And Everybody Hates the Atheists

Romney tries to get ahead by climbing over unbelievers

The take-home message of Mitt Romney's recent speech on religion and politics was pretty clear: I may be a Mormon, but at least I'm not an atheist.

Romney sought to strengthen his advantage as a presidential candidate known for being religious while assuaging the concerns of Americans who are reluctant to vote for a Mormon. He did so by reinforcing the public's longstanding prejudice against unbelievers, arguing that religion—any religion—is preferable to no religion at all.

According to an August survey by the Pew Center on Religion & Public Life, nearly half of those who express an opinion describe Romney as "very religious," and "most Americans continue to say that it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs." At the same time, one in four Americans say a candidate's Mormonism would make them less likely to vote for him, and this aversion is especially strong among voters for whom a candidate's religiosity matters most: More than a third of white Republican evangelicals, who play an important role in choosing their party's nominee, are leery of Mormon candidates.

But the same survey that highlighted this problem also suggested a solution. "Being a Mormon is viewed as far less of a liability for a presidential candidate than not believing in God or being a Muslim," the Pew Center noted.

Bashing Muslims would fly in the face of the distinction President Bush always has drawn between violent jihadists and their moderate coreligionists. In his speech, Romney took the same tack, condemning "radical Islamists" while admiring ordinary Muslims' "commitment to frequent prayer" (along with Catholics' "profound ceremony," Pentecostals' "tenderness of spirit," Lutherans' "confident independence," and Jews' "ancient traditions").

Romney made no such distinctions in his treatment of atheists, who get even worse poll ratings than Muslims. While "45% express reluctance about voting for a Muslim," the Pew Center reports, "61% say they would be less likely to support a candidate who does not believe in God."

In a December 6–9 Gallup poll, nearly half of the respondents endorsed an even stronger anti-atheist statement, saying they would refuse to vote for "a generally well-qualified person" of their own party "who happened to be an atheist." The corresponding number for a Mormon candidate was 17 percent, about the same as before Romney's speech.

Romney tried to build on this advantage, wrapping together all religions, except for "the religion of secularism," in a warm, fuzzy package. "Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me," he said. "We do not insist on a single strain of religion; rather we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."

Americans who have never "knelt in prayer" clearly should not bother auditioning for the "symphony of faith." Romney conspicuously failed to address the question of whether they also are excluded from his circle of friends and allies.

Romney's justification for treating all religions as presumptively good, no matter how wildly contradictory their teachings, is that they all share a "common creed of moral convictions." He enumerated three: "the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty." Yeah, there's no way an atheist could believe in those things.

To back up his claim that "freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," Romney cited John Adams' comment that "our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people." Adams, a Unitarian who rejected orthodox Christian beliefs (including the divinity of Christ, which Romney was at pains to affirm), valued religion in general because he believed it restrained "human passions" such as "avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry."

Like other Founders who leaned toward deism or agnosticism, Adams thought religion was important not because it was true but because it helped keep the common people in line. Romney's promiscuous ecumenism suggests he holds a similar view.

© Copyright 2007 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • ||

    "any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me"
    How about Osama and his buddies, Mitt? Are they your "friends and allies"?
    But count me out of your circle of friends; I don't ever plan to kneel to anyone, especially to arrogant, lying bastards like you and your jealous, spiteful, imaginary sky god.

  • Elemenope||

    Jacob Sullum asks whether atheists will have a place in a Romneyfied America.

    Well, of course we will. This is just more ridiculous and empty pandering. The politician who was the winner of most obnoxious anti-atheist public remarks before Romney's travesty was the 41st president of the United States, and despite his attitude, I don't remember being oppressed back then by the mighty fed for my lack of godliness.

    Personally, I'm more annoyed by the democrats' pandering on the God issue; they used to, once upon a time (say...1960ish) care publicly and openly about the Separation, and now all they seem to care about is how their own personal Jesus looks in the public square.

  • Rob||

    Why no mention of an exquisite touch from the noodly appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

  • ||

    I long for the good old days when the faithful hated heretics above all others.

  • ||

    Anybody interested in what the other side has to say?

