Pharyngula

I can vote for a Christian politician, no problem. I have even liked Obama’s sense of vision (although it seems he’s been a bit of a flop in execution.) His latest speech, though…

And if we’re going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

If a liberal Democratic politician wants to buy into the foolish idea that Christians can’t accept evolution, that it’s a good thing that more Americans believe in this insane nonsense about angels than in science, then he has lost my vote. I won’t even get into the rest of his paean to the silly goblins of faith.

Oh, please, can we someday have a freethinking politician of presidential caliber again? It’s been a long time since Lincoln.

Comments

  1. #1 Corey S
    June 30, 2006

    From the June 12 Time Magazine under the numbers section:
    28 per cent of Americans believe the bible is literally ture down from 38 in 1976. 19 per cent believe the Bible is “ancient book of fables” up from 13 in 1976.

  2. #2 PaulC
    June 30, 2006

    PZ:

    If a liberal Democratic politician wants to buy into the foolish idea that Christians can’t accept evolution, that it’s a good thing that more Americans believe in this insane nonsense about angels than in science, then he has lost my vote.

    He didn’t actually state that it’s a good thing. He may think it’s a good thing; clearly he’s comfortable with the situation. But all he actually said was that people are looking for a “narrative arc” to their lives. Why religion provides a better one than the actual narrative arc that their lives are going to have anyway is anybody’s guess, but I think it’s accurate to identify this need for “purpose” as one of the big drivers of the popularity of religion.

    I don’t have the exact statistics at hand, but I wonder what part of the text you cited strikes you as factually incorrect. Americans believe a lot of things that I might not believe, but if I were a politician I would still need to come up with some way to work with them.

    I may think it’s pretty strange for people to “believe in angels” — particularly if it’s a very personalized sort of belief in guardian angels — but if I know that they do and that they’ll get angry at me for challenging them, that’s just one of the constraints I have to take into account. There are some beliefs I would not be able to condone because they deny rights to others, but this is not one of them.

    On a scale of priorities, if I were building a political coalition, I’d first focus on beliefs that are pertinent to the platform: What is the proper role of the public sector? What are the current problems that the public sector is suited to addressing? What do we see as our nations goals? So far, belief or disbelief in angels hasn’t come up. Drill down a little and you get to science education. At this point, I would have to dismiss “disbelief in evolution” as bad science, but allow that everyone has some misconceptions. The main thing is not to use public schools as a way of promulgating misconception. Still, nothing about angels. I would finally have to state that our platform should explicitly affirm the rights of those, like me, who don’t believe in angels. But other than that, belief in angels should not be a litmus test.

    I cannot with honesty say that I see eye to eye with Obama. Assuming he’s not lying, he has a religious faith that I find incompatible with my own critical thinking. But other than that, he sounds like someone I could work with. He didn’t say that we have to believe in angels or disbelieve in evolution, just be willing to find common ground with those who do. In practice, any party that cannot is going to lose elections in America as it currently exists, and losing parties do not accomplish anything.

  3. #3 Phil@phildennison.net
    June 30, 2006

    Even worse, to me, was the part where he said that it was the Baptists, not the atheists and civil libertarians, fighting for freedom of religion in the early days of our country. As if, for such a supposedly well-educated politician, he’s never read Jefferson or heard of the Enlightenment.

  4. #4 Charlie Wagner
    June 30, 2006

    Paul wrote:

    “If a liberal Democratic politician wants to buy into the foolish idea that Christians can’t accept evolution, that it’s a good thing that more Americans believe in this insane nonsense about angels than in science, then he has lost my vote.”

    Nothing like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutting_off_the_nose_to_spite_the_face

  5. #5 BrianT
    June 30, 2006

    Wouldn’t it be great to have politicians who dispensed with pandering to voting blocs and actually had opinions of their own? No wonder they and their profession usually get so little respect.

  6. #6 Alon Levy
    June 30, 2006

    On the other hand, Obama does acknowledge the importance of separation of church and state and religious pluralism, and says the US is not just a Christian nation. On a third hand, he says:

    Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase “under God.” I didn’t. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs – targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers – that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.

    In similar vein, I as a Jew do not feel oppressed by segregation, or by politicians who talk about how lazy black people are.

  7. #7 Alex R
    June 30, 2006

    PZ, I’m sorry that you will never vote for Barack Obama, as I think that there is a good chance that he will be the Democratic nominee for president sometime in the next few election cycles. If that happens, you have a choice: you can feel pure and vote for Ralph Nader, or you can help help the party that agrees with you about 85% of the issues beat the party that agrees with you about 0%.

    You wrote: If a liberal Democratic politician wants to buy into the foolish idea that Christians can’t accept evolution, that it’s a good thing that more Americans believe in this insane nonsense about angels than in science, then he has lost my vote.

    Well, then again, based on this, maybe we needn’t worry, because Obama said *neither* of the things you seem to be claiming that he is saying. Where do you get the idea that Obama buys into the idea that Christians can’t accept evolution? Where do you get the idea that he thinks it’s a “good thing” that more Americans believe in angels than in evolution? What he said is that we need to *recognize* that this is the case, that many Americans hold religious beliefs that more secular Americans see as irrational, and that if political leaders don’t try to *understand* these people, their needs, and their desires, those leaders will fail to inspire and motivate these people.

