Religion poisons everything 1

This video takes little more than 50 minutes to watch, not the hour and more indicated on it.

It’s well worth the time.

We agree with almost everything Christopher Hitchens says here about religion. (We do not share all his tastes or opinions. He never quite escaped from the Left, though he edged further and further Right in his last years.)

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(Hat-tip Andrew M)

Posted under Atheism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Sunday, July 13, 2014

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Libertarian conservatism 4

From time to time visitors to this website or our Facebook page query the idea – even the possibility – of there being such a thing as atheist conservatism. They are – almost always, as far as we can make out – Americans whose understanding is that the word “conservative” denotes Christian conservatism. To them, therefore, to speak of  “atheist conservatism” is to commit a contradiction in terms. Some have called it an oxymoron.

In Europe too, conservatism has a Christian coloration. Conservative political parties usually declare themselves to be Christian –  for example, the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) of Germany. But their support does not come only from Christians. And in Britain the established Church of England has been called “the Conservative Party at prayer”, but the party does not exclude members of other Christian denominations or other religions, or the non-religious.

Yet it is an American conservatism that we embrace. It is faithfulness to the Constitution, to the essential idea that the United States was intended to embody as a nation: the idea of individual liberty protected by the rule of law.

The shortest answer we give to those who accuse us of being self-contradictory is to tell them what our prime principles are:

  • individual freedom
  • a free market economy
  • small government
  • low taxes
  • strong defense

And we point out that those are core principles of American conservatism. The Constitution – southern state critics please be reminded – does not require citizens to be Christian, or religious at all.

Just as often, perhaps even more often, we are told that we cannot be both conservative and libertarian: that the two traditions are separate and even inimical to each other, to the point of being mutually exclusive. Even if that were  true (and we don’t think it is), we consider it unnecessary to take tradition into account. The issue needs to be looked at philosophically, not historically. Our conservatism, holding the firmly conservative principles we have listed, is manifestly a conservatism of liberty.

And we think it is now, more than ever before, that the libertarian view should direct the political agenda of conservatism. A heavy counterweight is needed to bring America back from its tipping over into collectivism by the Left. Individual freedom urgently needs to be saved.

What is stopping conservatives from accepting libertarianism as its future? The libertarians themselves. Frequently, their public statements reveal them to be inexcusably ignorant of world affairs. They often advocate naive isolationism. They seem to lack a sense of what matters. The legalization of drugs could be wise and necessary, but it is not worth making a hullabaloo about  when jihad is being waged against us. A person should arguably be able to marry any other person or persons – or things – that they choose, but it is much more important that America should remain the world’s sole superpower.

John Hinderaker also thinks that this should be “the libertarian moment”. And he too reproaches libertarians with an underdeveloped sense of what matters to the existence, liberty, safety, and prosperity of the nation. 

He writes at PowerLine:

Every major strand of American conservatism includes a strong libertarian streak, because the value of liberty is fundamental to just about all conservative thought. But today, especially, is said to be the libertarians’ moment. What once was a fringe movement, politically speaking, has moved front and center in our political life.

And yet, in my view, libertarians of both the capital L and small l varieties punch below their weight. They have not contributed as much as they should to the conservative movement. This is partly because libertarians tend to founder on foreign policy, where many are merely modern-day isolationists. But it is also because they have tended to focus on secondary, or tertiary, issues of domestic policy.

A couple of years ago I was invited to a gathering on behalf of Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who then was a libertarian candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. I was well disposed toward him, but when he started talking, his first subject was legalization of drugs. Now he is the CEO of a marijuana company. Rand Paul is probably the leading libertarian at the moment; he purports to take seriously the threat that someone drinking coffee in an American cafe will be struck by a drone-fired missile.

American liberty is indeed under attack, and a libertarian movement is needed more than ever. But the threat to freedom is not drug laws or drone attacks.

The principal threat is the administrative state, which increasingly hems in everything we do and depends hardly at all on the will of voters. …

Calvin Coolidge, who knew the Progressives well and understood how antithetical their vision of government is to America’s founding principles [said]:

It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning cannot be applied to this great charter [the Constitution]. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

Today we labor under an administrative state that has metastasized far beyond anything Coolidge could have imagined. It constrains our freedoms, it lays waste to our economy, it has largely rendered Congress irrelevant, and it threatens to make just about anyone a criminal, since no one can possibly keep track of all of the myriad regulations with which we are encumbered. And let’s not forget that the administrative state is run by liberals, for liberals.

Despite the fact that it is antithetical to the Constitution and to American traditions, there is little opposition to the administrative state as such. Conventional politicians suggest that regulations can be made less irrational and less burdensome – a good idea, certainly – but hardly anyone questions the fundamental concept of Congress delegating its powers to unelected and mostly unaccountable agencies that are charged with managing just about every aspect of our lives. Nearly everyone considers the administrative state, as such, to be inevitable.