    I was reading a fundamentalist publication recently (yeah, they'd say the events in the Bible happened as described) and I thought they had a pretty good take:

    "In the present writer's view, the best answer to the question Senator Edwards was asked regarding homosexuality and sin would have been, "How sin is defined is a strictly religious, theological question. This interview is not for a position in some church organization or ministry, but for a public office. What I believe about sin and righteousness is a personal conviction, between God and me and the religious community in which I hold membership. As president of the United States, I must be president to those of every faith and of none. Accordingly I cannot apply my convictions to the sphere of civil law in such a way as to restrict the choices of those who don't share my beliefs."

    http://www.libertymagazine.org/article/articleview/676/1/101/

    I care about where Mitt Romney stands on various points of public policy, but I don't care what Mitt Romney believes personally. To the point at hand, if Mitt Romney isn't willing to take people of no faith into consideration when making public policy, then people of faiths other than his own should be worried about him too. Atheists are citizens too. Even the fundamentalists--even the fundamentalists--seem to understand that.

  • ||

    Oh, I hear that, David. I blame the squishy evangelical Protestant middle, and its resolute refusal to quarrel endlessly over tiny doctrinal differences, for this ridiculous modern ecumenicalism. It used to be that the proper order of hatred was heretic, apostate, infidel, heathen. Now - against all historical logic - us poor atheists are top of the list, and it's very vexing indeed.

  • Larry Hastings||

    But during National Brotherhood Week
    National Brotherhood Week
    It's National everyone-smile-at-one-another-hood week
    Be nice to people who
    Are inferior to you
    It's only for a week, so have no fear--
    Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!


    larry

  • adrian||

    religious people still piss me off. maybe more so than last month.

  • ||

    Romney's justification for treating all religions as presumptively good, no matter how wildly contradictory their teachings, is that they all share a "common creed of moral convictions." He enumerated three: "the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty."

    Wha Wha Whaaaaaat?? Since when?

    Equality of human kind my ass. Plenty of religions still treat women unequally. And as noted, they all treat nonbelievers as unequals.

    The common religious obligation to serve is to serve god. While many do serve god by serving others, the more common, time honored, tradition is to serve god by giving money to the church.

    Steadfast commitment to liber HAHAHA HA HA ha ha. How did he ever get that out with a straight face?

  • Elemenope||

    Warren --

    A politician with no respect for history would be able to say it with a straight face, and a public with no sense of history would be able to swallow it with one.

    Welcome to NCLB America, where Jesus was for Democracy and against illegal immigrants.

  • ||

    The next president I will ever vote for, has to be a declared Deist or Atheist. Man-made religious beliefs is a too strong foundation for violent thinking, where your belief in a role model like the extremely violent jewish god in the Old Testament will reflect your moral boundaries for administering such a powerful job as president of the United States.

    I believe over the coming decade that more and more Americans will go the European way and stop following men and their interpretation of godly experiences, and instead seek and develop their own spiritual definitions. This takes away the undemocratic power of a priesthood claiming influence not because they are elected, but because they administer rituals "promising" an afterlife insurance that they have absolutely no documentation for.

    Rather a society built on reason and hope, than the fear of eternal retribution.

  • ||

    "any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me"

    But I have been touched by his noodly appendage, dammit!

    "...and despite his attitude, I don't remember being oppressed back then by the mighty fed for my lack of godliness."

    Not yet, maybe. But these are the same people who think that schools should "teach the controversy" over evolutionary biology and intelligent design. Do we really want somebody like this deciding how much funding the CDC for viruses that are mutating (see H5N1)?

  • ||

    Now - against all historical logic - us poor atheists are top of the list, and it's very vexing indeed.

    I've been wondering why that is. I used to think it was a resentment of Michael Newdow types. Now, best answer that I can come up with is that the whole thing is driven by the clergy class. They make a tremendous amount of money exploiting people's need for god (see Joel Osteen)and atheists who live decent lives are a threat to that.

  • Marcvs||

    Religion prepares the mind to accept illogical, contradictory things. After that, it's a short leap to think that religion makes people better, that atheists/agnostics are evil, and that people like bin Laden aren't motivated by the same religious beliefs that "moderates" are. The best parts of religion are often the parts that are the result of moderation by secularism. Any society that is "deeply religious" is almost certainly "deeply" misogynistic, racist, and paranoid.

  • Jozef||

    So atheists are becoming the new smokers. Awesome! I never tried smoking - it grossed me out - but being too lazy pick a deity to worship to I can finally be oppressed for something, just like everyone else.

    But seriously now: pre-election, Presidential candidates say what people want to hear or else they are branded as lunatics. Post-election the President tries to act on his whims or desires for power(R)/money(D). I've got to agree with Elemenope's comment on Bush 41 - it doesn't really matter what a candidate says right now.

  • ||

    Why has no one associated with Romney pointed out the advantages of having multiple First Ladies?

  • Marcvs||

    Why has no one associated with Romney pointed out the advantages of having multiple First Ladies?

    How is that an advantage, for anyone?