    I think it’s great to have people speaking out for science, and against irrationality. But political leaders must do more than this if they are to lead and inspire. They must build coalitions by finding commonalities, rather than highlighting differences that would divide those who share many common goals. Barack Obama may not strike the perfect note with every word, but it’s clear that his goal is to bring people together, and to encourage secular and religious progressives to find common ground and work with each other.

  8. #8 cm
    June 30, 2006

    Obama did not make or even imply any of the assertions you attributed to him in that quote. He was simply giving some salient evidence that this is a religious country.

    If you take the speech as a whole, it’s very rational and in line with progressive values. Read the paragraph about Abraham, for example.

    If you are going to hang Obama out to dry for this little item, than you have to admit that, no, you should never vote for a Christian–because Christian politicians just don’t get any more measured, inclusive, and thoughtful than this.

  9. #9 kippy
    June 30, 2006

    I guess you could try to stretch what he is saying as Christians cannot believe in evolution, but that would take the mose unforgiving and a somewhat forced reading. I think in context he seems to be saying that this is where things stand. Religious belief is far more common in the US than scientific understanding. He doesn’t even imply this is a good thing. He just goes onto describe why this happens. And by my reading it’s a pretty fair assesment.

  10. #10 Alex R
    June 30, 2006

    Phil wrote:

    Even worse, to me, was the part where he said that it was the Baptists, not the atheists and civil libertarians, fighting for freedom of religion in the early days of our country. As if, for such a supposedly well-educated politician, he’s never read Jefferson or heard of the Enlightenment.

    Well, Phil, there were certainly a number of Deists and freethinkers among the founders, but it’s also true that many if not most of the American colonies were founded by religious refugees — Catholics, Puritans, Baptists, Quakers — from the established Church of England. (And Rhode Island was founded by religious refugees fleeing from persecution in Massachusetts 🙂 ) I srongly suspect that members of persecuted religious minorities were a bit more thick on the ground in pre-Revolutionary America than atheist rabble rousers. I’m not enough of a historian to say which individuals were more important in defining the principles of religous freedom in the US, but I’m quite certain that the religious history of the colonies was very important for the eventual adoption of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment.

  11. #11 Ahcuah
    June 30, 2006

    Phil Dennison said:

    Even worse, to me, was the part where he said that it was the Baptists, not the atheists and civil libertarians, fighting for freedom of religion in the early days of our country.

    No, he was right. Jefferson’s famous letter in which he talked about the “wall of separation” was to a Baptist minister. None of the established churches were Baptist, Baptists were relatively few in number, and the Baptists needed re-assurances more than anybody.

    Of course, now that they have the numbers, the Baptists are no better than the established churches were.

  12. #12 drcharles
    June 30, 2006

    i like obama. i’ve read his book. he’s your type of man really. all this speech stuff is political posturing, wise for a man whom many have knighted as a future star on the national scene.

    the most genuine line: “Imagine Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address without reference to “the judgments of the Lord.” Or King’s I Have a Dream speech without references to “all of God’s children.” Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.”

    i say give him another look, read between his ambitious lines.

  13. #13 Betty Cocker
    June 30, 2006

    PZ, The bit of he speech you printed here has nothing wrong with it – he is just quoting statistics. He is saying you have to consider what people believe and gives an anaylysis. If you read the whole thing it is not too terrible. Let’s face it an atheist is less likely to get elected in the near term in the USA than any oher minority. So if you are not prepared to vote for and work with or support anyone who professes a belief in god, you are never going to have a meanigful say in who is president least for a very long time.
    It is good to start off wit ideals, but in politics at some point you end up with choices.

  14. #14 PaulC
    June 30, 2006

    To repeat myself, but including cm’s point: PZ took a quote from Obama’s speech and drew two conclusions that do not follow (see above). What I want to know is what part of Obama’s statement is factually incorrect? I’m not asking rhetorically. Can anyone answer?

    Is it the precise statistics? (They sound right to me, but they may be off.) Is it the assertion that we need to understand what a majority of American’s thinks in order to succeed politically? Perhaps we can develop a highly effective political strategy by assuming that contrary to fact, Americans are mostly secular and conversant in science. Taking this quote in isolation, I can see how one might react with frustration (I do too). But I don’t see how you can disagree with it unless you really think “shoot the messenger” is a good basis for discussion.

    I don’t accuse PZ of taking the quote out of context, because it is probably more pro-religious when put in context of the rest of the speech. Here’s a thought experiment: Repeat the quote but imagine the speaker is not a Christian but an atheist (I’d say Dawkins but I’m not sure cares enough about US politics to make that realistic). Does the quote fit? Do you draw the conclusion that he thinks the situation is good?

  15. #15 Alex R
    June 30, 2006

    By the way, how does Obama *really* feel about evolution and science? Through the miracle of Google, we have this, from a speech to the American Library Association:

    And at a time when truth and science are constantly being challenged by political agendas and ideologies; a time where so many refuse to teach evolution in our schools, where fake science is used to beat back attempts to curb global warming or fund life-saving research; libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information. Because even as we’re the most religious of people, America’s innovative genius has always been preserved because we also have a deep faith in facts.

