Where is the candidate brave enough to address this problem?

Now look what you’ve done, O American Religion. Even thoughtful people like Shelley are getting fed up with you.

Regardless of how this vote goes this week, we can no longer ignore the elephant sitting in the corner that is religious influence on politics and government. People are not always going to be able to complacently have their ‘faith’ and their ‘science’, because in too many cases belief in one denies the existence of the other. Members of a church may have to consider challenging the precepts of the church, and individual churches challenge their association with a larger body. Basic human rights can no longer be pushed aside in the interest of ‘culture’ and ‘belief’, and the religious faithful cannot be allowed to determine how the rest of us live or die; how and when we have children; who we can love; how we dress; destroy our world in the interests of ‘being fruitful, and multiplying’; reduce our science to superstition, and bind our ethics to obscure passages in ill-interpreted religious texts.

I’d like to dream that today’s election will be the beginning of a change, but even if the Democratic party wins big, I don’t see them ever trying to chastise that elephant.


  1. G. Tingey says

    First of all, you need to get a known atheist voted into congress.

    Jus ONE will do, to start with.
    Chances of success?
    P<0.01% I reckon.

  2. Jud says

    The piece you didn’t quote from Shelley was also good, about how churches are using lies and distortions to serve their political purposes in the current election (didn’t the Vatican tell everyone to cut out this political stuff when Drinan was forced to leave Congress, or was that just because he was on the ‘wrong’ side?). Reminds me of the section of the Dover opinion where Judge Jones briefly wondered how people who called themselves religious could lie so easily in court (after swearing on the Bible to tell the truth, “so help me God”).

    The reason these lies are put out without fear of exposure is the laziness of most folks about doing their own fact-finding and making up their own minds. If more people felt strongly enough about finding the truth and thinking for themselves, such lies and distortions could never survive in the public forum. I’m not holding my breath waiting for this, and neither are the politicians, even the best of whom are now reduced to fighting back with sound bites of their own.

  3. Paco says

    Not to criticize you, Dawkins, and all my other beloved rational atheists, but atheism needs more soul in it. More appreciation for poetry and song.

    Because science and reason are not the only good tools for knowing the Universe. They’re good for culling the bad ideas and codifying the good ones. But actually creating new knowledge and beauty requires love and inspiration. Science is not prohibited from understanding creativity (I don’t believe in separate realms for understanding One Universe), but I suspect it will remain an emergent phenomenon for a long time, intractable to reductionist analysis.

    What many of us need is something very much like religious feeling, just without the dusty books, integrated with our atheism. A place of song and comforting rituals that are understood not to be magical except in the ways they lift our hearts.

    The best thing I’ve found so far in this direction is the Unitarian Universalists. Some of the congregations are pleasingly atheistic or paratheistic (the since-retired minister in Houston was a gay Buddhist and capable of reasoning and inspiring at the same time), others couch their message in terms of a God not perceived as a person but still considered overly magical to my tastes. At least they welcome atheists and practice engagement in the world without dogma.

    But even with the Unitarians I sometimes feel like a stowaway on a ship chasing clouds when they could use a compass. I want my own religion, a spiritual atheism that recognizes the needs of many to worship and nurture the sources of creativity and beauty without claiming unique understanding.

    And in my church, one of the sermons would be about the beauty of a Universe in which Fourier transforms work, and drawing an analogy to the development of organisms as their genomes and contexts interact.

  4. says

    Paco –

    How do you get the impression that atheists have no appreciation for art, poetry and beauty? Even atheists appreciate the beauty of the music of Handl, Grieg, Bach, Verdi, Green Day, etc.

    It was a UUC that told me that poets were ridiculous for saying that love comes from the heart, that our poetry should be as literal as our science.

    In addition, science relies on creativity. They search for a causual relationship, although once finding a promising factor they feel that pesky need to test that relationship through experimentation, observation, proper application of statistical measurements.

    Finally, start your own church if you need one. I have. It is called Mikism. The disciple is the teacher, and the teacher is the disciple. It is a religion of one. And there is no tithing.

    But as to the original post in this subject: Perhaps someday, the Conservative Christians that hold the Republican Party hostage (or that the party manipulates) may someday realize that no, they don’t represent the mainstream of political thought here in the good old U.S. and A. and decide that Australia is the New Jerusalem. And go there to create their Dominion on Earth. Hey, it’s an English speaking country, right?


  5. says

    Not to criticize you, Dawkins, and all my other beloved rational atheists, but atheism needs more soul in it. More appreciation for poetry and song… I want my own religion

    So make one. I find science makes the universe more ‘spiritual’ by providing tools for comprehension. Looking at a dry leaf on the sidewalk, thinking of the annual cycle of the tree that produced it, which is a result of seasons that come from the Earth’s orbit and axis, connects things in my mind in a very moving way. It is poetic, musical, artistic, and – something else beyond that – all at once.

    The word ‘miracle’ has another meaning, which is to inspire wonder and awe.

