Introduction: Barry Lynn
Barry Lynn once confessed, though not, I suspect, with heavy heart, that "the Reverend Jerry Falwell does not like me." That was about as caustic and mean-spirited as Barry can manage but, oh my, how incisive, informative and entertaining he can be defending and advancing church / state separation. Make no mistake – this book is timely, for such a defensive is vital at this time in the nation's history. "God and Government" demonstrates as well as any of the landmark books by Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens, if in a nice and velver glove way, that secularists are in a serious battle against a home grown Right Wing ISIS of the mind religionists whose passions extend well beyond denying evolution, science, climate change, women / gay and unbeliever liberties and the human right to be free from religion. They want what they have longer and falsely claimed we were created by the founders of this country to be – a Christian nation.
Were it not for Barry Lynn and others like, if not quite the equal of, we might be such a society already.
Mr. Lynn has for decades been the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU). I've listened to him in person on several delightful and inspirational occasions. (I refer to him with the Reverend deliberately – I don't care to utilize the "Reverend" prefix he has earned and never abused. I try to avoid fuse of all religious titles, including "Father, Your Excellence, Your Holiness, Your Eminence "and so on. If Mr. Lynn desired it, however, I'd make an exception in his case, and for other heroic figures with clergy credentials. I'm still a little flexible. For now, I prefer The Most Right Honorable and Highly Esteemed Sir Barry Lynn.)
Like millions of others, I've enjoyed Mr. Lynn's articles and countless media interviews and appearances before Congressional committees. (His description of an encounter before a committee chaired by the god-addled Republican Congressman from Texas, Louis B. Gohmert, is hilarious.)
Mr. Lynn is a lawyer and minister in the United Church of Christ. The latter background is, no doubt, a big boost for his effectiveness with Christians and others who still have some respect for religion, despite the superstitions that attend faith and the grotesque policies and deviant behaviors exhibited by many religious figures.
Real Wellness and Religion
Liberty is a key dimension of REAL wellness: separation of church and state helps preserve our secular democracy. This is more important than ever now when the Protestant Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy seek a Christian nation agenda. While I believe most Christian leaders favor an American theocracy, this goal is rarely expressed publicly. Of course, to a regrettable extent, America is already something of a theocracy, given "In God We Trust" on our money, in courtrooms, in the Pledge of Allegiance, with enormous tax exemptions for religions and on and on. If there were a god that controlled everything, as most Americans seem to think, I'd thank him, her or it for Barry Lynn, who among other stalwarts for secularism works tirelessly and effectively to keep American UNunited in church and state and, so far, succeeding, barely.
Why Religion and REAL Wellness Are Incompatible
Reason, the "R" in REAL wellness, and religion represent two distinct ways of thinking. One trusts in revelation (ie, assertions about such); the other in critical thinking, evidence and an objective search for understanding reality. Religion does not blend well with democracy, freedom, human rights, joy, happiness, wellness orgasms or other states that secularists seeking well-being of the mind and body associate with quality of life pathways. Religion is antagonistic to reason. Religious authorities insist that the faithful submit their wills to a higher power (whose wishes only they can interpret). They demand belief in religious dogmas, adherence to rituals and respect for all of these things from the rest of society that has and seeks no part of any of it. They make a virtue of "faith" ("believing what you know ain't so," as Mark Twain put it) which, by definition, means lacking evidence or other rational bases. Religions have no use for such life-affirming, reason-based democratic principles as expressed in the "Affirmations of Humanism" as well as in the UN's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
While there is no connection with the "A" (athleticism or exercise and nutrition), the "E" (exuberance) and "L" (liberty or personal freedoms) dimensions are equally incompatible with the toxicity of religion. Thus, it seems entirely legitimate and reasonable if not imperative for REAL wellness enthusiasts to address religion in the context of describing the nature and dynamics of living a health, happy and meaningful life guided by reason and freedom that facilitates exuberance.
Thus, Barry Lynn's "God and Government" could be and in my view is a REAL wellness worthy publication. One needs not be a history professor to know that religions have not displayed much enthusiasm for or tolerance of qualities associated any one of these three dimensions.
Barry Lynn's "God and Government"
Mr. Lynn's latest work, published by Prometheus Books, contains ten chapters that represent a mix of his columns, testimony and speeches over the course of two and a half decades. The book contains extensive notes (references) and an index. Hundreds of the author's encounters with Religious Right theocracy-promoting activists are described with wit and humor. Among my favorite sections are those dealing with these critical church / state issues:
- School prayer and prayer everywhere else.
- Taxpayer-subsidized vouchers for religious schools.
- Creeping religious beliefs into the public sector (eg, preventing end-of-life choices, promoting censorship and so on).
- The imposition of religious beliefs by legislators into policy policies and laws.
- Opposition to science in a broad sense and evolution in particular.
- Attempts to proselytize by including religious content into public educational curricula.
- Religion in the military, the court system and local governments.
- Tax preferences for clergy; subsidies for chaplains, etc.
- Criminal clerics.
- Encounters with "nice" and "strange" famous people while fighting the battle of church and state.
- Descriptions of historic events that shaped the current standoff so far preventing the loss of our right to freedom "from" religion.
I fully agree and endorse what comedian Lewis Black, author Frank Schaeffer ("Crazy for God"), Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal and filmmaker Jill Soloway wrote in blurbs for "God and Government," respectively:
- "No one is more on top of the challenges facing the first amendment than Barry Lynn … with intelligence, wisdom, humanity and a devilish wit, Lynn makes the issues come alive."
- "This book is literally a defense of freedom against the theocratic illness."
- "Barry Lynn knows all the tricks, twists and turns of those who want to turn the clock back several centuries."
- "Barry Lynn has the extraordinary ability to demonstrate how religious fundamentalism poisons almost every public policy debate that matters."
To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen's tribute to Robert Green Ingersoll, Barry Lynn's "God and Government" demonstrates "what he has done for equality, education, progress, free ideas and free lives, against the superstition and bigotry of religious dogma. We need men like him today more than ever. His writing still inspires us and challenges the 'better angels' of our nature, when people open their hearts and minds to his simple, honest humanity. Thank goodness he (is) here. "