The West is facing its deepest civilizational crisis since Jesus Christ resurrected, and addressing the crisis requires removing militant secularists’ monopoly on education, former U.S. attorney general William Barr told a packed Christian conference in Chicago, Ill. on Saturday.
“We are going through a fateful crisis in western civilization. This is the deepest crisis we’ve faced in my mind since Christ,” Barr said. “That’s because our whole civilization is based on the Judeo-Christian tradition and that tradition is under sustained attack by increasingly militant secular forces.”
In a reprise of a 2019 speech at Notre Dame University that met massive corporate media backlash, Barr told the audience U.S. public schools have become hostile to traditional religion while wresting control of American children’s upbringing from their parents. This is a threat to the entire Western order, Barr said, because the unique American system of self-government cannot exist without a citizenry that is committed to traditional religion.
That’s because there are only two ways to restrain people from following disordered passions, Barr said: internal restraints, which are largely provided by one’s beliefs; and external restraints, which are typically provided by government. So in order to have a limited government, Barr noted in an explicit echo of the American Founders, citizens must practice self-restraint.
Such self-restraint is primarily developed through religious devotion, he said. But religious observance, the keystone of ordered liberty in the West, has been under systematic assault by anti-religious forces Barr called an “atheocracy,” his amalgam of the words “atheist theocracy.” These anti-religious forces now control the minds of American kids due to their monopoly on U.S. education institutions.
“The threat today is not that religious people are about to establish a theocracy in the United States, it is that militant secularists are trying to establish an atheocracy,” Barr said. Barr also spoke to The Federalist about the asymmetric justice being carried out under Joe Biden by the agency he has led twice, the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a 2021 interview with the legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, Barr said anti-religion leftists have effectively turned public schools into “secular-progressive madrassas.” In his Chicago speech on Saturday, the nation’s former top lawyer told the audience this state of affairs is likely a violation of the Constitution’s ban on government establishment of one religion over others, as well as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause that forbids the government from interfering with Americans’ religious obligations.
“What we’re living through is not a situation where religion is intruding into the government’s rightful arena, it’s exactly the opposite: It’s that government and politics is usurping the role of religion,” Barr said.
Barr told the sold-out Chicago audience at the 2022 conference of the Christian radio show “Issues, Etc.” that American politics now aligns with religious beliefs. The dichotomy in American life is no longer about prudential issues but religious ones: whether one acknowledges an objective, external, unchanging reality ordered by a transcendent deity or whether one insists the material world is all there is, which makes one’s god the self.
This anti-God materialism now maps onto and fuels political leftism, Barr said:
When a purely materialist worldview takes hold in society, it’s drawn to a messianic utopianism. Its adherents become enthralled with the idea that the meaning of life, what gives them purpose and meaning, is to be found in the quest for a perfect earthly society. The manipulation of the material world to achieve some form of nirvana here on earth. And the means used is achieving political power.
The main obstacle to this earthly paradise is the existing structure, conventions and superstitions like religion. Any obstacle to our earthly paradise has to be torn down.
These ideas are represented by the progressive movement in the United States. It basically is an ersatz religion that gives them a sort of truncated version of the place filled by religion in people’s lives. It also explains the bitterness in our politics today. Because once you adopt this view, then your political opponents aren’t just disagreeing with you, they’re evil. They are standing in the way of the salvation of mankind.
…Another part of this revolutionary era and the consequences we have been witnessing over the last couple of hundred years is a worldview that boils questions of morality solely down to an individual’s internal feelings. And their interior sense of pleasure and satisfaction. That’s how we gauge acts, whether people feel internally satisfied. And anything that advances that feeling is good, and anything that constrains or restricts that feeling is bad. This is a fundamental change in the worldview of the West.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court and other American political institutions have turned public schools from essentially Christian schools into essentially anti-Christian schools, Barr said, the U.S. school system has been erasing the faith required to sustain limited government. Multiple studies provide evidence this is true.
Banning Christianity from education created a moral vacuum that has ultimately been filled badly with political leftism. This has not only increasingly turned younger American generations against their own faith, families, and country, it has turned public schools into indoctrination camps.
“Personal and civic moral systems don’t just sort of hover in the air,” Barr explained. “They have to rest on an explanatory foundation, a metaphysical foundation. When people tell you to do something, you ask ‘Why?’ Why is it necessary to be good and what is it that consists of being good? So the extent to which an education seeks to contribute to a student’s moral formation, it necessarily invades the space of religion when explaining what the moral values are and how they should be inherited.”
Thanks to the current Supreme Court’s adherence to the original Constitution as written, Barr said he thinks this is an opportune moment for both court and legislative work to address this existential national crisis.
“Public education was established as a melting pot that would establish a common American identity. How are the public schools doing on that front?” Barr asked, at which the audience burst into laughter. He continued: “The curriculum is now attacking the fundamental legitimacy of our form of government and our founding documents. That’s no way to bring us together as a nation.”
The most direct way to resolve this constitutional and existential crisis in American education is to end the government monopoly over the provision of education, Barr said, with full school choice. (The form of school choice that offers the fewest opportunities for hostile bureaucrats to interfere with parent choices, by the way, is education savings accounts.)
“The variety of American beliefs now makes a monopoly on education untenable,” Barr said. “You can’t finesse it anymore. You can’t pretend what’s being taught in schools is compatible with traditional religion, nor can you pretend schools are neutral any more.”
Because anti-religious public schools hold a monopoly on public education funds, Barr noted, parents are forced to fight mostly ineffectively over what public schools teach, such as transgender ideology to kindergarteners and anti-white racism. Allowing parents to take their children’s public education dollars to institutions that match their beliefs will end such culture wars, he said, as well as help families more effectively pass their republic-sustaining faith on to their children.
This alone can’t solve the entire existential crisis of the West, Barr conceded: “It’s not a panacea, but I cannot see a way out for us and the way for Christian citizens to live in peace in this republic until we address the educational system.”