Call me when the angels come down and do something; until then, give the credit to people

Ugh. Jim Wallis. That left-wing theo-nut.

Progressive politics is remembering its own religious history and recovering the language of faith. Democrats are learning to connect issues with values and are now engaging with the faith community. They are running more candidates who have been emboldened to come out of the closet as believers themselves.

What planet is he from? Have American politicians of any party been afraid to label themselves as religious at any time in the past century? We see the opposite problem: they all declare themselves best buddies with a god.

He also goes on to do the usual post-hoc appropriation of every good idea that has ever come along to the credit of religion: abolition, civil rights, the overthrow of communism, on and on, glossing over the fact that we people of reason were fighting the good fight, too, and that religion seems to be one of those nonsensical foundations that allows people to argue any ol’ which-way they want, and that there people of faith fighting against those same good ideas.

I think all religion is good for is moral thievery—stealing the credit for the good that human beings do and passing it along to their priests and fictitious gods.

Stephen Frug gets even crankier about this. Please, please, get these raving kooks out of both parties, and let’s have rational policy making that owes nothing to religious nonsense.


  1. Lettuce says

    Jimmy Carter
    Walter Mondale
    Michael Dukakis
    Bill Clinton
    Al Gore
    John Kerry

    I voted for every one of ’em at one time or another. Not a one of ’em a non-believer, all of them professing faith.

    And me, an atheist.

    Jim Wallis is a tool.

  2. Chris says

    Amusingly enough, when I saw this post the Random Quote in the left sidebar was the following:

    I draw my warrant from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to hold the slave in bondage.

    [Rev. Thomas Witherspoon, Presbyterian, of Alabama]

    Moral superiority, indeed.

    In fact, if you examine the historical record, I believe you’ll find that freethinkers were for abolition *before* any significant number of the religious joined them. Similar remarks likely apply to any number of other progressive causes.

    It is a historical fact that for most of this country’s history, no mass movement can have been all that massive without some Christians (or at least professed Christians) being in it. But it does not follow therefore that the Christians led the movement or deserve credit for its accomplishments.

  3. says

    It’s a virus, and it has infected the Minnesota DFL. Too many of them are infected by sojourneritis. At the State Convention they had a special prayer meeting for all of the “People of Faith” and a bunch of them invited me even though they knew I am an atheist. I thought it rude. The only thing about it was that I got an extra hour to sleep off my hangover.

  4. says

    I have to wonder how many closet atheists there are in politics. Atheists are almost unelectable in US politics, and all Dems are unofficially required to give at least on sermon at a black church during the presidential campaign season.

    I haven’t come out to my elderly parents because of the heartbreak it would cause them. I don’t think it important, but it would stress them, and there is no reason to hasten their passing with confrontation.

  5. says

    Thanks, PZ. There’s so much of this !@#$% out there that I don’t know why this particular comment got me so riled. But for some reason it did.

    I would love to complain along these lines: don’t fact checkers work at Time? How could they publish a blatant falsehood (albeit by implication) like “Democrats… are running more candidates who have been emboldened to come out of the closet as believers themselves.” As if the Democrats (any more than the Republicans) have run any prominent atheists! — but the truth is I’ve kind of come to expect this sort of thing from the MSM, sad to say.

    Okay, got to stop before I get all riled up again.

  6. Greg Peterson says

    We need a follow-up to Dragqueen Coulter’s “book” called, “Not Godless Enough.”

  7. says

    I’m currently reading Annie’s Box: Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution and being reminded that our shy, retiring, eager-to-please, godless Charles ever moved to speak out against the injustices that were rationalized and made normative by the religious beliefs of his time. And, of course, it was his research, his logic, and his unfailingly rational approach to the world that led him to see those injustices as immoral.

    In lighter reading, I’m devouring, for the millionth time, Jean Webster’s epistolary novels Daddy Long-Legs and Dear Enemy. Two quotes that give a glimpse into what good God was doing 50 years on from The Origin:

    I forgot to mail this yesterday so I will add an indignant postscript. We had a bishop this morning and what do you think he said?
    “The most beneficent promise made us in the Bible is this, ‘The poor ye have always with you.’ They were put here in order to keep us charitable.”
    The poor, please observe, being a sort of useful domestic animal.