    We also find this:

    * On science and faith in the classroom: “Intelligent design is not science. We should teach our children theology to get them to think about the meaning of life. But that’s separate from how atoms or photons work.”

    Seems clear enough to me… Obama is on the *right* side of the war on science.

  16. #16 danglick
    June 30, 2006

    A few more quotes from the speech:

    “In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they’re something they’re not.”

    “Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”

    “And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?”

    “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”

    This is /exactly/ the message the Democratic Party needs to be sending to the religious community right now. PZ, I hope you’ll reconsider.

  17. #17 Russell
    June 30, 2006

    Both Lincoln and Jefferson kept largely to themselves the degree of their deviance from orthodox religion, knowing that that would hurt them politically. I’m not sure what this implies for PZ’s wish for more free thinkers like them. American politics is what it is.

    FWIW, the Baptist church was quite liberal in its origins. The Civil War was a significant event for the Baptist convention. The Southern Baptists broke from the then main convention, over the issue of slavery.

  18. #18 Alon Levy
    June 30, 2006

    Obama did not make or even imply any of the assertions you attributed to him in that quote. He was simply giving some salient evidence that this is a religious country.

    He said “We need Christians, Jews, and Muslims speaking out about the estate tax” (rough quote). Although nonreligious people are by far the USA’s largest religious minority, he singled out Jews and Muslims. Then he said that separation of church and state was a good principle, but objecting to the words “under god” in the pledge was a folly (just like racial equality is a good thing but the Voting Rights Act is excessive, I’m sure). He’s a Dominionist pretending to be a pluralist, when push comes to shove.

  19. #19 Caledonian
    June 30, 2006

    “Because even as we’re the most religious of people, America’s innovative genius has always been preserved because we also have a deep faith in facts.”

    Well, here’s a fact for you: Americans have no special innovative genius, we have in fact lagged behind other countries that have made far more engineering progress, and we were on top for a while only because we attracted the best and brightest minds from war-torn countries.

    When people flatter you while they praise your ability to think, distrust them.

  20. #20 Sportin' Life
    June 30, 2006

    I was quite irritated by Obama’s speech at first, based on reporting of it. But having now read the whole piece, I’ve found at least a few things to like. The only part that really bothers me is the comment about the pledge and about atheist activism, which Alon correctly called out above.

    If we were having genuine national conversations about our economic system and about our foreign policy–which are the conversations we desperately need to be having–we wouldn’t need to be having one about who believes in gods and who doesn’t. Because gods would not loom so large in relevance. On that front, of furthering relevant discussion, the Democratics are basically worthless. They love to blame gays and atheists for being too scary for Peoria, but that’s only to divert attention from their own failures.

  21. #21 Jason
    June 30, 2006

    Don’t worry. Obama is just playing to Christians in an attempt to garner support and votes. It’s the same thing Screamin’ Dean, JFK II, Hillary, Algore and a slew of other left-wing nitwits are doing lately because of the election year. It’s obvious, insulting and pathetically half-assed (particularly when they can’t even quote the Bible correctly).

  22. #22 Jason
    June 30, 2006

    Oops! Meant to add that you can still vote for Obama because he doesn’t actually believe the words coming out of his mouth.

  23. #23 Steve LaBonne
    June 30, 2006

    Obama clearly didn’t say what PZ thinks he said. But aside from being offended by the implied atheist-phobia I have the same problem with the speech that Atrios did: If you want to reach out to evangelicals, then reach out to evangelicals. But there is no excuse for bashing your own party with Republican talking points in the process. He can live this down, but he needs to recognize that he f’d up.

  24. #24 DOF
    June 30, 2006

    The man is a constitutional scholar. Yes, I’d like a candidate who always agrees with me but such a candidate would guarantee the next Republican victory. If Obama runs, I will vote for him. I don’t expect perfection.

    Won’t stop me from writing to him and asking him to account for freethinkers, though.

  25. #25 stevie_nyc
    June 30, 2006

    Jason. You a fan of Ann Coulter?

  26. #26 PaulC
    July 1, 2006

    Jason, your comments are tiresome. I have no idea if Obama misquoted the Bible, but as your only proficiency seems to be reciting Republican talking points I guess you would have a lot of pride wrapped up in getting quotes right.

    Speaking of Ann Coulter, I have a lot less trouble believing that Obama is a sincere Christian than Coulter, whose only religion is narcissism as far as I can tell. She appears to think that Genesis is some kind of carte blanche to “rape” the earth (her word), putting her at odds with nearly every serious religious source on the notion of stewardship over the earth. If you actually do look in the Bible, you’ll find that the “fill the earth and subdue it” comes with a lot of strings, like treating some things as abominations, making specific sacrifices, etc. You don’t have to buy into any of it, but are we supposed to take Coulter seriously on the subject of religion?

  27. #27 fightingdem
    July 1, 2006

    PZ, I have to say Obama has been a big disappointment but what can you expect when he was put under the tutelage of Joe Lieberman in the Senate. I swear the Senate is where many good progressives go off to become fearful wimps.

