Democrats & Liberals Archives

A Minimum Of 27 Pieces Of Religious Flair, Please

The secular response to the Democrats’ new-found ability to wear their religion on their sleeves is that it may be a smart tactic, it may be good politics, but by Jove (if you’ll excuse my own invocation) it’s irritating as all Hell (again, my apologies).

From Obama’s continued virtuous appearances in churches around the country to Clinton’s proclamations of unshakeable faith (and as Mother Jones suggests, collaborations with folks as diametrically opposed to most of her political positions as Brownback and Santorum), we are sick of it.

As I’ve mentioned before, the US Congress isn’t exactly secular in its composition (although Kent Conrad of North Dakota is a Unitarian, which is about as close to an agnostic as you’re likely to find). Democrats have long declared religious affiliations, but it has rarely been a platform issue for them.

But this new focus on God, Faith & Family is disappointing to the few percent of us in this country who don’t go in for miracles and myths. It simply proves to us that Bush has successfully moved the country so far to the right that the Democrats’ only chance of success is to swing away from their traditional “religion is a personal matter” mantra to God-bothering displays of piety and prayer.

In other words, it seems that our only hope is to take on the Republicans on their own ground.

As I say, this is disappointing because it takes the focus off the real issues, just as the Republicans successfully managed with their God, Guns and Gays platform over the last few years.

Immigration? A religious issue? Clinton described Republican efforts to further criminalize illegal immigration as somehow ostracizing Jesus, while Obama sounded worryingly like Bush, supposedly the Democratic nemesis, with his declaration that “my faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work.”

A huge dividing line for we atheists (and there are just about enough of us to make a real difference in the election) has traditionally been the dizzying displays of religious fervor of the Republicans on the one side, and the almost reticent attitude of Democrats to discuss their faith on the other.

With this line blurring, and likely to become much more unclear as the election proceeds, have the Democrats won enough religious folks over to counter the inevitable loss of some atheist voters?

Probably. But it doesn’t make me much more optimistic about the decisions that zealots in the White House will make in the future.

Posted by Jon Rice at October 8, 2007 2:10 PM
Comment #235590

The Times recently had an interesting article about the right losing the support of Christian religious zealots. Partly, this has to do with supporting Guiliani, who supports gay rights and the right to abortion. Also, I guess it doesn’t help he’s a cross-dresser :-).

You remember the preacher of the Christian megachurch who was having meth fuelled sex with gay prostitutes on the side? That guy had weekly meetings with Bush. Weekly. At the same time that Bush wasn’t meeting at all with Clarke about terrorism.

Frankly though, it doesn’t bother me that Democrats are learning to show their faith. Faith doesn’t mean you’re a nutcase, and it doesn’t mean you can’t believe in seperation of church and state.

A few quotes by Jefferson:

Believing that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State (Letter to the Danbury Baptists, 1802).

Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle (letter to Robert Rush, 1813).

I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling in religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the United States. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in religious discipline has been delegated to the General Government. It must rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority (letter to Samuel Miller, Jan. 23, 1808).

I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting and prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them, an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises and the objects proper for them according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands where the Constitution has deposited it… Every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents (letter to Samuel Miller, Jan. 23, 1808).

No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the power of its public functionaries, were it possible that any of these should consider a conquest over the conscience of men either attainable or applicable to any desirable purpose (Letters to the Methodist Episcopal Church at New London, Connecticut, Feb. 4, 1809).

Posted by: Max at October 8, 2007 1:39 PM
Comment #235678

Jon, I am a staunch defender of both freedom of and freedom from religion, as well as separation of church of state. I see no inherent conflict in politicians pandering to the religious voters of this country, provided their pandering does not result in promises or obligations to erode the wall of separation, which would do great harm to both state and religion.

Posted by: David R. Remer at October 9, 2007 12:10 PM
Comment #235683


Doesn’t pandering implicitly create a breach in that seperation? By pandering to religious groups, are we not effectively eroding the idea that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States? I realize that there is no explicit religious requirement to assume the office, but if we are allowed to use our religiosity as a means of pandering to religious groups, what position does that place nontheistic aspirants to the office in? They can hardly do the same, so we have created a de-facto religious requirement for garnering the support necessary to assume the office. How is that not erosion?