Why don’t libertarians stake out a “radical” position on domestic policy? Why not argue, not just for a moderation in the inevitable drift toward a more and more powerful administrative state, but for a return to the Constitution’s central principle – the very first words of Article I – that “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…”, a Congress that is accountable to the people.

A battle is being fought for the liberties of the American people and, frankly, it isn’t going well. The fight has little or nothing to do with drugs and drones. If libertarians are serious about preserving and expanding liberty, they should join the fight that matters. A libertarian movement that focuses on a rollback of the administrative state would be “radical,” but it also would put libertarians in the vanguard, not on the fringe, of American conservatism.

Getting heated over hell 15

Now about our enemy on the Right …

This is from Wall of Separation, a web page belonging to Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

US Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) saw fit to hold an impromptu inquisition on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Gohmert and his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice were supposed to be discussing the state of religious liberty in America. But Gohmert, a staunch Religious Right ally who has said that his faith guides his political activities, used his allotted five minutes to grill Americans United [for Separation of Church and State] Executive Director Barry W. Lynn on his personal theological views.

“I’m curious, in your Christian beliefs, do you believe in sharing the good news that will keep people from going to hell, consistent with the Christian belief?” Gohmert asked.

We will not pause now to unpack all the nonsense in that question. It speaks sufficiently for itself to all but Gohmert’s fellow bigots.

Lynn responded: “I wouldn’t agree with your construction of what hell is like or why one gets there.”

So Barry Lynn believes in some sort of hell consistent with his Christian belief.

Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, was invited by subcommittee Democrats. He spoke on behalf of religious minorities and non-believers who are so often oppressed by fundamentalist Christians in this country.

He spoke for us non-believers? No. We think not. But what we are most concerned with here is this Republican, Louie Gohmert and his sort.

And yet he was attacked on a personal level by Gohmert, who decided an official hearing was an appropriate place to drag Lynn into the theological weeds.

Gohmert continued to press Lynn: “So, you don’t believe somebody would go to hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?”

Another portmanteau of nonsense which we will pass for the present with no more than a grimace of distaste.

Lynn explained that someone’s failure to embrace “a specific set of ideas in Christianity” did not guarantee a ticket to hell. Gohmert didn’t much care for that answer, so he pushed on with his surprising line of questioning.

“No, not a set of ideas,” he said. “Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, [and] life or you don’t.” …

The hearing was designed primarily by Republicans to give right-wing Christians an opportunity to ask for more special treatment from the government

O-oh! Red light flashing.

At least Lynn is insisting on the wall of separation. Or we hope he is.

Lynn and Gohmert … may soon sit down to hammer out their differences.

Christians have been trying to do that among themselves ever since their St. Paul invented Christianity, with very little success. What end can there be to arguments over fictions? It’s not as if an experiment can be designed to establish the truth.

At least they don’t kill each other over their differences of opinion as often as they used to.

After the hearing, the two talked about the possibility of getting together to discuss theology sometime. Lynn said he’s up for it.

Whether or not that discussion ever takes place, Gohmert has already proved why church and state must remain separate. Lynn and Gohmert’s disagreement over what hell is and how one ends up there is one of many, many ideological divides that exist within Christianity.

“Many, many” indeed. As many a “many” as would cover a mile would not be sufficient to indicate the number of disputes that Christianity has given rise to within itself.

But then comes this:

Other groups have similar disagreements, be they believers or non-believers.

Again, and emphatically, no. There are no shades or degrees of non-existence. There can be no disagreement about non-belief among non-believers. 

But then questions are asked which makes sense:

The US  government could never accommodate all faiths and belief systems through policies that favor [any particular] religion. Who would be accommodated? Who would decide? It would be an absolute mess that would surely result in oppression.

That’s why church-state separation is best for everyone – even Gohmert.

(Hat-tip Frank)

Atheism and freedom 25

The right theory of individual freedom came from an understanding of the spontaneous evolution of civil institutions and traditions. A free society no more needed an intelligent designer than did the human species.  

The similarity of process in the development of social and biological life is brilliantly explained by one of the great defenders of freedom:

Though freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. …

[The] development of a theory of liberty took place mainly in the eighteenth century. It began in two countries, England and Fance. The first of these knew liberty, the second did not. As a result, we have had to the present day two different traditions in the theory of liberty … the first based on an interpretation of traditions and institutions which had spontaneously grown up … the second aiming at the construction of a utopia, which has often been tried but never successfully. …

What we have called the “British tradition” was made explicit mainly by a group of Scottish moral philosophers led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson, seconded by their English contemporaries Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, and William Paley … drawing largely on a tradition rooted in the jurisprudence of the common law. Opposed to them was the tradition of the French Enlightenment … : the Encyclopedists and Rousseau, the Physiocrats and Condorcet, are their best known representatives. …