    [A trustee of the orphan asylum] deplores all of the useless innovations that I am endeavoring to introduce, such as a cheerful playroom, prettier clothes, baths, and better food and fresh air and play and fun and ice-cream and kisses. He says that I will unfit these children to occupy the position in life that God has called them to occupy.

    At that my Irish blood came to the surface, and I told him that if God had planned to make all of these 113 little children into useless, ignorant, unhappy citizens, I was going to fool God! That we weren’t educating them out of their class in the least. We were educating them into their natural class much more effectually than is done in the average family. We weren’t trying to force them into college if they hadn’t any brains, as happens with rich men’s sons; and we weren’t putting them to work at fourteen if they were naturally ambitious, as happens with poor men’s sons. We were watching them closely and individually and discovering their level.

  8. Rey Fox says

    “They are running more candidates who have been emboldened to come out of the closet as believers themselves. ”

    Thing is, I know what he’s trying to say here, and while it’s more factually true than the notion that past Democrats ran as Unbelievers, it’s no less alarming in its implications. He’s saying that these candidates are simply more willing to inject their faith into their campaigns. And then he seems to be implying that that’s a good thing, when it’s really just shameful pandering. We need less religion in politics, and by that I don’t mean being godlesss, I just mean talking about the real issues that effect real people and leaving the religion at church. It’s mind-boggling that people like Wallis can’t seem to differentiate the two.

  9. Randy! says

    Re: Robster’s Grandparents,
    As an atheist my entire life, I came out to my very religious grandmother a couple of years before she died and felt good about it. She had inherited some bit of money and had sent myself, my siblings and my cousins $1000 each with a simple request: “Please bring me a program from a church of your choice that you have attended.”

    Well, it’s a funny story but to keep it short, I did indeed attend a church and brought her a program with thanks. I mean, it was the least I could do. I told her I was not a believer when I brought her the program and she said she knew and the request was mainly directed to me even though all of us received the same request and check for $1000.

    Well, a year after that we were discussing it and she told me that after 1 year I was the only one who actually honored that request and brought her a program, and all the rest of my siblings and cousins consider themselves believers. She was much too nice to complain about it, but she was definitely not impressed with the rest of my generation and thanked me again for following through.

  10. Rugosa says

    There is a germ of truth in the idea of believers coming out of the closet – the ones who are barking mad theocrats and creationists are coming out of the closet of moderation. Going back to the Sputnik era, politicians had to at least give lip service to science and the appearance of rationality*. None of the politicians on Lettuce’s list, to my knowledge, have ever endorsed ID, for example, but Bush, Frist, and McCain have all jumped on the bandwagon. We’ve gone back to the Scopes trial era.

    *Yes, this is a generalization; there have always been crazies, at least in local politics, but the mainstream had to appear to be rational. I can remember presidential campaigns going back to Kennedy, and id/creationism never surfaced as a national issue that I can recall.

  11. says

    That’s a great story, Randy. I would have done the same. I know that my mom would accept it (with a great deal of drama), bring other family into it, and my dad would be mad (despite the fact that he is only in church for weddings and the occasional funeral), as it would be yet another step away from his ultraconservative traditional values. His health is very poor, and I don’t expect him to make it another year or two. And he holds grudges. I’ll be true to myself, my kids, etc, but for them, it isn’t worth making them fret over my ideas or the future of my “soul.”

    Heh. It would be easier and less traumatic to them if I was gay!

    OK, maybe not.

  12. Matt T. says

    That’s a great story. Year or so ago, I was visiting home and, in particular, my maternal grandmother. Maw Bean’s the only mommaw I’ve ever had, as my paternal grandmother passed away six weeks before I was born, and she’s always been an almost superhumanly perceptive lady. Had to be, I suppose, given the unpredictablity of my Pappaw and my aunts, uncles and mother. We were discussing the re-opening of one of the local churches, which had been closed for nearly 40 years after the preacher got caught boning all the ladies in the community apart from, apparently, Mommaw and two other women. She asked my brother if he had been to church since he left home, saying, “Now, I know Matthew don’t believe.”

    Totally blew me away. My extended family’s pretty hardcore church goers, though my immediate family only went sporadically due to the above mentioned hypocracy, so while I don’t hide my feelings on the matter if I’m asked, I don’t see the wisdom in stirring up unneccessary shit. They’re already hacked off at me for being almost 32, unmarried and disinclined to “grow up”.

