Campaigns/Elections

If Pious Democrats Make You Want To Puke, Read This

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Former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, occasional Reason contributor, and self-proclaimed "libertarian Democrat" Terry Michael wasn't impressed with CNN's show earlier this week in which Donkey Party presidential candidates yapped about their religious streaks:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) all decided they did, indeed, owe an accounting of their personal religious beliefs—a televised recitation, in fact—to an audience assembled Monday at George Washington University by the left-liberal-worthy Rev. Jim Wallis and channeled through a television anchor aptly (or at least euphoniously) named Soledad O'Brien.

The front-runners' pandering to "people of faith" is the latest expression of Religion Lite advocated by the consultant wing of the Democratic Party.

After several decades of the religious right's attempt to trash the First Amendment and Christianize America via the GOP (God's Own Party?), we are now treated to the religious left and its heavenly claims on behalf of social justice….

Michael excoriates the Holy Trinity of Clinton, Obama, and Edwards (who he thinks was the biggest panderer of the trio) in detail and then relates some pretty interesting experiences of his own:

Having worked as press spokesman for the Democratic National Committee 20 years ago, when the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority was in full flower, I am appalled at how little these possible future leaders of the free world have learned from decades of mixing "faith" and politics.

I came to Washington in 1975 with the late Paul Simon, working for five years as his House press secretary and later traveling with him for seven months as spokesman for his 1988 presidential campaign. Never once in the almost four decades I knew the Illinois Democrat did I ever hear him invoke religion or mention God in a speech, or even in private conversation, though I assumed his religious views were probably those you would expect from the son of Christian missionaries to China (where he was conceived in 1928) and the brother of a Lutheran minister.

A man with the moral rectitude of an Eagle Scout, Simon understood why the Founders included not a single reference to a deity in our Constitution. The best way to protect your right to be guided by faith (and mine to be guided by reason) is to keep our understandings of where we come from and how we come to be moral animals on the other side of a very high wall between the state, with its coercive powers, and the temples created by believers.

The willingness of Democratic candidates to breach that barrier reflects a failure of nerve in a political party that ought to be our best hope for secular governance in a world where so much hate and murder is still being unleashed by "people of faith," whose beliefs were never touched by The Age of Reason and The Enlightenment—the same felicitous era in human history that gave us Jefferson and others averse to the mingling of religion and governance.

To put it in bumper sticker form, Hillary, John and Barack: "I'm a Person of Reason, and I Vote, Too!" 

Whole thing, well worth reading, here.

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  1. Im just old enough to remember Simon getting the stuffing kicked out of him in the 88′ primary. My parents said he was a decent and honorable man. I suspect the two things(and his unwillingness to pander to the pious) are related.

  2. So… if a person running for office has based some of his or her positions on his or her religious beliefs, Terry Michael thinks the person should keep it a secret?

  3. It would be truly weird if Democratic bibertarianism got mixed in with hardcore religious values. Weird. . .and scary.

    I went to some sort of meeting with Senator Simon when I was a legal fellow at the White House (in 1995). He seemed decent enough and not as openly political as most people in Congress. For whatever that’s worth. Didn’t like the bow ties, though.

  4. Mitch,

    So… if a person running for office has based some of his or her positions on his or her religious beliefs, Terry Michael thinks the person should keep it a secret?

    No. Poeple of little faith should not whore themselves out to the Bible thumpers in an attempt to harvest “faithful” votes.

    Mr. Michael’s point is that ours is a secular government and we are better for it, and his second point is that many of us are nauseated by the militantly faithful, and we vote too. I suspect that most of us of little religious bent are moral, and that we are indeed in the majority as well.

  5. I have been considering never again voting for a christian (any non-atheist for that matter) as a form of protest, but that would mean never voting …. hey! I just might be on to something!

  6. Wayne,

    The whole point of running for election is to “whore yourself out” and “harvest votes.” I don’t see that “I believe in God, all you religious people vote for me!” is any worse than “I think it sucks to be poor, all you poor people vote for me!” or “I think taxes are too high, all you taxpayers vote for me!”

