Religion in Politics: Does size matter?

Atheism, Religion, and Politics

I started this blog a few weeks ago.  Two things have become apparent to me in that time.  First, the label, “atheist” is more controversial among atheists than I had previously thought.  Second, there seems to be some disagreement on the role that religion plays in the politics of the United States.  Before addressing these two topics, I would like to ask that you please leave your comments below, even, or especially, if you disagree with me.  The last time I wrote a post like this, someone placed it on reddit.  I think that is super, reddit is a great site.  In the end, I received only a +1 rating.  Now, in no way do I blog for a reddit score, nor do I particularly care about a reddit score.  What does concern me is that roughly 50% of people who read my blog, Secular Humanism in Today’s Political Climate, did not comment on what I had to say.  Disagreement is great, I encourage it even, but I do not know on what points they disagreed.  I would like this blog page to be a place of discussion.  I am not pedantic or arrogant enough to imply that I have all or, even, any of the answers to many of the questions that I post here.  I would like to offer an opinion, an educated one, I would like to hope; then have a discussion with whoever is kind enough to leave a thoughtful comment.

To the first topic: atheist as a controversial term.  Some of the people that I have corresponded with have wanted to define themselves as “atheists” and leave it at that, end of story, if you will.  My response is always, “define yourself however you want”.

Personally, I choose to define myself as a secular humanist first and atheist second.  Why?  To me, atheism is simply a lack of a belief about deities.  I do not feel that it “defines” me at all.  It is the same as my informing all of you that I do not like cauliflower (in fact I detest it).  That tells you nothing about who I am except the fact that I do not like cauliflower.  Telling people that I am an atheist says nothing about me, except that I do not believe in deities.  I would like to think there is more to me than that.  If I state that I am a secular humanist, it can mean so much more, and the atheism is implied as one of the criteria.  Here is the most important part—that is how I choose to define myself.  How you choose to define yourself, if you even elect to do so at all, is, in my very strong opinion, up to you.  I would welcome your thoughts below on this topic.

The second topic is the role of religion in today’s politics. I have received a handful of emails writing that I am over-blowing the state of religion and politics in the U.S.  If you are not a regular reader of this blog, I am sorry to say you will have to look at some of previous posts to get a feel for my views.  In short, the objections that I receive say basically the point: that it is a small number of religious folks who are smart and/or powerful enough to figure out a way to impose policy I must continue to disagree with this criticism.

First, the concept, “that it is a small number of religious people who are smart or powerful enough to figure out a way to impose policy”.  I grew up in the “liberal northeast” for the first 30 years of my life.  At that point in time, I was an atheist, and would have agreed with my detractors.  I would have felt that I was blowing the role of religion out of proportion.  There do not seem to be many or any Mega Churches in New England that I am aware of.  The last 10 have been spent in “the heartland” of middle America, in a few different states.  I can longer share my former opinion.  When one looks at the flocks who fill stadiums anywhere from 4,000 (Santorum religious rally in Nebraska) to 35,000 religious rallies all over the country—this is no longer small potatoes.  There is an atheist blog out there right now, called Emily Has Books, I would encourage you to take a look at the clip she has up of Rick Warren at Angels’ Stadium and tell me it is only a few people.  I would encourage anyone to look at the plethora of small towns that dot Middle America, where the local evangelical church is the main thread in the fabric of their society, and tell me that it is only a few people.  Lastly, we are in currently living in a country, where one religion, the Catholic Church, is attempting to drive policy, and may prove to be successful.    I could go on and on, but you get my point.  If I am wrong, I will gladly admit that fact.  However, that is my opinion until someone shows me evidence to the contrary.

Secondly, let us just say that my detractors are correct, and that it is a small number of religious people who are hijacking social issues in this country.  Does size matter?  Whether or not Americans by the millions are lining up outside stadiums to hear the message or not is irrelevant to me.  Many people, a few people, whatever… the fact remains that religion is now really starting to shape some of our national policy proposals and I see that as a problem.

There is another objection to my work and I do not know what it is.  I call it the silent objection.  As I mentioned earlier the few posts of mine that have been on reddit regard my view of secular humanism as an important part of today’s politics.  My basic belief here is that if we all took a secular humanist approach to problems, the world would probably be a far more peaceful place.  This clearly upsets about half of the readers.  I suppose I would like to know why.  I am I way off base?  If so, I am certainly not opposed to trying to look at things differently to see what I may learn.  As I have stated before, I want this to be a place of discussion, so….. please discuss.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

“Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.”—Christopher Hitchens

9 thoughts on “Religion in Politics: Does size matter?

  1. reasonbeing from Rochester, MN, United States Post author

    One reader, named Nuke the Pope, had trouble posting his comments. If you are having trouble, pleas send me an email so I can look into it. Anyway, his comment is as follows:

    Happy to comply with your request for comments. I'm a very active Reddit atheist and will try to give you an idea of my own views and (if I'm understanding the distribution of their views correctly) my fellow /r/atheists.