[T]here is hardly a greater contrast imaginable between their respective conceptions of the evolution and functioning of a social order and the role played in it by liberty. …

[T]he British philosophers laid the foundations of a profound and essentially valid theory, while the [French] school was simply and completely wrong. …

Those British philosophers have given us an interpretation of of the growth of civilization that is still the indispensable foundation of the argument for liberty. They find the origin of institutions, not in contrivance or design, but in the survival of the successful. …

This demonstration … represented in some ways an even greater challenge to all design theories than even the later theory of biological evolution. For the first time it was shown that that an evident order which was not the product of a designing human intelligence need not therefore be ascribed to the design of a higher, supernatural intelligence, but that there was a third possibility – the emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution.

-From The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek , Chapter Four: Freedom, Reason, and Tradition.

An encomium for us 7

We have been strongly complimented by a comment on our Facebook page by Fidd Chewley.

(Visit his website Atheist Nexus, “The World’s Largest Coalition of Nontheists and Nontheist Communities” here.*)

We like it so much that we are reproducing it here on the front page of our website.

Where’s the button I click to automatically “like” all your future posts?

I follow a handful of conservative atheist pages, and you stand out from the rest as one who posts much more often about the conservative viewpoint than general atheism. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the posts others make regarding atheism, they don’t do much to distinguish themselves from each other. I also enjoy your no-BS, condensed presentation, cutting to the chase, unapologetic, and always sharp. Your posts always hit hard without resorting to cheap kookery. There are no “glancing blows”, and your precision and consistency are metronomic. A+, 10/10!!

This is the type of page that could foster the recognition of atheism into the greater conservative movement, which has been ostensively claimed by theists. There is a great potential for synergy between politically-like theists and atheists demonstrated here that could actually help end the notion that belief in a god is a staple of American patriotism. This is the cutting-edge of the future of the movement in an increasingly atheistic America.

Thank you, Fidd!

 

*We would point out – perhaps unnecessarily –  that we do not share Fidd’s opinions on all issues, but we’re in full agreement with him that we’re doing a good job.

Posted under Atheism, Commentary, Conservatism by Jillian Becker on Sunday, March 30, 2014

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Atheists and conservatives stir up a brouhaha 4

The organizers of an important Conservative conference have banned an atheist organization from attending it and setting out its stall.

The Conservative Political Action Committee, the largest and oldest gathering of conservatives, is run by the American Conservative Union and will be held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland’s National Harbor from March 6 to 8. Last year, the event brought together thousands of activists to listen to dozens of Republican leaders speak about everything from economics and foreign policy to social issues. The event has long been considered a required stop for Republican presidential hopefuls.

That and what follows we quote from CNN’s “belief blog”.

Organizers for the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference will not allow American Atheists to have an exhibition booth …

The decision comes just hours after American Atheists, the outspoken organization that advocates for atheists nationwide, announced that it would have a booth at the event. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, tells CNN that a groundswell of opposition from high-ranking members of CPAC compelled the group to pull the invite.

Meghan Snyder, a spokeswoman for CPAC, said in a statement to CNN that “American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government.”

“I’m surprised and I’m saddened,” Silverman said in response to the announcement. “I think this is a very disappointing turn of events. I was really looking forward to going … It is very obvious to me they were looking for a reason to say no,” Silverman added. “Christianity is bad for conservatism and they did not want that message out there.” …

Silverman said his group [had] planned to use the booth to bring conservative atheists “out of the closet” and said he was not worried about making the Christian right angry because “the Christian right should be threatened by us.”

Snyder said CPAC spoke to Silverman about his divisive and inappropriate language.

He pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. …

But yes, Ms Snyder, it is precisely beliefs that ought to be attacked. Continually. Forever.

The critical examination of ideas is the essential task of civilized humankind. 

When [earlier] Snyder had confirmed to CNN that American Atheists would be at CPAC, she said in a statement that they were allowed to display at the confab because “conservatives have always stood for freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”

“The folks we have been working with stand for many of the same liberty-oriented policies and principles we stand for,” Snyder said. …

And so, she had thought, did American Atheists. But the decision to include them had outraged some conservatives.

Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative think-tank Family Research Council, expressed outrage at the decision, stating that the American Atheists did “not seek to add their voice to the chorus of freedom”. [He said] “CPAC’s mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense.” 

But -

Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God? Thomas Jefferson warned against such nonsense. If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the “C”‘ in CPAC!” …

The first “C” for “Conservative” we suppose is the one he meant. But why would it need to be packed away if atheists are allowed to have their say? Perhaps Perkins thinks it stands for “Christian”.

