Support Romanian Secular Public Schools

So, I was tagged in a Facebook post this morning. I normally am not interested in being tagged in Facebook posts. But this was a rare occasion where it was something legitimately interesting. A group in Romania has organized a protest of religious instruction in their public school system. They have many local secularists posting images of themselves calling for secular public school and education. And this is aligned to the mission statement of ACA.

[Read more...]

In which the question “Is there a stupider and more embarrassing atheist than Patrick Greene?” is definitively answered

Via Hemant, I am made aware of this brilliant little nugget of joy. See if you can parse the logic in all this. Perhaps I can’t because I spent my valuable college years drawing talking animals for the school paper rather than boning up on things like the Löwenheim–Skolem theorem. But the sense of it all eludes the humble powers of my primitive brain meat.

The director of the state chapter of American Atheists plans to desecrate the Koran when the state House of Representatives reconvenes in September if the House doesn’t drop its “Year of Religious Diversity” resolution under consideration in its State Government Committee.

Ernest Perce V, who recently was under fire for a controversial Harrisburg billboard he designed and paid for protesting the “Year of the Bible” resolution the House adopted this year, said he plans to whip, or flog, the Koran in the Capitiol rotunda at noon on Sept. 24 should the House not agree to nullify the resolution before it reconvenes from summer recess that day.

…Perce said he plans to thrash the Koran witha nine-tail whip 85 times and a single whip six times to protest the resolution’s number.

“I am a nonbeliever and for (the House) to assume we respect these books is [asinine],” Perce, a Harrisburg resident, said. “I will let other atheists come with me (to protest). I want Christians to lash the Koran, too.”

Allow me to express the depth of my bewilderment through the always-useful internet proxy of an adorable animal photo.

How, exactly, this will accomplish anything is beyond me. Well, I don’t mean “anything” anything. Because it has accomplished at least one thing, which is to put Perce’s name smack at the top of the shit list of every dude on Earth with a kufi and an AK. I mean anything positive and favorable toward what I presume is the hoped-for outcome: to wit, getting across the message that church/state separation is really for the best, and by the way, all those stereotypes you have about atheists being raging assholes are just unfair and wrong.

Yep. Yep. Well played, Mr. Perce.

Hemant reports that he has been talking to Dave Silverman, and Silverman is most assuredly not down with this, and is not lending Perce his or AA’s support. No, we don’t respect “holy” books or the often abominable belief systems they inspire. But there’s such a thing as productive ways to express your disapproval of public policy. And choosing one that does nothing but alienate not only Muslims but pretty much anybody not named Geert Wilders or Ann Coulter, which also stands to drown the whole atheist community in the backwash into the bargain, probably isn’t what a rational person would call “productive.”

Let’s leave the public displays of histrionic hate to the Terry Joneses and Shirley Phelpses of the world, shall we? And Dave? Looks like AA needs to do a little house-cleaning.

In which Michael Egnor steals the “shrill harpy” title

Over the years I’ve seen PZ Myers excoriate the odious Michael Egnor many times, and enjoyed it greatly.  Figured it’s time for me to get in on the act.

Here’s what happened:

JT Eberhard decries the despicable bullying that Jessica Ahlquist has received for her role in getting the prayer mural taken down at her high school, and expresses concern for her safety.

Egnor accuses Eberhard of “using a schoolgirl as a human shield.”

Now, I’m not sure if I actually agree with JT that the school has grounds to stop something that is essentially passive-aggressive behavior on the part of hostile students (wearing t-shirts), and Egnor may or may not be on the right side of that issue… but that’s not my point here.

What’s interesting to me is that Egnor has gone for a particular line of response that involves snidely insulting Jessica herself — dismissing her as an irrelevant pawn in this story, manipulated by the evil atheist community who merely wants to use her as a buffer against criticism because she’s a teenager.  In other words, he’s attacking her character with ageism while pretending to be defending her virtue, all in the service of minimizing the criticism against the bullying itself.

This is pretty rude, especially from my perspective since I’ve talked to Jessica Ahlquist on The Non-Prophets, and she was a great conversationalist.  Extremely bright, fully self-aware of what she was getting into, and coolly analytical about the constitutional issues involved.  Quite possibly my favorite guest of the last year.

Egnor’s on the attack, and instead of dealing head-on with the real issues of a school that deliberately pushed religion on its students and then looks the other way while someone is harassed, he chooses to piss and moan about how unfair it is that Jessica’s age somehow makes her a “shield” for adults who have the same concern.

