Imagine a generic conference on how to improve K-12 education where a wide range of subjects are discussed, including the biggies: Where do we come from and how should we live? One day one of the participants named Glen walks in with a poster of the Ten Commandments and a roll of tape in his hand. He wants to tape it to the wall as they have something to say about many of the subjects covered in the ongoing discussions.
The ears of a closet atheist named Bob perk up. Bob can no longer sit still as the "Divine Foot" is kicking at the door.
But Bob is in a quandary. His atheism is most effective when invisible to others. If he objects as an atheist, his cover will be blown and he knows he's not going to be effective appealing to his own anti-God religion. He can't say, we can't have the Ten Commandments for I don't believe in them. Nor can he say that the precepts mentioned in the commandments are bad ideas, for then he invites a discussion of them, the very thing he cannot tolerate.
Bob has many Christian friends in the room, for they find reason and science consistent with many of their non-scriptural views. They probably don't even know Bob's an atheist. So, rather than raising his flag, Bob pulls aside a "mainstream" Christian buddy named Tom at the coffee break.
He says: "Tom, you know the primary rule of our forum is that it remain secular and non-controversial. Although Glen is a nice guy, he's obviously violating the rule. What do you think 'we' should do?"
After the break, Tom takes the floor after a nudge from Bob, and says: "Well, Glen, I appreciate your idea, but we have this rule that the discussion will remain secular, and not religious. When you bring God into the room, you violate that rule. So, we think you need to keep your scriptures at home."
In this way, the atheist never reveals his true religious objection to the commandments. Instead of discussing their substance, he focuses on a rule of procedure that everyone can agree with: "Let's avoid controversy by keeping the discussion secular, not religious."
Glen is crushed, but then has a bright idea. He says: "Well the ideas in the commandments address the subjects we have been discussing. Furthermore, they have merit in their own right as they promote healthy lifestyles, so we ought to be able to consider them."
Bob winks at Tom, as he stands to back up his buddy: "Well, Glen, those views come right out of the Bible. How can they not be religious? Glen, we know you're a recovering alcoholic, but can't you leave the AA 12 step program at home?"
Group-think sets in, and everyone nods in agreement as no one wants to be linked to a knuckle-dragging, right-wing religious fundamentalist described in "Inherit the Wind."
Feeling the crushing antipathy, Glen rolls up his poster and slinks to the back of the room, vowing never to return to scorn that can be cut with a knife.
Glen's mistake is that he agreed with the implicit assumption of Bob and Tom that religion is just confined to belief in God. Religion is not limited to God. It also includes the religion of no-God, atheism. If he had taken this into account he could have completely changed the discussion and the result by saying:
Well, Tom, I don't know if you're an atheist or not. However, what you are advocating is that we embrace the core tenets of that religion. Atheism seeks to remove God from the room, along with all of His wisdom. If we do as you request, we will be promoting that religion. The only way we can keep the room secular when discussing inherently religious subjects is to allow the ideas of the atheist and theist to compete. Why don't we put up on the other wall the "Humanist Manifesto." We can then compare the competing ideas of the two religions and see which make the most sense.
Of course, the atheist can't tolerate that discussion, for its very nature admits the possibility he denies. Furthermore, he knows his belief system is religious, particularly because the courts have on numerous occasions agreed that it is. And now, he has been exposed for what he is, just as religious as the next fellow.