American Atheists on Faith and Politics

January 14, 2008

faithwatch
PFW:26

American Atheists President Ellen Johnson has posted a fantastic monologue about Faith in Politics and John F. Kennedy. I’ve transcribed the speech below. I feel that it would be important to spread the transcript and/or video as much as possible, especially in the coming year. She poses the question “Would JFK be electable today with his stance in the issue of the separation of church and state?”

Here is the full transcript:

Welcome, and thanks for visting the American Atheists Web site. I’m Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists. By the time you see this video, the Iowa caucuses will be history. We still have 11 months to go until the 2008 Presidential Election, and odds are, that even right after the New Hampshire and Michigan primaries, we still won’t have a clear fix on who will be the nominees for Republican and Democratic Parties. One thing is for sure, however; religion and religious faith are playing a disproportionately large element in the race for the White House. And nearly all of the candidates feel the pressure to declare religious belief as a credential for public office.

Surveys indicate that the overwhelming majority of voters are mostly concerned about issues like: the budget deficit, war in Iraq and healthcare. A small but well organized coterie of evangelicals though, exercise a disproportionate amount of influence — especially inside the Republican Party. They vote, and they vote as a block. They’re well organized and when they vote, it’s not the Constitution or secular policies that guide their decisions. They’re convinced that America was, or is, or should be, a so-called “Christian nation” where the Bible is a template for how government and society should operate. We can all learn a lesson from their organizational skills and commitment to their cause.

Could John F. Kennedy be elected President of the United States today? It’s doubtful, given the current theo-political climate. Back in 1960, when JFK won the Democratic nomination for President, religion was a major campaign issue. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic and no Catholic up to that point had been elected to the White House. And in 1960, people were wondering if Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism somehow compromised his ability to serve the United States over the Vatican.

John F. Kennedy was one of the few Presidential Candidates who openly and proudly enunciated his support for the separation of church and state. Today that is almost a taboo phrase, “separation of church and state.” Mitt Romney uses it occasionally — so does Reverend Mike Huckabee. Ron Paul doesn’t even think that it should exist! He says, “The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of the founding fathers.”

Most candidates today repeat the myth that the separation of church and state is not in our Constitution or that its a legal fiction or that it simply means that the government cannot tamper in the affairs of religion. But all of those claims are simply wrong. It’s true that the words “separation of church and state” are not found in the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not part of our legal code. The words are an interpretation of what the Establishment Clause means. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, which is the free exercise clause. And it guarantees our freedom from imposed or government compelled religion. That’s the Establishment Clause. Our courts have been consistent over the past 50 to 60 years that the First Amendment was intended to erect a wall of separation between state and church.

Unlike Huckabee and Romney and other candidates who want to showcase their religious beliefs as a credential for public office, John F. Kennedy embraced both elements of the First Amendment. He supported the right of people to believe in and practice their faith, so in long as those beliefs were not forced on other people. He also enunciated the principle that the state should not serve the church — any church — including his own. He opposed the official diplomatic recognition of the Vatican, complete with ambassadorial exchanges, fearing that it was unconstitutional and gave his own church too much power. Kennedy declared that if elected to the Presidency, he would put the Constitution first — not private religious beliefs. He also sent a clear message to the Catholic hierarchy that they should not interfere in the political affairs of the United States. Wherever Kennedy went, he was hounded by ads, picket signs and charges that he was a stalking horse for Roman Catholicism. Most of these accusations came from Protestant groups. So Kennedy, true to his style and principles, confronted his accusers during an historic appearance before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association at the Rice Hotel in Houston, TX on September the 12th, 1960. Let me read you some of the quotes from his speech and then ask yourself if any candidate today would have the guts to stand up for these principles.

He began his talk to over 600 Protestant ministers by say that there were “far more critical issues than religion.” He said, “The hungry children I saw in West Virginia; the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills; the families forced to give up their farms; and America with too many slums, too few schools and too late to the moon and outer space.” And he said, “They are the real issues which should decide this campaign and they are not religious issues for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.”

