by Marie Alena Castle, author of Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom

Gloria Steinem said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free. But first it will piss you off.”

Can’t argue with that, having just written Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom, about the adverse effects of religion in public life. It does tell the truth, and knowing and acting on that truth could help make us free. Meahwhile, the book seems to have pissed off just about everyone, religious and nonreligious alike.

I should have suspected something was up when I filled out a form for the catalog of the book’s distributor, telling them who I was, what the book was about, why I wrote it and for whom, and how it compared to similar books.

With that last item, something odd surfaced. I had to find at least three books written within the last five years that covered the same topic, then compare and contrast them with my book. With all the books out there on religion in public life, I expected to find plenty. I . . . found . . . none! None! They say all writing is rewriting, so there should have been something already written. Nope.

Yes, there were many books on various social problems related to religion, on the wars religion had caused, on their treatment of women, gays and racial minorities, their opposition to scientific research, and their overall detachment from reality. But Culture Wars was specifically about the many laws we live under that in large part produce all that mistreatment whose sole basis is religious doctrine. The book identifies the laws and describes the underlying theology behind them; it also backs its every argument with documentation and quotations from legal rulings, public policies, canon law, theological treatises, and biblical and papal pronouncements. At the end of every chapter (on reproductive rights, favoritism for religious institutions in the tax codes, etc.), the book evaluates intrusive, unfair, religiously inspired laws for possible secular justification. And there is none.

Despite a diligent search I found no other book that dealt with the fact that the social problems they deplored were embedded in laws that forced everyone to obey religious dogma. That is the heart of the problem, yet every book I found virtually ignored it. We have a First Amendment that says government shall not establish religion. And how much more can government “establish” religion than by putting religious doctrines into laws that have no secular justification, and which force everyone to live by—and sometimes die by—them?

I can only guess why books about these laws are so sparse, if they exist at all, but it’s a well-educated guess. I haven’t been working in the trenches on this topic for nearly four decades without noticing a few things. Actually, not a few things—one thing! You cannot talk about these laws without discussing the theology that underlies them. And that is taboo. Everyone, atheists included, is afraid to go there.

Actually, it’s only atheists who are afraid. Religious leaders are terrified. Just try dissecting their beliefs about ensoulment, sexuality, personhood, Original Sin and anything related to reproductive matters, and see how far you get without collapsing in fits of laughter (that is until you realize the pain and suffering enforcement of these doctrines inflicts on people). Culture Wars dissects all of that, and in well documented detail.

Almost all reviews of Culture Wars carefully avoided the book’s main topic—intrusive, unfair laws, their theological basis, their lack of a secular basis, and their violation of the Establishment Clause. Not even atheist reviewers touched on that to any extent. In general, they mentioned that the book supports state-church separation–but who needs another book on that topic? There are plenty out there, but they usually limit themselves to school vouchers and, especially, government god-talk–symbolic affronts, such as crosses and creches in public places. They largely gloss over or completely ignore the impact of religion-based laws on our daily lives, freedom, and personal autonomy..

But that’s from fearful atheists. What about terrified religionists? I did learn of some comments by a priest from Boys Town in a review of another book. Here’s what he says. (Keep in mind that Culture Wars is very well documented and provides names, dates, places and personal experiences with nothing made up or played up. I replaced the names of a few victims with pseudonyms in order to protect them, and I noted where I used pseudonyms, but other than that the book is totally factual. I only wish some of it could have been imaginary, so I wouldn’t have such sad memories or suffered such losses.)

“Marie Elena (sic) Castle’s Culture Wars deserves a book review of its own. At first glance and from hearing her speak [He did!? When?] she sets up straw arguments and then proceeds to support them with horror stories straight out of her vivid imagination. The impression she gives is that religious zealots are a threat to national, civic and family life. Again, it is someone crying ‘Wolf’ to attract attention to her own brand of civic and domestic morality.” —Father Clifford Stevens, Boys Town, Nebraska.

OK, Stevens is definitely pissed off by the truth to which Culture Wars exposed him. But more than that, he is terrified by it and desperate to deny it. His review is a panic attack in print. By his own admission he recognizes the “horror stories” as unacceptable, painful events. This is good because it shows a spark of humanity has survived his immersion in inhumane doctrines. Perhaps that spark may some day flare up enough to make him think about the theology that rationalizes that horror. And then he will see the truth that sets him free. Meanwhile, he takes refuge in defaming me—with no evidence whatsoever—as a liar whose citation-laden facts are just a product of my “vivid imagination.” That he could ignore those well documented facts highlights the truth of Anne Gaylor’s statement that religion “hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” Sadly, in too many cases, it does.

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