    The majority of people in the United States believe there is a god, and so that is going to be reflected in who runs for election and who wins election. I guess it is fun for bitter atheists to vent their spleen on religious people, and politicians who pursue religious people’s votes, but it doesn’t seem very productive.

  7. If a person of strong religious convictions is running for office, and those convictions will significantly determine that candidate’s actions while in office, then the candidate has an obligation to thump the Bible hard during his campaign. That would be honest and it would let voters know what they are getting. For example, Falwell, were he alive, would be expected to campaign that way.

    It is an entirely different matter though for Hillary Clinton to pretend to be pious hoping for the thumpers votes. That is dishonest, and counter productive for her, I hope.

    I would not vote for either one, but I would at least respect Falwell for having principles and sticking to them.

  8. “The whole point of running for election is to “whore yourself out” and “harvest votes.” ”

    Mitch, you sound like a good Christian :-).

  9. Cool, an arms race!

    …to pander to a whopping %12 of the population who base their entire voting criteria on this singular bit of douche baggary.

    Hopefully this will lead to political fatigue, and both parties can go back to ignoring these people.

  10. One that doesn’t take online quizzes

    [keed keed]

  11. The best way to protect your right to be guided by faith (and mine to be guided by reason) is to keep our understandings of where we come from and how we come to be moral animals on the other side of a very high wall between the state, with its coercive powers, and the temples created by believers.

    Whether this is the case or not the fact that religious belief is heavily involved in political discourse illustrates on of the chief failings of Spinoza’s project.

    …the same felicitous era in human history that gave us Jefferson and others averse to the mingling of religion and governance.

    That’s probably an incorrect way of putting it. Generally speaking many Enlightenment types of the non-continental variety had no problem with such a mingling; religion was supposed to be good for the education, etc. of the masses after all (a typical attitude of deists BTW). It was the establishment of state churches or the funding of church schools that many had a problem with.

  12. I may not like it, but it’s fine if Dems want to God it up a bit, but it’s not going to harvest that many “values voters” that currently vote GOP.

    The Dem religious message tends to be “Jesus wants us to help the needy, etc.” and the Rep message tends to be “God will smite the unholy sinners, etc.”

    “Kumbayah” vs. “Gays! Ooga Booga!” are two quite different demographics.

  13. VM,

    I’m going to have to take care of you the Chicago way. 😉

  14. “The best way to protect your right to be guided by faith (and mine to be guided by reason) is to keep our understandings of where we come from and how we come to be moral animals on the other side of a very high wall between the state, with its coercive powers, and the temples created by believers.”

    Sounds like he wishes there were more true fundamentalists and fewer modern evangelicals.

    …this sure as hell ain’t 1975. …it ain’t 1988 either.

    My sense is that the average American doesn’t want religious nuts running things, but he doesn’t want the godless running things either. People want to vote for people who are kinda like them–concede the religious posturing to the other party to your own party’s detriment.

  15. Gro!

    lol!

    [knees one of his own minions in the Balls]

    you can have this one. He didn’t lather, rinse, repeat. He went “rinse, lather, rinse”. Take him.

    (actually – when I clicked “OK”, nothing happened, so I threw a mini tantrum that nobody else heard. But it was “burden of proof on believers”)

  16. ken Shultz,

    As an atheist even I realize that one cannot hermetically seal off religion from politics.

  17. “I would at least respect Falwell for having principles and sticking to them.”–Wayne

    Hitler had principles and stuck to them

  18. “Don’t Know Much Abput Biology” by Jerry Coyne

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/coyne07/coyne07_index.html

    “As science becomes more and more important in dealing with the world’s problems, Americans are falling farther and farther behind in scientific literacy. Among citizens of industrialized nations, Americans rank near the bottom in their understanding of math and science. Over half of all Americans don’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, and nearly half think that humans once lived, Flintstone-like, alongside dinosaurs.”