Kennedy blamed religious sectarianism, especially the obsessive focus on his private Catholicism, as being responsible for obscuring what he called “the real issues” of his campaign. And just minutes into his talk, he put it all on the line. He said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute — where no Catholic prelate would tell the President, should he be a Catholic, how to act; and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

Kennedy’s enlightened vision of a secular America — a polity free from religious dogma — is like night and day compared to our current political climate. I particularly like these following quotes from JFK.

“Whatever issue may come before me as President on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views — In accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power, nor threat of punishment, could cause me to decide otherwise. But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office.”

We’ve come a long way since the 1960 campaign and yes, there has been progress in defending separation of church and state thanks to groups like American Atheists. But we need to work very hard to make the politicians aware that a quarter of the United States population are not religious. We are a huge voting block. If we non-religious Americans make our issues our primary concern on election day, then we can make our voting power work for us.

Vote your atheism first, and together we can enlighten the vote. Thank you for visiting our Web site, I’m Ellen Johnson.

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TGR Commenter Offers Atheists Television Spot

January 11, 2008

In a comment to my post “Holy Shit,” Randy let us know:

I guess people just came from nothing….yeah, that makes sense, nothing caused everything to evolve. Brainless waste of time this is to claim there is no God. There is a TV program in VA and NC that would gladly have you as their quest to prove this nonsense you are promoting. If you know of any atheist that would take this offer, please send them my way. We will provide them with free airtime to make these claims and glady debate them on this…..we have done it many times and nobody is willing to do anything but blog about it….come on TV and debate this nonsense

First of all, Randy – there’s a reason no one will debate you. You’re not open to the debate. It’s not a neutral debate by any means and therefore would be ridiculous. Even in the recently televised debate between the Rational Responders and TV’s Mike Seaver, the debate came across horribly boring. One side stated their opinions as the absolute truth, then the other side stated theirs. Meanwhile, neither side listened to the other. In your comment, you ask an atheist to “prove” there is no god. How exactly does one prove a lack of existence in something? (Why doesnt god heal amputees?) Can you prove that the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist? Can you prove that psychic phenomenon doesn’t exist? Aliens? UFO’s? Zeus? Santa? Tooth Fairy? How does one go about it?

Just to be fair, I’ve posted your request on several athiest message boards in case anyone would like to hold you to your one-sided “debate.”


Satirical Web Site Gets Taken Seriously

December 27, 2007

The clever satire on the web site, landoverbaptist.org, has been taken seriously by one Christian website, Cross Nation. The Christian site dedicated to “Bringing Civilization to the Internet” thinks that some people might be confused and actually believe some of the things on landoverbaptist.org, so they make a handy list clearing up the facts. The result is actually something that is not all that different from the satire on landoverbaptist.org! It’s a funny read, and certainly not meant to be so. Here’s their explanation:

This section is dedicated to detailing the many misrepresentations of Fundamentalist Christianity found at the satirical website known as Landoverbaptist.com or Landoverbaptist.org. The “Terms of Use” link at the bottom of the homepage of Landoverbaptist.com/.org does have a disclaimer acknowledging that Landover Baptist is fictitious, yet no effort has as yet been made by either critics or the website itself to show the disparities between fact and fiction.

Below is a chart, put in rough alphabetical order, showing in the left column what Landoverbaptist.com claims Fundamentalists believe and showing in the right column what Fundamentalists really believe in their own words.

