Pharyngula

Obama’s Religion is the problem

Man, it’s so annoying when the little sites take a poke at me, hoping to trigger a strong reaction so that I’ll send lots of traffic their way. It’s pathetic, and you know I can’t resist. This particular site is trying to yank my chain by complaining about my lack of support for Barack Obama, and along the way they confirm my point.

What’s interesting to me about all this is that when you get down to it, Obama presents conservatives with a category error. Democrats are liberal, and therefore cannot be religious, q.e.d. It simply fries their circuits that Obama won’t stick in the pigeonhole they’ve constructed for him. It’s going to be a hard election season for them: As Grillmaster pointed out to me the other day, Edwards, Gore, Clinton, and Obama are all comfortable with the language of religion.  The Republican front-runners – McCain, Guilliani and Newt – not so much.

And just for fun, allow me to point out that many folks on the left share the same perspective, albeit from a different angle. A real Democrat can’t be religious!

To be fair to Prof. Myers and those who agree with him, what they’re saying is more properly, “a real Democrat shouldn’t be religious.” They’re entitled to their opinion, whether or not we agree with them.

I’m glad he tried to be fair, although he completely blew it on both attempts. What I said was that I will not support Obama because he is too pious for me, and Pastor Dan is rather freely admitting that the Democratic front-runners are all a squad of name-droppers for God. This is a disaster. When will people learn that the demagoguery of appealing to non-existent super-beings will not do a single thing to correct any of our problems?

While he’s chuckling over how Obama fries Republican circuits, he’s also reinforcing the view that one of the major reasons he is getting a lot of play is precisely because he is a happy god-bot. He’s also glossing over my other complaint about Obama: he hasn’t accomplished much of anything. If he had a commendable congressional record, I’d be willing to overlook his reliance on phantasms and spirits, but he doesn’t have one, and he doesn’t seem willing to work for one, preferring to jump on the shortcut to the presidency that a felicitous charisma and the appeal to superstitious ignorance gives him.

It amuses me that an article called Obama’s Religion Problem proposes to deal with the issue by admitting that he does represent Religion with a capital “R”, but that it isn’t a problem. Wrong. Foolishness is always a problem.

Comments

  1. #1 DMC
    January 21, 2007

    Good move PZ. Turn on Obama because you don’t like his relgious views.

    Help the Republicans.

    What the hell, the democrats have made it clear they aren’t going to end the war either.

  2. #2 Abbie
    January 21, 2007

    I don’t know everything Obama has said about religion, but he said this in his first book, and I think its encouraging.

    I mean, yeah, an atheist president would be nice, but Obama seems about as best as we can expect. I can’t believe I’m disagreeing with you, this feels weird.

    What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God’s will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

  3. #3 Abbie
    January 21, 2007

    I’d like to elaborate, but I’m lazy so I’ll just link to this post at my livejournal (yeah, yeah, sorry.) It contains the reasons I’m tentatively supporting Obama.

  4. #4 Jillian
    January 21, 2007

    Good lord…..it’s not that a good Democrat can’t be religious, or even that a good Democrat shouldn’t be religious.

    It’s that a good Democrat should make a campaign point out of the First Amendment, and do everything in their power to keep their religious views – whatever they may be – out of the campaign. Is that really too much to ask?

    It could even be a wonderfully patriotic talking point in a campaign. For example, when a candidate is asked something about how their religious views inform their position on an issue, their response could be something along the lines of “Well, the Constitution guarantees every American both the right to their own conscience on matters of religion, and the right to be free of the interference of the consciences of others on such matters. It’s a wonderful freedom, one of the freedoms that makes this country one worth living in, and out of respect for that freedom, I try to keep from enforcing my own religious conscience onto the lives of my constituents. I take the First Amendment very, very seriously.”

    Is that really so hard to do?

  5. #5 Cameron
    January 21, 2007

    So…Kucinich or Richardson, anybody?

  6. #6 Mike Haubrich
    January 21, 2007

    I’ll lay out why I share with Herr Doktor Myers a reluctance to jump on the Barak bandwagon at this point. Yes, it would be fun to tweak the GOP’s collective nose with a pious candidate. Heck, Jimmy Carter carried a lot of votes in the Solid South because he ran as a “Born-Again.” But, to pick a candidate merely because he represents a chance to break two,two, two barriers in one swipe is folly.

    The big reason that so many Democrats jumped on the Kerry bandwagon in 2004 was becuase he was a war hero in a time of war. “How could the hawks possibly damage him? Military voters would have to pull the lever to get a man with medals in the White House as opposed to a man who ducked service in Vietnam!”

    Swift Boat. Kerry kept silent when he should have attacked those bastards and he let a full month slide by before the Republican convention and when the GOP gathered they had solid ammunition to diminish Kerry’s service. Never mind that the Republicans were not afraid to slander thousands of Purple Hearts with their little Band-Aid trick.

    I don’t know that Barak has the political skill to turn back a “swift boat” attack on his religious views. If anything he needs to demonstrate more than the ability to pull in key districts in a single state. Also, we need to know more about his skills in handling key issues in the Senate. He has yet to prove that he can maneuver his issues in a Senate which just now achieved majority status for his party.

    He is young, he has achieved some impressive endorsements (like Oprah’s) but we really still don’t have enough to hang our hats on for support. I sincerely think that putting him forward just because he is religious, charismatic and black is a mistake. I want to see the best qualified person run, and so far the only person that comes close to it in the declared race is Edwards, and even he is a little light. As for Clinton, I don’t want her to run because I am opposed to having our politics dominated by two families.

    We need at least Five Families to run a proper Federal Government.

  7. #7 Jonathan Badger
    January 21, 2007

    But is John Edwards any *less* pious? It’s fine to say that Obama is too inexperienced to be president (which he may well be), but I really don’t see a less religious viable candidate.

  8. #8 vjack
    January 21, 2007

    Turning on Obama because he’s pro-religion might make sense if there were viable atheist candidates. Of course, there aren’t, so all this would do is help neocons. If Obama has a flaw, it seems like it would be inexperience. However, I’m delaying judgment until I know more.