  19. “It is an entirely different matter though for Hillary Clinton to pretend to be pious…”

    What are you, her Confessor?

  20. Wayne,

    Well, actually, I am an atheist, I just can’t get worked up over religious people in politics. Are religious people responsible for redistribution of wealth schemes, eminent domain abuse, campaign finance reforms that damage our free speech rights, etc.? Maybe if a serious liberation theology strain develops in American politics I will get pissed off about religious people, but as of now, I am not very worried about them.

  21. Edward,

    Similar surveys show that those living in the E.U. have similar problems (indeed, that on average Americans answer the group of questions more accurately than those living in the E.U.). For most people it probably doesn’t matter how scientifically literate they are.

  22. Are religious people responsible for redistribution of wealth schemes, eminent domain abuse, campaign finance reforms that damage our free speech rights, etc.?

    Are religious people responsible for banning sodomy, gay marriage, gambling, drugs, etc. etc. etc.?

    I’m with Garth. If I hadn’t already chosen to never vote again, I would welcome these pious mutterings as a sign of who not vote for.

  23. So Edward, what you’re saying is democracy is becoming an antiquated form of government?

    Not sure what that has to do with pious democrats, but…

    I have to agree with all the people who think politicians should wear their “values” on their sleeves. This way I know not to vote for them.

    Also, politically, it’s not like the secular progressives who WERE going to vote for a Democrat are suddenly not going to because their candidate is pandering to the bible thumpers. This strategy can only be dangerous in the primaries, but nothing more.

  24. I made an argument for Christopher Hitchens to Tear down that wall! (between church and state).

  25. “I’m a Person of Reason, and I Vote, Too!”

    The politicians, while campaigning, are just puppets. The voters pull the strings. The zealots set out to take over the government, and they pulled it off. I’m not sure if there are really that many fundamentalist kooks in this country, or if the rest of us are just not being vigilant.

    Either way, mixing church and state is always a bad idea. It doesn’t surprise me that when the stupid party is out of power they try to repackage themselves. “We can be evil too, and we’re still stupid!”

  26. it’s not like the secular progressives who WERE going to vote for a Democrat are suddenly not going to because their candidate is pandering to the bible thumpers

    I suspect a large number of them just won’t at all. Could this piety, fake and otherwise, be a contributing factor in America’s super-low voter turnout…?

  27. “Spiritual Atheist” – Trust me, it is a lousy quiz. I am the least spiritual person I know and I live in the DC suburbs and work in an office with 60%+ atheists/agnostics and attend a Unitarian church. Though, none of the other cubbyholes were any closer at describing me.

  28. “So Edward, what you’re saying is democracy is becoming an antiquated form of government?”–Reinmoose

    What? I’m just saying that the level of scientific literacy in the country probably explains the high level of religiosity in our politics.

    “Similar surveys show that those living in the E.U. have similar problems (indeed, that on average Americans answer the group of questions more accurately than those living in the E.U.). For most people it probably doesn’t matter how scientifically literate they are.”–Grotius

    Can you cite the edvidence? And if that’s true, why doesn’t religion play a similar role in the politics of the EU?

  29. “Could this piety, fake and otherwise, be a contributing factor in America’s super-low voter turnout…?” Rhywun

    I thought the religious right had a super-high voter turnout.

  30. And if that’s true, why doesn’t religion play a similar role in the politics of the EU?

    Interestingly, Europe has major political parties that are explicitly religious. Most countries have a party named “Christian” something or other. Many countries have a state religion. Many contribute tax dollars to these religions. And many of their public schools feature religious instruction. I can’t explain any of this, except that perhaps “religion” in America is a more explicitly right-wing affair than in Europe.

  31. Rhywun

    Church attendance and affiliation is decreasing everywhere in Europe (except in Poland, even in Italy. In France the Catholic church is moribund.