And here’s a couple excerpts from their list:

  • What Landoverbaptist.com claims
    Fundamentalists believe.
    • Afterlife

    You are probably asking yourself, “Why will Jesus be removing our reproductive organs and teats before we get to Heaven?” Well, my dear lady, the answer is quite simple. In Heaven, there’ll simply be no need for genitals. My guess is that the Lord is pretty disgusted after having to watch His creatures hump away on each other for the last 4,000 years. I know I’d be! Think of it this way, Jesus and His Daddy have been sitting up there in Heaven watching the longest pornographic film ever made, and frankly, they are no longer amused.
    (http://www.landoverbaptist.org/
    news0704/grandpa.html, accessed 06/20/07)

  • What Fundamentalists
    Believe in their own words.
    • Afterlife

    “Will our resurrection bodies have sex organs? Since men will be men, and women will be women, and since there will be direct continuity between the old bodies and the new, there’s every reason to believe they will.”
    (Alcorn, Randy Heaven Wheaton, Illonois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004 p.339.)

  • What Landoverbaptist.com claims
    Fundamentalists believe.
    • Cinema: LOTR: The Two Towers

    This time around, you don’t have to be a Bible Scholar or a Creation Scientist to see that The Two Towers are giant structures built to glorify and honor the aroused genitalia of two of the most powerful evil beings in the movie. The imagery is kept discrete only by the merciful fact that both creatures are uncircumcised – otherwise the shape of two enormous, throbbing purple penis heads would have been staring every moviegoer in the face! The citizens of Middle Earth pick which penis they like best and head toward it. (http://www.landoverbaptist.org
    /news1202/twotowers.html, accessed 03/15/07)

  • What Fundamentalists
    Believe in their own words.
    • Cinema: LOTR: The Two Towers

    Families who felt so-so about the violence of Fellowship should be aware that things get darker and more intense here. No more frolicking in the Shire. The scenic splendor of Rivendell gives way to slithering sidekicks and hordes of invading beasts. (Thank goodness for John Rhys-Davies, who provides much-needed comic relief as Gimli the Dwarf.) If things truly are darkest before dawn, director Peter Jackson has gone all out to set up an unbelievably bright “dawn” in act three, next year’s Return of the King. From a storytelling perspective, that makes sense. After all, The Empire Strikes Back was the most foreboding film in the original Star Wars trilogy. But the often dreary onslaught here may be more than some families want to endure (this is not a film for children). (http://www.pluggedinonline.com
    /movies/movies/a0000116.cfm, accessed 03/17/07)


    Idiotic Comment Award

    December 27, 2007

    Every once in awhile, we like to poke fun at those who post comments on the Internet with which we take issue. Today’s Idiotic Comment Award goes to a commenter on another Web site outside of TheGreatRealization.com. I thought it was fair game since the comment was on a story that referenced a Great Realization post questioning the Godliness of the world’s largest philanthropists.

    Before we get to the comment, here’s the article.

    [DRUM ROLL PLEASE] And the idiotic comment award goes to a user by the name of “Patrick” for the following gem!

    I don’t know any religious thinker who says “without religious belief you cannot be moral.” I don’t doubt that there are some religious people who think so, but this is not a serious argument. I know many religious people who say that without religion, society cannot transmit morals, moral behavior is not promoted in society, and that immoral behavior is not discouraged. I don’t think a feeling of empathy can get a society to that point.

    As far as the effect of religion on Buffet and Gates, I wonder if they haven’t been raised in religious homes. I don’t know. Maybe their motivations are simply altruistic, in which case they are the exception to the rule. Still, the American culture and environment in which they operate is religious. Good behavior is determined largely by the values that the Judeo-Christian tradition has engendered. As Arthur Brooks has shown, religious people give more than secular people. Of course that is not true in every particular. Regardless of their religious (or lack of) motivation, Gates and Buffet are doing good things.

    stupidOkay, Patrick. Let’s take this piece by piece. First of all – there are MANY religious thinkers (if not most) that argue that religion is essential for morality. Just recently Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney made that exact argument in a speech about religion. Christian writers argue all the time that without Religion, we’re relegated to being a bunch of immoral monkeys running amuck around the planet. Just yesterday, Chuck Colson used a twisted understanding of the philosophy of Nietzsche to argue in the Christian post that:

    One atheist understood the moral consequences of his unbelief: That was Nietzsche, who argued that God is dead, but acknowledged that without God there could be no binding and objective moral order.

