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.

A benchmark for atheists 10

This is from the Washington Post:

A group of atheists unveiled a monument to their non-belief in God … to sit alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front of the Bradford County [Florida] courthouse.

As a small group of protesters blasted Christian country music and waved “Honk for Jesus” signs, the atheists celebrated what they believe is the first atheist monument allowed on government property in the United States. …

American Atheists sued to try to have the stone slab with the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse lawn in this rural, conservative town in northern Florida. Their demand was not met, but they were told they could erect their own monument in “what is described as a free–speech zone”.

It ‘s not just a monument, however:

“When you look at this monument, the first thing you will notice is that it has a function. . . we selected to place this monument in the form of a bench,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists. …

The event – on Saturday June 29, 3013 – made a small stir:

About 200 people attended the unveiling. Most were supportive, although there were protesters, including a group from the Florida League of the South that had signs that said, “Yankees Go Home.” …

After the 1,500-pound granite bench was unveiled, people rushed to have their pictures taken on it. The bench bears quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists. It also has a list of Old Testament punishments for violating the Ten Commandments, including death and stoning.

The event did not pass entirely without drama. A Christian “jumped atop the peak of the monument and shouted his thanks to the atheists for giving him a platform to declare that Jesus is real.” [He isn’t – ed.] But “atheists shouted at him, and he stepped down after about a minute”. …

The atheists said they expected protesters.

“There always are,” said Rick Wingrove, director of a Washington, D.C., area office of American Atheists. “We protest their events, they protests our events. As long as everybody’s cordial and let people speak. This is our day, not theirs. We’re fine with them being here.”

Could we now have a monument to non-belief in socialism in the grounds of the White House?  

As Christmas looms … 5

Bill O’Reilly insists that Christianity is not a religion!

David Silverman gets heavy over Christmas.

Readers’ comments on this clash of opinions are invited.

 

(Hat-tip, our reader and commenter Paresh)

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Commentary, United States, US Constitution by Jillian Becker on Friday, November 30, 2012

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Atheism and politics 5

We are partly in agreement and partly in disagreement with leftist atheists. Obviously we share their atheism. Equally obviously we do not share their political opinions. “American Atheists” seemed to us to have a leftist bent (as Richard Dawkins certainly has), but we may be wrong. (Visit their website and see what you think.) In any case, we like their  activism against religion.

This article comes from USA Today, by Cathy Lynn Grossman.

Hey, President Obama and contender Mitt Romney, the American Atheists want your attention. They’re unveiling a new in-your-face-to-the-faithful billboard campaign, timed to the national presidential nominating conventions.

The billboard ads do not seem to be carrying a political message.

Today’s press conference revealed signs that call God “sadistic” and Jesus “useless” as a savior (his image is shown as toast, literally) and conclude that Atheism, by contrast, is “simply reasonable.”

The Gods depicted in the bible are sadistic. The “Old Testament” tyrant punishes five generations of descendants of anyone who offends him. The vague “Father” of the “New Testament” has his “Son” condemn countless millions to burn forever in hellfire on sheer whim.

And why should people need a “savior” of any stripe?

Presumably, Catholics such as Vice President Biden and Romney’s running mate choice Paul Ryan, are covered in this hit on Christians such as Obama, a mainline Protestant.

Obama “a mainline Protestant”? You reckon, Ms Grossman? Why is he so partial to Islam then?

But evidently the American Atheists don’t consider Mormons to be Christians, since they prepared a separate billboard attack on their faith. …

What can it matter whether they are Christians or not? They are as irrational in their belief as any self-styled Christians are. Are there better and worse systems of irrationality?

But GOP delegates won’t see the attack on their faith on their way to nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in Tampa. Spokeswoman Teresa MacBain says no one in Tampa would rent them billboard space. So watch for both texts in Charlotte, N.C., where the Democrats will gather in September.

American Atheists is the group that created and produced the Reason Rally in March on the National Mall – an event president David Silverman billed as a fun gathering starring raging atheists such as Richard Dawkins. …

So atheists who do not believe the unbelievable “rage” about it?  Whereas believers sweetly keep their farfetched opinions to themselves?

The same group flew a banner over New York City on the Fourth of July proclaiming, “Atheism is patriotic.”