  • adam||

    David, because of religious freedom in America, the heretics have their own groups now (Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc).

    Sullum, good article, it is true that an atheist cannot believe in "the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty." Due to the atheists' doctrine of ethical relativism, they cannot believe in such things, only practice them when it suits their wants and needs.

  • ||

    With four wives one also gets four mothers-in-law. Isn't that special?

  • ||

    "Due to the atheists' doctrine of ethical relativism, they cannot believe in such things, only practice them when it suits their wants and needs."

    Finally, an inflamatory comment. Quite simply wrong of course. As an atheist, I believe in liberty and good will for a whole host reasons which support both my well being, and the well being of my fellow man.

    Unlike the believer, who will take ideology based upon dogma and imaginary sky-daddy's commandments (revealed of course, only to some person's mind), an atheist has the luxury of free thought and inquiry.

  • ||

    The odd Objectivist happens by here on occasion, Adam, and some of them might take issue with being pigeon holed as ethical relativists.

    It's hard to say anything that's true of all Christians. I suspect it's even harder to say something that's true of all atheists.

  • ||

    From The Harris Poll® #11, February 26, 2003

    68% of the public believes in the devil, and 69% believe in hell.
    Hmmm, The Devil. An immortal being with supernatural powers that can affect your daily life. Sonds like the definition of a God to me. Monotheists, You've got some 'splaing to do!.

    69% of Americans believe in hell.
    The all loving Father will codemn somebody to an eternal fate (fire and brimstone) that even the state of Mississippi considers too barbaric for the punishment of murderers and child rapists.

    51% of the public believes n ghosts.
    Nah, they're not superstitious, they're religious.

    31% of the public believes in astrology
    Hey, that's more than atheists, or African Americans. Best not to denigrate them on the campaign trail.

    27% believe in reincarnation, that they were once another person.
    See, it's not just Shirley Maclaine.

    90% of Americans believe in God. Among post graduate degree holders the figure drops to 85%
    That means 10% are atheist/agnostic. It's time we started voting our weight.

    Standard Libertarian disclaimer #6 (believe what you want, no matter how wacky) applies.

  • VM||

    J sub -

    there was actually an error in one of the figures.

    It should have read:
    some Americans believe 69 is hell

    (banishes self for a non-disclosed period of time)

  • ||

    That's OK. I hate that asshole too.

  • ||

    I suspect it's impossible to say something that's true of all atheists, besides the one extremely obvious thing. As a class, we are precisely as homogenous as theists - which is to say, not very.

    (By the way, Adam, I believe that to a Jehovah's Witness, you are the heretic. Isn't it nice how relativism works?)

  • ||

    Unlike the believer, who will take ideology based upon dogma and imaginary sky-daddy's commandments (revealed of course, only to some person's mind), an atheist has the luxury of free thought and inquiry.

    Morality stems mostly from genetics with a fair amount of environment thrown in. Weak-minded Christian/Islam types imagine that morality somehow flows from their invisible monsters (and their comic books about the monsters) and weak-minded atheists imagine that it's the ole "Blank Slate" at work, er, play. It ain't.

  • Big Jesus||

    God created everything that has or will ever be. Therefore viruses don't mutate. And if you people keep looking, you will find the dinosaurs.

  • ||

    I was particularly taken with Mr. Romney's idea that freedom requires religion. That would be proved by comparing life in, say, Sweden with that in Saudi Arabia? Mr. Romney needs to get out in the modern world a bit more often.

  • Jozef||

    The Devil. An immortal being with supernatural powers that can affect your daily life. Sonds like the definition of a God to me.

    There's one profound difference, though: The Devil is much more benevolent than God.

  • ||

    The most attractive thing about believing in The Flying Spaghetti Monster is that I can explain my pasta binges as a result of the Ecstasy of Communion.

    ;)

  • ||

    First there was The Churchg Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster. Then The Reformed Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster appeared on the scene. Pretty soon, some heretic is going to be talking about the divinity of linguine. You can see where this is going, don't you. Food Fight!

  • ||

    My deity
    Is penne ziti.

  • Godfrey||

    Ken Shultz: "I care about where Mitt Romney stands on various points of public policy, but I don't care what Mitt Romney believes personally.

    Not sure I agree with you. To paraphrase Sam Harris, there's something very unsettling about the guy who controls the nukes having been taught all his life that the end of the world will be "glorious".

  • ||

    It does say something profound about our society that a sizeable percentage of people would rather have you believe strongly in something that is patently untrue than doubt something that is questionable...