    Of course, the “New Atheists” deny this. Instead, they unconvincingly argue that you can have the benefits of an altruistic, Christian-like morality without God.

    Of course, it should also be noted that Colson thinks that “You won’t find many atheists feeding the hungry and ministering to the sick in places like Africa or Mother Teresa’s Calcutta.” Apparently he doesn’t read this blog.

    Look – I probably shouldn’t even use Colson as support here. He’s obviously got a screw loose and furthermore doesn’t understand science very well.

    The point is – as an atheist, one sometimes fears telling other people about their lack of belief because of situations like this:

    magikent: …so I helped serve food to the homeless at the shelter over Thanksgiving and then I delivered cookies to all the grandma’s in a three state area.

    believer: Really, that’s so nice of you.

    magikent: Yeah, then I went home and wrote a blog entry for “The Great Realization,” my atheist blog.

    believer: What? You’re an atheist? I thought you said you helped feed the homeless? [HEAD EXPLODES]

    dumb

    I hear stories like this all the time. There are sadly many that simply can’t imagine a human possessing morals and values without the threat of eternal damnation.

    Patrick also argues that “Good behavior is determined largely by the values that the Judeo-Christian tradition has engendered.” What? Patrick, my dogs can exhibit good behavior and I’m pretty sure they haven’t been up watching the 500 Club. Good behavior has to do with several things. The innate desire to end suffering, the natural understanding of “the golden rule,” and the desire to show compassion to others. These are things that are possible without any religious beliefs. They’re simply a condition of being human. We want to be happy and in order to be happy, we learn what makes us end our sufferings. One of the most obvious of these is to treat other people the way we would want to be treated. Even more sophisticated “learned behavior” could be attributed to mimicking of parenting styles and role models more than religion. However most Christians would tell you that it is the code of the Bible (most of the things above are mentioned as God’s word in the Bible) that is necessary to know these tips for good behavior. Because many of the Judeo-Christian God’s rules are natural, inborn desires and feelings in humans, the Bible is unnecessary for good or moral behavior. How many of the “Ten Commandments” can be explained through “Treat others as you wish to be treated?” Almost all of them. Yet Christians will argue that without understanding and living through God’s law, one can not be moral.

    Patrick doesn’t believe it, so he get’s today’s idiotic comment award. YAY.


    Wacko Boycotts Prove Innefective as Golden Compass Still Takes First

    December 9, 2007

    Christian boycotts against The Golden Compass didn’t seem to do too much. While the movie fell short of New Line Cinema’s projection of $30M in the first week, it’s still in first place at the box office.

    LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — “The Golden Compass” proved a mild fantasy at the box office, pulling in $26.1 million, a modest opening weekend compared to such recent December heavyweights as “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” flicks.

    New Line Cinema’s “The Golden Compass,” whose cast includes Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, also took in $55 million overseas since it began opening last Wednesday in 25 other countries.

    New Line, which had enormous success with its three “Lord of the Rings” films, had hoped for more out of “The Golden Compass,” expecting it to reach at least $30 million domestically over its first weekend, said Rolf Mittweg, the studio’s marketing chief. The film cost $180 million to make.

    “The Golden Compass” follows the adventures of an orphan girl hurled into a parallel world of witches, strange flying machines and talking polar bears.

    Parents with children accounted for half of the film’s audience, so New Line is counting on family crowds that flock to theaters over the holidays to keep the movie afloat, Mittweg said.

    The three “Lord of the Rings” films released from 2001 to 2003 had opening weekends ranging from $47.2 million to $72.6 million. Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” opened with $65.6 million in 2005.

    Those were based on very familiar fantasy literature from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, while “The Golden Compass” was adapted from the first book of Philip Pullman’s lesser-known “His Dark Materials” trilogy.