Posted by: Jarandhel at October 9, 2007 1:47 PM
Comment #235685

Jarandhel… it is not erosion because voters can vote for whomever they want for whatever reason they want. Campaigners have a freedom of speech while on the campaign trail and can say whatever they want.

Joe Liebermann once said, correctly I think, that we have a freedom of religion, and not a freedom from it. What I took that he meant by this was that religion is a part of our culture, and that goes way, way back. Citizens have the right to choose (or not choose) a religion for themselves, but they do not have the right to demand that others not talk about theirs.

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at October 9, 2007 1:57 PM
Comment #235727

Jarandhel asked: “are we not effectively eroding the idea that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States?”

I don’t see this as a chicken or egg question. If the majority of the public were atheist, the candidates would reflect that majority view. The candidates are a product of the society from which they come. If that means atheists are a minority and thus, so are atheist political campaigners, it is the nature of our society and historical development. If Atheists want representation they should move to San Francisco and elect atheist representatives.

Bottom line is, religion nor atheism should dictate public government policy. That is what the establishment clause was put in place to prevent.

Posted by: David R. Remer at October 9, 2007 11:46 PM
Comment #235737

“If Atheists want representation they should move to San Francisco and elect atheist representatives.”

What a dumb and downright rude comment to make! First of all, there are Atheists everywhere in this nation. They need not all move to San Francisco to demand representation — after all this is their country too.
Secondly, in order to dispel this totally unfounded stereotype you’re hawking here, I now feel the need to inform folks that
San Francisco is chock full of places where people go to worship.
This happens to be one of my favorite churches in the city, but there are many other wonderful churches, synagogues and temples to choose from.

I get so tired of people sneering at the San Francisco Bay Area like it’s some sort of a subhuman trash pile. This happens to be one of the nicest places in this entire country, and it’s filled with lots of really great people — who hold many different beliefs.
If I didn’t already know that unfounded prejudice or ignorance was behind most of these dismissive and rude broadsides we’re constantly being bombarded with, I might begin to suspect that it was actually jealousy that is the underlying motive.

Posted by: Adrienne at October 10, 2007 3:05 AM
Comment #235755

David, you said “If Atheists want representation they should move to San Francisco and elect atheist representatives.”

I have to say I’m surprised at that comment, given your usual predilection for researched and informed dialog. It smacks to me of Bill O’Reilly’s rather nasty comment about letting terrorists bomb that fair city.

Besides which, in this article, you’ll find the comment “In San Francisco, [atheist] meetings regularly attract 50 to 100 people, and the mailing list tops 1,000.”

By golly, that’s a huge 0.0001% of the population who are activists in one of the main atheist organizations in SF county.

Let’s lay off San Francisco, eh?

Posted by: Jon R at October 10, 2007 10:59 AM
Comment #235787

It seems to me that all the quotes from Jefferson are refering to protecting religion from the state, not the other way around.

Every time a Christian politician has a view point that a liberal disagrees with I seem to hear the complaint that this view point is some how invalid since it obviously stems from his religious views and should be excluded from consideration due to the separation of church and state. End of argument.

I know I certainly feel that my freedom of thought, action and speech have far more to fear from the black robed judicial clergy of the left than they ever would from the clergy speaking from the pulpit on the right.

Posted by: Carnak at October 10, 2007 4:34 PM
Comment #235799

Um, yeahhhhhhhhh…I’m going to need you to come in on Saturday.

Posted by: kctim at October 10, 2007 6:21 PM
Comment #235800


Very well. Then should all the Jews move to New York and elect Jewish officials? Shall we give Rhode Island or Idaho to the Buddhists? The constitution… not the establishment clause, not the bill of rights, but the Constitution itself is clear: no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. Running on one’s religiosity, running on being “Christian” (or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Pagan, or Atheist), is an attack on that clause. Period. And the bottom line is that by allowing it, we are putting a de-facto religious test into existance, the words of which can be expressed quite simply: is your religion in line with the majority religion in your district enough to get elected?