  • Godfrey||

    Marcvs: "The best parts of religion are often the parts that are the result of moderation by secularism."

    A good point. Most of the progress humankind has made, from scientific advancement to the abolition of slavery, has occurred in spite of a direct contradiction to the contents of the Bible.

    I suppose that can be viewed as somewhat promising: it shows that humans can eventually transcend the religious mindset foisted upon them by their ancestors.

    On the other hand, imagine how the world would be if religion had died a thousand years ago. We'd all have flying cars by now.

  • ||

    If Romney wins the Republican primary, I predict that he will have an allegedly earnest, non-pandering change of heart and start being more respectful toward the less-faithful, which in an amazing coincidence will also be politically expedient.

    The only knock I have on Jacob's article is that he's taking Mitt's comments at face value -- he's presuming Mitt believes this dreck he is spewing in an attempt to pick off some of the Huckatheocrats -- when even a cursory review of Mitt's past shows he says whatever he thinks he has to say to win.

  • ||

    Even the fundamentalists--even the fundamentalists--seem to understand that.


    Ken,
    Christian fundamentalists fought for the separation of church and state at the founding precisely for the reason you stated. Public policy should never infringe on the right to practice religion as the practitioner sees fit, excepting of course where it coercively harms another person. If your method of practice is no practice at all, so be it.

    True fundamentalists understand this. Unfortunately, I fear, there aren't many true fundamentalists out there. Indeed I suspect that a vast majority of those calling themselves "fundamentalists" are in reality evangelicals, willing to use any means at their disposal to convert the non-believers to their faith of choice. To that lot, Public Policy is but another tool in the arsenal.

  • Free Thinker||

    It's a sad state of affairs when the freethinking community allows the theists to pervert and distort what it means to abandon superstition, as if this has any relation to lesser moral values. This myth needs to be illuminated and brought to light. Sites like: http://FreeThoughtPedia.com/ seek to do this. Help support these efforts by contributing and promoting these great resources.

  • Godfrey||

    Ken Shultz: "It's hard to say anything that's true of all Christians. I suspect it's even harder to say something that's true of all atheists."

    Astute as usual, Ken.

    Mandy Cat "I was particularly taken with Mr. Romney's idea that freedom requires religion. That would be proved by comparing life in, say, Sweden with that in Saudi Arabia?"

    Well put! Both of the above bear being repeated.

    Moroni: "Why has no one associated with Romney pointed out the advantages of having multiple First Ladies?"

    Aaaand....that would be the thread-winner.

  • ||

    On the other hand, imagine how the world would be if religion had died a thousand years ago. We'd all have flying cars by now.

    Actually, we'd probably have uploaded ourselves, and be colonizing an expanding sphere of star systems about 900 light years in radius.

  • Danny||

    If religion dies, where will it spend its afterlife?

  • ||

    27% believe in reincarnation, that they were once another person.
    See, it's not just Shirley Maclaine.


    Sure it is - that 27% is just Shirley in her other incarnations. :-)

  • ||

    If anyone finds themselves feeling offended by what I am about to say, I ask you in advance to forgive me (if nothing else it is the "Christian" thing to do.

    Full disclosure: I grew up in Canada. Throughout my child ood (and it is true, I may have been naive) I thought had a bit of talent in understanding the language, dialects, and accents that came into my life from US TV shows and movies. In fact until I came to live in the US, I thought the two languages were pretty much the same one. (Small differences here and there, but not worth a quibble)

    But now I'm confused...? Based on what I have grown to think I understand of the language, I kind of had the idea that freedom of religion means practicing (or believing) whatever turns your spiritual crank - right? If that is so, how come freedom of religion doesn't (at least in the current language of many in high places) mean freedom from religion.

    If this is not so; would somebody please translate for me..? I request that you use words of three syllables or less.

    Is this just a problem of mine, since Canadian English rather than US English is my mother tongue? Maybe it simply a problem in accurate translation.

  • ||

    KD -- because the politicians are confused (actually, more like pandering sociopaths, but that's another thread), not you. Freedom from religion is a subset of freedom of religion, if the First Amendment is properly interpreted.

  • ||

    KD

    If anyone finds themselves feeling offended by what I am about to say, I ask you in advance to forgive me (if nothing else it is the "Christian" thing to do.

    Forgiveness? In this shark pool? YHGTBK!

    I think your problem is not dialect, but dialectical - in the Marxist sense.

    It is fashionable, in Born Again circles, to assert that any attempt to remove religion from politics is an attack on religion and an attempt to suppress the rights of the Christian Majority. They are setting up what Marx would have called a dialectic: Opposition to religious domination vs. the right of the Christian majority to impose their views in the political discourse.

