with "that's mixing state and religion!"
The best way to politically disarm an opponent is to convince them that their best weapon is their worst weapon. It is to brow-beat them with hallow cliches containing political and emotional baggage. It is to embarrass them: "You don't want to mix state and religion do you? Come on, stop thinking like a Christian (and think like me)."
If this hidden premise were actually debated instead of disguised as the "Christmas wars," then real dialogue may ensue.
Then the battle behind the war will enter the light of day. Then the important question will come to the fore: what approach to life gives us a right, good and just government: Christianity or something else?