This reminded me of something I once noticed about Ann Coulter — who, big surprise, is apparently a hero of Egnor’s.  I dug up the post.  It’s political, so it turned out to be something I wrote on my personal blog in 2006 when she was touring around to hype that bile-storm of a book she called “Godless.”

Ann was, at the time, incensed about a group of 9/11 widows speaking out against the Iraq war.  She said, “This is the Left’s doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9-11 Commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we’re allowed to respond to? No, no, no, we always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die.”

But as I pointed out, Coulter doesn’t really know what it means to “respond to” someone.  In her view, “responding” is essentially identical to “attacking the character of.”  And what she was really complaining about, in the end, was that if she slings petty insults at a group of widows, she looks like a loathsome, morally retarded harpy.  And that’s totally not fair!

Egnor here is pulling a line out of the Coulter playbook.  He’s upset that he can’t very well deploy an ad hominem against Jessica directly, because he’ll wind up sounding like a total douche-nozzle for throwing in with the bullies.  (Not that this stopped her state senator from doing it.)  So he attacks Jessica — not for what she did, but just for being the kind of person that most people are sympathetic to.  And he does it by proxy, by pretending to attack people who are mainly concerned for her safety and well-being.

What does it mean to “legislate morality”?

Viewer Mail Question: What does it mean to “legislate morality”? Isn’t any and all legislation a form of legislating morality? It seems to me that if we did not legislate morality, there would be no laws. We’ve determined that undermining ones welfare and liberty are wrong, and have outlined certain laws to strengthen individual liberty and welfare. [Read more...]

You knew this was coming, didn’t you?

So the Rethuglican Taliban are on the warpath, and once again they’re all about using the government to shove Jebus down all our throats (all the while pontificating that they got back into power because they’re all about “less government,” of course). So far, we have one gasbag here in Texas wasting no time in making sure that Ten Commandments slabs are erected in every school in the state. Just how many lawsuits over idiocy like that do we need before they figure it out? And the San Antonio paper has a poll, in which jackbooted theocratic thuggery is currently ahead by a two-thirds margin. We aren’t Pharyngula (I and several other folks I know have emails out to PZ at the moment), but perhaps we can “AXP” this poll just a tad in the direction of religious freedom and sanity.

Anyway, to those of you on the left who sat out the mid-terms because you were disappointed that Obama didn’t fix the world fast enough, welcome to your new Saudi America.


Addendum: PZ has now posted and the squid hordes have acted, and the poll is where it should be, at over 90% against.

This is our 1000th post

…and originally I thought it would be cute to waste it in postmodern fashion simply informing you of that fact. But then I realized that would basically be an exercise in irony so banal and obvious it would tip over into mere douchebaggery. So I’m much happier to spend this post in the valuable act of informing you of an exciting legal development in the ongoing fight against the theocratizing (that’s probably not a word, but screw it) of America.

A federal judge, Barbara Crabb, in Wisconsin has ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. I simply cannot wait for the 700 Club and Whirled Nut Daily to sound off on this, let alone the raging paranoiacs over at Christian Worldview Network, who will no doubt rush to blame the ruling on the baby-eating communopinkosocialistical policies of Barack 666Satan666 Obama, despite a flack for the administration assuring the pearl-clutchers that “President Obama intends to recognize a National Day of Prayer.” Naturally, we get a sound bite from fundie legal beagle Jay Sekulow, who distorts on cue:

“It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it,” ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a statement.

Well, you see, Jay, the thing is the court did recognize that. It’s just that unlike you, the court also recognized it is the prerogative of private citizens to determine for themselves when and where and how they set aside days of prayer. It is not the privilege of the government to do that for them. See the difference? Citizens deciding their own religious observations: within 1st Amendment. Government promoting religious practice on specified day: violation of same. Come on, Jay, IANAL, and you are, and even I know that rudimentary difference.

But that is, of course, what Sekulow and the fundagelicals want: to be able to use the power and authority of the government to impose their brand of Christianity™ upon the nation. Yes, these are the same people who lose their shit and wail about “Soshullisum” when “BIG Government” tries to pass health care reform that makes it harder for your insurance company to sodomize you while rifling your wallet at will. But when it comes to pushing Jesus like he came in dime bags at the playground, oh, does the right ever love Big Government then.

Gotta heat up some popcorn for this cagematch, kids. It’ll be a good one.