    So, I’d never discussed the issue with Mommaw, but she knew. She also knew my brother had/has a strong interest in what could be considered Robert Anton Wilson-style quantum woo, though she’d never heard of any of the specifics. I asked her what she thought about that and she said, “Aww, you’re both good boys and that’s all that really matters.”

    Yup. Mommaw rocks. Still thinks I got a book in me despite all the evidence to the contrary, so who knows.

  13. Anna says

    Media coverage of the the debate over bringing religion into progressive politics gets it all wrong. The religious left’s point isn’t about injecting more religion into public life. It’s about realizing that the religion is already there and making sure the right wing doesn’t have a monopoly on it. The religious left is your ally in matters like separation of church and state, keeping bad science out of schools and good science in, and all the First Amendment protections in general.

    When someone like Wallis talks about people on the left being open about their faith, his statements can best be understood in the context of the stranglehold the religious right has exercised on any expression of faith. For a couple of decades now, the right wing has been waging a war of words within the religious community to discredit the more liberal believers on the basis that they’re heretics and minions of Satan, that the measure of faith is how far to the right one will skew. Statements like Wallis’ won’t be understood by a lot of atheists because of cultural differences. Heck, most take for granted that the religious right calls them godless heathens – it’s a badge of honor. Liberal believers might get a laugh out of it too, but truth be told, they feel mis-represented and it rankles. Liberal believers want their views articulated, breaking the media monopoly of the right-wingers. It’s about pluralism, in no way about re-claiming politics for their religious view.

    So, go ahead and open the whoopass on Wallis and others for having religion at all, but remember in the process that you could find yourself working with them at some point in the future.

  14. says

    Anna’s right. It’s similar to the way the Right has shifted the center in this country so far that most people have never met an actual liberal – if they did, God only knows what they’d think we were. Commies, probably.

  15. says

    “to come out of the closet as believers themselves”
    Because as we all know, there is a war on christianity:

    Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion…. perhaps around their necks? And maybe – dare I dream it? – maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.

  16. Chris says

    The religious left is your ally in matters like separation of church and state, keeping bad science out of schools and good science in, and all the First Amendment protections in general.

    Then why don’t they go actually fight those fights, before claiming that they’re entitled to the whole stage (not just a place on it).

    The religious left wants a privileged position where everyone acknowledges the superiority of their faith first, and then they might actually do something for a liberal cause.

    Not buying. Prove your intentions first, and then you can be accepted as equals – not masters. If you can’t live with that then you’re not one of us, so stop trying to pretend you are.

    P.S. And stop propping up the “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” crowd. If you really believe they’re our common enemy, act like it. Liberals – or indeed any small-d democrats – don’t have, or need, lords.

  17. says


    From the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates,

    “Rule 29: The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy, no more, no less”

  18. stogoe says


    Heh. It would be easier and less traumatic to them if I was gay!

    I know what you mean. I, too, sometimes feel I’d have an easier time telling my family I was gay than telling them I don’t believe in Jesus or Thor. At our last family reunion we sang hymns around the bonfire. Hymns!

    And I daren’t even hint that I’ve ever played D&D to them. I imagine it would be a worse verbal explosion than my hypothetical gay-outing, too.

  19. Steve LaBonne says

    …but remember in the process that you could find yourself working with them at some point in the future.

    Wallis is the one who doesn’t really want to “work with” anybody. Wallis wants to keep hammering a wedge into the supposed progreessive religious / secular gap that he pretends to deplore, because that’s what gets him media attention, sells books, and gets him hired as a consultant. We’ve had enough of snake-oil salesmen screwing up Democratic politics. Wallis needs to be ignored.

  20. says

    In fact, if you examine the historical record, I believe you’ll find that freethinkers were for abolition *before* any significant number of the religious joined them.
    No, that’s incorrect. The Quakers were at the forefront of the abolition movement. Wesley & Wilberforce for instance.

  21. says

    It seems to me that in a cynical mood it might be interesting to note that there is a decent chance there actually are more nonbelievers in the upper eschelons of the Republicans than commonly thought, what with the Straussians and inverse-Marxists and all.