Now … the billboards are aimed at mocking the “silliness” of religion. In an email before today’s press conference, [Teresa MacBain] wrote that questioning the religious views of men who want to lead the free world is essential because,

“If a person believes stupid things, then we have every right to question his or her judgment, and that directly impacts how the non-religious voter votes.”

She’s right. The amazing fact is that people can be highly intelligent, well-educated, sensible, and yet believe in the supernatural! It is something we find very hard to understand. But as every candidate for the presidency has to avow some religious belief, we see no point in making too much of his religion unless he does.

More demands – like non-religious people to be appointed to the Cabinet and the Supreme Court – are at their website.

We concur with those demands

Interestingly, for all the increasing public presence of unbelievers – billboards, rallies, conventions, etc. – the attention has not boosted their percentage of the U.S. population significantly in the last decade.

How does Grossman or anyone know that?

Most people who say they have no religious identity also call themselves spiritual but not religious …

Whatever that might mean, it does suggest more people may be atheist than get counted as such …

… and many give the entire topic a big “so what” shrug.

That’s atheism too, by default.

But the billboards planned for Charlotte, N.C., may not be well received. In 2010, when free thinkers posted an edited version of the line from the Pledge of Allegiance without the phrase “under God,” vandals added it with spray paint.

Grossman asks:

Do you think … the billboards will convert anyone away from religion? Is it “simply reasonable” to mock belief?

We reply: yes, they may turn some away from religion. We only hope they will not turn some away from voting for Romney.

And yes, of course it is reasonable to mock religious belief. It’s an urgent and perpetual necessity. Religious belief is absurd yet lethally dangerous to the well-being of humanity.

Cross purposes 14

A group called American Atheists have filed a lawsuit in protest against a cross being officially recognized as a 9/11 memorial.

No one deliberately erected the cross. Two iron girders, one vertical with a shorter one attached to it horizontally near the top, were left  standing in the rubble. Some Christians have chosen to treat it as their sacred symbol. A Franciscan monk performed a ceremonial blessing of it when it was moved recently to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Here’s part of a report and commentary on the story:

American Atheists expressed their outrage that, in a memorial partially subsidized by tax dollars, a cross should be the only religious object included.

“We honor the dead and respect the families,” they wrote in a statement on their website, “which is why we will not allow the many Christians who died to get preferential representation over the many non-Christians who suffered the same fate. This was an attack against America, not Christianity, and Christianity’s does not deserve special placement just because THEY think the girders look like their religious symbol.”

In the complaint … American Atheists point out that people of many different faiths died in the attacks. According to the lawsuit, the cross was originally blessed by the priest who ministered to workers clearing the site after the attacks, in response to the workers’ belief that the cross was “a sign that God never abandoned us at Ground Zero.” Naturally, some are asking: whose God are we talking about?

We wonder how Christians reconcile their trust in the beneficence of their all-knowing,  all-powerful god with his permitting those thousands to suffer and die on 9/11. If he didn’t abandon them, what was he doing for them? But that’s an aside. The issue here is whether Christians should be allowed to treat the girders as an officially sanctioned religious memorial.

Although the atheists’ “us vs. them” rhetoric leaves something to be desired, their point is fair. If the creators of the 9/11 Memorial truly want to honor the dead, they can’t include only one religious symbol, even if it was recovered from the wreckage. It might require a little creativity to come up with appropriate tributes to the faith traditions (or lack thereof) of the many people who lost their lives in the attacks – but then again, perhaps it would be best simply not to include the cross at all.

We are entirely tolerant of other people’s choices and behavior if it in no way harms us. We don’t understand why people worship idols and imaginary beings and continue to hope against all experience that, when supplicated, the idol or the unknown god will do something good for them; but we are as unperturbed by their religious foibles as we are by any other kind. A pair of girders are for us simply a pair of girders, and if some choose to hold them sacred and bless them and kneel down before them in prayer, though we may be bemused, we feel no indignation. We cannot live in a state of perpetual emotional turmoil because others (most Americans, in fact) are religious.

Some atheists are arguing that the cross should only be allowed at the Memorial and Museum if other religious – and, presumably, atheist – signs and symbols stand with it.

What signs and symbols? Some religions have them, many do not. Would those that don’t have to devise them specially?

How does anyone know what some three thousand individuals believed?

What sign or symbol would the protesting atheists put up for their supposed like-thinkers who perished on that day?

We would like to know what our readers think about this.