American Atheist is well known for its controversial billboards and media campaigns and is considered the in-your-face contingent in the world of atheist activists. The group’s members pride themselves as being the “Marines” of the atheist movement. …

In explaining why the group decided to join CPAC on Monday, Silverman cited a 2012 Pew Research study that found 20% of self-identified conservatives consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. While that does not mean they are atheists, Silverman believes learning more about atheism will make it more likely conservatives will choose to identify with those who believe there is no God.

Just as there are many closeted atheists in the church pews, I am extremely confident that there are many closeted atheists in the ranks of conservatives. This is really a serious outreach effort, and I am very pleased to be embarking on it.

The group has long targeted Republican lawmakers, although Silverman considers the organization nonpartisan.

In 2013, American Atheists launched a billboard campaign against three Republican politicians: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. All three Republicans have spoken at CPAC in the past.

On one billboard, Santorum is pictured to the left of a quote attributed to him. “Our civil laws have to comport with a higher law. God’s law,” the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tagline: “GO GODLESS INSTEAD.”

Comment on this affair comes from National Review, by Charles C. W. Cooke: :

Yesterday, in response to one of the many brouhahas that CPAC seems always to invite, Brent Bozell issued the following statement:

The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?

So Brent Bozell thinks that issuing the invitation was an attack on conservative principles. More, it was “an attack on God Himself”.  As such, it was a veritable “atrocity“!

The particular merits of the American Atheists group to one side, this is a rather astounding thing for Bozell to have said. In just 63 words, he confuses disbelief in God for “hatred” for God — a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there); he condemns an entire conference on the basis of one participant — not a good look for a struggling movement, I’m afraid; and, most alarmingly perhaps, he insinuates that one cannot simultaneously be a conservative and an atheist. I reject this idea — and with force.

If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative. And nor, I am given to understand, are George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anthony Daniels, Walter Olson, Heather Mac Donald, James Taranto, Allahpundit, or S. E. Cupp. There is no getting around this — no splitting the difference: I don’t believe there is a God. It’s not that I’m “not sure” or that I haven’t ever bothered to think about it; it’s that I actively think there isn’t a God — much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves. The degree to which I’m confident in this view works on a scale, certainly: I’m much surer, for example, that the claims of particular religions are untrue and that there is no power intervening in the affairs of man than I am that there was no prime mover of any sort.

Rrrreally, Mr Cooke?

But, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in any of those propositions.

Tha-at’s better!

Am I to be excommunicated from the Right?

One of the problems we have when thinking about atheism in the modern era is that the word has been hijacked and turned into a political position when it is no such thing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an “atheist” as someone who exhibits “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.” That’s me right there — and that really is the extent of it.

Okay, you can have a booth at any conference we ever organize.

Or have we spoken too soon? Repeat what you were mumbling, please?

No, I don’t dislike anyone who does believe that there is a God; no, with a few obvious exceptions, I am not angry at the religious; and no, I do not believe the devout to be in any way worse or less intelligent than myself. Insofar as the question inspires irritation in me at all it is largely reserved for the sneering, smarmy, and incomprehensibly self-satisfied New Atheist movement, which has turned the worthwhile writings of some extremely smart people into an organized means by which a cabal of semi-educated twentysomethings might berate the vast majority of the human population and then congratulate one another as to how clever they are.

What New Atheist movement? If it exists, we want to join it. What is incomprehensible about it? What suggests that “it” is self-satisifed? What worthwhile writings would those be? Who are these beraters? And are they not - in that they are atheists – cleverer than “the vast majority of the human population”?

Which is to say that, philosophically speaking,  I couldn’t really care less … and practically speaking I am actually pretty warm toward religion — at least as it is practiced in America. True or false, American religion plays a vital and welcome role in civil society, has provided a number of indispensable insights into the human condition, acts as a remarkably effective and necessary check on the ambitions of government and central social-planners, is worthy of respect and measured inquiry on the Burkean grounds that it has endured for this long and been adopted by so many, and has been instrumental in making the United States what it is today.

We would dispute almost every one of those propositions, especially that religion is “worthy of respect” – though of “measured inquiry”, yes, it is worthy, and should be subjected to it mercilessly.

We like most of what he goes on to say next. And he provides some interesting information:

None of this, however, excuses the manner in which conservatives often treat atheists such as myself. George H. W. Bush, who was more usually reticent on such topics, is reported to have said that he didn’t “know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic[because] this is one nation under God”.

Whether Bush ever uttered these words or not, this sentiment has been expressed by others elsewhere. It is a significant mistake. What “this nation” is, in fact, is one nation under the Constitution — a document that precedes the “under God” reference in the Gettysburg Address by more than seven decades and the inclusion of the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance by 165 years. (“In God We Trust,” too, was a modern addition, replacing “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto in 1956 after 174 years.)

