Speaking to Secularists

"We must learn to speak to faith based voters!"

How many times have we heard those words in the wake of Democratic losses at the polling places. We have observed John McCain's destruction in 2000 by the Religious Right in South Carolina and Howard Dean's uncomfortable, forced discussion of his religious beliefs in 2004, all because politicians have been made to feel required to justify themselves to self appointed religious guardians.

And those who don't believe? Well, they're beyond the pale. Politicians have learned to fake it. Ronald Reagan, it is said, seldom darkened the door of a church before his Presidency. One of JFK's sisters, when queried by somebody writing a book on his religious beliefs, responded "that would be a short book."

Secularists, Humanists, Non-believers, Atheists, Agnostics, whatever you call us we are between 5 and 10 percent of the population, depending on which poll you believe. That's about the same as Jews in the United States, and more than Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other groups no politician would think of offending or ignoring. Yet we are apparently the last remaining offendables in politically correct society.

According to a Gallup poll asking Americans how they would vote in a presidential election, only 49 percent would vote for an atheist, while 59 percent would vote for a homosexual, 92 percent would vote for a black, and 95 percent would vote for a woman.

This in spite of a historical line of freethinkers in this country that runs from Paine and The Age of Reason, to Jefferson who told his nephew, "Question with boldness even the existence of a God," through Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic of the 19th Century, to Clarence Darrow, who in addition to defending Scopes, once wrote "The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom...(t)he fear of God is the death of wisdom... (s)kepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom."

As science to a greater and greater extent answered the questions of the Origin of Species (including Man) and the origin of the universe, some asked the question, as Time Magazine famously did on a cover in the 1960's "Is God Dead?" Instead, what resulted was a battle back by the forces of faith, challenging scientific theory, scientific method, and secular government. As Galileo before the Inquisition, the forces of reason today stand accused and trembling before the forces of superstition. This, in a young country that prides itself as the model of modern nationhood.

And politicians have learned there are votes in playing to people's preconceived notions and prejudices, and so they run around like headless chickens discussing how to appeal to the "faith based voter." This is not leadership. It is the modern equivalent of Stephen Douglas trying to find a way to speak to Southerners in the 1860 election.

I would deny nobody the right to worship, or not worship, as they choose, so long as they do not try to take their faith and make it my civil government, and don't kid yourself, that is the goal of the "faith based voter" movement. Why is saying that so beyond the pale for politicians? Why are we playing to those who would abridge freedom, abandon science for faith and place something above the right of the people to govern themselves?

How far have we traveled from JFK's assertion that "I hope that no American ... will waste his franchise and throw away his vote by voting either for me or against me solely on account of my religious affiliation. It is not relevant." How ironic it is that the voice who understands the danger of governing based on religious belief comes from the man whose challenge was not to prove he was faithful enough to his religion, but to his Constitution. Given the current holder of that office's public declarations of faith and casual interest in the Constitution, it is the "Constitution based" voter, and candidates, who need our support.

Tags: constitution, faith-based, freethinking, religion, secular (all tags)



The rights of the secular American commnity

I remember being very dissapointed by Al Gore when he pointedly snubbed Atheist and secular americans.. I can't remember exactly what he said but I remember being quite incensed about it at the time. During the Kerry campaign however, I remember the exact oppposite feeling when Kerry specifically singled out Atheists as having the right not to believe and to be treated the same as all other citizens in one of his debates.

I guess the question is: Does the Democratic party have anything approaching a national position on this issue and if it did what would it be? I have heard (and suspect) that Atheists and Secular persons are more common in the Democratic party, but I am not entirely sure why. I have a dream. Maybe someday in American when you run for office they will ask you for your stances on isses without even mentioning religious persuasion or lack thereof. My guess is the road to that America is the same as the road away from racism and homophobia: Better and more universal education.

by TimThe Terrible 2006-04-25 06:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Speaking to Secularists

Actually, Ronald Reagan seldom if ever darkened the door of a church DURING his presidency. His excuse was that it was a big security problem to go to church. Nixon solved that by holding services in the White House and inviting guest ministers -- like it'd be hard to find ministers who'd be willing to accept this honor! So Reagan was full of hooey and the biggest religious hypocrite (and probably least religious president) to sit in the White House in many moons. He was perceived as "religious" because was often seen publically sucking up to religious right radicals but he had no religious vocabulary or practices.

by anastasia 2006-04-25 07:04AM | 0 recs
Shared values trump different faiths

Candidates should dismiss the false divide between religious and secular communities.

This issue is our values, not how we came to them.  And there are plenty of progressive values across the religious spectrum.

The evangelical community, for example, does not subscribe to an idealogy that lines up with eith party's platform.  While it tends to be conservative on social mores, it is ofte very liberal on econmomic justice.

