A Reply from Pete Stark

A few days ago, I received the following letter from U.S. Representative Pete Stark‘s office in acknowledgement of the contribution I made to him:

These are wonderful sentiments that I can strongly support. I don’t think there is any necessity for Rep. Stark to be modest – in the current political climate, it does take courage for an elected official to announce their nontheism, whether we like it or not – but it’s absolutely correct to say that the mere announcement does not by itself solve anything. What we should all be doing, atheist and theist alike, is working together to address the need that still exists in our society, and cooperating to build a better world for everyone. There will always be people who scorn the idea of helping others, or try to lead us astray by promising easy, painless answers to difficult problems, but we must also find the courage to set these illusions aside and do what we must. Human reason and conscience alone plainly point to the necessity of this step; revelation or prophecy is not needed. This line sums it up perfectly:

We don’t need divine guidance to tell us what is needed. All we need to do is listen to our neighbors, open our hearts, and make the hard political choices that will lead us to a better life for all.

And it’s wonderful, as well, that the letter ends with the signoff “Peace”. Peace is something we need more of in this world, and in contrast to the belligerent religious right that encourages endless war in the name of God, it gladdens my heart to see a fellow nonbeliever who recognizes that.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • SM

    For those of us looking from a distance at the political situation in the US today,
    it is worth remembering that there are some good people in high-level American politics, even if you have to look a bit to find them. Here’s hoping that the sort of common sense and human values expressed in that letter gain more power.

  • schemanista

    Wow. Good letter.

    Good on ya, Pete. Wish I was a constituent so my vote would mean something.

  • SteveC

    Yeah! This letter from Pete kicks ass!

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Nice gesture to send Stark a contribution. And getting that letter back is certainly worth it!

  • http://beauhmclendon.blogspot.com/ Beau H. McLendon

    Pete Stark is right in that it doesn’t take courage to, in what some would consider, confessing a disbelief of a delusional mindset unfortunately prominent. The surprise should immediately arise when one hears a politician thank his/her god, because this is reflective of their character and their agenda while in office. With disbelief, one can actually focus and contribute to what matters, to what actually is, society.

  • anti-nonsense

    That’s great. Almost makes me wish I lived in California so I could vote for him next time. He strikes me as being somebody I could vote for in good conscience.

  • Alex Weaver

    Me too. Unfortunately I’m in the wrong district. I must settle for maintaining significant antipathy towards Dan Lungren instead x.x

  • http://atheisthussy.blogspot.com/ Intergalactic Hussy

    Although this cannot accurately portray the actual numbers of nontheists in political positions, it definitely is a step in the right direction.

  • stillwaters

    I got mine, too. Mr. Stark added an additional, personal note on mine, since I happen to live in Kansas. Here is what he wrote:

    It takes more than 3 heel klicks to move some people, but we must keep trying – thanks!

    I am so happy that such an intelligent and educated Congressman has come out as a representative for nonbelievers.

    And, I agree, I hope that someone else decides to follow in Pete’s footsteps.

  • Darren

    It’s great to see Stark is making it clear he doesn’t have a supernatural god. Unfortunately, he seems to be pretty far to the left–wanting government to forcibly confiscate from some to give to others (food, education, health care, housing, etc). It seems he still has one god he worships: the state.

    I look forward to the day when the first conservative or libertarian atheist in Congress comes out. It would really be a coup if it was a conservative.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    If it is considered “pretty far to the left” to support redistributive taxation to ensure that everyone has access to food, education and medical care, then I guess you’ll have to number me with Pete Stark, because I support that policy as well. That is not “worship” of the state, a bizarre slur if ever I heard one, but rather arises from a basic concern for human welfare.

    See my post from last June, Some Thoughts on Libertarianism.

  • Darren

    Wow. Not to reignite what was obviously a lenghty debate, but you can show your ‘concern for human welfare’ on an individual and voluntary basis by donating to charities. It’s not necessary to forcibly take some of your neighbor’s money in order to help the poor. In fact, it’s plain wrong.

  • stillwaters

    Darren, check out this link for an explanation on why charity cannot realistically replace something like welfare.

    You live in a country with a government that provides goods and services. To enjoy these privileges without paying for them (through taxes) is theft.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    Darren, from a libertarian perspective, it would be wrong to allow a neighbor to appropriate land and consume resources without compensation to those whose rights have been infringed through not having use of said land and resources. One way to compensate is through taxation. For example, the tax could be used to help fund a school as a means of compensating children who’s rights have been infringed. From a libertarian viewpoint, there is nothing inherently wrong with taxation. But maybe you mean something else by “forcibly confiscate”?

  • Darren

    stillwaters, you’re right charity couldn’t fully replace welfare. That’s not what I’m arguing. I’m arguing that there’s no need for welfare. There’s no need to supply that assistance to people by force–it doesn’t matter how much you might think they need it. As for your second comment, your claim is invalid. It’s like saying that it’s wrong to refuse mafia protection that you never asked for in the first place. You can’t make the victim of theft into the perpetrator of theft through verbal sophistry.

    And RiddleOfSteel, no one is having their rights infringed by not having use of land that was not theirs to begin with. That doesn’t even make any sense. Perhaps you mean to say something else?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    As for your second comment, your claim is invalid. It’s like saying that it’s wrong to refuse mafia protection that you never asked for in the first place.

