People build walls of all kinds and trust in them for protection. But walls are defenses of last resort. If determined enemies reach your walls, you are probably already doomed. Your walls may repel the initial wave, they may block a host of arrows, but eventually they fall to sappers, they’re breached by catapults, or they’re simply overrun by sheer unrelenting numbers. Even the Great Wall of China did little to defend against the Huns who never ceased probing for gaps, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. Nor did it offer protection against the Manchus who simply bribed their way through a major gateway. The seemingly insurmountable wall built in the movie World War Z to keep the world on the other side did little to protect civilization in the end.
Still, we continue to imagine that walls will protect us against most any threat. Many think a wall will protect them from the imagined threat of illegal immigration. Many think the walls of their gated community will protect them from the increasingly impoverished masses. Many think flood walls will protect their cities from the inexorable tides of rising oceans. Clearly they are all tragically mistaken. If Mexicans really wished to find ways into America, a wall would prove to be little more than an inconvenience. A gated community is not a self-contained biosphere and the poverty of the surrounding world will still have deadly impact on those barricaded within. And if we have not taken action to halt greenhouse gas emissions before the oceans rise to claim our coastal cities, our seawalls will prove to be no more than pathetic proof of our folly.
It is similar folly to imagine that our great Wall of Separation of Church and State truly protects secular society from the relentless incursions of religion. For every religious initiative it blocks, many more get through. This Wall, like any physical wall, cannot endure continual attacks without continual vigilance. And the reality is that its defenders are few and they get tired and need to rest while their attackers are endless and inexhaustible. If we naively hope to limit the harmful impact of religious delusion, to contain it harmlessly segregated outside the Wall, we are doomed to either suffer the slow death of a thousand religious slings and arrows or fall beneath an eventual catastrophic collapse.
This is not to say the Wall is not important. It is vitally important. But it is only a seat-belt that can limit injury but cannot address fundamental car safety. It is a pair of safety goggles that helps minimize some accidents but cannot hope to protect against unsafe lab practices. The Wall can shield us somewhat but if we rely solely upon it for our protection and safety, we cannot long survive.
Yet far too many secular leaders see protecting the Wall as a sufficient end goal of secularism. Even worse, they argue that it is not our place to dictate what goes on beyond that Wall. They imagine that as long as we have the Wall, secular and religious folk can coexist happily, separate but equal, on their respective sides.
This is folly. It is folly not only because religious people will never cease their efforts to breach the Wall – though they certainly will not. But moreover as long as we condone their ideas by giving them undue respect, as long as we give mass delusions any credibility or any benefit of any doubt, the believers conclude that their beliefs have as much legitimacy as our conclusions and they will understandably never be satisfied with anything less than a decisive voice in public policy decisions.
Consider the inevitable result of halting our secular outreach at the Wall. Religious people then have the relatively unchallenged freedom to exercise their delusions on their side. On their side they will continue to educate their children to believe fairy tales. They will continue to preach to the faithful to ignore science and reason. Some will continue to incite religious radicalism. These believers can then reach right through our mighty Wall at any time with their vote and their representatives are duty-bound to represent their religious views in public policy.
The only way to ensure a sane and stable society is to eliminate the need for any Wall. And the only way to do that is to evangelize science and fact-based thinking and stop showing undeserved respect or deference for religious or new age thinking. If we do that, if we venture outside the Wall and fight for a society where science and reason are taught to all and respected by all, religion simply fades away on its own. If we do not, if we trust in our Wall to protect our secular way of life and let religious thinking fester and grow, then we cower inside the false security of a death-trap.
It is naïve, even cravenly irresponsible, to set merely protecting the Wall as the boundary of our legitimate self-interest as a secular nation. No beliefs are benign and no beliefs are without wider consequences. They are all infections that compromise the rational capacity of the greater society. We must take the fight of reason and rationality directly to religious people. If we do not eventually eliminate the magical thinking that makes us require a Wall, and probably quite soon, then we will one day look around to find that it has been trampled to rubble under the march of believers.