    We try to get people to understand that atheism is just, as you say, a single bit of yes-no information regarding belief in gods. Lots of people confront us with notions about how atheists are "supposed to be" scientific, rational, anti-theistic, more moral (or less), bitter, cynical, misogynistic, nihilists, worshipers of Dawkins or psychopaths. We have "spiritual" atheists who believe in "a superior life force," we have atheists who claim to see ghosts, we have atheists who have never cracked open a science textbook and so on. Lots of people don't understand the diversity that atheism leaves people open to, and we try to inform them.

    But diversity aside, at least the visitors to /r/atheism are predominantly Naturalists: skeptic, rationally inclined, pro-science and firmly opposed to the ideas of dualism, i.e. a realm where supernatural things go bump in the night. Naturalism of course being a world view that includes atheism. The majority of those Naturalists are, I think Secular Humanists or would readily align with the views of SecHum if they were to be presented with them. I consider SecHum a world view wrapped around Naturalism with a positive human personality.

    I agree with you that labeling yourself as a SecHum gives your interlocutor more information about you and makes it clearer what you stand for and how you tick. Also, it's a "friendlier" and better accepted label than "atheist."

    However, there are times when I really wish more people would be honest and identify as "atheists." This is where I bridge over to your "politics" topic: while it's notoriously difficult to get atheists organized in any way, I feel it's vital that we demonstrate the strength of our numbers to the people around us, especially in the USA. If we count the "nones," the self-proclaimed irreligious, as atheists, then we are the second biggest demographic as broken down by (non-)religion: there are far more atheists than Jews and Muslims combined! Yet we seem to get far less recognition. One way to achieve this is to appear in public under a common label. And like it or not, the most inclusive category, and one that's gained tremendous momentum thanks to Dawkins et al is the "atheist" one. If I had my druthers, next time a pollster comes around, I'd love for everyone to answer "atheist" if that category is available.

    Does size matter? Yes, absolutely. Some of us feel that George W. Bush was a horrible President, but I'm not here to start a debate about the guy. I do find it significant, though, that his re-election in 2004 was won not on matters of the economy or foreign policy but on the issue of gay marriage. Yes, millions of Christians voted for Bush so that gays would not be able to marry. Sure, people have the right to vote on issues they care about, and I want them to have and exercise that right! But does it seem right to anybody that the question of who rules the Earth's most powerful nation be decided based on the teachings of a 2000 year old book? Is really nothing more important when making political decisions? I feel like some foreign power invaded the US on election day and stuffed the ballot boxes to the detriment of democracy. In view of America's traditional distrust of foreigners, it's a bit ironic that so much of America's political voice was voluntarily handed over to that bearded Palestinian outlaw, Jesus.

  2. The Doubter from Waikanae, Wellington, New Zealand

    The term atheist and how we are constantly forced to label ourselves. Yes, I am atheist but I choose only to use this description when pushed, because I don't like labels. They promote segregation and reinforce this idea of tribalism, 'whose gang are you in'. Yes, evolution has hardwired us to constantly engage the 'friend or foe mechanism'! I think so many people define themselves by such arbitrary means, religion, tattoos, clothes, status, they become so wrapped up with this identity, a mask to who they really are, which at a base level is simply unique individuals sharing the same DNA code. Generally I tend to say that I am not a believer of anything that is false and yes this in its self is a label I suppose (I could choose to say freethinker, secularist, rational etc), but once I do this it allows others to pin me down and provides a target, if I keep moving the goalposts I find that people particularly religious people have a hard time pigeon-holing me and it becomes harder for them to invoke the ‘friend or for mechanism'.
    It may seem a somewhat childish approach, but I like it and it certainly makes conversations with the religious much more fun!!

  3. The Doubter from Waikanae, Wellington, New Zealand

    Just so you know it took several attempts to leave a comment, because a box appeared stating that the comment was too long…. and could I split it.
    So after a few edits I removed a couple of lines to get it to accept it.
    Possibly increasing the size/numbers of words will encourage others to leave comments……people generally have low thresholds for things that don't upload easily…….anyway thought you should know. :)
    Keep up the blogging. :)

    1. reasonbeing from Rochester, MN, United States Post author

      Thanks for writing. I agree with you regarding labels. I have always hated to label myself, but at times have felt the need. One of those times is when starting this blog. I figure that people should know a little about me. I will certainly try the game of labels with the religious in my life…see how the pigeon-holing goes….

      In reality, if we did not have labels at all, the world would be a better place. However, someone would have hard time convincing me that we are someone not wired a way that looks to label ourselves. I would venture a guess that this is through some type of need for self-preservation. If we can label ourselves, we fit in a group. Nature tells us there is strength in groups. That would be my guess.

      As an aside to anyone reading this—I am using Intense Debate for comments and it seems to want to limit the number of words someone can post. I looked in the settings on their site, and came up blank. I would appreciate any tech help you could offer.
      Reason Being


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