  6. Steve LaBonne says

    I want my own religion, a spiritual atheism that recognizes the needs of many to worship and nurture the sources of creativity and beauty without claiming unique understanding.

    I find that better understanding something- in art, in nature, whatever- that is worthy of veneration, only increases the depth of my feelings for it. There’s something cheap and shallow and sophomoric about the love of mystery.

  7. SEF says

    I don’t see them ever trying to chastise that elephant.

    Besides which, if the elephant never forgets then the next time the world (or part of it) descends fully into another religion-inspired and -run dark ages the inquisition will be coming after all those who attempted such chastisement …

    … though that’s still not a *good* reason to avoid chastising religion and its bad influence on people. Merely a pragmatically cowardly one.

  8. says

    Paco: I don’t understand your complaint. In particular, including Dawkins in the list when he’s written an entire book on the whole subject, “Unweaving the Rainbow”. It really is very good, and contains examples of some excellent poetry.

    Many other atheists have written on the subject. The wonder and awe-inspiring nature of the universe, and the poetry that could be written if people got the reality of what they’re living in, rather than deriding the people trying to understand it.

    Last night, for instance, I was in my back garden with my nice shiny new telescope looking at the moon. That fact that a book on astronomy can detail the phases, can tell me what it’s made of, and can tell me precisely where it will be at 8 O’Clock this evening, didn’t stop me from running into my living room to drag my fiancé out in the garden (bare feet ‘n’ all) to look at this incredible sight through the telescope’s eyepiece.

    Newton was charged that, by discovering how a rainbow worked, he’d suddenly removed the poetry (a charge made, ironically, by a poet). This, of course, is simply not true. A person who understands the workings of a rainbow (or a sunset, or whatever) is not somehow prohibited from admiring the beauty of it.

    If anything (I would contend) they are more likely to be awed by the sight than someone who thinks the rainbow is their god’s persistent message that it won’t slaughter all life on earth again. I’ll take the secular poetry myself.

  9. Caledonian says

    I realize that this point is going to be received poorly, but is has to be said:

    It doesn’t matter what we feel about anything. You may be inspired to heights of awe, wonder, and adoration by science, but those feelings just aren’t relevant to the science.

    And quite frankly, the people who are going to reject science because it’s not touchy-feely enough for them aren’t going to be swayed away from their very effective emotion generating systems by our artistic/poetic efforts.

  10. eukaryote says

    Actually some of these issues may not be as difficult to deal with these days as they used to be or were perceived to be. Take a gander at this Reuters Story at http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061106/hl_nm/sex_education_dc_1, on the heels of the announcement last week that the federal government would begin extending its abstinence only programs to 19-29 year olds. It looks like people in this country arent as ignorant as we though on sex ed. Now lets hope some brave politician tries to reverse this abstinence only crap and look at the faces of those pro-lifers when they see abortion numbers go down for a reason other than dead doctors.

  11. Zbu says

    Abstinence for 19-29? That should go over well. I’ve love to see the person with enough guts to tell me that I should lay off the mating. Really: making a pretzel out of them will be a most interesting experience.

    So, Christianity = Fascism. I knew it.

  12. Bilbo says

    Actually, the Bible is a very progressive book. For example, it legislated that debts were to be completely forgiven every seven years. Every 50 years one’s property (the means of making a living in an agrarian society) was to be returned to the person who sold it (or the family) — absolutely free. One was not allowed to harvest all of one’s crops, but had to leave the edges and corners for the poor to harvest. And Israel may have been the first nation to have a six-day work week. And if we turn to the prophets, we see that they criticize Israel and the other nations most for oppressing the poor. Even in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, Ezekiel says that their major sin is not caring for the poor (and he doesn’t mention sodomy or homosexuality).
    And if we examine the New Testament, we find Jesus feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and criticizing the religiously self-righteous. And when the first community of believers formed in Jerusalem, they held everything in common, with people selling excess property to help take care of the poor.
    You may not agree with the theology of the Bible, but I suggest you reconsider its ethics. Posted by a liberal ID advocate.

  13. Bilbo says

    And yes, I voted straight Democratic. Unfortunately, we don’t have paper ballots in my state, so I don’t know if it counted.

  14. JJR says


    So what do you do about the parts that tell you to “stone disobedient children”, or any of the other truly noxious stuff? I suspect you do what the rest of us do with most texts…you cherry pick out what you like/agree with, discard the rest. It’s intellectually dishonest to do that with the bible then slap the label “Biblical Ethics” on it and then go using it to score political points, as if your preferred points stood for the whole, unproblematically.

    A secularist by contrast can do this basically problem free with any philosophical text they care to select–there’s no overarching dogma to bind them to anything. We are free to invent and be creative, and list our ingredients (e.g. inspirations).

    For a theist to do so is stepping out onto a minefield. It’s dangerous, and you can’t expect anyone else to follow you. The theist is not free to invent theology at his/her own whim…mystics do, perhaps, but that’s why they’re ruthlessly suppressed by religious authority, time and time again. Science laughs in the face of that authority in ways that rebellious mystics cannot.

