Pharyngula

The A-bomb

Oregon looks to have an interesting senate primary race, with two excellent Democratic candidates, Jeff Merkley and Steve Novick, vying for the chance to give the boot to two-faced Republican Bush booster Gordon Smith. I think it’s great that more progressive candidates are being drawn into loftier tiers of the political arena, and that good wholesome sparring in the primary is going to help them both out, no matter who wins the nomination. Why, though, should this Minnesotan care? Aside from having lived in Oregon for 9 years (and loving it!), it was brought to my attention that there’s a sly tactic being carried out here. Someone dropped the A-bomb in the discussion already: they’ve asked “Is Steve Novick an atheist?

That quickly developed into a major topic of discussion at BlueOregon. One of the major points is that while Oregon is one of the least godly states in the country, it still has a large Christian majority, and the assumption is that tagging him with areligiosity will hurt Novick’s chances.

What this kind of tactic actually does, though, is tarnish the reputation of Christians, so I’m saddened but unsurprised that more believers aren’t distressed by it. Imagine if a black candidate were running, and someone tried to argue that he was going to be beat because a large percentage of the voters were white. That’s not a commentary on the candidate, although there always is a tendency to hold the victim accountable: it’s an acknowledgment that the majority of voters are superficial bigots, an appeal to the prejudices of the lowest of the mob.

At least nowadays people wouldn’t try to publicly defend their bigotry against blacks, although I suspect many still practice it in the privacy of the voting booth (it’s also still a useful dirty campaign issue, as was used against McCain). We’ll still see people argue that atheism is a legitimate reason to vote against someone though, because he doesn’t share their “values”. That’s an admission, I think, that they want a Christian candidate who will inject religion into the secular task of running the country.

Comments

  1. #1 CalGeorge
    July 28, 2007

    Another plus, PZ – he’s a pirate (with a mean left hook)!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwFMJxLhz-w

    (second 23)

    Wow! I’m jealous of Oregon (again).

  2. #2 PZ Myers
    July 28, 2007

    He also clearly does not go in for those $200 haircuts.

  3. #3 Desert Donkey
    July 28, 2007

    Nice work with this PZ. Novick is looking like an interesting candidate, and Smith’s aura of invincibility has fallen apart. Not only is Smith easily connected to Bush, but also to Cheney over a local water/fish issue in the Klamath basin where they both engaged in questionable tactics.

    As I said when I sent the link, I’m hoping that Novick can use this to his advantage.

    And, CalGeorge, I am proud to be an Oregonian …. again.

  4. #4 Mats
    July 28, 2007

    So basically people shouldn’t invalidate/condemn this candidate for what he believes, but he should evaluated by his work.
    It’s kind ironic we find that proposal in here, the blog of one of the people who advocates the erradication of Darwin-skeptics from science, or public life (even if violence is needed), not because the skeptics’ experimental work or evidence is lacking, but only because he doesn’t burn incense to Darwin.

    Also, it hinges the border of hilarious when an atheist laments the fact that the Christians aren’t doing enough to protect the atheist from being persecuted for being an atheist!

    Oh, and comparing being black with being atheist it’s just nonsense. Being an atheist is a choice that comes from free will, whereas being black isn’t. (Unless, of course, if the “atheist gene” has been found)

    But since this is your blog, you can say all the nonsense you want.

  5. #5 Tommaso Sciortino
    July 28, 2007

    As someone whose identifying more and more with the “A” word I think it’s not quite right to compare not wanting to vote for a atheist with not wanting to vote for a black person. The color of your skin should really have no impact on how you perform in office but someone’s religion (or lack thereof) could obviously have a big impact.

    Most religions want us to take them seriously as a belief system and philosophy, not just as a collection of funny beliefs about what happened 2000 years ago. So if you really think that Jesus is the one true way and that people who don’t convert are going to spend eternity in hell it makes sense to avoid voting for someone who doesn’t share that belief since it’s going to lead to policies that don’t reflect that very real concern you share with your fellow believers.

    In practice of course most Christians don’t vote based on who they think will help convert more non-believers, but it’s not a priori hypocritical from their point of view and certainly isn’t as bad as voting based on race.

  6. #6 Blake Stacey
    July 28, 2007

    So if you really think that Jesus is the one true way and that people who don’t convert are going to spend eternity in hell it makes sense to avoid voting for someone who doesn’t share that belief since it’s going to lead to policies that don’t reflect that very real concern you share with your fellow believers.

    By the same logic, it makes sense to vote for a fellow Klansman, because voting for that “articulate” man running in opposition would lead to policies that don’t reflect the voter’s very real concerns (e.g., “property values”).

  7. #7 Marc
    July 28, 2007

    The problem I have with the whole “bigot”-argument is that it cuts both ways:

    I would, in general, prefer a secular candidate to a religious one. Of course, a lot depends on the candidate’s individual goals and values which may not conform to generalisations commonly used when talking about secular and religious people – but I hope that is clear to everyone.