  9. #9 Abbie
    January 21, 2007

    It’s that a good Democrat should make a campaign point out of the First Amendment, and do everything in their power to keep their religious views – whatever they may be – out of the campaign. Is that really too much to ask?”

    Well, yes. I agree with these ideals, but they’re sadly impossible at this point in time.

    I think there’s plenty of legit room for complaint, but holding him to our standards on religion is silly.

    He’s the best we can realistically expect.

  10. #10 Joe Shelby
    January 21, 2007

    Well, Obama may not be running to actually win this year. The primaries are not strictly for trying to get elected. A candidates first run at the primaries is to familiarize one with the grass-roots and national-level funding organizations that will PAY for a real run.

    If anything, its also building up a larger funding base for his next Senate campaign, so he can have that huge nest-egg that Hillary has a few years down the line.

  11. #11 Enon Zey
    January 21, 2007

    “When will people learn that the demagoguery of appealing to non-existent super-beings will not do a single thing to correct any of our problems?”

    Yeah, right. Tell it to Martin Luther King, Jr.

  12. #12 Kim
    January 21, 2007

    I hope most democrats are smart enough not to vote for a candidate who is not appealing enough for the mid section of this country. Face it, the US is almost a theocracy, and having a moderate in the white house is better than a fundie….

  13. #13 Caledonian
    January 21, 2007

    Good move PZ. Turn on Obama because you don’t like his relgious views.

    Help the Republicans.

    And that sums up so many of the problems with this country. People begin to think that they must support group X, not because group X has valid points or desirable positions, but because not supporting X is equivalent to supporting Y, which they find abhorrent.

  14. #14 N. Wells
    January 21, 2007

    I like Obama’s rhetoric and his heart seems in the right place. I distrust charisma in anyone, but I’m willing to sign on if the charisma seems to be put in harness toward goals that I approve of. Charisma is a very dangerous tool, but it is a politically powerful tool. I don’t care for Obama’s piety, but, as Abbie noted above, what he says about religion is not too bad, and he seems to understand the importance of the separation of church and state, so I can live with that. However, I am really leery of his inexperience. Kennedy was almost an exemplar of the perils of charisma and inexperience on the left, and Bush is a far worse example of those dangers on the right. Give Obama a successful term as a governor, or a term or two as a Gore-style vice-president, and I’ll be thrilled to support him. However, I’ll also be happy to support him if he starts to carry the Democratic primaries. The current crop of Republicans are so awful that it is hard to find past or present Democrats who would be worse (William Jefferson, Marion Barry, and the original mayor Daley come to mind).

  15. #15 tacitus
    January 21, 2007

    Obama may be religious, but he won’t be an enabler of religious fundamentalism like many of the Republican candidates would be (even John McCain, it seems), and that’s the important difference.

    Our best hope for a more secular society in the States is to elect leaders who, while they may be devout, make their religion a non-issue in the execution of their office. Benign neglect has worked its magic in many European nations. Perhaps it’s time to see if the can work here too.

  16. #16 David Marjanovi?
    January 21, 2007

    Benign neglect has worked its magic in many European nations.

    Quite so.

  17. #17 David Marjanovi?
    January 21, 2007

    Benign neglect has worked its magic in many European nations.

    Quite so.

  18. #18 Caledonian
    January 21, 2007

    I like Obama’s rhetoric and his heart seems in the right place.

    And there’re some of the other problems with this country.

  19. #19 tomh
    January 21, 2007

    PZ Myers wrote:
    When will people learn that the demagoguery of appealing to non-existent super-beings will not do a single thing to correct any of our problems?

    Well, Gallup tells us that two out of three Americans feel that religion can solve our problems, so it probably won’t be anytime soon. Politicians know they can’t be elected without appealing to this side of the voter.

  20. #20 themann1086
    January 21, 2007

    Uh, isn’t John Kerry a Catholic? And the GOP still managed to attack him for his lack of religion. They will do the same thing no matter who the candidate is or what they believe. This isn’t an argument AGAINST Obama, per se… but these stupid electability arguments have no basis in reality and should be mocked for how empty they truly are.

  21. #21 Mark Borok
    January 21, 2007

    Al Gore is religious, but he stated (in answer to a question) that he could see no objection to an atheist president. Of the candidates at the time, I think he was the only one who had the guts to say this. So I sent him a contribution, just because I felt that we atheists should support atheist-friendly candidates the same way the religious right supports religious candidates.

    It would be interesting to find out what Obama would answer to the atheist president question.

  22. #22 PZ Myers
    January 21, 2007

    I think the comparison to Kerry and swiftboating is an important point. I predict that an Obama campaign would swiftly become a referendum on piety, with each side competing to set themselves up as holier than the other, and even if Obama were solidly on the side of secular government it would be churchy circus.

    And really, if Obama had a history of great legislation and outspoken support of civil rights, science, etc., I’d have no problem voting for him in spite of his religiosity. He doesn’t. This would be an election based on who can speak real good and who goes to church more…dead issues as far as I’m concerned.

  23. #23 Mena
    January 21, 2007

    I’m just tired of them trying to out-Jesus each other and wish that they would start governing. Is it too much to ask for them to do the God thing on their own time? If they worked anywhere else they would have to.

  24. #24 Polymath
    January 21, 2007

    I ran across this essay
    (http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2006/10/barack_obama.html)

    a few months ago, and it made me more inclined to support obama. The news I hear is that the conservative religious community is cracking into two factions: the fundamentalists (who we all know and love to hate) and the evangelicals (who are still annoyingly pious, but show true concern for more traditionally liberal causes, like improving the environment and the lives of the poor). I think that Obama’s appeal on the right is to the evangelicals who have also begun to lose patience with the fundamentalists’ total inflexibility. The link talks about Obama’s legislative record as a wonky problem-solver on some real issues. I share y’all’s concern for religiousity in the White House, but I think I’m still leaning towards supporting Obama. I think that despite his religion and my lack thereof, he will support my interests and beliefs better than the other candidates.

