Atheists are Religious, But Not In a Traditional Way

Everyone is religious. Even atheists. But atheism is not the religion. It can't be because atheism is not a religion.

Regardless of what one's values are - liberal, conservative, secular humanist, libertarian, vegetarian - they all stem from statements about morality and purpose that cannot be empirically validated. They cannot be validated in a manner that is not circular, or that does not depend on another moral claim that itself has not been validated. They are faith claims about the nature of morality.

However, this does not make, say, libertarian socialism indistinguishable from, say, Christianity. Theistic religions do at least two things that secular philosophies do not do. Firstly, they make claims about the physical universe, which they then proceed to not validate; if they had validated them, we would hardly need faith to be a Christian. The second thing that secular philosophies do not do that theistic religions do is, after making a claim about the physical universe, use that physical claim as a foundational basis on which to justify the tenets of an accompanying moral philosophy (e.g., I know that X is right and Y is wrong because God said so).

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Evangelical Movement Within The Democratic Party - Good or Bad?

I was going to post this topic under a specific state as there is a race catching a lot of attention, but I am going to broaden this question and talk about Democratic strategy versus core Democratic values.

That actually brings up a larger question about Democratic values and what are they... really?

There is a growing movement since 2004 of evangelical leaders embracing the Democratic Party. Many feel that Bush used this base to get him elected, then turned on them.

The question I have for the readers of this post today, is:

Is a growing Christian base of leaders and voters good for the party?

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When Should Bible Quotes Bother Us From Politicians?

In making the case for his recovery plan today, Barack Obama quoted the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount that a storm can destroy a house build on sand, but not a house built on a rock.  The way Obama used the quote reminded me of a debate a few years ago between Sojourners' Jim Wallis and Americans United's Barry Lynn where Lynn said the problem with politicians quoting the Bible is that unlike quotes from other literature, quotes from the Bible are appeals to the author's inherent authority rather than to the author's particular insight.  In other words, biblical quotes are used to support your argument based on who said it (God says don't oppress strangers) rather than why they said it (because you yourself have experienced slavery).  I think Lynn is making an insightful distinction, but it cuts against his argument.

In a multireligious democracy, we should be concerned when politicians' arguments rely on appeal to the authority of their particular religious texts (especially if theirs are shared by a religious majority).  But contra Lynn, not all Bible quotes are appeals to divine authority.  "The Bible says not to steal wages from your employees" is an appeal to biblical authority.  "Let's not copy Moses' mistake when he hit the rock instead of talking to it" is an appeal to biblical wisdom.

I bring this up because I think it explains why, as a non-Christian (in a democracy with a Christian majority), I'm not bothered on a gut level when a Christian President quotes the New Testament parable about building your house on sand or on a rock to make a point about our economic recovery.  The plain meaning of Obama's speech is not that the Bible commands us to make new rules for wall street, investments in education, etc... His plain meaning is that this metaphor from his tradition, which may be familiar to many listeners, illustrates well why it's urgent and worthwhile to do so.

This is not always a clear-cut distinction.  But I think it's a useful one.  Maybe a useful thought experiment in assessing what kind of appeal to religious text we're dealing with is to consider: Would using this quote in this way still make sense if the speaker's religion were different from the quotation's?

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Abortion: Different Moral Positions

By William Ellis Hill

Cross posted from Faithful Democrats' discussion on abortion

"There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the great pumpkin." These are the wise words of the great philosopher Linus, in Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin.  The issue of abortion involves two out of the three and in most cases should be excluded from the norms of conversation. And, as a male, who can neither get pregnant nor attempt birth, I am hesitant to wade into these forbidding waters as I cannot possibly understand what the female gender must endure with this particular choice. However, as a Christian and as a Democrat, I am compelled to draw the distinctions between the moral and political.

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Scripture on the Budget: What the Bible Says About National Priorities

by Eric Sapp

Back in 2006, the budget debate followed immediately on the heels of Congressional consideration of the Marriage Amendment. As a result, there was a desire by a number of Democratic leaders for a reference guide that would more easily allow Democrats to authentically speak out against the extreme and selective use of scripture by the Republicans and their allies on the Right. The first "Guide to Scripture and the Budget" that included scriptural references and simple talking points to help equip Christian Democrats in their response to Republican budget arguments was distributed shortly before the 2006 budget debate.

My underlying assumption in writing and continuing to
update this document is that Democrats should not cede the prophetic language of scripture and its ability to inspire and frame issues in a moral context to the other side. Many traditional Democratic positions are rooted in the teachings of scripture, and it is time Democrats stopped losing on the Bible.

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