Indeed, given the troubled waters into which American religious liberty has of late been pushed, it strikes me that conservatives ought to be courting atheists — not shunning them. I will happily take to the barricades for religious conscience rights, not least because my own security as a heretic is bound up with that of those who differ from me, and because a truly free country seeks to leave alone as many people as possible — however eccentric I might find their views or they might find mine. In my experience at least, it is Progressivism and not conservatism that is eternally hostile to variation and to individual belief, and, while we are constantly told that the opposite is the case, it is those [leftists] who pride themselves on being secular who seem more likely and more keen to abridge my liberties than those who pride themselves on being religious. That I do not share the convictions of the religious by no means implies that I wish for the state to reach into their lives. Nevertheless, religious conservatives will find themselves without many friends if they allow figures such as Mr. Bozell to shoo away the few atheists who are sympathetic to their broader cause.

As it happens, not only do I reject the claim that the two positions are antagonistic, but I’d venture that much of what informs my atheism informs my conservatism also. I am possessed of a latent skepticism of pretty much everything, a hostility toward the notion that one should believe things because they are a nice idea, a fear of holistic philosophies, a dislike of authority and of dogma, a strong belief in the Enlightenment as interpreted and experienced by the British and not the French, and a rather tenacious refusal to join groups.

Yes, a conservative should logically be skeptical of ideology as such. And impatient with the irrational. And religions are among the most irrational of ideologies.

Occasionally, I’m asked why I “believe there is no God,” which is a reasonable question in a vacuum but which nonetheless rather seems to invert the traditional order of things. After all, that’s not typically how we make our inquiries on the right, is it? Instead, we ask what evidence there is that something is true. …

A great deal of the friction between atheists and conservatives seems to derive from a reasonable question. “If you don’t consider that human beings are entitled to ‘God given’ liberties,” I am often asked, “don’t you believe that the unalienable rights that you spend your days defending are merely the product of ancient legal accidents or of the one-time whims of transient majorities?” Well, no, not really. As far as I can see, the American settlement can thrive perfectly well within my worldview. God or no God, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are all built upon centuries of English law, human experience, and British and European philosophy, and the natural-law case for them stands nicely on its own.

And he then turns to Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration, and, far from “warning against undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God” as Tony Perkins claims …

… rejected revealed religion because revealed religion suggests a violation of the laws of nature. For revelation or any miracle to occur, the laws of nature would necessarily be broken. Jefferson did not accept this violation of natural laws. He attributed to God only such qualities as reason suggested.

Which, as the quoted passage goes on to explain, are none:

“Of the nature of this being,” Jefferson wrote to John Adams in 1817, “we know nothing.”

Logically then, not even its existence, though Jefferson is not recorded as ever having said so.

Yes, there are atheist politicians 3

… but they fear to confess their atheism.

This is from the State Journal-Register:

Many lawmakers feel a sense of pride when asked to give the invocation to open a House session, but state Rep. Juan Mendez of Arizona was gripped by a different emotion.

“I came in with a little bit of fear — not wanting to let myself be known,” said Mendez, a freshman Democrat from Tempe.

“Known,” that is, as an atheist.

Even as Americans become less religious and their tolerance for atheism is growing, there are still very few politicians who are openly nonreligious. They have to walk the thin line between their personal feelings and public image.

“There is such a stigma attached to being a nonbeliever,” said Lauren Youngblood, spokeswoman for the Secular Coalition for America.

This despite the fact that the fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. from 2007 to 2012 was religiously unaffiliated — or “nones” — according to a 2012 Pew Research report. It said the percentage of religiously unaffiliated U.S. adults grew from 15.3 to 19.6 percent in that time.

Nonreligious includes everything from atheists and agnostics to people who simply do not affiliate with any particular religion. But Pew said atheists and agnostics made up 5.7 percent of the adult population in 2012, accounting for about 13 million people.

But there is only one member of Congress who has gone on record as nonreligious: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., was the only one to answer “none” when a 2013 Pew Research poll asked members of Congress about their religion. …

“When she first got elected, everybody in our movement was very enthusiastic,” said Bishop McNeill, coordinator for a new secular political action committee. “But unfortunately … she has gotten some advice to stray away from that label.”

Bishop is Mr McNeill’s first name, not his title. Unsuitable for a secularist, of course, but we rather relish the irony.

Experts say such reticence is understandable given the often-negative perception of atheists in this country and the long history of religion and politics….

Ever since George Washington talked in his first inaugural address about “fervent supplication to that almighty being,” …  presidents and other politicians have felt inclined to talk about religious faith.

Even though the Constitution bans a religious test for elected office, … a de facto test is whether or not a candidate openly speaks to his or her beliefs.

It’s only fair that candidates share their religious beliefs [opined Brent Walker, the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty], so voters can know where politicians stand morally. …

- Which is just the sort of statement that gives believers away as  non-thinkers. Why would knowing someone’s religion tell you what their morals are? A religious person is far more likely to be intolerant than a secularist, just to start with.