    Mittweg said he was uncertain about the effects of a backlash against “The Golden Compass” by some Christians, who said Pullman’s books preach atheism.

    “It’s very hard to say. Historically, protests of these sorts tend to be ineffective on box-office results,” Mittweg said.


    Romney Wouldn’t Include Muslim as Cabinet Member

    November 27, 2007

    faithwatch
    PFW:22

    In Boston.com’s Political Intelligence column, Foon Rhee reports that Republican hopeful, Mitt Romney would not invite a Muslim to be a part of his presidential cabinet.

    Mansoor Ijaz, who describes himself as an American-born Muslim whose family came from Pakistan, writes in an opinion piece in today’s Christian Science Monitor that he attended a private fund-raiser this month for Romney in Las Vegas. Ijaz says he asked Romney whether he would consider a Muslim for a national security post in his Cabinet, since he says radical jihad is the biggest threat facing America.

    According to Ijaz, Romney said that based on the proportion of Muslims in the US population, a Cabinet post would not be “justified,” though he could “imagine” Muslims serving in lower-level jobs in his administration.

    Of course its a ridiculous idea that a presidential candidate would ever consider having equal amounts of all religions represented in his cabinet. And Romney states something to that effect:

    “Suggesting that we have to fill spots based on checking off boxes of various ethnic groups is really a very inappropriate way to think about we staff positions,” he said.

    But the truth is, this isn’t about INCLUDING people, it’s about EXCLUDING people. The idea that he would discount a person based on their Muslim faith is pretty much a dead give away to how he feels about other Muslim Americans. And if he feels that way about Muslim Americans, how does he feel about other minorities?


    Canadian Poll Claims Atheists Less Likely to “Do Good”

    October 24, 2007

    In a poll conducted by Reggie Bibby of The University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, the assertion is made that atheists are less likely to do good. This is just the latest in the Christian’s “defense” on what they believe is a “War on Christianity.” One can tell a pretty obvious bias from Bibby’s statements and comments regarding the poll.

    Here’s what the Baptist Press has to say about the study:poll

    Is it necessary to believe in God in order to have solid personal values? A new survey seems to answer that question with a “yes.”

    The survey by a pollster at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, found that adults who profess a belief in God are significantly more likely than atheists to say that forgiveness, patience, generosity and a concern for others are “very important.” In fact, the poll found that on 11 of 12 values, there was a double-digit gap between theists and atheists, with theists more likely to label each value “very important.”

    The survey by sociologist and pollster Reginald Bibby examined the beliefs of 1,600 Canadians, 82 percent who said they believed in “God or a higher power” and 18 percent who said they did not.

    The poll was released as an aggressive branch of atheism is getting increasing attention. Led in part by authors Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris as well as by the so-called Blasphemy Project, the new combative form of atheism argues that society would be better off in a “God-less world.” The research — while not addressing any specific authors or groups — seems to claim otherwise. The poll was conducted in 2005 and released Oct. 8.

    “To the extent that Canadians say good-bye to God, we may find that we pay a significant social price,” Bibby said in a press release.

    The Ottawa Citizen took the poll results seriously, asserting in an editorial that “declining religious affiliation could be accompanied by a decline in civility.”

    “Clergy and theologians have long argued something similar, namely, that without formal religion it is hard for society to maintain and perpetrate ethical behaviour,” the editorial stated. “Of course, clergy are not the most objective analysts in these matters. Bibby, however, speaks as an academic. …

    “Bibby’s research suggests that as religiosity declines, we start to travel blind — and society pays a price,” the editorial continued. “Religious affiliation, apparently, has a civilizing function. We become socialized at church. The fear, then, is that as we separate ourselves from these institutions, social harmony could suffer.”

    “To the extent that Canadians say good-bye to God, we may find that we pay a significant social price,” Bibby said in a press release.” ????

    What an incredibly scientific and non-biased thing for the CONDUCTOR of this research to say!

    I’m glad at least there are some Canadians who can see through this so-called “research.”