Side-Swipe Secularism: How Secularists Poison Minds Who Don’t Know They’re Being Poisoned

By David Mills Published on March 22, 2017

Call it side-swipe secularism.  It could also be called throwing an elbow secularism, but that doesn’t sound as good.

I mean the way secular writers criticize Christianity while doing something else. They hit it on the way by. The writer’s subject is X, but while talking about X he finds a chance to talk smack about Christianity.

It’s never a big deal, but that’s why it works. A side-swipe here, a side-swipe there, eventually the reader gets the idea without knowing it. It’s like the poisoner in an old mystery story. He gives the victim a little bit each day and even the victim doesn’t notice he’s being poisoned — until he’s dead.

Pagans Eat Horses

Take this, for example. The example comes from a story in the entertaining website Atlas Obscura, in an article on who eats horses and why. I started reading it because my daughters love horses, and found this:

Within Christianity, horse-eating became taboo with a papal decree in 732, when Pope Gregory III deemed the consumption of horse meat to be a pagan practice (possibly in an effort to preserve horses for more practical purposes, such as war).

The writer suggests the pope might not have really meant what he said, but he only says that in passing. He says it in an “oh, by the way” parentheses. Not the point of his sentence. A side-swipe.

What is he saying in this side-swipe? He’s saying that the pope said he was fighting paganism, but really, he might have been using religion as an excuse for more worldly gains.

Is this true? Does the writer have good reason to suggest it? No, not really. This will need some time to explain, but that’s part of how side-swipe secularism works. It makes a charge in a few words that takes a lot of words to refute.

All we know is that Gregory said this in a letter to St. Boniface (letter 16). Boniface was a missionary to the Germans. The pope described them as “people who live in the shadow of death, steeped in error.” All he says is:

You say, among other things, that some eat wild horses and many eat tame horses. By no means allow this to happen in future, but suppress it in every possible way with the help of Christ and impose a suitable penance upon offenders. It is a filthy and abominable custom.

Pagans Eat Horses Because They’re Pagans

These Germans were what we’d called serious pagans. Gregory’s telling Boniface what to do to bring the Christian life to converts who don’t seem to have been completely converted. Gregory notes that “some of the faithful sell their slaves to be sacrificed by the heathen.” Some of the faithful. Boniface had his work cut out for him.

Even a secular site tells the story that way. “The Pagans drew strength from Odin, the chief god of their belief system, through ceremonies that involved eating horsemeat.”*

Remember that Gregory is giving Boniface instructions about how to guide new Christians who were, as we’d say, unclear on the concept. Eating horses had been part of their former religion. They still lived in a pagan world among pagans. Eating horses was a cultural marker, one of those signs that sets off one people from others. It said: “Pagan.”

We can guess that Gregory thought that converted pagans shouldn’t do something so much a part of their former pagan life. Pastors tell new Christians this all the time. Cut the rope tying you to the sins of your past. Take down the Playboy calendar. Don’t dress like a druggie when you give up drugs. Burn your Yankees cap when you move to Boston.

The Side-Swipe

Gregory may have been right or wrong to tell the German Christians to stop eating horses, but he seems to have meant what he said. He wasn’t plotting to increase the army’s horse supply. He was trying to help a distant part of his flock find their way to Heaven.

The Atlas Obscura writer wants you to think different. He uses that great trick, side-swipe secularism. A few words, stuck in a parentheses. It doesn’t seem a big deal. But it is. The reader takes away the idea that Christians can’t be trusted and that religion covers up for self-interest.

He may not even notice what the writer’s doing. But over time, swipe by swipe, he learns what the writer wants him to learn. It’s like poison.


For David’s description of a different kind of secular trickery, see his On Doves, Serpents and Pro-Choice Magic from the Human Life Review.