  25. #25 Todd Adamson
    January 21, 2007

    What’s transpired on Kos over the weekend, with yet another deluge of silly posts about that mean and arrogant Richard Dawkins, is just another salvo in the Democratic Party fight to purge humanists, atheists, secularists, and freethinkers from their ranks. Oh, they want our vote. What they don’t want, however, is for us to have a visible and vocal presence. The problems that this country and world face cannot be solved by praying or going to church, but pandering to people who do such things will fill the campaign coffers.

    And stop with the stupid MLK argument. It’s getting to be as bad as Hitler and Stalin references. MLK helped end segregation in spite of his religious beliefs, not because of them. After all, the segregationists were just as devout as MLK. Reality doesn’t care one wit who is for it or against it.

  26. #26 Russell
    January 21, 2007

    Barak Obama wrote:

    What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God’s will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

    I think that is just right. Unlike PZ, I would prefer elected politicians who understand this division between the civil and religious spheres, to one who is merely a non-believer. I’d like to see more non-believers elected. Assuming their political views and skills are decent. But I don’t make that the paramount issue in considering a politician.

    The issue of experience is separate.

  27. #27 cbutterb
    January 21, 2007

    [Quoting Obama] What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God’s will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

    Posted by: Abbie | January 21, 2007 09:26 AM

    The problem is that it isn’t particularly difficult to put on that kind of secular fašade with a scientifically illiterate electorate that has a short attention span. Instead of saying that abortion is wrong because the foetus has a soul at conception, you say that it has unique DNA at conception, and then you show an emotionally manipulative picture of it sucking its thumb. If that fails, you make up some stuff about breast cancer and hope no one checks your sources. Instead of casting your opposition to gay marriage in “Adam and Steve” terms, you go on CNN and spew some stuff about how gay unions warp children’s minds, and rely on incurious reporters not to press you on it. After all, we have to hear from both sides of the debate.

    And I don’t think I need to point out that this kind of rhetorical swap is why the concepts of irreducible complexity, SLOT disallowing evolution, explanatory filters, and the rest of the rot exist at all.

    Relying on self-restraint in the way Obama proposes here without questioning the validity of the religious belief itself is incredibly na´ve. It requires one to take seriously the notion that people who honestly believe they have God and the Moral Compass of the Universe on their side will be unbiased in presenting facts and arguments to support their positions on moral issue that they believe are of the gravest consequence. It won’t happen. The whole concept of thriving, enlightened, secular public discourse in a nation where fat, healthy religions thrive just on the other side of that wall is a fairy tale. It’s unstable. It collapses under the weight of its own ridiculous internal inconsistency.

    Thus it’s entirely appropriate and necessary to criticize a candidate like Obama for being pious, no matter how many paeans he’s scribbled about the importance of the wall of separation.

  28. #28 Abbie
    January 21, 2007

    Thus it’s entirely appropriate and necessary to criticize a candidate like Obama for being pious, no matter how many paeans he’s scribbled about the importance of the wall of separation.

    We’re talking POTUS. It’s sadly going to be a long time before we see a viable atheist candidate; so sticking to our ideological guns is pointless in this case.

    Instead of casting your opposition to gay marriage in “Adam and Steve” terms, you go on CNN and spew some stuff about how gay unions warp children’s minds

    And isn’t that good enough? If they’re not framing the debate religiously, they don’t have the smokescreen of faith to deflect attacks. If they’re making claims like that, people will jump over them.

    In the New York Times mag today there’s an article about pro-lifers doing exactly that tactic. They’re making claims, and now these claims are up for debate.

  29. #29 quork
    January 21, 2007

    To be fair to Prof. Myers and those who agree with him, what they’re saying is more properly, “a real Democrat shouldn’t be religious.”

    It would have been even more fair to draw a clear distinction between not religious and secular.

  30. #30 cory
    January 21, 2007

    When will people learn that the demagoguery of appealing to non-existent super-beings will not do a single thing to correct any of our problems?

    Never. At least not enough of them to matter politically. Humanity loves drugs, and religion is a great big addictive one, because it addresses problems that we ALL have – ignorance of the universe and the nagging knowledge that in the end death renders us all meaningless.

    The funniest reaction I get when people drag (I long ago stopped bringing it up myself) my atheism out in the open is their disbelief that it could be so. Might as well tell them that I am a space alien.

  31. #31 honeymaid8
    January 21, 2007

    I’ll have to echo a previous commenter, in that I can’t believe I’m disagreeing with you, but….

    The whole point of the First Amendment is not necessarily the absence of religion, but the absence of a particular religion on politics, science or any other topic not pertaining to the idea of one’s soul. To assume that a presidential candidate is going to espouse the same theological ideas as you is pure folly. And, to put it bluntly, the same narrowness that you fillet Pat Robertson for, rightly so.

  32. #32 RedMolly
    January 21, 2007

    In the New York Times mag today there’s an article about pro-lifers doing exactly that tactic.

    Abbie, was that article not one of the most horrifying things you’ve read recently? The “minister” they profiled–a survivor of multiple sexual assaults as a child, longtime substance abuser, chronically clinically depressed–somehow manages to fasten the blame for all her problems, and those of her captive audience (literally–in a prison chapel) on her having had four abortions over the years.

    Because, you know, if she’d actually had those four children, she’d have a high-powered corporate job somewhere and her life would be gravy.

  33. #33 windy
    January 21, 2007

    If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God’s will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

    What cbutterb said. I know that this is just a hypothetical example from Obama, but if a person is opposed to abortion or whatnot merely for religious reasons, he or she should not seek to pass a law banning the practice! Cherry-picking facts to find support for your religious view is not a respectable course. Or at the least, law-makers should not take such people seriously.

  34. #34 tomh
    January 21, 2007

    Russell wrote:
    I would prefer elected politicians who understand this division between the civil and religious spheres,

    As far as President goes this was pretty much the case until Reagan. Even the evangelical Jimmy Carter kept it out of his administration. Then in 1983 Reagan issued a presidential proclamation naming it the “Year of the Bible”, complete with phony references about how the founding fathers relied on the Bible to set up the country. Since then it’s been downhill to the present administration which has had regular prayer meetings in the Justice Department, faith based funding and so on. Most Americans accept this without any qualms.