Addendum: The fun begins. Nothing too mouth-foamy there yet, but there is, of course, already one falsehood present.

[Alliance Defense Fund] Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster…argued the day gives opportunity “for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith – and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance.”

That might have been the intent and the spirit of the NDOP on general principles. In practice, reality is much different. The Texas Freedom Network has cataloged incidents of Christians excluding non-Christians from formal NDOP events. Mother Jones also has an account of James Dobson’s (surprise surprise) bullying of those worshiping the wrong invisible man, and pluralism.org has a detailed account of Christians using legal muscle to keep a Hindu from participating in an NDOP event in Troy, MI. The idea that the NDOP has ever really been ecumenical is as transparently full of shit as Fox News’s “fair and balanced” slogan.

Should U.S. Law Require Church Approval?

On page one of Monday’s Austin American-Statesman, the headline (“House Approves Health Care Bill”) dealt with the passage of the new healthcare reform bill. One issue that was contentious was the way abortion would be handled. Whether you agree with healthcare reform or not, whether you agree with abortion choice or not, this quote, within the article, should send a shiver down your spine:

“A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed skepticism that the order would satisfy the church’s objections.”

I didn’t realize U.S. law needed to even consider church objections. But there you go.

Revised Texas Social Studies Curriculum

Thomas Jefferson was involved in producing the Constitution of the United States. Fortunately, he left us clear writings as to the meaning of the Establishment Clause—the clause that forbids government involvement in religious matters that would mean government showing favor to one religion over another.

Our neighbors “across the pond” often write to us to express their amazement that while their church is very much part of their state institutions, it is hardly a force of any consequence, whereas in the U.S., they hear we have actually undertaken an experiment in secular government, but are inundated by religious influence and intrusion to a degree they find unbelievable and shocking. They ask “why?” We answer, “we’re not entirely sure.”

I don’t know what makes one state-involved religion relatively benign—as is the case in some modern European nations—and what makes religion a force for death and human rights abuses in some other regions of the world. But I’m willing to wager that if a definitive answer to that question is ever found, it will involve quite a lot about paranoid fear and also something about religious fundamentalism, which is involved with feelings of near certainty in the face of inconclusive—someone less generous might say “ridiculous”—evidence to support unjustified conclusions. Actually, this attitude is often the root of paranoid fear. We have all observed, as well as heard, that “the truth has nothing to fear from investigation.” But poorly justified “truth,” has a great deal to fear from free inquiry and open debate; and, so, protecting such “truth” actually requires some level of suppression of evidence and contrary thoughts. And when I say “some level,” with regard to protecting religious ideas, I shouldn’t need to explain what “levels” that includes.

The “wall of separation” was described early on by a Baptist, Roger Williams. He viewed the wall as a protection of private practice of religion. And, no doubt it does protect religious freedoms—which many religious people daily demonstrate they are either unable or unwilling to understand. Later, the “wall” was described by Jefferson to mean religion’s influence in politics—a prohibition against religious involvement on the secular side. Really, these are not two sides of a coin, but two ways of describing one side only: No religion may call “shotgun.” They must all ride in the same seat as far as the government is concerned. The problem, missed by many, is that in a world where each person carries their own personal and unique concept of “god”—you can’t so much as pray to a “god” with governmental endorsement without stepping on some toes—not merely those of the godless, but those of other religious people as well, who don’t share your personal views on religion. For example, what of those who would pray to the “gods,” instead? It really is best for everyone—religious or not—to allow free private practice and not issue government decrees or endorsements of anything regarding religion or religious worship, whenever it is not an absolute dire necessity to intervene against oppression, both on behalf of religious citizens, as well as on behalf of those they have been known to oppress.

Recently, and unsurprisingly, the SBOE in Texas decided to downplay Jefferson’s role in American history, and include, rather, a list of others who influenced American history and thought, including one, John Calvin, who was a man, among many others, involved in the Reformation. First let me say that there is no doubt the ideas of the Reformation—of which Calvin was certainly a part—have influenced American thinking in the realm of religion to this day. There is some suggestion he also influenced capitalism and democracy, although whatever his idea of “democracy,” it would have clashed considerably with just about everything represented by our Constitution, if his actions and writings constitute any indication. Still, I must admit that, religion being the powerful mechanism it surely is in the U.S. today, impacting religious thought is no small matter. I think it’s fair to say religion in our country would not be what it is today without Calvin’s influential ideas within the Reformation. However, to read that as complimentary would be to miss my meaning entirely.