You’re quite right, Jefferson was concerned with protecting religion from the state. And he understood that the best way to do that was to also protect the state from religion. Because if any one religious denomination gets a foothold in the state, what prevents them from using that power against other religions?

Your example, that of the Christian politician trying to interject their religious views into politics, shows this quite well. If Christian views are allowed to be considered for enforcement by our government, what effect does that have on Non-Christian religions in the US? If Catholic views are allowed to be considered, what effect does that have on Baptists in the US? If Muslim views are allowed to be considered, what effect does that have on Christians? If someone is trying to get their religious views placed into the law of the land, that should be excluded from consideration due to the Seperation of Church and State. Not just to protect the state, but to protect all the OTHER religions who would be subject to the new laws.

I’m sorry you feel your freedoms are threatened by the judiciary enforcing the wall of seperation between church and state. But I would have to ask you this: if, tomorrow, that wall were to fall… how do you know your denomination would be the winner? How do you know it would be your denomination which would get to place its views into law? And what would you do if it wasn’t, and you were forced to live under religious laws that you did not agree with? I suspect the return of those “black robed judicial clergy of the left” to enforce the wall of seperation again would suddenly start looking awfully appealing to you.

Posted by: Jarandhel at October 10, 2007 6:23 PM
Comment #235803

Its called the House of REPRESENTATIVES. If most people in a district are Christian they have the right to elect someone who will represent their views. Atheists have no right to expect Christians (or anyone else) at home when they go to vote. That is essentially a religious test, one that allows for no religion.

Posted by: Silima at October 10, 2007 7:00 PM
Comment #235819


Representing their political views and representing their religious views are, or should be, two very different things. That’s why we have a secular government, which is allowed to make no law respecting an establishment of religion. It is, for instance, a religious view that every Sunday should be kept holy by making it a day of rest. It is also a religious view held by others that Saturday is the proper Sabbath and proper day of rest. The minute that the majority may use the power of government to enforce their doctrine of a particular day needing to be kept holy as a day of rest (ie, historic “blue laws”) then that majority is infringing upon the basic rights of the minority who do not share their beliefs. And they do not have the right to do that. Any time religious views are allowed to be enshrined in law, that hurts all religions which are not in the majority. Keeping religion out of government is not enforced atheism, it is simply keeping secular government secular so that the playing field is level for all religions. Enforced atheism would involve laws mandating that no day can be considered a day of rest by anyone and that businesses must stay open and staffed 7 days a week.

Posted by: Jarandhel at October 10, 2007 9:36 PM
Comment #235833

Jarandel, great comments, very well said.

“Let’s lay off San Francisco, eh?”

Thanks, Jon. While we’re at it, I wish folks would also lay off that dreaded bastion of liberalism: Berkeley, California, my beloved hometown.
Just like SF, and despite the appallingly ignorant claims of Ann Coulter (and a host of other wingnuts), who deem all Liberals “Godless”, we’ve also got a huge number of Worshippers here, along with plenty of friendly Agnostics (like myself), and Atheists.

PS. Since I’ve shared my favorite church in SF, please allow me to also share
my favorite in Berkeley.

Posted by: Adrienne at October 10, 2007 11:41 PM
Comment #235834

Many people’s political views stem from religious views. To ask them to ignore their values when in a voting booth is unrealistic and unfair. I agree that religion should only affect politics as long as it does not infringe on other’s rights or beliefs, religion also provides many people’s foundation for fighting AIDS, poverty, etc.

On San Francisco, nothing wrong with living there. Lots of sweet museums and stuff to do. A little intolerant of conservative Christians and somewhat intrusive into Central Valley business but a sweet city. The only real beef I have with it is traffic.

Posted by: Silima at October 11, 2007 12:02 AM
Comment #235839

“A little intolerant of conservative Christians”

Modern Conservative Christians wrote the book on intolerance (unlike in the past), and in the SF Bay Area, intolerance is perhaps the only thing folks simply aren’t willing to tolerate.

“The only real beef I have with it is traffic.”