The problem is that the Republicans have given evengelicals a half loaf, while the Democrats have offered nothing.  The Repulicans have made a direct appeal to evangelicals on social mores.  The Democrats have econmonic values that would appeal to this comunity, but they have not tried to pitch them.

You can't assume that voters will come to you.  As Tip O'Niell pointed out, "People like to be asked."

And you can ask without being false. A candidate can adress a religious audience and say, "We  don't agree on everything, and we don't have to.  We only have to agree on what is most important, and I, like many of you bleive that we to helop the neediest in our society. I ask for your support so that, together, we can accomplish this."

by Mudshark 2006-04-25 07:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Shared values trump different faiths

You make good insights.  I am a proud believer and I would not condisder voting for a non believer, and I get put off when non beleivers who make up less than 10% of the population, wish to throw thier views around and get hurt when even the Democratic party does not run to them.  I someone wishes to be a non beleiver go ahead and while I wish you would believe I understand that is a decision you have to make I can not do it for you, but you also have to understand I also wish my views to have a fair share and this is a democracy and 90 percent beats 10 percent.  I also agree with you the GOP fails badly on ecnomics and it is my hope the Democrats look to thier roots and follow such Democratic greats as William Jennings Bryan.

by THE MODERATE 2006-04-25 08:03AM | 0 recs
You seem to be imposing your view

What a ridiculous statement you make when you say this "I get put off when non beleivers who make up less than 10% of the population, wish to throw thier views around and get hurt when even the Democratic party does not run to them"

I am an agnostic Hindu and the whole secular screaming is coming from different facets of society "jewish groups(who do not see the hypocrisy in their support for Israel being a Jewish state), liberal christians, athiests, agnostics". Don't pin it all on the athiests. I personally could care less if the government officials put christmas decorations in public. I feel embarassed when I see a near third world religious country like India which elected a Hindu oriented party at one point, that has no problem voting for a Sikh Prime Minister, appointing a Muslim President, and they have had Chief Ministers who are athiests and that would not hold them back if they contested for the national job, yet the US wont consider voting for a Muslim, or Hindu or an athiest. Fuck that, I don't know about you, but even a non religious secular person would have a problem getting voted these days. And those numbers saying 48% would consider voting for an athiest seems inflated. I remember polls in the past indicating a much lower number. Then again, it is possible, I guess that we have become more open minded as a country.

So you are implyng that you are not even as open minded as an illiterate person from a backward area in India.

Here is something for you. Most agnostics and athiests I know of won't use athiesm as a major factor if an athiest ran against a believer. Yet, you, a self proclaimed moderate, won't even consider an athiest. And that is true more in the case of believers than athiests. Many liberal athiests dont find religious people like Carter to be turnoffs when it comes to elections.

by Pravin 2006-04-25 09:30AM | 0 recs

I never understood why religious people in our country are so afraid of atheists in power. Are they afraid that we will invade their homes and prevent them from praying? Are they that insecure in their faith that a leader who doesnt think like them could have a negative effect on their religion?

by Pravin 2006-04-25 09:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Atheism

I will speak only for myself I would not dare to speak for the other 90% of the Country who believes, but for me if comes down to something basic, I am a Christian above anything, and when I vote for someone for office I want a believer I could vote for a Jew, or a Muslim or other beliving faiths, I also think that in this time of need we the voters need all the help we can get and I just do not think one who does not believe can provide it.

by THE MODERATE 2006-04-25 09:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Atheism

Fair enough, you should be free to vote for anyone for whatever reason. But maybe you should not act like you are more open minded than atheists, especially when you use an alias which makes you a self proclaimed moderate. As I said, despite your prior comment, I think more perecentage of non religious people are more likely to disregard religion or lack of one as a factor when voting for a candidate.

Just out of curiosity, since you brought it up, what exactly do you think a person of faith cannot provide in this time of need? The way I understood your previous replies is that  you would not vote for a competent atheist over an incompetent believer like Bush even if those were your only choices.

by Pravin 2006-04-25 10:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Atheism

In reading your question a person of faith can fail to provide in at least two ways.  One is to falsely come to the conclusion that having faith absolves you from putting your best effort, it does not, and a more dangerous thing is the Bin Laden form in which you go from having your belief in God to believing you are a God.  To answer your second question I have no idea, one hopes we would not have to make such a choice becasue it would be a no win situation.

by THE MODERATE 2006-04-25 11:21AM | 0 recs

Soory , typo. I meant a person of no faith regarding the first question you answered.

by Pravin 2006-04-25 12:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Typo

I am almost out of time so I will give you short answer which will not quite be a good one but in the tough times it has been my faith that has pulled me through, not what will happen in the hereafter becasue that is something that will take care of itself when the time comes, but it is what happening right now.  It seems we are going through these times more and more often and it is those of leaders of strong faith that is what we will need, while I guess those who do not believe could give a good effort I just do not think it would be enough without the Lord.

by THE MODERATE 2006-04-25 12:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Typo

I'm a devoutly religious person, and I know what you mean when you talk about needing the Lord to pull you through. Still, I know plenty of people who do not have religious beliefs who are perfectly able to sustain themselves in difficult times. Our belief in something is a function of our own minds - which would imply that you are really pulling yourself through a difficult situation. I think God does all the work, and He can help all people through difficult times, however they view life.

by bluenc 2006-04-26 01:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Typo

I happen to be an atheist so mabye I'm biased, and I have only the deepest respect for religion, but I have to say it makes me sick that someone would vote for or against someone because of their religion or lack of it. That is exactly the kind of thing that disgusts me about the way politics work now, and I thought one of the reasons I am a democrat was because the party was better then that.