  32. Rhywun,

    Perhaps all that institutionalizing of religion that we see in Europe has actually weakened the passion for religion of ordinary people. Here in America religion comes from the grassroots. One might even consider how a state religion could be like a state enterprise, while religion in the U.S. would be like a private enterprise.

  33. We may rightly complain when American voters finally shed their superstitions, but not until then. Even rational, atheist candidates are afraid to admit their minority status for fear of offending Christian yahoos. If getting elected means pandering to nitwits, the candidates will fall all over one another to do so. Is anyone really surprised?

  34. Mitch makes a good point. In fact, irrationasl stuff flourishes in the market place, witness self-help twadle like The Secret, health food and supplement scams, crystals, astrology, get-rich schemes, etc., etc. Maybe fundamentalist religion is the tip of the iceberg.

  35. Edward,

    Do those stats on church attendance and affiliation include former Soviet bloc countries besides Poland? I am wondering if government opposition to religion might actually foster an underground interest in religion.

  36. Mitch

    Offical state atheism certainly shored up the Cathloic church in Poland, where the church became the de facto opposition. I’m not sure about Russia. Religion there has made a comeback, but decades of official atheism has left its mark.

  37. mitch — So… if a person running for office has based some of his or her positions on his or her religious beliefs, Terry Michael thinks the person should keep it a secret?

    Well, if that person is a Christian, then it’s pretty clear: Christians are commanded by the Bible to pray in secret, and not to shout their faith on the street corner. That’s the whole point of Matthew 6 — Christianity is a private matter, between yourself and God, not a matter for pious public pronouncements.

    A Christian candidate would shut up about religion; it takes a genuine fraud to publicly profess faith.

  38. Grant Gould,

    I think you misreppresent Christianity, which is above all a prosyletizing religion. Christians are commanded to bering the “Good News” to all people. That conversionary impulse is behind the Christian right’s involvement in politics. Comtemporary American evangelicals pray on TV, for heaven’s sake (so to speak.)

  39. the Holy Trinity of Clinton, Obama, and Edward

    Have these people ever done anything?

    Why are the republicans so scared? Are they even scared, and that perception is just some media phantom?

  40. Edward,

    I mention it on my blog here.

    I think people too often assume that the absence of religion means the absence of what a lot consider to be psuedo-science, irrationality, etc.

  41. “The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.” –Jerry Falwell

  42. Grotius,

    Thanks. That’s fascinating. According to this ranking of countries by scientific literacy, the U.S. comes 14th.

  43. If only conservative Christians would behave more like Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’d be very pleased. You know, there’s that whole clause of Christianity where you should be baring witness to your neighbors, sharing the good news of Jesus and him dying for your sins and all that.

    As I gather from a friend of mine who’s a JW, they don’t vote either because they believe that people should live by God’s law, not man’s law. Now, for all we find JWs to be annoying when they come to our doors, at least they have the guts to go to people who will flat-out reject them and continually reaffirm their faith by professing it to others. That’s worthy of respect.

    Not “I’m going to try to make you live the way I think God wants you to through legislation, and I’m saving you from going to hell, except I’m not because you have to believe in all this bullshit, which you’re less likely to do because we’re ramming our morals down your throat and you associate this negative behavior with Christianity, turning you off entirely to the idea of exploring a Christian life for yourself. Congratulations to me!”

  44. Indeed, in Europe the institution of the state church has weakened religious conviction/craziness. America’s religious freedom has produced Theosophy, Mormonism, Christian Science, Scientology, and a whole bunch of other wacky (or perhaps slightly more wacky than normal) religions. When you think government religion, think government cheeze. Bland and not very interesting.

  45. The best part was the seemingly throw-away quote:

    “GOP (God’s Own Party?)”

    This is huge. Take it viral, people.

  46. “The front-runners’ pandering to “people of faith” is the latest expression of Religion Lite advocated by the consultant wing of the Democratic Party.

    After several decades of the religious right’s attempt to trash the First Amendment and Christianize America via the GOP (God’s Own Party?), we are now treated to the religious left and its heavenly claims on behalf of social justice….”