* This scholarly source does make the claim, but without actual evidence. The writer’s only argument is that Pope Gregory saw how important horses were in the Battle of Tours in the same year he wrote Boniface. Which doesn’t prove anything. In fact, he doesn’t even know whether Gregory wrote the letter after the battle, which was fought on October 10. He’s just making it up.

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  • Gary Kauffman

    Did you just take a side-swipe at those of us who are Yankee fans?

    • Ken Abbott

      No, more like self-preservation advice.

    • David Mills

      Was it that obvious?

  • SophieA

    Cleveland Browns fans who move away will hold tightly and proudly to their allegiance however unfruitful.

  • Michael Gore

    Spot on as to the spirit of the age today. It’s often my experience when talking to Atheists and other secularists that they fully expect to be allowed to just pepper us with a deluge of assertions and challenges, that often take significant work to refute or address, and then declare when one question is left unanswered… I call it the Spaghetti method, they just throw everything out they can and see what sticks.
    It’s intellectually dishonest and quite rare to talk to a secularist these days that actually wants to understand and reason out the difference in Worldviews!

    • Ken Abbott

      Agreed. Some of them also act as if no one in the history of Christianity has ever dealt with their objections. They often can’t be bothered to read through and interact with established scholarship.

  • Carol DeFiore

    I don’t think the writer of the article did the research as you (David Mills) did here. The writer most likely did some general research and found that Western World had made horse-eating taboo because of Pope Gregory III’s papal decree in 732, and looked no further to find out why. Then made an assumption in the article because of the writers’ own biased thinking “that Christians can’t be trusted and that religion covers up for self-interest.”

    We are constantly being side-swiped either by people doing it on purpose or by people that come to assumptions based on their preconceived religious views on secularism. And, YES – secularism is a religion. Religion isn’t just a belief in and worship of a particular god. It is a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.

    (And, hey, David – no Yankee fan would EVER burn their Yankee’s cap just because they moved to Boston! It’s bad enough to be living in Boston and have to endure those Red Sock fans.)

  • Olaf

    Very often this tactic is used in biology-related print articles and TV. Without any relation to the actual topic, some ‘evolution did it’ or ‘it evolved in order to …’, ‘survival of the fittest’, ‘reproductive advantage’ stuff.

    • … but evolution is the consensus view of the people who understand the science. Are you saying that a reference to evolution needs to have some sort of caveat?

      • Olaf

        No, I am just saying that the ‘evolution’ is used in a contect where it is not needed as an explanation. For example “Tropical birds have evolved structural colors in their feathers to attract females”. The same fact could be expressed by “Tropical birds use structural colors in their feathers to attract females”. The point is not about the evolution of the feature, but about the feature itself. So, the word evolution is out of context.

        • If the progression over time isn’t the issue, sure, that makes sense.

          I guess I’d have to see an example of what bugs you to fully understand your concern.

          • Olaf

            Dear Bob, one is the above mentioned bird feathers. It is an actual example I read (reproduced by memory. It might not have been the exact words, but the gist is the same).

  • retiredconservative

    I see this side-swiping in popular media a great deal. I watched the first episode of an Australian television program called ‘Crownies.’ In it, witness testified to a naked man with a rosary building a bomb claiming he was going to blow up all the feminists (only the witness suggested that the man used a filthy term for the women.

    Later in the show, a devout Muslim woman–veiled–was shown to have more moral strength than the attorneys prepping her for trial.

    That was a double side-swipe. The show suggests that Catholics are perverts and irrational terrorists but the devout woman of a very different religion who refuses to violate the dictates of her faith contributes meaningfully to civil society.

  • James

    I don’t think it is intended as a side swipe at all.

    For a secularist, banning the consumption of horsemeat because it is pagan is completely irrational.

    Banning it because there were better uses for the horses is rational. This is exactly what the secularist would do. The fault the secularist finds in religion is not the action or the ulterior motive, but what they consider to be the fake religious justification.

    That being said, such an editorial is, nevertheless, bad writing.

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