I didn't mean that arrogantly or to offend you, I am just saying that I don't feel it has anything to do with how well someone can serve the people, to me it's just another form of intolerance.

by falseintellect 2006-04-26 07:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Shared values trump different faiths

Thanks for the compliment.  I think it would be both good policy and good politics for Democrats to make an economic argument directly to much of the US religious community

I don't understand your comment about non-believers, however. What belief are we talking about?

If someone believes that it is our duty to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, I'll vot for them, and I won't care if they are following the precepts of Christianity, the commands of their conscience, or both.  For that matter, if they support policies to help the neediest our of mere politically expediency, I'll still vote for them, because I'd rather have the right thing done for the wrong reason than nothing done for the right reason.

What officials do, not what they believe, is the real litmus test becasue, at the end of the day, that is what affects the people that we, as Democrats across the spectrum, believe govenment has a role in helping.  

by Mudshark 2006-04-25 06:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Shared values trump different faiths

A 3 for the Tip reference. Good point also.

by JRyan 2006-04-26 07:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Speaking to Secularists

Great diary.  Frankly, like a lot of secular humanists (I also happen to be an atheist), I am amazed at the intellectual intolerance of some religiously affiliated  people that proudly proclaim to base their vote on whether a candidate is a monotheist.  And now that it is in vogue for elected officials to present themselves as practicing, believing monotheists (preferably Christian based), even armchair politicos have jumped into the bandwagon urging us secularists to get to back of the line, while the monotheists make decisions about our government, country and lives.

by bedobe 2006-04-26 07:23AM | 0 recs
The Unit addresses the issue...kinda
On the television show "The Unit" last night they actually touched the third rail and talked about people who didn't need organized religion in their lives, and the people who feel an obligation to force it on them "for their own good."

Of course, this being commercial TV (and a pretty right wing show at that) at the end the woman who was doubting her faith was brought back into the fold. Why couldn't they have shown that people don't always need a creator to lean on in tough times.

by rich kolker 2006-04-26 09:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Speaking to Secularists

I'm in church a couple of times a week, and I'm considering going to seminary after undergrad. My personal values, including my politics, stem from my religious beliefs. I think religion has a lot to add to our political discourse, as it plays a big role in many people's moral choices.

Still, I know many people who aren't in the same boat that I'm in (atheist or other religious background), and they are no less likely to be intelligent, compassionate, principled, thoughtful people. Those of us who are religious need to recognize the countless secularists who have made important contributions to public life, including Presidents. I, too, dream of the day when a political candidate can say they are atheist without evoking shock and controversy.

While most people in this country are religious people (or label themselves as religious), the Democratic party has always spoken up for minorities without a voice. There should be space for people of all philosophical and religious backgrounds in our party, and we should not be ashamed of our willingness to fight for people's right to think for themselves.

by bluenc 2006-04-26 02:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Speaking to Secularists

I believe morality is a human value not a religious one. I'm wording this carefully to try and avoid offending anyone, but is it because of god that you wouldn't go out and kill someone? I am not questioning anyones faith here, it's simply the way I feel about it. And this isn't a rebuttal, I agree with what you are saying.

I know I used to have big political aspirations but I realized I wasn't willing to lie about my beliefs to get anywhere. I also look forward to a day when the public will judge your morality on your actions not your religion, and when public officials will be elected on their real merits.

by falseintellect 2006-04-26 08:03PM | 0 recs
Yep, take Jimmy Carter

Even though I am an agnostic/atheist(I change from time to time), I have no problem with politicians expressing their religious beliefs. Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King Jr. did it, and it didn't bother me because they didn't do it in a US vs THEM type tone.

I don't even get hypersensitive when there are religious displays on public property as long as no significant amount of public money is spent on it.

by Pravin 2006-04-26 10:57PM | 0 recs
I'm sure the % is much higher...

...than 5% to 10% when you're speaking of the liberal blogosphere as described in the blogads survey...

Liberals, often educated in liberal arts programs, are notoriously known for fact-based decision-making...

Not that there's anything wrong with believing that there is a deep connecting power in the Universe. Hell, anything's possible.

by Vermonter 2006-04-26 08:41PM | 0 recs


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