    But in all honesty, if Obama was the last Democrat standing against a Republican you would vote for him.

    You, as I, just wouldn’t support him up to that point.

  28. #28 Scott Hatfield
    July 1, 2006

    PZ:

    I’ve read Obama’s speech, and the comments, and I just feel your reaction is a little over-the-top. As Obama suggests, some sense of proportion is necessary.

    Peace…Scott

  29. #29 George
    July 1, 2006

    I didn’t realize he had been playing up his religion so much – this is really disappointing!

    But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

    One more politician succumbing to the sticky flypaper of faith, never to be free again. And it’s not just a little religion injected into a speech, it’s a full-blown marriage of his religion and his politics so that everyone is absolutely clear that he’s the God-seeking, Judeo-Christian tradition-accepting, atheism-refusing candidate of the Democratic party. Yuck!

  30. #30 PZ Myers
    July 1, 2006

    I stand by my interpretation. His message is that the party must cater to and respect the fallacious beliefs of the religious majority. That’s not what I want to hear from my candidate: I want him to say that we must be aloof from religion, that we have to base policy decisions on reason and evidence.

    Taken as a whole, Obama would be a disaster for the country. We’d then have two parties that both make public displays of piety a prerequisite for consideration. And if he won…dear jebus, can you imagine how the beltway dems would ever after be scrambling for yet more vocally religious schmucks to run?

  31. #31 quork
    July 1, 2006

    You people have no sympathy for the Great American Tragedy. This is a Christian nation, founded by God-fearing patriot saints, and yet Christianity is persecuted here by those Godless secularists. This is one of those great mysteries, like the trinity and such.

  32. #32 kstrna
    July 1, 2006

    When you add what Barack said a few days ago regarding atheists and the Pledge (“It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase `under God,'” he said.) what you have is a man trying to score points on the backs of an oppressed group in this country. As someone who has grown up as an atheists let me tell you, the times I was forced to recite the Pledge, I was reminded of the fact I was Other; that many in this country believe that I am unAmerican and that so many believed that back in 1954 that they included “under God” for that very reason, to do just that. And what is Senator Barack Obama’s response, to dismiss us uppity atheists for making such claims. I grew up in Marin County which is “liberal” and is Barbara Boxer territory. Upon people learning I was an atheists,I had teachers asking me how could I not believe in any sort of god like there was something wrong with me.

    The Senator is pandering to get votes. He is playing to win. Guess what I don’t want someone who is trying to “win” to represent me. It becomes a endless cycle of trying to win, election cycles that just flow one into the other. No one actually gets anything done because if you solved something, you loose the issue.

    Why should PZ, myself or any atheist vote for a politician who scores points by de facto supporting our oppression in this society?

    As for me, is the senator going to push to repeal Taft-Hartley? Is he going to give blanket protection for women’s right to choose? Is he going to point out if companies can find the cheapest labor costs in the world, then workers have the right to find the highest wages they can anywhere in the world? Is he going to overturn the assualts upon our civil liberties? Is he going to uphold the Geneva Conventions? Is he going to hold all companies no matter where they are in the world to high environmental/health & safety standards? Is he going to kick private companies out of health insurance?

    And those who say well it can be worse, guess what getting a 20% on an exam is a lot better than a 1% but guess what it is still failing. Why should people accept failure? Why should people lower their expectations? Gore did not loose because of Nader. How many Democrats choose to not even try to vote in Florida? In other states? How many independents? Gore failed because he did not excite them. Eugene V. Debs a Socialist on his worst election day, pulled a higher percentage than Nader did on his best. The push of Debs and other progressives voting outside the traditional two parties moved this country to the left. Conservatives doing the same in the mid 60s helped push this country to the right.

    Power is passed on fear. Voting because you are afraid the other guy might win is only giving politicians of either party power over you.

  33. #33 quork
    July 1, 2006

    I’ve read Obama’s speech, and the comments, and I just feel your reaction is a little over-the-top. As Obama suggests, some sense of proportion is necessary.

    Well Scott, he seems to be calling for a one-sided sense of proportion. Obama said:

    But a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase “under God.” I didn’t.

    Why should he have felt oppressed? He has already made it clear that he is a Christian.

    My challenge to Barack Obama: the next time you are called upon to lead the pledge in a public setting, I challenge you to substitute the words “one nation, without God.” No one should feel oppressed or brainwashed by that, should they?

  34. #34 Keith Douglas
    July 1, 2006

    Speaking of US history, I have been slowly (betwen other things) reading Montesquieu’s De l’esprit des lois, whose influence on the founding of the US seems to be quite important. One passage that amazed me – and this shows various aspects of the Enlightment in a neat package – is his condemnation of how the Spaniards treated the indigenous of Mexico … there’s stuff in there still relevant.

  35. #35 PaulC
    July 1, 2006

    PZ:

    I stand by my interpretation.

    Would you concede that the passage you quoted is insufficient to support such an interpretation exclusive of others?

  36. #36 PZ Myers
    July 1, 2006

    Yes — I didn’t want to quote the whole danged jebus-lovin’ speech.

