Catholicism and Secularism: Mutually Inclusive

This is a guest post by Secular Coalition for America intern, Bernardo Reis. His views are his own.

As a Brazilian, I am predictably from a Catholic family. Also predictably, I’m not the strictest of adherents to my faith. But I am a practicing Catholic, and proud of it. Modern Catholicism is thankfully more tolerant than it has been historically, teaching respect for all faiths and the quintessential Christian message of love for all. Now, my secularism is also reinforced by how I was raised. My mother, a Jew who wasn’t very observant, allowed my father, an observant Catholic to raise my younger sister and I Catholic. From that point I always understood the pacific coexistence of faiths.

Growing up for the most part in an upper-middle class suburb of Seattle, Washington, I had a diverse group of friends. My best friend for over a decade was a fairly strict nondenominational Christian (we disagreed often come election season). Several of my other friends were relatively liberal mainline protestant or Catholic, like myself. Two of my closest friends were an atheist and an agnostic. The group comedian was a Muslim and I had several Hindu friends (including one who referred to himself as “Hindostic”, a combination of Hindu and Agnostic).

My first real girlfriend was a very observant Dutch Reformed Christian who was also a secularist. Growing up, I was surrounded by diverse range of faiths and opinions, forming close bonds with many of them. One issue we almost always agreed on as we got older, was that the Separation of Church and State was a smart move. It was what allowed us to coexist in friendship without conflict. The example of my first real girlfriend should further reinforce my point of mutual inclusivity; she was much more religious than I was, and yet, she too was a secularist.

During my senior year of high school, after one of my impassioned monologues on the importance of freedom of (and from) religion, a classmate turned to my normally quiet girlfriend at the time to gauge her reaction. Noticing that the spotlight had turned to her, she addressed me and the class: “It’s generally a bad idea when government and religion mix…” in agreement. It was a culture of acceptance, where the notion that someone shouldn’t be president because they were an atheist or a muslim simply didn’t make sense.

It was a real shock to hear what the Constitution freely declares, and the way I’d been raised and taught was the human norm, challenged so completely by modern social conservatives. Theocracy?! Did the religious right miss the medieval era? I knew I was raised by liberals in a liberal area, but it was in the 2010 election cycle that I stopped thinking of right wing politicians as opponents, and started thinking of them as ludicrous. Don’t get me wrong- it’s not a partisan issue at its core but there is one wing of a certain party that consistently repeats the fallacy that “The United States is a Christian nation”, and frankly, it’s scary.

From a young age, I was interested in history. An ardent student of it, I was the class history buff from 4th grade through 12th. Have you ever seen a politician who is promulgating the “Christian Nation” notion provide historical evidence for why a theocracy would be a good idea? No. Why? Because history provides all the evidence in the world that theocracy is anything but.

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