  35. #35 bigTom
    January 21, 2007

    In the present era in this country being seen as religious (and probably only to the god of Abraham) is a prerequiste of office. We can only hope for a candidate who won’t wear his religion on his sleeve, and who beleives in the first amendment. Speeking of which, the founding fathers knew we were a highly religious people, and that only separating religion/politics would save us from serious strife. So while I am not personally comfortable with a politician’s religiosity, as long as he/she clearly understands the need for separation I am happy to support him.

  36. #36 Cat of Many Faces
    January 21, 2007

    From all i’ve seen about Obama he seems to be a religious person who understands that politics is not a place for religion.

    And to be fair politics is supposed to be secular, but the motivation for people to participate in the process is not restricted.

    Here is what i mean: say one wants to ban rap music. (to pick a silly never going to happen scenario) It literally doesn’t matter if the reason why is because angels told you so, or you think it causes increased violence. the time it matters why only comes in when you are doing the actual politics, I.E. the debating.

    And we’d be perfectly right in telling the person who argues it’s and angels missive, that they are full of it and that that reason is politically unsound. the other argument can be debated rationally and therefore is appropriate.

    And as far as i can tell, that IS something Obama understands and supports. Therefore I don’t count his religion for much in the race and will base my vote on his arguments.

  37. #37 Babak
    January 21, 2007

    I agree that Obama is troubling for the same reasons PZ and many others here have described. However, he is on my short list of candidates I am considering supporting (I like Edwards a little more – especially since he seems to be even more committed to the liberal agenda this time around). As many have stated, candidates who understand and are committed to freedom of speech and the separation of church and state are unfortunately our only “real” options. We can certainly choose to support an atheist or far less pious candidate (although none come to mind – even Kucinich is a Roman Catholic). However, we must understand that it is IMPOSSIBLE at this point in time for a candidate who does not subscribe to some form of religion to win a national election. As Sam Harris describes in his book:

    “…atheists are the most reviled minority in the United States. Polls indicate that being an atheist is a perfect impediment to running for high office in our country (while being black, Muslim, or homosexual is not).”

    So, while I would gladly support an atheist in a primary (although, again, none come to mind), there is not a chance in hell they will win the nomination. And so the choice beomes 1) vote for the candidate who wins the nomination (still a semi-rational option if he/she is committed to free speech and sepearation of church and state), 2) don’t vote (Stupid idea!), or 3) vote for a third party candidate (another good option but you have to be okay with voting for a person/party that will obviously not win – this will be my option if Hillary gets the nomination).

    With all that is at stake these days (Iraq, stem-cell research, civil rights, etc.), it is important that we get behind a president that CAN win as opposed to one we simply WANT to win. It sucks but it is true.

  38. #38 Millimeter Wave
    January 21, 2007

    I think the comparison to Kerry and swiftboating is an important point. I predict that an Obama campaign would swiftly become a referendum on piety, with each side competing to set themselves up as holier than the other, and even if Obama were solidly on the side of secular government it would be churchy circus.

    The swiftboating is already well under way. There are many who fear Obama as appealing to religious Christian voters, so they are trying to turn his strength into a weakness. Already on Fox news they’re idly asking questions out loud such as “Is Obama Really a Muslim?”.

    Be interesting to see how he responds…

  39. #39 Joshua
    January 21, 2007

    I read the same article as Polymath when it was linked in PZ’s previous post about Obama. It does make me feel a bit better about him, which is good since he’s probably going to eventually win the nomination. (Really, I’ll be happy with any of the Democratic front runners except Hillary.)

    However, I think a lot of commenters are missing the point. themann1086 said it pretty well: “This isn’t an argument AGAINST Obama, per se… but these stupid electability arguments have no basis in reality and should be mocked for how empty they truly are.”

    Saying that Obama is a good candidate because he appeals to the religious right is wrong. That is not a reason to support a candidate. Not ever. This is politics as sport, where the ideas on either side are irrelevant and it only matters that the home team wins. Rah, rah, rah.

    NO. Politics matters. Policy matters. You can support Obama because he’s got the right policies, sure. But if you support him because you think he’s “electable” — which is the reason apparently given by most of his supporters — then you’re falling into the Washington trap that gave us such magnificent successes as Kerry ’04 and Joe Fucking Lieberman. (After all, it doesn’t matter that he still supports the Iraq War and probably the upcoming war on Iran. He’s on our team!)

    It’s bullshit, pure and simple. Just say no.

  40. #40 James
    January 21, 2007

    “Democrats are liberal, and therefore cannot be religious, q.e.d. It simply fries their circuits that Obama won’t stick in the pigeonhole they’ve constructed for him. It’s going to be a hard election season for them: As Grillmaster pointed out to me the other day, Edwards, Gore, Clinton, and Obama are all comfortable with the language of religion. The Republican front-runners – McCain, Guilliani and Newt – not so much.”

    Now this raises an interesting possibility for the Republicans. If this argument makes sense (which is an open question) then the Republicans could pull the same trick by putting up a secular candidate. Now that’s an idea worth exploring.

  41. #41 cbutterb
    January 21, 2007

    We’re talking POTUS. It’s sadly going to be a long time before we see a viable atheist candidate; so sticking to our ideological guns is pointless in this case.

    I understand, and faced in a Democratic primary with a choice between an Obama and a hypothetical hard-nosed atheist ideologue, I’d probably vote for the Obama, especially if they’d need the street cred among the faithful to beat a Brownback, say. But I don’t see the harm in criticism like PZ’s. Without pointing out errors and absurdities when we see them, I don’t see how we’ll ever get to the point where it is conceivable to have a viable atheist candidate.

    And isn’t that good enough? If they’re not framing the debate religiously, they don’t have the smokescreen of faith to deflect attacks. If they’re making claims like that, people will jump over them.

    I hope it is, I sincerely do. But we’d need the mechanism in place to counter their false claims and fallacious arguments (i.e. a scientifically literate press with spine) and a public with the capacity and inclination to choose the truth over the spin. When I read about surveys like the one that put us only ahead of Turkey in public acceptance of evolution, I have my doubts that that is in fact what we have.