    So, of course an overwhelming majority of religous people might be favorably inclined towards a more religious candidate.
    Why? Because he shares their worldview and value system.

    To use a real world example: I have no sympathies whatsoever for Mitt Romney but his Mormonism is, for me, even more a point against him. There are some among his cheerleaders (e.g. Hugh Hewitt) who call this attitude “bigoted”.

    But what does bigoted mean? Prejudiced?
    Well, yes, I am prejudiced towards people who profess a value system that I don’t share or even strongly reject.
    The same goes probably goes for their attitudes towards secular people.

    I am not an American, not even a native English speaker som maybe I don’t really get the usage of “bigoted” in this context, but I find it very problematic to conflate what you call bigotry with racial prejudice, as PZ has done. Physical characteristics are not a legitimate reason to judge people – but their ideas and values are.

    We as secularists/atheists/secular humanists/whatever you want to call it reject many of the cornerstones of the worldview and value system that strongly religious people have and vice versa.
    That is the underlying reason for many political battles being carried out today. There are opposing viewpoints that vie for dominance in the political landscape. Calling one side bigoted because it opposes the other is an utterly nonsensical statement.

    You can say you disagree with them, their idear are crazy, destructive, evil, immoral etc. (and I DO) but calling someone whose ideas you oppose bigoted always cuts both ways.

  8. #8 PZ Myers
    July 28, 2007

    Poor looney ol’ Mats. He gets it exactly backwards.

    not because the skeptics’ experimental work or evidence is lacking, but only because he doesn’t burn incense to Darwin.

    I don’t “burn incense to Darwin”, and would consider that kind of hero-worship antithetical to good science — and I rather freely criticize Darwin in my classes. I would not hire or grant tenure to an ID creationist precisely because they do not have experimental work, lack evidence, and if the work of people like Dembski and Behe is representative, don’t even understand the most basic principles of good science.

    As for violent eradication of “Darwin-skeptics” from public life: you’re insane. No, I don’t endorse that at all.

  9. #9 Tommaso Sciortino
    July 28, 2007

    Blake Stacey wrote:

    By the same logic, it makes sense to vote for a fellow Klansman, because voting for that “articulate” man running in opposition would lead to policies that don’t reflect the voter’s very real concerns (e.g., “property values”).

    Well, yes. You are exactly right. To a Klansman it *does* make sense to vote for whites only. To me it doesn’t but that’s because *I* don’t believe in racism. When PZ write:

    I’m saddened … that more believers aren’t distressed by it

    He’s not making any sense. Should a Klansman be distressed to find out that Klansman weren’t going to vote for an African-American candidate? No. Similarly we should expect religious people to be just fine with taking someone’s religion into account when they vote.

    Heck, I know *I* would probably prefer an atheist candidate to an overtly religious one – all things being equal. I don’t feel distressed by that at all. Ideas have consequences and we shouldn’t be surprised when people act on those ideas even when we know those ideas are wrong.

  10. #10 raven
    July 28, 2007

    Mat, making things up:

    not because the skeptics’ experimental work or evidence is lacking,

    The skeptics experimental work is all but nonexistent.

    The skeptics evidence is all but nonexistent and often consists of a bunch of lies.

    Evolution is a fact supported by whole libraries of evidence and experiment gathered over 150 years. It is consistent with all the evidence from geology, astronomy, and paleontology.

  11. #11 raven
    July 28, 2007

    I read a study once of why people don’t elect intelligent people to office, including the president.

    It turns out that people vote for people like themselves. So the average politician will have an IQ around 100, be white, christian but not too fanatical in most of the US, and for various reasons are usually male.

    This is why very few academics or scientists are in the US congress. Count them, virtually no scientists even though scientists are usually pretty intelligent.

    Clinton’s genius was looking like a hick from Hope, Arkansas. While actually being very bright. If you are a brilliant thinker, the best way to get elected is to be able to convincingly project being a J6P class mind.

  12. #12 Djur
    July 28, 2007

    Woo! Steve!

    The unfortunate thing is that even though Novick is the only candidate who’s actively running, he’s being completely fucking ignored by the local media. Hell, the Oregonian has run several opinion columns essentially complaining that nobody is challenging Smith, and if the Democrats don’t field a “serious candidate,” they’re losing out.

    The national party mechanism, especially the DSCC, is also trying to give Novick the boot, almost going door-to-door with local Democratic figures and asking them to run. Everyone has turned them down.

    Honestly, though, if Oregon can’t elect an extremely intelligent liberal with a hook for a hand and a brief stature over that bastard Smith, it doesn’t deserve the respect I’ve always held for it.