    It is the Born Again crowd which invented the term "freedom from religion" in the pejorative sense and have used it as a boogeyman whenever someone objects to any blurring of the separation of church and state.

    [BTW: I'm a Canuck. For some reason, there seems to be a lot of Canadians and people with Canadian connections posting on this site.]

  • ||

    Hi prolefeed!

    We seem to have cross-posted.

    I agree with you that FFR is a subset of FOR, but I have heard the phrase much more from the Christian Right in the sense I described above than in the sense that you and I would use it.

  • ||

    How did such a stupid prat get so rich? Is he a trust-fund baby?

    -jcr

  • ||

    Aresen and prolefeed,
    Thanks guys.

    In spite of what our so-called leaders spout, I choose to continue with my fondness for stuff that is based on the proper interpretation of the First Amendment. [OT - allow me also to mention my fondness for the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment (or Deuxieme Amendement) - as it would be described in both Canadian official languages if there were such an un-Canadian amendment to its constitution.]

    And, with all that has been said/written so far, I will now use a phrase originated by Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame, to describe my approach to the issue of FoR and FfR - and it will be aimed at those who confuse the two: "I reject your reality and substitute my own."


    [BTW: I'm a Canuck. For some reason, there seems to be a lot of Canadians and people with Canadian connections posting on this site.]

    Yah, I noticed that too - which just strengthens my belief that the languages are pretty much the same - eh?

    And BTW dialectical has 5 syllables... but I managed.

  • adam||

    Tuck: If you are not an ethical relativist, then you are an ethical absolutist (just like me!). Which book contains your observed set of morals?

    Ken: It is very easy to say things that are true for all Christians; C.S. Lewis wrote a book on it called Mere Christianity. I would love to read a Mere Atheism. Someone should write that. I once thought ethical relativism was common among all atheists until Tuck corrected me. Too bad voting libertarian isn't common among atheists.

  • adam||

    Peachy: Relativism is a wonder property. The point I was trying to make was concerning religious freedom, not heresy. In a Christian theocracy, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses probably would be illegal. If I were to describe those groups to non-Christians, they would called Christian cults, meaning the majority of people who call themselves Christian do not consider Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses to be Christians.

    Godfrey: Using your logic, the French and Bolshevik Revolutions should have brought about the best governments in history. What did they bring their people: a reign of terror, Police States, Communism (yuck!), untold deaths, the Trabant, the 10-day week, etc. But hey, at least they weren't encumbered by those weak-minded, invisible sky-daddy sheeple!

    And remember folks, "a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for Satan".

  • Freeranger||

    Always interesting to me how libertarians think markets function rationally even though they're mostly comprised of irrational actors,specifically, believers in God.

  • ||

    Hey, I get RSS feeds for all of the articles on this website, and then periodically I get something like this immediately after an article about the article. Is there a way to not get these feeds, and just the articles? I hope this makes sense!

  • ||

    Always interesting to me how statists think governments function rationally even though they're mostly comprised of irrational actors, specifically, believers in God.

  • Steve B||

    The reason everyone hates atheists is because the term atheist has been defined by those with religious agendas who need a convenient whipping boy. For example, the confusion of the terms "secularism" and "atheism" by Romney - someone can be a devout Catholic and still be an advocate of secularism.

    I imagine if those polls about citizen's attitudes towards atheism were to dig a little deeper, you'd find that their idea of an atheist was "someone who wants to prevent me from practicing my religion, and make my kids denounce God," precisely what their leaders have been telling them atheists are.

    The fact that atheists occasionally get elected to high offices (e.g. Jesse Ventura as MN governor) even in areas that would poll along similar lines goes to show that people find it easy to hate on atheists in the abstract, but when presented with an actual one, they suddenly find themselves approving of the individual.

    I think that if moderate "I'm an atheist, but you can do what you please" types would run for office more often, you'd be surprised how frequently they'd get elected.

  • ||

    someone who wants to prevent me from practicing my religion, and make my kids denounce God," precisely what their leaders have been telling them atheists are.


    Or it might be one too many incidents of the ACLU or similar group suing to take down a cross that's been standing in a public place for 150 years.

  • bonewah||

    Religious people hate atheists because atheists are dicks. You people cant wait to look down your noses at people who have the audacity to believe something you do not. Oh, and the FSM, you go out of your way to taunt people in the most snide way possible then wonder "why do these people hate us?"
    As for politicians, they pander to the religious because there are a lot more theists then atheists, its just good sense to appeal to the people who have the most votes.

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