  42. #42 wistah
    January 21, 2007

    Long-time lurker here, but as a regular poster (under a different name) over at Big Orange, I wondered whether or not you saw your name invoked by the shepherd of the god squad over there, Pastor Dan. Oy.

    At any rate, I agree completely with your issues regarding Obama and your concerns about the escalating religiosity of our public square. Since I live in the safest blue state, I might write in Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins one of these times just for the hell of it.

  43. #43 tomh
    January 21, 2007

    cbutterb wrote:
    When I read about surveys like the one that put us only ahead of Turkey in public acceptance of evolution, I have my doubts that that is in fact what we have.

    Then you probably won’t be reassured by a poll from a few years ago that showed about 1 in 5 Americans think the sun goes around the earth. http://net127.com/1999/07/06/poll-sun-revolves-around-the-earth/

  44. #44 jbark
    January 21, 2007

    I’m just not sure I see how Obama is different from anyone else.

    I mean, doesn’t Al Gore self identify as an evangelical Christian?

  45. #45 Fox1
    January 21, 2007

    I often feel like the Democratic party puts atheists in the same position that they sometimes put the African-American community in (or so I’ve heard, got no personal experience here).

    Sure, they need our vote.
    But they know they don’t need to work for it, because of how much we fear the only other electable alternative in our nation.

    So instead, they expend endless effort and money to appeal to the groups that aren’t actually drawn to their (theoretical) core progressive objectives. Why stop with the god botherers? I’m pretty sure there’s nothing but market share to be gained in the ranks of the xenophobes, the racists and the misogynists! What? Well, we can’t change anything unless we win, right? Of course, then we can’t defend our changes unless we continue winning, but that sounds like one of those “slippery slope” arguments, and the Internet tells me I can ignore those!

    Held hostage to a party that doesn’t give two shits about us, by the threatening presence of the greater evil. There’s a thrilling motivator to get to the polls. Is it any wonder I throw my vote away on a third party about every other cycle?

  46. #46 BirdAdvocate
    January 21, 2007

    As a “good” Democrat, and a “good” atheist, I dared point out on a certain very large Democrat forum Obama would be financially supported by Republican Conservatives in the primary, but not in the election, because of his lack of experience. For daring to do so I was promptly called a pseudo-Democrat.

  47. #47 Caledonian
    January 21, 2007

    But, that can’t be, BirdAdvocate! Democrats are open-minded and tolerant of nuance, not like those dirty bigoted Republicans who only see reality in binary categories. Democrats are accepting, not dismissive, and they love a plurality of views. They exclude anyone who expresses doubt about others’ claims, to ensure a healthy plurality. Not like those awful Republicans at all!

    You must have been mistaken.

  48. #48 Steve LaBonne
    January 21, 2007

    I’m just not sure I see how Obama is different from anyone else.

    I mean, doesn’t Al Gore self identify as an evangelical Christian?

    And Obama is UCC, one of the most liberal Christian denominations in politics and theology. Normally I agree with PZ about both politics and atheism but I think the complaints about Obama are a bit overblown; I myself have overreacted to some of Obama’s religiose rhetoric in the past but I now think it was just that, an overreaction. My beef with him is more that it’s not clear what he stands for- he seems to have distinctly Clintonian triangulation tendencies and appears to carefully avoid putting much substance into his speeches.

  49. #49 BirdAdvocate
    January 21, 2007

    Perhaps I was mistaken, Caledonian, or maybe my accuser was an “awful Republican” in disguise. We rarely have such disagreements on my own liberal political forum. We do have a big tent.

  50. #50 Blake Stacey
    January 21, 2007

    Is a pseudo-Democrat like a fake Scotsman?

  51. #51 Caledonian
    January 21, 2007

    Since the only thing necessary to call oneself a Democrat is not to be a Republican, so it would seem.

    As everyone knows, there’s no such thing as Scotsmen.

  52. #52 Charles
    January 21, 2007

    Faster than light(ftl) entanglment exists. If ftl information processing exists then due to the nature of ftl, one comprehensive intelegence will own the ftl universe. Btw, God is a multicore processor. Have a nice day.

  53. #53 Alon Levy
    January 21, 2007

    Actually, PZ’s point about a race of religiosity is important. If Evangelicals become the demographic everyone tries appealing to, then the Republicans will get somewhat more economically left-wing, though faith-based charities will probably still figure in more prominently into their platform than welfare, while the Democrats will get more anti-choice and anti-gay.

  54. #54 DMC
    January 21, 2007

    Actually, there is a bigger problem than Obama’s religion.

    Its bigotry.

    PZ’s bigotry.

    Its not only harmful to science, but its of an uninformed nature.

  55. #55 cbutterb
    January 21, 2007

    Actually, there is a bigger problem than Obama’s religion.

    Its bigotry.

    PZ’s bigotry.

    Its not only harmful to science, but its of an uninformed nature.

    Posted by: DMC | January 21, 2007 07:26 PM

    I’ll bite. Explain this bigotry of his and what relevant facts it overlooks. Please include an explanation of how said bigotry differs from rational judgment.

  56. #56 SEF
    January 21, 2007

    The UK unfortunately also has its share of overtly religious leaders desperately fighting anti-discrimination laws so that they (and their religious cohorts) will be allowed to continue discriminating against homosexuals. Many links:

    BBC
    BBC
    Independent
    Independent
    Independent
    Times
    Scotsman
    epolitix
    London
    London

  57. #57 Taylor Selseth
    January 21, 2007

    Oh for the love of the FSM PZ. I really don’t give a damn about a canidates religious views as long as they arn’t extreme. I care about policies. If Obama can break the myth that the base of the Democratic Party isn’t “anti-Christian” more power to him. I’m sick of the frigging culture wars.

  58. #58 Taylor Selseth
    January 21, 2007

    Oops, I ment “If Obama can break the myth that the base of the Democratic Party IS “anti-Christian” more power to him.”