In 2007, then-Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark, D-Calif., became the first member of Congress to declare his atheism.

Stark won two more elections as an atheist, but was beat in a 2012 primary race … 

Youngblood claims that 32 members of the current Congress have told her or others in the Secular Coalition for America that they are atheist but cannot admit it for fear of political backlash. …[She] said the coalition is encouraging atheists [in politics] to “come out” — much as gays and lesbians did in the past. …

Chances for non-believing politicians are better [than they were] — but still not good.

A 2012 Gallup poll found that 54 percent of voters would vote for an atheist in a presidential election, well above the 18 percent who said in 1958 that they would vote for an atheist.

But the same 2012 Gallup poll said 95 percent would vote for a woman, 94 percent for a Catholic, 80 percent for a Mormon and 68 would vote for [a] homosexual. Atheist was the least-popular option.

[Rep. Juan] Mendez said he does not shy away from the word atheist — but he did not want to be labeled the atheist lawmaker, either.

When [Mendez] was called to offer the prayer in May, he first tried to get a secular lobbying group to give the invocation in his place, but that fell through. So he gave an invocation that started by asking all present at the Arizona House of Representatives not to bow their heads, but to look around at the others in the room.

“Let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness,” Mendez said, “our shared ability for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our constitution and for our democracy.” 

The next day, Arizona state Rep. Steve Smith, a Republican, asked House members to join him in prayer for “repentance of yesterday”.

A Republican did that. A Republican believer. There hisses intolerance!

But Mendez said that was the only thing “that made it feel like I was doing something that I wasn’t supposed to be doing”. Otherwise, he said, he got positive emails and phone calls, and was stopped on the street by people thanking him for his prayer and message.

No prayer. Message only.

But we need atheist conservatives in Congress. And that may not happen for a long time yet, we reckon.

 

(Hat-tip our Facebook commenter, Pat Sisson-Kelley)

An atheist saved from religious persecution 3

For a change, some cheerful news from Britain:

This is from the Telegraph:

A young Afghan man who became an atheist after coming to Britain has been granted asylum on the grounds that the threat to his life for having no faith would amount to “religious” persecution.

In what is thought to be the first case of its kind in the UK, the Home Office accepted that sending the man back to his country of birth could put him in danger specifically because of his lack of religious beliefs.

The man, who is not being named for safety reasons, was born a Muslim but abandoned his faith after coming to the UK as a teenager around five years ago. …

In the latest case the man’s lawyers argued that as someone of no religious faith he could face even greater danger in Afghanistan than a member of a minority religion such as Christianity.

It comes just weeks after Supreme Court effectively recognised Scientology as a religion in a landmark judgment which established that it is not necessary to worship a god or gods to constitute a religion.

Of course atheism is not a religion; but if Britain is going to recognize that an ideology does not have to include a god to be a religion, then at last it may be accepted in some official quarters that Communism is a religion.

In the asylum case lawyers did not have to establish atheism as a “religion” because it was clear that any risk he faced would be of a religious nature.

But his solicitor, Sheona York, said it nonetheless underlined the significance of atheism as a distinct “philosophical position”.

The man’s case to the Home Office was prepared by Claire Splawn, a second year law student at the University of Kent, under the supervision of Ms York, through the Kent Law Clinic, a partnership between students, academics and solicitors and local lawyers.

She said: “We argued that an atheist should be entitled to protection from persecution on the grounds of their belief in the same way as a religious person is protected. … We believe that this is the first time that a person has been granted asylum in this country on the basis of their atheism. The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.”

In the submission they explained that having lived in Britain for several years and adopted western customs and dress, the young man feared that even were he to disguise his atheism in Afghanistan it would quickly be discovered.

It says that the application was made on the basis that: “As an atheist, if returned to Afghanistan, he will face persecution for a Convention reason, namely (lack of) religion; or alternatively that he faces a substantial risk of serious harm on account of his lack of religious belief. … Afghanistan is a Muslim dominated country where religion underpins every aspect of everyday life. Furthermore, in Afghanistan, and even in Kabul, life is lived in such a way that everyone is connected with everyone else. There is no sense of privacy and his lack of beliefs would become very quickly known. It is clear hat the applicant fears for his life in Afghanistan where he is not only non-Muslim but does not in fact believe in any religion.”

It goes on to explain how the man had recently made a visit to another predominantly Muslim country, to visit friends, and had been “shocked” by how his lack of belief made him stand out.

“He was shocked by how everyone talked as if life meant nothing to them,” it says.

“People said ‘this is not the only world’ and that you have to believe. People said ‘you cannot sit and eat with people who are not Muslim’.

“He noticed that to the people he met, this life meant nothing to them and all their expectations were focused on the other world, life after death.”