  37. #37 PaulC
    July 1, 2006

    Or in other words, would it be better if Obama had said:

    And if we’re going to do that we should not waste time understanding religious Americans. For all I know, most Americans don’t even believe in God, I’m pretty certain that few affiliate themselves with any organized religion, and the number of Christians is vastly overstated (I’m not sure I’ve met even one in person). What’s more, Americans are a scientific people. Even non-biologists have a deep intuitive grasp of evolution, and superstitious notions such as angels are virtually unheard of in our republic.

    This would be a fine speech in bizarro land, but is it a good basis for determining political strategy?

  38. #38 Chance
    July 1, 2006

    most Americans don’t even believe in God, I’m pretty certain that few affiliate themselves with any organized religion, and the number of Christians is vastly overstated

    Actually there may be some truth in this statement. There is what people claim and what people actually think. I think the first sentence could be changed to:

    ‘ Most Americans often doubt the existence of God, fewer and fewer affiliate themselves with any organized religion and those that do attend church approximately 20% of the time. The number of people who claim Christianity as their religion in this nation has been steadily declining for decades’

    And it is just as accurate and truthful. Now whether it’s a good thing or not is where the discussion begins.

  39. #39 PZ Myers
    July 1, 2006

    How about if, instead of treating belief in angels as a good thing, he’d treated it as he did the idea of a modern-day Abraham dragging his kid up to a rooftop for a sacrifice? There he could say that maybe a SWAT team to prevent a murder was appropriate…but on the matter of science education, aww, let ’em believe in angels.

    So, no, I’m not into making up nonsense that contradicts reality. I am interested in a politician who might actually see some aspects of reality as a problem that needs to be addressed.

  40. #40 PaulC
    July 1, 2006

    BTW, I agree that I want politicians to say that we have to base policy on reason and evidence. To a limited extent this works politically, because Americans voters are often pragmatic despite giving lipservice to a lot of highly impractical beliefs. But I doubt it’s enough by itself. It strikes me as a lot like Dukakis’s “competence” message. This is still probably effective on a local level where the big issue might be what to with the big vacant lot left by a defunct department store. But politics are too polarized nationally for most people to vote impassionately for the person with the best policy. They’re looking for a symbolic leader, and are willing to confer assumptions about competence to that person automatically.

    The question isn’t how to get voters to approve your proposal, but how to inspire them. I’m inspired by “reason and evidence” but I’m pretty sure I’m very weird.

  41. #41 PaulC
    July 1, 2006

    BTW, is Obama noticeably worse than Bill Clinton in regard to religion? I used to find some of his rhetoric insufferable, but at this point I am willing to overlook at lot just to get the nation out of the tailspin it’s in.

  42. #42 evolvealready
    July 1, 2006

    Reading these comments and Obama’s speech, especially the part about the Pledge not being so bad: “It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase “under God.” I didn’t.”, reminds me of the many conversations I’ve had with conservatives about prayer in Congress or even town Councils. The argument being there’s really no problem with having a “nonsectarian” prayer here. Really? Why nonsectarian? Why not the Lord’s Prayer? Well because not everyone is Christian. No kidding!

    It never seems to occur to them that nonreligious people might be bothered ever so slightly by any prayer. It’s not even on their radar. Let’s not offend Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Protestants with the wrong prayer! But atheists? F them! For Obama to make a remark like he did about the Pledge only tells me he thinks the same way. That’s disappointing.

    In the end, however, I’d probably vote for him over any Republican I can think of today…even Saint John The Maverick.

    By the way, isn’t “nonsectarian” somewhat oxymoronic?

  43. #43 evolvealready
    July 1, 2006

    Sorry, I meant to say “nonsectarian prayer” is somewhat oxymoronic.

  44. #44 rob
    July 1, 2006

    well, as painful as it is to admit, a politician’s job in representative democracy IS to pander to his base, at least to some extent.

    i mean, you could say that the electorate lacks the intellectual wherewithall to govern itself, in which case you need a rep to take the reins and govern for them, but that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

    if the constituency is crazy fundamentalists, then their representative in the senate should have a rainbow wig and a “John 3:16” placard.

  45. #45 Chris
    July 1, 2006

    The man is a constitutional scholar. Yes, I’d like a candidate who always agrees with me but such a candidate would guarantee the next Republican victory. If Obama runs, I will vote for him. I don’t expect perfection.

    Well, I suppose that depends on who he’s running against; but it doesn’t deny our right to grumble at his flaws, and try to goad him into correcting them.

    If he’s a constitutional scholar, I’d be interested to hear his interpretation of the recent Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling and its significance – *before* he has a chance to triangulate his position based on poll data.

  46. #46 Betty Cocker
    July 1, 2006

    “It never seems to occur to them that nonreligious people might be bothered ever so slightly by any prayer.”

    As someone brought up in a country where there is no separation of church and state, I had to regularly attend Christian chapel, It struck me as a very effective innoculation against ever believing in such rubbish.

  47. #47 Loren Petrich
    July 1, 2006

    As to finding prayers distasteful, I think that’s how one may find the prayers of other religions. Would most Protestants enjoy prayers to the Virgin Mary and the saints? Especially as many Protestant fundies continue to consider Catholicism to be idolatrous Mary-worship.

    And would non-Muslims enjoy being told that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet?