  59. #59 Bopha
    January 21, 2007

    Good luck with your pseudo democracy. Please try not to fuck things up for us.

    Yours Sincerely,

    The rest of the world.

  60. #60 SmellyTerror
    January 22, 2007

    Damn, I came late, so I’m going to be an ass and bold my point:

    You Americans have a painfully stupid political system.

    You can’t vote for the person you want because you have to wonder who everyone else is going to vote for. In any reasonable system, all those folk who voted Nader in 2000 should have still had their votes count against Bush. How is wasting votes democratic?

    Preferential voting is, by my insanely accurate calculations, 4,343,298 times better than the stupid thing you guys have in place. You vote for as many candidates as you like, and if you’re number 1 has no chance of winning after the first count, your vote goes to your second choice. And third, and so on. So you could, for example, have a pile of people int he presedential election, and vote:

    1. Edwards
    2. Obama
    3. Clinton
    4. SmellyTerror

    See? You don’t have to worry that not enough poeople will go for Edwards. You get to vote for whoever you like. If everyone else is too stupid to see you’re right, well, you still get to throw your vote on the bigger pile to stop some other asshole getting in.

    You don’t have to vote for someone you don’t really want just because you think he’s the only one who can beat the enemy. You can vote for the guy you really want, and *still* be sure your vote will smack the Republicanian Empire.

    Everyone whines “well the founding fathers intended a two party system, so we just go with this god-awful train wreck”. Pfff! Look, I know you lot have this demi-god status reserved for the founding fathers and bristle at the slightest insult to their dusty carcasses, but seriously, they were working from scratch. Planet earth has revolved many times since then. Better systems have been found.

    America’s poor version of democracy is an embarrasment to all democratic nations on earth. It’s old. It’s feeble. It molests children.

    Time to pack it off to the old folks home.

  61. #61 llewelly
    January 22, 2007

    Unfortunately, the leadership of the major parties would do everything they could to defeat preferential voting. Those of us who want it must plan on a long hard fight.

  62. #62 Selma
    January 22, 2007

    Mena,
    “…Is it too much to ask for them to do the God thing on their own time? If they worked anywhere else they would have to.”

    So perfect, I don’t have to think of my own comment!

    When did all this religious crap start with the government and the electorate? I don’t remember it being like this when I was younger, people always babbling about religion AND politics.

  63. #63 Kadin
    January 22, 2007

    You should probably warn these “Delaware Kas” guys or whatever they’re called to make sure their ISP’s servers will be able to handle the traffic load your linkback will cause.

  64. #64 J L S
    January 22, 2007

    ‘Taint gonna happen. 1. Obama’s only one letter from Osama. Might as put someone called Saddan forward. 2. He’s the wrong color for american politics. How many other African American senators are there? There are between 60 million and 80 million black americans, depending on how persnicketty you want to get about race. If the Senate in any way reflected the US population 20 senators would be black, not just one.

    Look, the democrats failed to get a white war veteran billionaire who got more votes than his opponent elected, what chance does an African American or a woman have?

  65. #65 Steve LaBonne
    January 22, 2007

    Everyone whines “well the founding fathers intended a two party system, so we just go with this god-awful train wreck”.

    For whatever it’s worth, the truth actually is pretty much the opposite- they did not anticipate the formation of parties at all, and many of them were horrified when it happened. Which would actually be a useful fact to bandy about in any fight for a more rational voting system since, whether any of us like it or not, arguments based on the supposed intent of the Founding Fathers still carry a lot of weight in our rather odd civic culture.

  66. #66 Nomen Nescio
    January 22, 2007

    You Americans have a painfully stupid political system.

    yeah, we know. but since the only people with the political power to change that are all politicians who owe their careers to said stupidity, it’s not about to get any smarter.

    it’s true that the two-party, single-candidate, first-past-the-post system is at least a century past its sell-by date, possibly a century and a half… but can you find a country that’s instituted any better system, before or since, without the equivalent of dismantling its entire governmental structure and rebuilding from scratch? part of the particularly american flavour of this insanity is that such a restructuring is extremely unlikely to occur without bloodshed. so, we’re stuck.

  67. #67 Nomen Nescio
    January 22, 2007

    For whatever it’s worth, the truth actually is pretty much the opposite- they did not anticipate the formation of parties at all, and many of them were horrified when it happened.

    strangely enough, some of the pathologies of the current american political establishment seem to me like they’re caused by too little party activity in politics. look at the way just about anybody can call themselves a such-and-so just on their say-so and regardless of their actual politics (zell miller, anyone? lieberman?), or the way local-level “party” organizations can bear only passing resemblance to one another or to national-level headquarters (DFL, or pre-civil-rights southern democrats), for examples.

    such things have real effects on how elections are run. candidates traditionally have to play to extremists in the primaries, because only extremists care enough to vote in such; then they have to change their tune and go more mainstream in the real race, because that’s when sane people vote. the result of that is no candidate can be honest about their policy goals through an entire election cycle, and it’s partly because they don’t have a strong, uniform party platform with a single, coherent national party organization backing them up.

    (i wish i knew enough to say just why those dead old white men feared political parties so much. it’s not as if all of western europe’s been run into the ground by theirs, after all.)

  68. #68 Steve LaBonne
    January 22, 2007

    Nomen- I agree completely. It’s one of the reasons why I think parliamentary systems work better than ours on the whole- they usually force parties to stand for something (though there are always pathological exceptions like Tony Blair, but Blairism would probably be impossible with preference voting because he’s a classic case of the kind of substance- and principle-free politician who thrives when people are forced to vote for their least-worst alternative.)

    And worse yet, our political system is constantly beong re-inoculated with this debilitating illness by asinine Washington pundits of the Broder type with their constant braying for “bipartisanship”.

  69. #69 RickD
    January 22, 2007

    Backing Obama because he’s “religous” and would therefore be immune to GOP criticism makes about as much sense as backing Kerry because he was a decorated war veteran and would be immune to GOP criticism, especially if he was running against somebody who skipped out on his National Guard service.

