Since World War II, the war against Christianity that began in the Enlightenment has intensified across the globe. Every day, 11 Christians are killed, three-quarters of them in Muslim majority countries. In western European nations, Christians are marginalized, ignored, and mocked even as Muslim sensibilities and illiberal practices are carefully protected. And in the United States, supposedly one of the most religious of the developed nations, Christians are widely despised in popular and high-brow culture, and demonized by Democratic politicians like Senator Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.), who during a confirmation hearing insulted a Catholic nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals by scolding, “The dogma lives loudly within you,” recycling the old anti-Catholic smear that the nominee would be biased by her faith.
A review of Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America, by David Horowitz (Humanix Book, 224 pages, $26.99)
David Horowitz’s new book, Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America, is a meditation on this disturbing phenomenon and its dire implications for our republic.
Horowitz, a prolific author as well as the founder and namesake of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, is the most renowned bête noir of the Left and their progressive offspring. For more than 30 years of speaking, organizing, and writing he has been a scourge of their illiberal ideology and its totalitarian inclinations. An ex-radical leftist and Jewish agnostic, Horowitz defends Christianity because he understands the critical role it has played in the constitutional political order comprising unalienable rights and individual freedom. And as he explains, the serial assaults on Christianity have become a weapon for leftists to discredit all authorities beyond the state that pose a challenge to their bid for power.
Horowitz starts with the New Atheists of the 1990s such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Like most atheists, their works bespeak the mentality of what George Orwell called the “embittered atheist,” one who “does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike him.” This “unscientific animus,” as Horowitz calls it, explains the Left’s crude, irrational ad hominem insults of and contempt for Christians’ intelligence and motives, which is ironic considering how often the atheist “brights,” as many fancy themselves, are unhinged in their vitriol. One reason for this “hatred and loathing,” Horowitz says, is because “they have faith of their own”: their own status as the chosen and saved, and people’s “liberators––pioneers of a new human race.” It is no coincidence that the atheist creed is the same as the Marxist ideology driving the American Left, which believes that “science will usher in a utopian age of reason, enlightenment, and social justice.”
The atheist attack on faith, then, is one front in the progressive war against America’s constitutional political order. As Horowitz puts it,
It is a war against an imperiled nation––a war against this nation and its founding principles: the equality of individuals and individual freedom. For these principles are indisputably Christian in origin. They are under siege because they are insurmountable obstacles to radicals’ totalitarian ambition to create a new world in their image.
The progressive ideology ascendant today in the Democratic Party is “social justice,” like its Communist forbearer, a pseudo-religion that promises redemption not through God, but themselves. But as Horowitz points out, in fact they are repeating the primal sin of Adam and Eve, who believed Satan’s false promise that by rejecting God, they themselves would become gods. Contrary to the social and economic determinism of the Left, moreover, our free will to choose our innate vices and flaws instead of God accounts for the injustices and suffering that “social justice warriors” claim to battle. As determinists, however, the Left must delegitimize human agency and responsibility in order to eliminate the rival authority of religion, and justify the centralization and concentration of state power that progressives have pursued for nearly a century.
Horowitz argues cogently and with a wealth of examples that such attitudes are inimical to the Founders’ core beliefs.
First, humans are by nature flawed and vulnerable to the lust for power. Hence the Constitution’s dispersing, checking, and balancing of powers both to respect the factional diversity of the colonies, and to make it difficult for one faction to monopolize all powers. Second, they knew that these constitutional mechanisms for protecting freedom necessarily relied on faith in the creator who had bestowed on us unalienable personal rights like “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that lie beyond the powers of government.
But with the European bloody wars of religion still fresh in their minds, they also understood that the denominational diversity of the American colonists meant that faith must be a protected activity of civil society. Hence the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights forbids a national state religion, the clause that has been corrupted into an unconstitutional “wall of separation” used today to banish Christianity from the public square and quarantine it in the realm of private life. But the amendment also “guarantees,” Horowitz writes, “all Americans the freedom to express and exercise their religious beliefs.” This Free Exercise Clause has been “the first casualty of the war against religion, and America,” for it stands in the way of the progressives’ need to delegitimize any authority over human life and action other than their own.
The bulk of Dark Agenda contains a history of several controversies that ultimately were settled by the Supreme Court rather than by Congress. Each directly and indirectly represented an attack on Christians and their rights enshrined in Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. This history also reveals the modus operandi of the Left and its penchant for ginning up “crises” and then relying on the unelected, unaccountable members of the Supreme Court to achieve their ideological aims.
The first is Engel v. Vitale in 1962, which banned prayer in public schools. The ACLU represented the five plaintiffs, one of whom was a founding member of its New York affiliate. Three courts had already rejected the complaint, the New York Supreme Court correctly noting that prayer in school was not a violation of the First Amendment, that no court in previous history had deemed it was, and that doing so “would be in defiance of all American history” and “would destroy a part of the essential foundation of American governmental structure.”