    Yeah, the GOP throws the “godless athiest” charge at the Dems constantly until it becomes politically necessary for them to head it off with faith talk, and this is of course the Dems fault. Riiight.

  47. “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

    Barry Goldwater — From the Congressional Record, September 16, 1981

  48. “Yeah, the GOP throws the “godless athiest” charge at the Dems constantly until it becomes politically necessary for them to head it off with faith talk, and this is of course the Dems fault. Riiight.”

    is there a lot of godless atheist type slurring going on beyond the punditocracy? i generally don’t see it but perhaps i am not looking in the right place.

    in a related note, i think “but they started it” is a terrible defense for any activity.

  49. in a related note, i think “but they started it” is a terrible defense for any activity.

    Which, actually, is at least a better defense for an activity than “They didn’t start it… yet. But they were thinking about starting it!” as used by the Bush administration.

  50. The Good Samaritan: American Politician edition:

    There was a man traveling from Jerusalem who was waylaid by robbers, beaten and left for dead. A Pharisee passed by, but seeing the wounded man, crossed the street and continued. A lawyer likewise did the same. However, then a Good Samaritan came along who recognized that he lived in a global village and, in fact, had 50% of his income taken every year for the express purpose of paying government workers to dispense charity for him.

    So he phoned in a report to the local police, who dispatched an officer to take a report. The officer was suspicious of the Samaritan’s proximity to the crime, his foreign status, and his lack of a proper Roman ID card and opted to detain the Samaritan indefinitely, until such time as he could prove his innocence. However, after some enhanced interrogation at the local precinct, the filthy bugger confessed to the whole thing and is currently incarcerated at an undisclosed location pending review by a military tribunal.

    The police report was forwarded to the office of Health and Human Services who filed their own report on the matter and assigned a case worker to the injured traveler. Said report, in turn, was then filed to the office of Homeland Security who demanded increased funding from Caesar so they could put officers on every road to strip search travelers and ensure that no one was carrying any weapons of any sort except for the bandits who ignored the checkpoints.

    Meanwhile, the HHS case worker made quiet inquiries and recommended the traveler’s case to the Deputy Regional Director of Hospital Services where he would be placed on a waiting list, unless of course, the traveler were a smoker, drinker, or a bit overweight, in which case he would be denied treatment. The Traveler (assuming he is a clean liver) would then see a doctor who would assign him a Tylenol for his pain, despite the fact that he was, from lack of speedy care, now dead.

    Health and Human Services then recommended increased funding from Caesar to decrease the case worker load to solve the obvious delay problem that, their report assured him, in no way contributed to the traveler’s death, but was still a problem that required massive amounts of new funding anyway.

    Caesar, in his infinite wisdom, reviewed the petitions of his Cabinet officers, and decided to pass tax increases under the theory that it was quite obvious that despite already high levels of taxation, the greedy Roman subjects obviously still had too much spare money if they were being targeted for robbery in the first place.

    Hail Caesar!

  51. CFisher –
    Brilliant

  52. “The Dem religious message tends to be “Jesus wants us to help the needy, etc.”

    Voluntarity help the needy. Forcibly taking away from some to give to others is not charity, it’s theft.

  53. “It is an entirely different matter though for Hillary Clinton to pretend to be pious hoping for the thumpers votes. That is dishonest, and counter productive for her, I hope.”

    Hillary is a devout Methodist. I always wonder how she squares that with all the corruption she has been involved in and all the lying she does.

  54. All faith questions should be taken off the table for the duration of the campaign. Whether or not a candidate believes in god, or which particular god he or she believes in, is immaterial to the presidency. Read the Constitution: last paragraph of Article VI, and, of course, the first clause in the First
    Amendment.

    If you’d like to see my suggestions for some other kinds of questions that might be more revealing about the candidates, take a look at this:
    Thoughtful and Educated: Too Much to Ask?