Let them read John Locke 4

… and David Hume, and Baruch Spinoza, and the US Constitution …

(We specially mention Hume and Spinoza because they were philosophers of atheism. But all the thinkers of the Age of Reason should be prescribed reading in all schools everywhere.)

THEY – the Muslims – are investing billions in trying to convince us that their ideas are good – though they aren’t. But we are doing nothing at all to persuade them that our ideas are good – which they are.

Ed West puts forward a very good plan. We quote from his Spectator (UK) article:

The persecution of Christians, the greatest story never told in the Western media, is finally building momentum as a story, after a year which has seen villagers massacred in Syria, dozens of churches burned down in Egypt’s worst religious violence for centuries, and the Peshawar atrocity in which the suicide-bombing of a church killed more than 80 people.

Earlier this week several MPs discussed the issue in Parliament, Fiona Bruce saying that ‘We should be crying out with the same abhorrence and horror that we feel about the atrocities towards Jews on Kristallnacht.’ And Baroness Warsi …

… a token Muslim woman on display in the House of Lords …

… will say in a speech in Washington today that: ‘A mass exodus is taking place, on a Biblical scale. In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.’

Warsi made the same point on the [BBC's] Today programme this morning, and I applaud her, but an aspect rather missing from the coverage was the fact that the vast majority of serious anti-Christian violence is carried out in the name of Islam. It would be like discussing anti-Semitic pogroms of the medieval period without mentioning Christianity, its theology, history and practice.

No surprise there.

That is telling, since one of the reasons for the media’s voluntary blackout on this issue is our fear of appearing to be inciting hatred against Muslims. This allows the persecutors to get away with it, which is ironic since most violence carried out against Muslims is also done in the name of Islam. 

The simple fact is that Islamic law as it is applied in Egypt (where apostasy is extremely difficult and dangerous, and family law was based on Sharia even before the revolution), Iraq and the Gulf States is incompatible with religious liberty. There is no way around that. In Iraq, most bizarrely, the US government presided over a constitution that introduced elements of Sharia.

Such are the vicissitudes of world management. When the British illegally gave three-quarters of the land in their Palestine mandate to the Emir of Transjordan, they found themselves in charge of a polity that allowed and practiced slavery. British law forbade this to happen, but it happened, and they didn’t do a thing about it while they had the power to do anything they chose. And now  Britain deliberately allows sharia law to run parallel with British law inside the United Kingdom itself. That too should never have happened, but it has.

The issue therefore is not just that Christians are being punished because of anger at the West. It is the specific application of Islamic law, and most centrally [anger at the West's] ideas about freedom of religion [which include] freedom of un-religion and the freedom to deviate from the rulers’ particular interpretation.

He mentions also the intolerance by each Muslim sect of all other Muslim sects, in particular “the horror inflicted on the unorthodox Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan”.

Much of the intolerance in Pakistan stems from the influence of the Saudis, who are trying to reshape Islam in their image, and are helped by Westerners because of their vast reserves of money. Shamefully the British Museum put on an exhibition on Mecca funded by the Saudis, even while those iconoclasts were vandalising the city; I can’t think of anything so contrary to the spirit of that fine institution. 

But they’re not the only ones – universities and organisations all over the West take Saudi money, and they should be publicly shamed … Likewise countries that do not allow freedom of religion should be made pariahs …

At the heart of the problem is that we’re too scared of even admitting that the problem is within Islam, perfectly illustrated by the BBC’s coverage of events.

Then he proposes his brilliant idea:

This is perverse, because our belief in equal rights before the law stems from the liberal tradition, yet while the Saudis spend millions promoting their beliefs abroad, we don’t. According to human-rights lawyer and advocate for Christian religious freedom Nina Shea, many of the classical liberal western works, such as John Locke, have no modern Arabic translations. Why isn’t one of the west’s many liberal billionaires paying for translations, to be made available free on Kindle? 

“Many” have not been translated? How many have been? And who reads them? Are they in the university libraries of the Muslim countries? Are there objective lecturers in Western Thought? Why don’t some of the wealthy who endow subversive academies like Harvard, Yale, Princeton wake up and instead endow chairs, or whole faculties, or even entire universities in the Islamic world dedicated to the teaching of Western Philosophy, Politics, History, Ethics, Economics, Literature, Law, and Science? (Not Religion – there’s no sense in opposing one irrationality with another.) They should be taught not as they are seen through Marxist distorting lenses in most American universities, but the way John Locke himself, and Benjamin Franklin would do it.      

Oh, of course. No Islamic country would allow it. Still, we should try every way we can think of to get our ideas into as many Muslim heads as we possibly can.

Ed West concludes:

Time may be running out, for one of the many tragic results of Christian persecution is that a vital bridge between the Middle East and Europe is being wrecked. Of the 60 scholars who translated the ancient Greek classics into Arabic during the [falsely so-called] Islamic Golden Age, according to scholar Dr Suha Rassam, 58 were Syriac Christians (and of the others, one was Jewish and the other a Sabian), since generally only Syriacs could speak both Arabic and Greek.