Some of Calvin’s fine thoughts still in circulation include the following:

1. God’s absolute sovereignty:

Just as the Taliban promotes, whatever your god asks you to do, obey without question—no holds barred. And frighteningly, just like the Taliban, Calvin believed that anyone who didn’t accept the “truth”—as he understood it—deserved execution. Free speech? No. Open, public dialog and debate? No. Capacity to criticize religious thinking? Again, no. Just as, for want of a sense of humor, a rabid mob of Muslims became intent on murdering a Dutch publisher, Calvin saw little reason to allow anyone to criticize what he knew was god’s intent here on Earth—and live. In fact, in response to a fellow theologian’s criticisms, he wrote:

“Servetus has just sent me a long volume of his ravings. If I consent he will come here, but I will not give my word for if he comes here, if my authority is worth anything, I will never permit him to depart alive.” (1)

For the record, we get a lot of “ravings” e-mailed to us at AETV. But I have yet to hear anyone involved with our program suggest, even as a joke, that we ought to consider silencing these people for eternity. Honestly, they are some of the greatest sources of humor on the list—if, perhaps, not also somewhat tinged with a sad and pathetic quality. Pity and humor seem a more appropriate response to “raving” than murderous impulses.

But back to Calvin, who, it turns out, was able to make good on his word. Servetus—who was a man of some scientific accomplishment in addition to a theologian—was burned at the stake—along with his books, it should be noted—for “heresy.” Ironically, put to death by Calvin’s supporters, who were, as labeled by a differently thinking church authority, simply another brand of “heretic.” And also ironically for one of his ideas being that infant baptism was incorrect—a position most protestants would today agree with. When Servetus was facing trial, and possible death, for his ideas, Calvin compassionately wrote:

“I hope that sentence of death will at least be passed on him; but I desired that the severity of the punishment be mitigated.” (2)

By “mitigated,” Calvin did not mean sentencing Servetus to 100 hours of community service instead. He meant that he preferred beheading to immolation. And he demonstrated this preference as well when he consented to the beheading of Jacques Gruet. To be fair to Calvin, though, Gruet was guilty of having written a letter which, I’m sure it was demonstrated, “threatened god,” as well as god’s emissaries here on Earth. And there can be no doubt of Gruet’s guilt, as he made a full confession—under torture.

2. Total depravity of the human condition:

The Wikipedia entry states: “The term ‘total’ in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as possible.”

I’m grateful to have this clarification. Just so we are all on the same page, it’s not so much that human beings are totally evil, as that every part of every human being is polluted with evil.

This doctrine is, itself, perhaps arguably, the most “totally depraved” contribution to the world stage religion has ever supplied us—especially as it is taught to children as soon as they’re able to grasp the concepts involved. For one person to believe such a ludicrous and dysfunctional concept about himself would be merely shocking. For many to believe such a thing undermines humanity and society, and can only be combated wit
h as much real education as we can unrelentingly hurl at it.

Like many marketing schemes, religion invents a problem, exaggerates it to frightening proportions, applies it to as many as possible (in this case everyone), then sells the solution at a hefty individual and social price. The problem it invents in this case results in mistrust of one’s corrupted self, of all one’s corrupted neighbors, and even of one’s corrupted children and parents. And when an idea like this catches fire, anyone who rejects it can only be suspect of being so utterly corrupt they cannot see their own corruption. That person—the one saying humans are basically alright for the most part—becomes, unbelievably, the threat to social harmony and cohesion. What a backward and perverted social perspective. But yes, it certainly has influenced American culture, I must sadly concede.

3. Predestination

Predestination is not, strictly speaking, “determinism.” However, they have a bit in common. If anything drives unavoidable fate, it is determinism. If god drives it, it’s predestination. There is certainly an irony to theists who accept this doctrine claiming that without god they would have no reason to go on living. But beyond the humorous aspects, the obvious problem in this idea is that anything and everything that occurs can be defended with divine preordination—from 9-11 to any dictator’s divine right. Combine this with number 1 above, and you have the perfect recipe for brutal politics. And I daresay that number 2 only functions to dismiss critics of the institution produced by 1 and 3, out of hand.