    In other words, it sounds like a bright idea, but all it represents is a capitulation to the desire on the right wing to define politics on their terms. Conservatives, after all, aren’t actually more religious than liberals. They just say they are, and they’ll be quite happy to ignore any evidence to the contrary (like Bush’s non-attendance at regular masses, in contrast to the regular churchgoing of most of his Democratic opponents).

    I personally don’t care whether Obama goes to mass or not. What has bothered me about him is his apparent willingness to “triangulate” against atheists. If that’s going to be his attitude, he won’t have my support.

    Also, like PZ says, Obama hasn’t actually accomplished anything yet, has he? Other than being a media darling, that is.

  70. #70 BJHokanson
    January 22, 2007

    PZ, the other problem here is that you’re not really a Democrat! (And thank goodness!)

    There isn’t a Democratic or Republican candidate for president who isn’t going to puff up his or her religion more and more as next November gets closer. They all will.

    Dems didn’t even consider acting on the war until activists outside the party spoke up; in Minnesota they didn’t start talking about renewable energy until people outside the party spoke up; in Minneapolis where I am they only signed on to Instant Runoff Voting when the greens and other activists put the pressure on them. All throughout the history of our political duopoly the Democratic Party has been a party that doesn’t act until forced to do so from the outside. So why would the Democrats decide to stop embracing religion by themselves?

  71. #71 Robert P.
    January 22, 2007

    RE: religion

    when you say…

    This is a disaster. When will people learn that the demagoguery of appealing to non-existent super-beings will not do a single thing to correct any of our problems?

    Are you saying that any person with faith is unfit for office? Is there a difference between degrees of faith, George Bush vs. Thomas Jefferson?

    Is there a difference between people like Jimmy Carter that were very religious, but didn’t govern based on their discussions with God like George Bush?

    I’m curious if this is an all-or-none issue for you.

  72. #72 Chris
    January 22, 2007

    Yes, there is. Thomas Jefferson would not have expected his God to intervene and solve his nation’s problems because he believed in a god that simply didn’t do that sort of thing.

    When you seriously expect that you don’t need to solve your problems because God will provide, that’s when religion becomes a major obstacle to sound governance.

    As for Obama, though, becoming a media darling is 49% of the race these days. Getting the big money contributions is another 49%. Having a substantive position on the issues just doesn’t matter that much in our current national popularity contests – that’s the Reagan Revolution and it’s still in effect. Looking good is more important than being qualified for the job. You can be a downright corrupt nepotistic idiot and still get elected. Twice.

  73. #73 "Q" the Enchanter
    January 22, 2007

    “MLK helped end segregation in spite of his religious beliefs, not because of them.”

    That’s a dubious claim, but in any case neither here nor there. The issue is whether MLK’s piety would have been sufficient reason for anyone to withold their support of him.

  74. #74 Bill_Bolivia
    January 22, 2007

    Gang,

    Vigilance! The Rethugs and their ilk are at it already. The following (in greatly expanded form) is circulating among emails (I’ve truncated it so as not to promote dissemination of such tripe–hey, I like menudo as much as the next guy!):

    “Who is Barack Obama?

    Probable U. S. presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a black Muslim from Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya and Ann Dunham, a white atheist from Wichita, Kansas. Obama’s parents met at the University of Hawaii.

    When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father returned to Kenya. His mother then married Lolo Soetoro, a radical Muslim from Indonesia. … Since it is politically expedient to be a Christian when seeking major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background.

    Let us all remain alert concerning Obama’s expected presidential candidacy.”

    BB

  75. #75 Kseniya
    January 22, 2007

    Oh my.

    I see that Mr. Obama’s middle name has suddenly become very important.

    All the Democratic contenders will have the terrorist / socialist / elitist label thrown at them by the Right long before the first primary ballot is cast. Are we surprised? Nope. If there’s one thing at which the Republicant party excels, it’s character assassination.

  76. #76 Matt Platte
    January 22, 2007

    Cripes. I clicked on a sidebar link ‘cuz I thought PZ had written “Osama’s Religion is the problem”. [wipes eyes, mutters something about glasses...]

  77. #77 David Marjanovi?
    January 22, 2007

    Everyone whines “well the founding fathers intended a two party system, so we just go with this god-awful train wreck”. Pfff! Look, I know you lot have this demi-god status reserved for the founding fathers and bristle at the slightest insult to their dusty carcasses, but seriously, they were working from scratch. Planet earth has revolved many times since then. Better systems have been found.

    America’s poor version of democracy is an embarrasment to all democratic nations on earth. It’s old. It’s feeble. It molests children.

    Time to pack it off to the old folks home.

    I agree, but I don’t think the precise way of voting is the biggest problem.

    From comparison with the rest of the First World, the biggest problem is the lack of separation of president and government, together with the separation of government and parliament.

    What happens in, say, Germany or Austria when the two biggest parties have similar strength but none is strong enough to govern alone ( = have a majority in parliament)? The mentioned parties form a coalition government. Compromises, sometimes difficult compromises, are made, everything slows down, but still, things get done. What happens in the USA? People decide to let one party control the government ( = the administration = the president) and the other the parliament (Congress): split government — Congress and administration block each other — the country is shut down for two years (at least), and Congress gets nothing better to do than investigating Monicagate.

    Most of the First World votes for a government by voting for a party: parties that (alone or together, see above) have a majority in parliament and can therefore feel safe that their ideas won’t be shot down form a government. Not so in the USA: if you want to vote for having a certain party in government, you must vote for a person. Because there can only be one president, it follows there can only be at most two candidates with a real chance to win. Because either of those is backed by a different party, you get your two-party system, inevitably, even though the Constitution doesn’t mention parties at all (AFAIK). The two-party system is the obvious reason for the other weirdnesses of American parties, such as the mentioned “big tent” phenomena, the mind-boggling fact that you become a member of a US party not by paying a membership fee but by publicly putting the party’s name on your voter registration form*, and the stunning fact that the Democratic Party (at least) is incapable of throwing people like Godzella out, claiming that being a Democrat is a “state of mind” or something.