Not one of them was a Muslim.

Without these 60 men the Renaissance would never have happened, and the very ideas that gave us liberalism would never have emerged.

Classical liberalism that is – the belief in tolerance and individual freedom.

 

Jay Z, Barry O, and the counter-culture becomes the culture 10

Hours after the Arab terrorist attack on the US mission in Benghazi, when four Americans were killed including the Ambassador to Libya, the president managed to conquer his grief and fly off to party with the entertainer Jay Z.

We haven’t taken much notice of Jay Z before now. Who is he, that the president of the United States will hurry away from the seat of government when his country has just suffered an humiliating defeat, to seek his company? What is his compelling message that powerful men will travel far to listen to him in person?

We found some answers in an article titled Jay Z’s American Fascism by David P. Goldman at PJ Media:

Who would have believed that a performing genre (it is a stretch to call it “music”) dominated by convicted and confessed criminals, brutally misogynistic, preaching and practicing violence, would come to dominate American popular culture?

Jay Z, who brags of dealing drugs and shooting an older brother in his youth, and pleaded guilty to stabbing a record producer, could “help shape attitudes in a real (sic) positive way,” according to President Obama.

Jay Z texts regularly with the president and is a regular White House visitor after opening Obama campaign rallies.

Goldman gives this example of Jay Z’s rap message:

We formed a new religion

No sins as long as there’s permission

And deception is the only felony

So never fuck nobody without telling me

Sunglasses and Advil, last night was mad real.

To us this is incoherent nonsense. Some words are obviously put in only because they semi-rhyme with some other word, as is common in  rap songs. But from these lines Goldman concludes that Jay Z believes himself to be “the prophet of a new religion“. And Goldman may be right.

Jay Z’s message, Goldman says, is that “violence is not only a legitimate form of expression: it is the only manly form of expression.” And he quotes:

This might offend my political connects

My raps don’t have melodies

This should make niggas wan’ go and commit felonies

Get your chain tooken

I may do it myself, I’m so Brooklyn!

I know we facing a recession

But the music y’all making gon’ make it the Great Depression

All y’all lack aggression

Put your skirt back down, grow a set man

Nigga this shit violent

The explicit call to violence (including chain-snatching as a form of political expression) is a playful challenge to his “political connects”, namely the president.

Playful? Not to be taken seriously then?

Goldman finds an excuse for Obama’s friendship with such a man. It is, however, an excuse that condemns a large section of the population.

One should not conclude from this that Obama favors criminal violence, but rather that the popular response to Jay Z’s evocation of felonious rage is so great that Obama finds it convenient to exploit it.

The call to violence is, Goldman reminds his readers, “nothing new”:

There is nothing at all new in any of this: we heard it before from Nietzsche in his evocation of the “blond beast’s” life-affirming violence, from George Sorel, from Mussolini’s call for “creative violence”.

We could add to his list many more preachers of the virtue of violence, among them, most prominently: Robespierre, Hegel, Richard Wagner, and of course – as Goldman says – Hitler. 

Jay Z appeals to the same kind of rage that Hitler and Mussolini exploited during the interwar years.

He ascribes the rage, and the consequent readiness to respond with intense enthusiasm to Jay Z’s message, to youth unemployment, for which he gives alarming figures;  and to a falling away from conventional religion by the public in general, in support of which he quotes from an article by a Catholic journalist :

The Catholic Church is besieged by secularism and suffering from the self-inflicted injury of the sex abuse scandals. The resignation of Benedict XVI, one of its great theologians and doctrinal leaders, left its leadership uncertain. Not only Catholicism but the American Evangelical movement … is caught by the receding tide. In an Aug. 16 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Russell Moore, the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political arm, announced, “The Bible Belt is collapsing.” Moore added, “We are no longer the moral majority. …” The Evangelicals have not retained their young people. The Pew survey reported in 2007 that 32% of Americans aged 50 to 64 are white Evangelicals, against only 13% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29. The public tide has turned against religion.

To us that is good news.

Now of course if people are at work they are not at rage-rousing rallies, so we accept that unemployment may be a cause of the popular enthusiasm for a message of violent rebellion.

But as for traditional religion being an antidote to rage and rebellion, has it not rather been the paramount cause of insurrections, riots, wars, massacres, persecutions, conquests, genocides?

It doesn’t surprise us that Jay Z’s “new religion” of inarticulate violence is gathering a large and passionate following. It only confirms our pessimism.

But if the president of the United States has joined that following, then the counter-culture with all its moral filth has won. Obama endorsed it when he expressed support for the Occupy Movement. If now he accepts, or chooses to exploit, the Nazi message of Jay Z, the counter-culture has become the culture. And our pessimism may turn into despair.

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