Calvin had all sorts of other wonderful and interesting ideas, including some about Jews, which his supporters can only defend by saying he may not have been as bad as some of the other anti-semites of his day. Still, it isn’t exactly anything to brag on:

“I have had much conversation with many Jews: I have never seen either a drop of piety or a grain of truth or ingenuousness—nay, I have never found common sense in any Jew.” (3)

My main objective in all of this is to demonstrate that a man like Calvin would openly oppose our current Constitution in the U.S., where we actually allow open public dialog and debate, and we allow free and unhindered expression of religion—by anyone, no matter what they believe, or don’t.

As I have admitted already, we have examples of the church and state living, relatively speaking, harmoniously in some regions of the world. However, we have other examples where church and state, relatively speaking, demonstrate lethal and oppressive combinations. And in those states, what do we see? We see staunch believers who adhere to the three Calvinistic concepts listed above, for which the man is most remembered. Considering the continued efforts of Christian fundamentalists—admittedly influenced by Calvin—to affect political power in this nation—why on Earth would anyone assume they’re not interested in religious impositions upon society? What would be the basis for assuming this well organized group of religious zealots is fighting for political influence with the noble goal of preserving a religious freedom we already enjoy—rather than a goal of imposing religious oppression by instituting self-serving, government-sanctioned religious privilege?

By all means, feel free to teach children about Calvin and Calvinism and his influence on American thinking in our schools. Be sure to teach them, as well, how extremely lucky we are that Calvin’s relaxed attitudes with regard to comingling religious and state authority, to purposeful deadly effect, were ultimately not embraced by this nation. In fact, they represent, eerily and precisely, the same views driving the terrorist actions with which we are waging war in the world at this moment: God is sovereign and demands the death of anyone who criticizes Him or His messengers.

I wonder whether that will be included in our new Social Studies Curriculum Standards here in Texas when Calvin is mentioned? Like the fundamentalist-groomed children in science classes “challenging” overwhelming scientific consensus, one wonders whether free-thinking children will raise a hand to ask whether it is, in fact, true, that Calvin promoted executing people for expressing their ideas and questions? And, if so, isn’t it rather a boon that we escaped a number of the man’s toxic political influences, if not his religious ones?

I’m happy to say the church in the U.S. no longer burns people who don’t agree with them. But it is impossible to miss that this protection is offered, thankfully, by secular laws imposing on religiously prescribed dictates, rather than any divine prohibition. It is, in fact, quite fortunate we did not take our cue from the Bible—or Calvin’s view of it—when it came time to author our national laws and Constitution.

Thankfully reason prevailed, once again, over religion. But the price, as always, is eternal vigilance.

Notes:

(1) Drummond, William H. (1848). The Life of Michael Servetus: The Spanish Physician, Who, for the Alleged Crime of Heresy, was Entrapped, Imprisoned, and Burned, by John Calvin the Reformer, in the City of Geneva, October 27, 1553. London, England: John Chapman. pp. 2.

(2) Calvin to William Farel, August 20, 1553, Bonnet, Jules (1820–1892) Letters of John Calvin, Carlisle, Penn: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980, pp. 158–159. ISBN 0-85151-323-9.

(3) Lange van Ravenswaay, J. Marius J. (2009), “Calvin and the Jews”, in Selderhuis, Herman J., The Calvin Handbook, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., ISBN 9780802862303 (translation from the Dutch, Calvijn Handboek, 2008 by Kok, Kampen).

Can You Spot the Strawman in this Picture?

Who didn’t love Highlights as a kid? It was probably the only positive thing about visiting the dentist that I can recall. Everybody’s favorite thing was the Hidden Pictures—but only if the images weren’t already circled.

Well, today, I’m giving you an adult atheist version of Highlights Hidden Pictures. In this morning’s Austin American-Statesman was a ridiculous opinion piece by Texas Attorney General hopeful Ted Cruz about the cross monument on federal property that has been in the news recently.

Today’s assignment: Be the person who spots the most fallacies, errors, omissions or deceptions.

The winner gets full braggin’ rights.

The only hint I offer is that whenever a person misrepresents an opponent’s stance, the point is to try and wobble them off-base a bit by getting them upset or angry. I find humor, and mocking such a person, has the effect of not giving them what they want, in addition to showing you’re above their childish and obvious attempts at manipulation. Should anyone choose to reply to the Statesman directly, I encourage them to bear that in mind.

E. J. Dionne report

As promised, I attended a lecture by E. J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist, at a Baptist church tonight. Dionne was there under the auspices of the Texas Freedom Network, promoting his new book, Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right. Here’s what the incredibly gaudy church background looked like.