But the Supreme Court disagreed, arguing that it was a violation of the Establishment Clause because it did not recognize the belief of atheists. The pattern was set: a tendentious misreading of the Establishment Clause would over and over negate the Free Exercise Clause, justified not by legal and historical precedent, but by the ideological preferences of an activist faction. Subsequent decisions further chipped away at the presence of faith and Christian history in public schools. This purge created a vacuum that over the years has been filled with progressive and leftist ideology, leading to the intolerance and censorship dominating education today. As Horowitz writes,
As our freedoms are steadily diminished under the onslaught of “political correctness” and social justice fanatics, the true story of American freedom must be revised, rewritten, and censored by school officials, textbook publishers, and other tentacles of our “Ministry of Truth.”
Engel v. Vitale set the pattern for future attacks on the Christian foundations of the American order. Activists backed financially and legally by left-wing organizations would file suits that ultimately would be decided by the Supreme Court. Then the judgment would morph into a “constitutional right” that had never existed, or even been contemplated by the Founders. Thus was achieved a long-time progressive goal of revising the Constitution into a “living” document to be shaped by political ideology, and the creation of endless new “rights” to replace the natural rights bestowed by “Nature and Nature’s God.” The most powerful weapon for “fundamentally transforming America” had been forged.
Horowitz goes on to demonstrate this weapon’s success in subsequent decisions. Murray v. Curlett in 1963, a lawsuit brought by the unstable and troubled leftist firebrand Madalyn Murray O’Hair, founder and president of American Atheists. Her victory in the Supreme Court banned Bible readings and the recital of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools. The lone dissenter was Justice Stewart Potter, who wrote that the ruling was not enforcing neutrality toward religion, the tendentious interpretation of the Establishment Clause, but “the establishment of a religion of secularism,” which now, the Wall Street Journal added, was “the one belief to which the state’s power will extend its protection.”
Once again, as Horowitz writes, a “minority in America” relying on a minority that comprised the unelected, unaccountable Supreme Court “was able to impose its will on all Americans.” As a result, the critical mechanism of federalism, the check on the power of the Federal government by the sovereign people, their states and the powers delegated to those states, was weakened.
More Supreme Court decisions that undermined the Constitution’s protections of state and individual rights from overweening power followed. Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 struck down state bans on contraception, weakening the Christian doctrines and beliefs of millions of Americans, especially Catholics. Nothing in the Constitution justified creating this new right of contraception. So the activist supporters of the plaintiff, Planned Parenthood, sold the Court on a new right, “the right to privacy.” The Court’s reasoning was torturous and vague, as it had to be to justify such a right. So they rifled through the Constitution’s “penumbras” and “emanations” and “spirit” of other amendments in the Bill of Rights, a process redolent of seances.
The ultimate point, however, of the attack on contraception laws was the realization of the Cultural Marxist goal of turning sexual license into a force for “liberation” from a “patriarchal oppression” that chained women to their reproductive function and subjection to men. Hence the institution of the family, as well as religion, came under attack. That goal was further realized in the series of decisions that legalized on-demand abortion, the most important being Roe v. Wade in 1973. As well as being a direct assault on millions of Americans’ religious beliefs, this decision became the most divisive national issue since the Civil War, and still today sparks intense conflict.
After Roe, for the secular Left, Horowitz writes, the Supreme Court became “an all-powerful instrument . . . with which it could impose its radical, anti-Christian agenda on an unwilling nation.” The goal was not just abortion, but also to remove one of the bulwarks against the totalitarian impulses of the progressive technocracy that wants to aggrandize authority over all Americans. And their purpose was and remains to impose undemocratically its vision of human nature and society without having to persuade their fellow citizens through the constitutional mechanisms of deliberation and election that allows all citizens to have their say, and to hold accountable those politicians who are supposed to reflect the people’s will.
These are just a few samples of Horowitz’s much more detailed analysis of how battles in the culture wars like gay marriage or the role of religion in public life are part of a larger conflict over the nature of America and American citizenship. Should we be free, as the Constitution intended, to participate in the decisions that affect our lives and our most cherished beliefs? And should disagreements over first principles be solved through political mechanisms like free and open debate and deliberation, and participation in free and open elections? Or, as the leftists and progressives believe, should we be clients who cede their autonomy to a technocratic regime of state agencies and functionaries who demand the power to determine how our lives should be lived and our profoundest beliefs should be expressed?
We know what side David Horowitz is on, for he has spent decades battling against the hubristic pretensions of progressives and leftists who believe they have the superior knowledge to assume control of their fellow citizens’ lives, and shape them to achieve the Left’s utopia of perfect justice and equality. Horowitz also knows the gruesome consequences of those fantasies: genocide and murder that follow when any group of flawed human beings who forget the lessons of history and tradition, and promise heaven on earth but produce only mountains of corpses.
As Horowitz concludes, the election of Donald Trump has for the moment slowed this decades-long process of dismantling the American order and its Christian foundations. Trump’s unabashed defense of American exceptionalism and his practical achievement in reforming the federal judiciary, have challenged the power before which too many Republicans have quaked. But at this moment a new movement of self-avowed socialists and identity-politics tribunes have intensified the conflict and elevated it to new levels of invective, contempt, and outright hatred of ordinary Americans.
The stakes are high, and we all must arm ourselves against a well-funded foe that dominates the schools, the culture, and the media. David Horowitz, a veteran of numerous battles against the Left, has written an excellent guide to the history and ideas that have brought us to this pass.
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