  48. #48 jbark
    July 1, 2006

    paul c wrote:

    “BTW, is Obama noticeably worse than Bill Clinton in regard to religion? I used to find some of his rhetoric insufferable, but at this point I am willing to overlook at lot just to get the nation out of the tailspin it’s in”

    This is really the relevant point. I nearly stayed home in 2000 because I thought “Oh joy, I get to choose between 2 evangelical christians.”

    I’ve never been a big Gore or Clinton fan, but I’d cut off my left arm to have had either of them in office for the past 6 years. I suspect the same is true of Obama, warts and all.

  49. #49 Kagehi
    July 1, 2006

    And one can envision certain faith-based programs – targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers – that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.

    Yes, one can “invision” them, if they actually believe in such stuff, but then things tend to go south quite rapidly when it becomes necessary to ignore a 95% failure/recidivism rate, like all the 12-step programs have, and do a lot of hand waving about how they don’t “really know” why all those people drop out, but since they don’t keep track, they can *pretend* its because most of them where “cured”, not insulted by being repeatedly told they are, “too stupid to solve their own problems, so let God make all your decisions”, smart enough to realize it was 100% about brain washing, or they where so bored to death that suicide started to seem better than attending the faith based program. Would be nice if the idiots that believe in faith based programs either a) paid attention to the statistics or b) actually demanded some real statistics and some level of accountability for when the program ends up producing no better, or worse, results than simple chance (or self help in this case).

    See, faith based means envision, then apply, then pretend it worked, while not bothering to compare it to the real (i.e. rest of) the world. This is what is really being promoted by these people.

  50. #50 G. Tingey
    July 1, 2006

    PZ said: “Oh, please, can we someday have a freethinking politician of presidential caliber again? It’s been a long time since Lincoln.”

    What about either Roosevelt?

  51. #51 Kagehi
    July 1, 2006

    I’m not enough of a historian to say which individuals were more important in defining the principles of religous freedom in the US, but I’m quite certain that the religious history of the colonies was very important for the eventual adoption of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment.

    I don’t know all the history myself, but some of what I have read/heard strongly implies that you are right. The fundimentalists of that time period where the ones most supportive of, and even introduced, the seperation idea, as a means to protect themselves. The impression I got is that, even back then, they where a minority and a lot of the persecutions people ran from led to questioning of the validity of a lot of ideas. It seems likely that if a national religion “was” declaired, it would be some form of deism, with no central church authorities, a loose and non-literal interpretation of texts and a very liberal stance on new ideas. The fundies didn’t like that idea one bit, it would have, if codified in law, left them without *any* power. So, to protect themselves they offered up the suggestion that the state make no laws to establish such things at all, thus making it possible for them to “eventually” regain their political power and influence. Sadly for them, the net result of the Industrial Revolution and other things was a net loss in their followers and their being sidelined to the very groups they disdained and wanted to prevent becoming the state religion. Ooops! Now of course, they don’t want to get rid of it, since they know they are still out numbered, but they want to do every damn thing they can to narrow it, limit its effect and force a defacto more-fundie version of Christianity on the nation, so all those people that are either a) not religious, b) not Christian or c) not fundie enough, can’t rob them of what they have left.

  52. #52 Rey Fox
    July 1, 2006

    “but at this point I am willing to overlook at lot just to get the nation out of the tailspin it’s in”

    Exactly. I’d love to find the perfect candidate who agrees with everything I do and things that I don’t know that I agree with yet, but I don’t think we have that luxury right now. PZ and others on this thread seem to think that there is a better alternative to Mr. Obama. Unfortunately, I don’t. Sometimes voting really is about picking the lesser of two evils. And I don’t see that changing overnight. Hell, what we need is sweeping overhaul of the election and party system. But that ain’t happening overnight. Let’s get some more palatable people in office first, then see what we can do.

  53. #53 cm
    July 1, 2006

    Taken as a whole, Obama would be a disaster for the country. We’d then have two parties that both make public displays of piety a prerequisite for consideration. And if he won…dear jebus, can you imagine how the beltway dems would ever after be scrambling for yet more vocally religious schmucks to run?

    Whew, it sure is a good thing that until now the Democrats haven’t made public displays of piety a prerequisite for consideration. And yes, we’ve been lucky so far that the last Democrats–like Clinton and Carter (or candidates like Lieberman, or Jesse Jackson. And of course Kennedy was an avowed atheist)–were never associated with any religious beliefs nor ever said God Bless the United States or anything silly like that. But if that day ever comes, boy…!

  54. #54 Scott Hatfield
    July 1, 2006

    Quork asks why Obama should’ve felt oppressed at reciting the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge, since he was already a Christian.

    Again, I refer you to the article. It’s very clear that if you read the whole text, Obama is claiming that he was not really a believer in high school, that he was more like a passive, distant observer in religious settings. It’s not that he was comfortable with it because he identified himself as a Christian; he was simply indifferent to the phrase ‘under God’ because he had no real commitment at stake. As a high school teacher myself, my observation is that this continues to apply to many, if not most, of my students regardless of whether they are church-goers.