Everything Else Atheist was also with me, and she might write up her own reactions later.

The lecture was about what I expected, which is to say, promising but ultimately disappointing. Dionne believes that religion has a solid place in public discourse, and it has been shanghai’d by the religious right unfairly. He told a joke in which a Republican asks a Democrat what the Democrat would do if Jesus ran as a Republican. The Democrat replies “Why would Jesus change his affiliation after all these years?”

Dionne was full of praise for the importance of religion in people’s lives, saying that religion grapples with mysteries that science and politics cannot address. (Well yes, in the first place, many of those issues are addressed by science and politics; in the second place, just because religion grapples with them does not mean that it successfully addresses any of them.) He also leveled a great deal of criticism against what he perceives as the unfairly dismissive attitude toward religion by many liberals, saying liberals assume that all religious people are “busybodies obsessed with sex” based on the prevailing opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

Dionne did make a good point about the way that “moral values” tend to be framed in politics. He cited a clearly slanted 2004 exit poll which asked voters what issues most strongly influenced their vote. The options included such things as “moral values,” “education,” “the Iraq war,” etc. Dionne rightly pointed out that if you describe either of the latter two as your most important concerns, then you are implicitly agreeing that moral values are less important to you. In reality, as he then pointed out, if neither education nor war is regarded as a moral concern, then there is something seriously wrong with our thinking. On the other hand, I of course believe that it is a mistake to attempt to unduly equate moral values with religious beliefs.

In the end Dionne suggests that it’s important for Americans on both sides of the political spectrum to embrace their faith and accept it in public life.

There was a Q&A period where people walked up to microphones. Unfortunately I was not very nimble and wound up sixth in line, with answers to the first five questions taking up a good 5-10 minutes or so each. Luckily he still had time to answer my question, but after I went up he asked the remaining people in line to limit themselves to a brief, unanswered comment. I will try to reconstruct my statement/question from memory, and then summarize his response.

“Mr. Dionne, thank you for coming here tonight. My name is Russell Glasser, my father and I are long time fans of your column. I am also a member of the Atheist Community of Austin.” [Dionne jokingly interjected "God bless you" to which I simply replied "Thank you."]

“Speaking as someone from the 15% of voters who do not claim any personal god, I feel that unbelievers are often caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to selecting a political party. I believe that somewhere around 80% of us voted for both Kerry and Obama. [Dionne nodded, indicating he was familiar with this.] Many atheists might be there by default, because frankly the Republican party is full of lunatics. I personally know only one atheist Republican, while most atheists who lean conservative gravitate toward the libertarian party.

“I think the reason separation of church and state is so important is not simply because it panders to people like me, but because religion is a deeply personal issue to many people. When political figures interject a religion into the dialogue, they are implicitly excluding other religions. As you pointed out, the religious right say that religious values are focused around gay marriage and abortion, which is different from the beliefs of many of the people in this church now.

“What I’m wondering is: Aren’t you concerned that by encouraging politicians on the left to use more religious language, you are buying in to the notion that this sort of exclusion has a place in politics? It seems to me that even this much is conceding too much to the right regarding their perspective about the appropriate role of religion?”

I got a smattering of applause for this remark. Dionne answered that he understands my concerns, and mentions that he always says to believers that they ought to seek out conversations with atheists, because they should be prepared to defend their beliefs. Not quite the answer I was looking for, since I am more interested in wanting to engage with atheists at least partly out of recognition that there is no need to believe in God as a prerequisite to work towards shared social goals.

He then went on to say that it is possible to talk about religion without being disrespectful to nonbelievers, and it is important to do so. Finally, he added encouragingly that he would bet atheists are probably under reported by polling, since fewer people will admit to it.

After talk I saw a few familiar faces. Dr. James Dee popped up in the last set of people interjecting comments and made a comment about needing to read the Bible in the original languages. A regular commenter on this blog came up to me in the lobby and introduced himself, adding that he’ll be joining us on the bat cruise this weekend.

In conclusion, I understand what Dionne is trying to do, but I still come away deeply unconvinced by the argument that the solution to religion in politics is more religion in politics. While I agree that it would be a mistake to ignore the role of religion in history, I see no compelling reason to believe that religion is a necessary or sufficient motivator to bring about positive changes. To give credit to God for human achievements is, in my opinion, an insult to human spirit. And considering the potential that religion always has to divide people, I really feel like Democrats should be especially wary of trying to use it for short term gain.