    Yes, the Bible does have some commendable passages.
    So do the works of Thomas Paine, Robert Green Ingersoll, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin…
    So does _Das Kapital_, and Lenin’s works, for that matter.

    But with the (Christian) Bible, it’s all undermined by that otherworldly focus, Gawd-Damnation-Salvation-only-thru-J.C. crap. The New Testament puts a premium on BELIEF above EVERYTHING else. If you don’t believe, you’re screwed, no matter how good you may aspire to be. If the NT is summed up by one command “BELIEVE”, the OT is summed up by the command “OBEY”. Would that it were as simple as Rabbi Hillel put it “That which is hateful to thee, do not do to another, that is the whole of the law, the rest is just commentary”, but it’s not. As the amusing cliche has it, the Devil is in the Details.

    And as the posts in our “History” topic will show you, it’s less important what the Bible says, or what Christians past and present SAY, let’s look at what they actually DO.
    And the cross has more often been alongside the sword, and the forces of colonization and conquest, of wealth, privilege and power that in opposition to any of those things.

    As far as inspiring figures who died on a cross–if I must choose one, I’ll take Spartacus, the leader of the famous slave revolt against the Romans.

    My point is, just because there may be laudable stuff interspersed within the Bible doesn’t mean you can’t get the same or better ideas somewhere else, from often less problematic texts.

    I suspect that thoughtful Christians like Bill Moyers are moved by examples like the ones you cite. Some even accept scientific accounts of evolution by way of some hefty mental gymnastics and fairly hermetic mental walls of separation.

    If you want to vote Democratic today and help turn back the GOP tide, fine, I welcome your participation. But also understand why atheists react the way they do when anyone starts jabbering away about “Biblical Ethics”; It’s a loaded term, and it doesn’t generally mean, in the present political discourse, what you seem to want it to mean. The immediate appropriate response is “WHAT biblical ethics?”, like point I am raising above, since there are a lot of interpretive possibilities…just like there are many Marxisms, many notions about small “d” democracy, small “r” republicanism, etc.

    There’s a popular T-shirt that says “Jesus was a Liberal”

    Well….yes and no.

    …And moreover what really do you mean by Jesus, per se, and what do you mean by/how do you define, liberal?

    Just my $.02

    And Caledonian, yes, I suppose in a narrow sense how we feel about things do not matter to the universe, or science–to assume so would be to anthropomorphize inanimate things–but it matters to other things that have feelings, namely other living things, particularly humans.
    It’s vitally important to living a rewarding life and enjoying it, you cold fish.

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    PZ Myers:I don’t see them ever trying to chastise that elephant.

    Given pre-election statements by Pelosi et al, it doesn’t look like they intend to chastise any elephants at all. Whether she can block Waxman, Conyers, et al remains to be seen. (There’s also what passes for a positive possibility these days: she could have been lying like a mofo.)

    Bilbo: And Israel may have been the first nation to have a six-day work week.

    Apparently they learned that rhythm from the exile of the Jewish elites in Babylon, but put their own spin on it. In the Babylonian mythos, the seventh day was unlucky, so it was wise not to work then. (Tangentially: the “Night with the King” movie is based on the story of Esther ‘n’ Mordechai – which in turn is based on the Babylonian gods Ishtar ‘n’ Marduk. A proto-Noah legend is among the other ideological souvenirs of that enforced Babylonization.)

  16. Fernando Magyar says

    I found this little gem of a quote at:


    “It’s a good thing when sinners continue to oppose sin, even if they are still struggling with sin in their own lives…Sometimes, hypocrisy is what allows sinful people to be decent while they try to do what’s right.”

    You can read the whole column here: “Hypocrites are us” (Terry Mattingly)

    Any thoughts? Yeah! Ha haha hahahaha haaaahaaahaaaa!

  17. suirauqa says

    I have been watching the CNN election analysis like a hawk, and I don’t see any sign of a possible future pachydermal chastisement either. One Democratic candidate projected to the a winner by a huge margin is referred to as ‘an extremely religious man, who does not go to debates on Sundays, because he attends the church with his family.’

    George Allen (R-Virginia) is winning, and an exit poll by CNN suggests that it is the men who voted most for him – despite his image as a misogynist – because his father was the coach for the Virginia football team! What an incredibly complex and emotional reason to elect someone to decide one’s life and death for the next two years.

    Truly, America gets what it deserves. Such as the village idiot who was crowned king and sent thousands of young countrymen to their deaths in a meaningless war.

  18. Bilbo says

    Hi JJR,

    Yes there are problems in Biblical passages. But what is interesting is that in the ancient literature of the Bible we find that caring for the poor is a central principle, preached from beginning to end, from Moses, through the prophets, through Jesus, and to his disciples.

    As to problem passages, such as stoning your children, we don’t find that the Biblical writers considered them to be important commandments.

    So it’s not just a case of cherry-picking.

    But I don’t have a problem with your being an atheist. And if you want to vote against the GOP, that’s okay with me, too.