Like any large metropolitan area, our freeways are jammed during peak hours, but fortunately we’ve got a truly excellent public transportation network that can take people all around our cities and towns. For this reason, my husband and I can both take the subway to work, and actually share a single vehicle between us.

Posted by: Adrienne at October 11, 2007 12:30 AM
Comment #235841

“Modern Conservative Christians wrote the book on intolerance…”

I know. At my (“Christian”) high school the most hated groups of people were:
pro-choicers-gays-environmentalists-San Franciscans-Democrats/anyone with the last name Clinton, in that order. I was the only person in my class of ~70 to oppose the Iraq war at any point. (to the best of my knowledge)

I understand about the traffic. If the subway you take is BART, I’m a fan too. When I was a kid nothing was cooler than riding through the tunnel under the Bay.

Posted by: Silima at October 11, 2007 1:11 AM
Comment #235851

Jarandhel said: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. “

And asking for religious people’s vote by campaigning to them is not a religious test. A religious test is restricting ballot access to a person of faith or no faith. That is not the case here. Atheists can get on the ballot. They are just not likely to garner many votes on election day.

Your comments continue to confuse campaigning to interest groups with religious tests for ballot access. It is a very illogical and demonstrably erroneous mistake. Political parties do not directly control ballot access, but, you win more points from me if you try to make the argument that the duopoly parties indirectly monopolize the ballot access rules in their favor, and BECAUSE both parties proffer only religious candidates, they indirectly create a religious test for ballot access.

It is a more plausible argument. But, not one which would succeed in our Supreme Court which has the final say on such matters unless they defer to District Court’s decisions.

Posted by: David R. Remer at October 11, 2007 3:42 AM
Comment #236022

I’m a lot more troubled by the way the “Media” has been pretty much packed with Cable Talk Show Hosts who seem to be trying to outdo FOX Cable News Jokes, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, etc.

CNN has turned over Headline News to the likes of Glenn Beck, for ex., who has on right wingnuts like “Pastor Hagee”, a megachurch “end times” crazy who speaks of a Nuclear Holocaust in the Middle East, with stars in his eyes, like it turns him on. Creepy to the extreme.

Just when America most needs rational, calm, intelligent discussions of issues, the News Media are letting us down, & it is dangerous to our future! There are some bright spots, such as Bob Woodruff & some of the War Correspondents in Iraq & Afghanistan, & we need these true JOURNALISTS desperately, because we DO face threats to our very existence on Planet Earth.
But when Corporate News networks are AFRAID to speak the truth about issues, for fear of making the Religious most extreme Reich-Wing of viewers, then we are in deep trouble.

Posted by: AtomicWarBaby at October 12, 2007 9:59 PM
Comment #236042


Excellent article. I am also an atheist. I am troubled by fundimentalism of all kinds, even fundimentalist atheism, but especially fundimentalist Christianity and Islam. This country is predominately Christian and it is reasonable that Christians will consider a candidate’s religion in evaluating their character. Unfortunately it has the effect of forcing a candidate to a hypocritical professions of faith which defeats the whole purpose - and then there is Bush - a sincere zealot of the most dangerous kind. Christian fundimentalist conservatism is defeated. Why are we pandering to it? We are never going to get those votes. At best they may stay home. The free thinking moderate Christians and liberal Christians will not vote on the basis of someone’s hypocritical profession. They will vote on the basis of a person’s substance. Why pander? Perhaps we deserve to lose another election. But what happens to the country if we do?

Posted by: Ray Guest at October 13, 2007 11:39 AM
Comment #236062

Religion is nothing more than a fairytale, and a pack of inventions and lies, and as such should be kept completely out of politics and the way the country is run. If you haven’t got enough guts to elect a sensible person (atheist) at least keep your superstitious nonsense to yourself.

Posted by: capnmike at October 13, 2007 5:23 PM
Comment #236436

capnmike- I believe I could vote for a SENSIBLE

atheist, in fact, there is one Congresswoman who

serves her country, who is Atheist! Unlike some

she keeps her personal views on such matters of

her own, to her self unless asked about them.

Posted by: -DAVID- at October 18, 2007 4:52 PM
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