    In that context, I don’t see what Obama’s offering as a ‘one-sided’ plea for proportion; I see it as part of a general plea, which is to not trivialize religion in the public square, or to allow this or that faction to claim that God’s on our side, but not theirs, etc.

    Now, as a personal matter, I’d like to see the phrase stricken from the Pledge, because I worry that one or more of my students might feel it’s oppressive. But I’m not going to hang my hat on something like that and attempt to make political hay on it, as if it were a substantive issue. If I do that, I’m no better than the clowns behind a flag-burning amendment. I’d much rather focus on those things that are really substantive and which can build bridges between the left and the center and (hello!?!?) win an election now and then.

    Scott

  55. #55 Alon Levy
    July 1, 2006

    But I’m not going to hang my hat on something like that and attempt to make political hay on it, as if it were a substantive issue.

    It’s not substantive at all – certainly not any more than a triviality like a law saying that only men may serve on juries, or a national symbol proclaiming that the United States is a white nation.

    ‘d much rather focus on those things that are really substantive and which can build bridges between the left and the center and (hello!?!?) win an election now and then.

    I’m glad you’d have opposed desegregation in the 1960s. It was such a vote loser – what the hell was Johnson thinking?

  56. #56 Dark Matter
    July 1, 2006

    PaulC said:

    BTW, is Obama noticeably worse than Bill Clinton in regard to religion? I used to find some of his rhetoric insufferable, but at this point I am willing to overlook at lot just to get the nation out of the tailspin it’s in.

    I don’t think there will be much difference really, if Obama gets elected—-I’ll just be a
    liberal politician telling scientists they need to accomodate “alternate theories”
    of the origins of life instead of a conservative one.

    If he rolls over for evolution education in favor of the fundamentalists, I don’t
    think he’ll have the spine to oppose anything else either, including the Iraq mess.
    His being elected will be a distinction without a difference as far as science
    education-or anyhting else- in this country is concerned.

  57. #57 Chris
    July 1, 2006

    See, faith based means envision, then apply, then pretend it worked, while not bothering to compare it to the real (i.e. rest of) the world. This is what is really being promoted by these people.

    Well, duh. That’s the whole point of faith – to get rid of that tedious requirement of knowing that it actually matches the real world. You don’t need “evidence” that your program works and isn’t just a waste of time and money, if you can have FAITH that it’s going to work!

    With faith, all things appear to be possible.

  58. #58 Paul S
    July 1, 2006

    I’m afraid even Lincoln might not meet your needs, PZ. His domestic war policies looked disturbingly like Bush’s: he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, spent money without Congressional authorization, and imprisoned 18,000 alleged “Confederate sympathizers” without trial.

    And yes, while he was not conventionally religious he tended to keep that fact under his stovepipe hat.

  59. #59 Scott Hatfield
    July 2, 2006

    Speaking of Confederate sympathizers, Alon Levy has not so subtly equated my views with those of segregationists. The implication is that since I don’t want to make the unfortunate rewording of the Pledge a political test case that I am somehow, what, morally equivalent to those who opposed the Civil Rights Act?

    Forgive me for observing that this gentleman is making my point for me: how would this differ politically from those who clownishly campaign to amend the Constitution to save a few flags from burning now and then? Talk about disproportionate!

    SH

  60. #60 tina harris
    July 2, 2006

    Why should it be considered panderingif Obama is expressing a quite truthful fact: Wasn’t it the evangelical vote that gave Mr.Arbust-oh this term ? From what I can recall, pastors told their flocks what they would hear in Arbist-o’s debates. These people would put two and two together and pick the guy they thought would represent them.

    According to The New Yorker US evangelicals set up church in Iraq. They have been offering food baskets and rock music to Brazilians who wll show up at their churches, fronts for brainwashing.

    In Brazil, colonization was made by a bunch of prisioners sent there without women, forced, thus, to mingle with the natives. Maybe the Portuguese laissez-faire attitude regarding promiscuity made Brazil the anything-goes country it is.

    Our Mayflower, instead, brought Christian fanatics, printing press for Bibles, and work is good, sex is sin concepts. It is my view Barak Obama is telling us we need to accept the facts and work from them if we are ever to get the control of the presidency and Congress back.

  61. #61 tluger
    July 2, 2006

    I’m with PZ. Obama may be politically adept and not some closet creationist, but until religion is replaced with rationale in our public debates, this country is doomed. Obama is clearly not a wingnut, but he also clearly does believe in some version of a supernatural explanation of the world. To me, this meta-issue is far more important in the long run than anything else. I would vote for McCain or Giuliani if they ran against Obama. I may not support some of their policies, but whatever they might say to get elected, they actually don’t believe in any of this bible crap. A string of secular leaders, even if they supported policies I oppose, would do far more good for this country than selling out the Dems to the religionists just to get elected. Fact is, its christians who usually end up justifying things like war, slavery, etc. just as often as they fight against these evils. Rationalists as a group seem a lot more likely to be overwhelmingly on the side of human rights and peace all along. In this past season’s west wing, gimme atheist Alan Alda over godboy Jimmy Smits any day of the week. Rudy would support stem cell research, oppose prayer and creationism in school, be pro-choice, pro gay rights. Obama actually supports more religion in public life (including schools). It may not be his way or the highway like the righties would have it, but it’s still the mark of a simpleton.