    Now I need to go to bed, lest I start waxing lyrical about the Electoral College having outlived its mere feasibility…

    * Why the fuck, actually, do you vote in secret at all when your preferences are already public (unless you registered “Independent”, maybe)? Is it just so that Dixiecrats can claim they’re still Democrats in spite of voting Republican?

  78. #78 David Marjanovi?
    January 22, 2007

    Everyone whines “well the founding fathers intended a two party system, so we just go with this god-awful train wreck”. Pfff! Look, I know you lot have this demi-god status reserved for the founding fathers and bristle at the slightest insult to their dusty carcasses, but seriously, they were working from scratch. Planet earth has revolved many times since then. Better systems have been found.

    America’s poor version of democracy is an embarrasment to all democratic nations on earth. It’s old. It’s feeble. It molests children.

    Time to pack it off to the old folks home.

    I agree, but I don’t think the precise way of voting is the biggest problem.

    From comparison with the rest of the First World, the biggest problem is the lack of separation of president and government, together with the separation of government and parliament.

    What happens in, say, Germany or Austria when the two biggest parties have similar strength but none is strong enough to govern alone ( = have a majority in parliament)? The mentioned parties form a coalition government. Compromises, sometimes difficult compromises, are made, everything slows down, but still, things get done. What happens in the USA? People decide to let one party control the government ( = the administration = the president) and the other the parliament (Congress): split government — Congress and administration block each other — the country is shut down for two years (at least), and Congress gets nothing better to do than investigating Monicagate.

    Most of the First World votes for a government by voting for a party: parties that (alone or together, see above) have a majority in parliament and can therefore feel safe that their ideas won’t be shot down form a government. Not so in the USA: if you want to vote for having a certain party in government, you must vote for a person. Because there can only be one president, it follows there can only be at most two candidates with a real chance to win. Because either of those is backed by a different party, you get your two-party system, inevitably, even though the Constitution doesn’t mention parties at all (AFAIK). The two-party system is the obvious reason for the other weirdnesses of American parties, such as the mentioned “big tent” phenomena, the mind-boggling fact that you become a member of a US party not by paying a membership fee but by publicly putting the party’s name on your voter registration form*, and the stunning fact that the Democratic Party (at least) is incapable of throwing people like Godzella out, claiming that being a Democrat is a “state of mind” or something.

    Now I need to go to bed, lest I start waxing lyrical about the Electoral College having outlived its mere feasibility…

    * Why the fuck, actually, do you vote in secret at all when your preferences are already public (unless you registered “Independent”, maybe)? Is it just so that Dixiecrats can claim they’re still Democrats in spite of voting Republican?

  79. #79 Keith Douglas
    January 23, 2007

    SmellyTerror: Not only that, the argument that the FFs intended a 2 party system seems to be historically wrong, too. There were many cases of relatively successful third canadidates, including, as I recall, Ross Perot. Of course, RP wasn’t my sort of guy, but at least more diversity in candidates is demostratably possible.

    Not to mention also that the majority of Americans don’t even vote, so organizing a new party seems even more doable. A genuine NDP [Canada]-like party could probably even succeed reasonably well if people really took the process seriously. But that’s the last problem. People in 3rd world countries like Bolivia are fighting daily; here and in the US there’s scarcely anything done except for elections.

  80. #80 llewelly
    January 23, 2007

    Keith Douglas said:

    SmellyTerror: Not only that, the argument that the FFs intended a 2 party system seems to be historically wrong, too. There were many cases of relatively successful third canadidates, including, as I recall, Ross Perot.

    Note to Keith and others not from America:
    When SmellyTerror said “well the founding fathers intended a two party system, so we just go with this god-awful train wreck” it was satirizing people who think the two parties America has now have been around since time immemorial. And Ross Perot hardly qualifies as a ‘relatively successful third candidate’ ; he didn’t get nearly as many electoral college votes as Roosevelt’s 88 (in 1912, vs Wilson’s 435).

    The most successful third candidate was Abraham Lincoln. Not only did he win, but in every election since, his party has been considered a major party, whereas before it had been 3rd behind the Democrats and the Whigs.

  81. #81 llewelly
    January 23, 2007

    Why the fuck, actually, do you vote in secret at all when your preferences are already public (unless you registered “Independent”, maybe)? Is it just so that Dixiecrats can claim they’re still Democrats in spite of voting Republican?

    As any fool knows, black-helicopter liberuls use ballot secrecy to their advantage. First, they register as republican. Then, they vote in the republican primary, voting for the Republican candidate most likely to lose to the Democrats. Then, having done their foul deed, they vote democrat in the actual election.

  82. #82 Kadin
    January 24, 2007

    Nomen: New Zealand changed from a FPP system to mixed-member proportional in the mid-90s. It was pretty simple. I could imagine the change being relatively painless in the US as well: just switch one of your Houses (preferably the Senate) to being based on proportion of the national vote, i.e. a party that gets 30% of the vote gets 30% of the seats. That way, you’d still have individual representatives for each district, and groups of people with similar political alignment and dissimilar geographical location get representation as well.

  83. #83 Jack
    February 24, 2007

    Barack Obama is the biggest freaking joke to American politics. He is so fucking retarted. He is just being raped in the ass by the press. He is there little bitch boy they fuck in the ass to sell news, and the fucking quack doesn’t even know it. He doesn’t have a snow balls chance at hell in wining the democratic primary, yet alone the presidency. America, and I hate to say this, won’t be ready for a black president for a long time, that’s a fact. He’s too liberal, his middle name is Hussein, he’s black, he belongs to a racist black church who blames all their problems on whites, and the man lacks any kind of real experience. If you take the press he gets out of the equation, the man is just one retatred looking fuckup who talks like he’s white. Unfortunately for Democrats, they are handing the presidency over to the republicans again b/c of their inability in connecting with hard working pious people who pay taxes who were sick of the Clinton years and all the blaming white people for black problems, hating religion, and gay rights bull shit. I’m a realist, and not a racist or gay hater, I jsut fucking tell it how it fucking is. Gulliani and Brownback will secure the presidency for eight years and proably pave the waqy for another two term republican president. You fucking Democrats will nver learn.