Against Public Atheism

Whatever you think of National Conservatism, Timon Cline’s writeup on the Christian nature of the United States is well worth the read. It begins with a critique of Mark Tooley’s approach to public Christianity:

Tooley warns that coercion, which presumably encompasses culturally cultivated social stigma, never works. As a good son of the Great Awakenings, he insists that only spontaneous revival will root the nation in transcendence. Any hint of state involvement therein, any governmental thumb on the scale, would be counterproductive, making religion forced, stale, or counterfeit. Best to not meddle as to not muddle. 

Hypothetically, if national conservatives are “establishmentarians,” then we could call Tooley’s position “public atheism.” This is not to imply that Tooley or Christians like him—and there are many—are disingenuous or embarrassed by Christianity and the Bible. Rather, public atheism is a typical right-liberal posture akin to what used to be called practical atheism.

Public atheism, for our purposes, is marked by suspicion of, and hostility to, whatever smells of formal, state-level recognition and privileging (i.e., honor) of Christianity over and against other faiths on offer. It decries “public Christianity” as an artificial limitation of the realm of possibility. It is, in a word, pluralism, insofar as it features a kind of religious market fundamentalism.