  55. Grotius | June 7, 2007, 10:13am | #

    So, what kind of atheist are you?

    Well, I suspect that the quiz isn’t really well-equipped for use by a full-blown theist (even though it’s possible to score as one), but interestingly …

    —————————————
    You scored as a Agnostic

    Agnostics consider the possibility that they may be wrong about God’s existence, no matter which side of the fence they stand on. Always willing to objectively evaluate the most ridiculous proof, nevertheless, these guys are skeptics of the Nth degree.

    Agnostic 75%
    Scientific Atheist 67%
    Spiritual Atheist 50%
    Theist 42%
    Apathetic Atheist 8%
    Militant Atheist 0%
    Angry Atheist 0%

  56. “Hillary is a devout Methodist. I always wonder how she squares that with all the corruption she has been involved in and all the lying she does.”

    Ummm, do you have a Being John Malkovich portal into Hillary’s head? Do you spend hundreds of hours around her in unguarded moments when she’s not performing for the cameras? Cause if the answers were “no”, then how the heck do you know she (or any other politician of either party) isn’t just pandering?

    Oh, that’s right. Politicians almost never pander.

  57. dhex,

    “is there a lot of godless atheist type slurring going on beyond the punditocracy?”

    When Sam Brownback said, at Monday’s debate, “If you want to vote for a candidate who doesn’t believe in God, I imagine that there are a lot of them running,” who did you think he meant?

  58. Makes sense to me. Democrats are now using the religious concepts of social justice to justify their schemes, which they couldn’t do otherwise with reason.

    Remember that Western civilization suppressed under centuries of state religion were told that it was immoral to try to improve yourself or become wealthy because it was an indicator of materialism. The “God wants you to be rich” breed of American evangelism is really a mutant strand of Christianity, so it’s not implausible that religious anti-capitalism could be hauled back up in America.

    Christian Socialism is much more present in Europe.

  59. Here is a bumper sticker for y’all:

    YOU PRAY FOR ME / I’LL THINK FOR YOU.

  60. “Which, actually, is at least a better defense for an activity than “They didn’t start it… yet. But they were thinking about starting it!” as used by the Bush administration.”

    Moose, a fallen set of towers in New York seems to contradict your assertion.

  61. “in a related note, i think “but they started it” is a terrible defense for any activity.”

    so, what do you do if you are assaulted, Dhex?

  62. “Moose, a fallen set of towers in New York seems to contradict your assertion.”

    Our meddling policy in the Middle East started it.

  63. I generally agree with Terry Michael’s vexation at the candidates’ continuous reassurances of religious belief, in order not to alienate the all-important religious demographic. I wish a candidate would adopt, for a change, the stance that religious belief is, in fact, a private affair, and not at all a prerequisite for morality (nor political office). And, for “heaven’s” sake, shake off the ridiculous notion that “atheism equals Marxism”, which has dominated public opinion far too long now..

    Alas, the closest thing to a secular politician I can remember of was the former wrestler (governor?) who inanely attacked all believers as “mentally weak persons who need crutches”, or some such offensive nonsense (exactly what we don’t need, and the kind of behaviour to paint atheists as confrontational bigots in the mind of the general public). In any case, religious reassurances seem to have become part and parcel of the meaningless posturing which has replaced reasoned policy discourse in electoral campaigns (alongside trotting out the wife and kids, kissing babies, and the rest of the populist shebang). More’s the pity.

    My scores, by the way..

    “You scored as a Scientific Atheist”

    “These guys rule. I’m not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.”

    Scientific Atheist 75%
    Apathetic Atheist 75%
    Spiritual Atheist 67%
    Agnostic 58%
    Militant Atheist 50%
    Theist 33%
    Angry Atheist 17%

    In all sincerity, I find the “50% militant atheist” score disturbing, as the “religion as a virus of the mind” Dawkins-brigade honestly gives me the creeps. The “spiritual atheist” score is quite off the mark, too. Not particularly impressed by this quiz..

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