If Os Guinness, in his attempt to call the nation to public civility, can call the Religious Right to task for its rhetoric, he can do the same to the Left. In The Case for Civility, chp 5, Guinness says we must “Say No to the Naked Public Square.”
A “naked” public square is the hope of the liberal secularism.
Guinness remembers his student days when he encountered two world-famous atheists, Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer, both of whom were generous, good-natured, and reasonable. But with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (he doesn’t mention Christopher Hitchens since his book came out too late) those three attributes have been recklessly abandoned. Their lack of civil rhetoric ruins public discourse. “We are closer,” Guinness states, “to the wild atheism of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, back to barnyard debating, with ungrounded assertions, irresponsible accusations, ad hominem arguments, and reasoning that repeatedly slumps into ranting” (109).
He sees both Dawkins and Harris trading in two sins: irrationality and intolerance. They want to ban religion from public discourse. This emerges out of secularism (the theory that religion is gradually dissappearing), radical political liberalism, and strict separationism — leading to what he calls “legal secularism.” Legal secularism lacks civility.
He sees seven features in this kind of legal secularism:
1. It is unhistorical; this is not how America’s founders thought.
2. It is inconsistent: their worldview is only one among many — not the only one.
3. It is intolerant: their tolerance is intolerant of faith.
4. It is a denial of self-determination, the ground for rights and freedoms.
5. It is an undermining of cultural legitimacy and sustainable freedom. The free exercise of religion must be protected.
6. It is gradually appealing to judicial activism.
7. It produces unintended but illiberal consequences. Differences have become discriminations — when someone can’t believe something is wrong.