  62. #62 Russell
    July 2, 2006

    McCain makes open professions of faith. I don’t know about Guiliani, but what makes you think he isn’t also religious?

  63. #63 PaulC
    July 2, 2006

    Giuliani is religious as far as I know. You might recall that when Placido Domingo sang Ave Maria at the 9/11 memorial service, that it was identified as Giuliani’s “favorite hymn.” http://www.tenorissimo.com/domingo/Articles/rt92201.htm

    Giuliani is Catholic, definitely not evangelical, and probably not a cultural conservative. Granted, you could enjoy Domingo’s talent in this case without being religious, but what non-religious person has a favorite hymn?

  64. #64 Scott Hatfield
    July 2, 2006

    I can’t believe what I’m hearing. McCain? Giuliani? Any rationalist boat in the storm, without regard to any baggage they might carry as a GOP candidate? That’s not merely wrong, it’s wrong-headed and based on a false perception of the politicians in question.

    John McCain got a lot of people’s attention when he criticized the Religious Right, and he got a lot of flack for it from the Republican hierarchy. But they didn’t give him this flak so much about his views about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, but because he used their views in an attempt to attack a fellow Republican (Bush) in a 2000 primary.

    The reality is if McCain has since mended his fences with Falwell, et. al., and if he didn’t hadn’t, he would no longer be viable as a GOP candidate, no matter how much some readers of this blog might wish otherwise. Besides, he’s really in his comfort zone here. In his private life, McCain has written a memoir called “Faith of Our Fathers”–he comes from a long line of Episcopalians, including ministers–and regularly attends church. Read this:

    http://cgi.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/2000/03/06/mccain.faith.html

    In other words, a person could strongly critique the Religious Right and yet still be quite religious themselves, even cozy to fundamentalists.

    As for Giuliani? Check out this recent article (Andrew Sullivan) which details his (well, what else can we call it?) pandering to this same Religious Right:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2046757,00.html

    If this is the best the GOP can offer, might I again patiently suggest that caviling about the shortcomings of Democrats like Obama with respect to faith is simply way out of proportion. There really isn’t a ‘rational Republican option’, as far as I can see. Here’s a challenge: if anyone on this blog can point out a prominent Republican who is really committed to separation of church and state, who won’t pander to the Religious Right, by all means clue me in.

    Skeptically…..Scott

  65. #65 beervolcano
    July 2, 2006

    I just wanted to comment that I always thought of “freethinking” and “freethought” to be quite outdated words, but really they still apply today. Isn’t it sad? But at least we are more free to freethink than they were in Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s times.

  66. #66 Lifestride
    July 3, 2007

    SAY “NO” TO OBAMA 08! DON’T WAKE UP TO THIS NIGHTMARE!

    BREAKING NEWS!

    It is January 21, 2009 President Barack Hussein Obama was inaugurated yesterday. National security was tight. Osama Bin Laden, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Shiite leader in Iraq Muqtada al-Sadar, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and the 6 Muslim Imans Removed From Flight 300 had been secretly waiting a few blocks from the whitehouse in anticipation of celebrating the Presidential victory with President Obama.

    Martial law went into effect on daybreak of January 21, 2009. The Constitution of the United States has been amended and the American people no longer have the right to bear arms. All Americans refusing to accept Islam will be put in concentration camps to be beheaded or lined up and fired upon execution style.

    Women will lose all rights to work or be independent. Women will be ordered immediately to stay home and cover up with a burqa when out in public. Women will no longer have the privilege of driving. If a woman does not have a man providing for her President Obama has ordered that a man be appointed to her as her husband, keeper, and provider. Women are deficient and must surrender to the care of a man.

    Children will be taught the Quran at every public school and every school must require that every child pray 5 times a day to Allah. Christian schools will be turned into schools of Islamic worship.

    Christian churches will be turned into mosques and prayer call will be 5 times a day.

    Hollywood is filth and must be diminished. Actors and Actresses must surrender their homes to the Imams of Islam and to the President Obama’s honored Islamic guests.

    Thanks to Allah the Mexican border is fenced up and nobody can leave through the south side of the United States. Islam will have all the working Mexican and South American slaves to continue to support America’s work force without pay. Thanks to Allah there are also working non-paid slaves from all over the world in the United States.

    American currency will no longer be of any value. Allah will pay everyone accordingly.

    Stay tuned for the new name of our country and be proud that Barack Hussein Obama has many years left to forever (Like Saddam.) be President of the most powerful country in the world.

    THANKS FOR ELECTING OBAMA AS THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!

  67. #67 Rick
    January 4, 2008

    You seculars. People of faith don’t see a contradiction between faith & science. Science isn’t proving that evolution is a fact, but you seculars want to think it does. What if science winds up proving that God does exist after all? What are you seculars going to do? Hilarious!!!!

  68. #68 rick
    April 21, 2008

    i will not vote for a pop icon like obama if not hillary it will be mccain

  69. #69 affiliate network management
    December 23, 2009

    I m srry, tht I ntrrpt y, bt, n my pnn, thr s thr wy f th dcsn f qstn.

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