  13. #13 Reed A. Cartwright
    July 28, 2007

    A poll recently reported in Time magazine found that 56% (or so) of voters are less likely to vote for a candidate if they learned that he was an atheist and 43% (or so) for Muslim candidates. Atheists are 30% more hated than Muslims, and we’ve never flown airplanes into skyscrapers.

  14. #14 Jacob Wintersmith
    July 28, 2007

    I for one am quite willing to vote against a candidate who believes in, say, virgin births or flying horses, precisely because of those beliefs. Believing such loony things casts doubt on a person’s sanity and competence to hold office.

    I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect that if atheists were in the majority PZ would also be strongly disinclined to vote against people who held loony religious ideas. (Since we atheists are currently a tiny minority, it’s rather hard for us to do this right now.) So, PZ, if I’m wrong and this article isn’t a piece of flaming hypocracy, I think you ought to clarify.

  15. #15 Sastra
    July 28, 2007

    The bigotry part isn’t when Christians refuse to vote for an atheist candidate because he or she doesn’t share their values — it’s when Christians refuse to vote for an atheist candidate because they assume he or she doesn’t share their “values,” when they actually might. There is a widespread perception that atheists don’t have morals, or don’t feel empathy, or can’t really believe in truth, justice, or the American way. That’s an error, a misapprehension.

    It’s not bigotry to refuse to vote for a candidate because of their stance on an issue — such as separation of church and state — which you disagree with. But if it’s not about issues, or how they will vote, or anything specific or known but “character,” if this character assessment is based on nothing more than race, sex, or religion, there’s probably unwarranted prejudgment: prejudice.

  16. #16 Reginald Selkirk
    July 28, 2007

    Mats: Also, it hinges the border of hilarious when an atheist laments the fact that the Christians aren’t doing enough to protect the atheist from being persecuted for being an atheist!

    So you expect Christians to be persecutory, and not to be in agreement with the American value of separation of church and state? Thanks for sharing your opinion, it will be useful the next time the appeasers try to claim that most believers are really enlightened, moderate folk.

    Jacob Wintersmith: I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect that if atheists were in the majority PZ would also be strongly disinclined to vote against people who held loony religious ideas.

    Translation: “I’m going to make some **** up and attribute it to someone else, then be offended by the **** I attributed to them.” Having read PZ’s blog regularly for a while, I’m guessing that PZ would be disinclined to vote for a candidate who was likely to use their office to inflict their loony religious ideas on the general populace, not someone who merely held loony religious ideas.

  17. #17 Arnosium Upinarum
    July 28, 2007

    Aye, raven, #11: Yes, and the implications are quite staggering. As George Carlin said, “You all know how dumb the average American is…half of us are dumber than THAT.”

  18. #18 Arnosium Upinarum
    July 28, 2007

    Mats #4 says, “But since this is your blog, you can say all the nonsense you want.”

    Aye, it IS PZ’s blog, but that obviously doesn’t prevent you from vomiting forth YOUR nonsense in a silly little post, does it? Have you no honor? No sense of shame?

    Nah, you’re just another miserable wretch who thinks knowledge gets handed to them on a golden platter in the shape of a chalice. Watch out – people have been known to choke on that sort of thing. Begone!

  19. #19 bigTom
    July 28, 2007

    Using a candidates religious views, or even skin color as a clue to what sort of worldview he may advance in office, seems a legitimate exercise to me (even if we are not comfortable with discussing it). Hopefully it should only be a clue, i.e. the voter should seek out other information.
    For example I am leary of Romney, because Mormons are usually very conservative. At this point I am favorably disposed towards black candidates, because few of them support the republican agenda. Unfortunately the flip side of this means that playing the A-card will likely be an effective strategy for the forseeable future.

  20. #20 SmellyTerror
    July 29, 2007

    There are a lot of idiots in the world who will believe whatever they’re told re: the invisible sky fairy’s mystical ability to keep you honest. There are also a lot of amoral assholes who have no empathy or sense of personal honour, and who will never understand why anyone would be decent and honest without the threat of sticks and lure of carrots, however mythological.

    The problem is people, and people are the reason that open democracy is and always will be flawed.

    …not that I know of a better system, as long as you have humans ruling humans. I’m hoping for an alien invasion.

  21. #21 Kseniya
    July 29, 2007

    Mats continues to build on his rapidly growing legend. Mats, the one-hit-wonder.

    bigTom (#19): Be very leary of Romney. He’s a fraud. His “triumphs” as guv of Massachusetts set the health care sitch back considerably.

    PZ, I commend you for not only mentioning, but linking to an article on the McCain smear campaign. That was a piece of work best NOT forgotten or overlooked. McCain’s subsequent fealty to not only the GOP but to the Bush administration has always troubled me. (At least he had the fortitude to stand up for Kerry in the face of the Swiftboaters, but it was like shouting into the wind. And he didn’t even shout.)

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