    Nevertheless, by choosing to live in a state that provides these benefits, you are taking advantage of them whether you want to or not. It is, therefore, wrong to assert that you should enjoy them for free and have no obligation to repay them to others. That would be like accepting a job with a business and then proclaiming that you intend to accept the wages they pay you and not do any work in return.

  • Darren

    It’s not a valid comparison to compare a government to a private business. A private business does not use force to collect money from customers. Even if there was a stateless society somewhere I could move to (which there isn’t), it would still be important to fight to eliminate the state anywhere it exists because it is the epitome of aggression. The physical aggression of the state (supported by those who support the existence of the state) is no better than the psychological aggression of religion. Those who reject the coerciveness and inhumanity of religion are not being consistent when they embrace the coerciveness and inhumanity of the state.

  • lpetrich

    Darren, that is so laughable.

    Let’s imagine that you were slow in your car payments and some nice gentleman with a tow truck showed up to tow away your car. Would you still say that?

    Or if some store’s guards caught you shoplifting, would you continue to say that?

    The reasons that businesses seem relatively nonviolent is because they have governments do much of their dirty work — soldiers and cops and judges are all government employees.

    In fact, businesses that operate outside the law can get very violent — consider criminal gangs and their enforcers. Try falling to make loan payments to a loanshark and see what happens.

  • Darren

    Well, let’s see: if my car was repossessed because I failed to make payments, I’ve violated the terms of the agreement I entered into freely with the party that lent me the money for the car, and they’re making good on their end of the deal–so no problem there. And if I’m caught shoplifting, well, I’m aggressing against someone’s private property and deserve to be held accountable. I’m not sure exactly what your point was with those two examples.

    I never said businesses were nonviolent. I said the government is coercive and aggressive, which means that it forces you to do things you would not freely choose to do (like where a motorcycle helmet or hand over a chunk of your paycheck) or prevents you from doing things you would freely choose to do (like buy certain medications from a supplier of your choosing or start an insurance business without ‘official’ licenses). Again, I’m not sure what your point is regarding that comment. But the overall response to that comment and your last one is that yes, some businesses will become criminal, but a free market would have plentiful checks on such activity. In today’s America, the government is one large, criminally coercive organization with no one to check it.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    And RiddleOfSteel, no one is having their rights infringed by not having use of land that was not theirs to begin with. That doesn’t even make any sense. Perhaps you mean to say something else?

    No, I meant what I wrote. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense Darren, because you are basing your assumptions on an incomplete acknowledgment of rights, as evidenced by how you use the phrase “not theirs to begin with” to pick and choose who’s rights will be acknowledged. When a person appropriates a piece of land, regardless if that person takes the land by agreeing to compensate the previous person who appropriated it, the rights of others to use that land are infringed – they are not being compensated for loss of use of the land due to the two parties engaging in appropriation. If a person is to infringe on the rights of others there must be compensation, and all rights must be considered. I am wondering, when someone appropriates a piece of land, without agreement with and compensation to those who will no longer have the right to use it, do you condone using the coercive power which you so deride to enforce this rights violation?

  • Darren from NC

    Ah, I see. What you’ve done is created artificial rights. Your definition of property rights is not internally consistent. It implies that everyone in the world has property rights to every bit of land on the planet. This would mean that you do not have an exclusive right even to the little bit of space that your body takes up or to the air you breathe. This, in turn, would mean that you do not have an exclusive right to your own body and your life. You see how your artificial definition of property rights actually negates the fundamental right of self-ownership?

    (By the way, I’ll try to denote myself as “Darren from NC” from now on since I noticed there’s another Darren that posts on this blog.)

  • lpetrich

    Darren’s arguments are pure libertarian hairsplitting. Or should I say propertarian? What gives property owners rights that governments ought not to have? Like the right to coerce payment for goods and services provided. Yes, coerce, that libertarian dirty word. Do loansharks have rights that governments don’t?

    And imagine, Darren, if all the roads were sold off. Would it then be OK for the road companies to decree that motorcyclists that travel on their roads wear helmets?

  • Darren from NC

    I don’t understand. How do property owners coerce payment for goods and services they provide?

    And yes, it would certainly be okay for a private road owner to set the rules that people must observe on his road. Of course, there would be a market incentive for him not to impose rules that would drive customers to not use his road.

  • stillwaters

    I’m sorry, Darren from NC, but I’m having a difficult time agreeing with your perspective. From what I’m understanding, it seems that your libertarian views are self-centered and seemingly uncaring. I think you are depending way too much on an ideal and unrealistic version of a free market that cannot and will never exist. Pragmatically, I prefer the ‘criminal’ yet supportive government over the possible generosity of a few selfish property owners.

    And I agree to some extent that the government should be limited in several ways. It should always be considered a government by the people, for the people. That’s what an American democracy is supposed to be, isn’t it? I find that much more conducive to happy citizens than no government at all, or a small, governmental police state, with business owners as the ruling class.

  • lpetrich

    Darren, I thought I had explained to you how creditors can coerce payment from their debots. I suggest trying this experiment. Take out a BIG loan from a loanshark. Refuse to pay the loan payments that he demands. Will he stand helplessly by?

    Also, city roads are a good example of a natural monopoly. It’s hard for there to be more than one of them that goes by your house. And shouting “Markets are perfect! Markets are perfect! Markets are perfect!” won’t change that.

    I recall someone once commenting that if capitalism was a religion, libertarians would be the fundamentalists.

  • Darren from NC

    Your fallacy is holding up a blatantly criminal entity as an example of a private business operating in a stateless society. It would indeed be wrong to use force to extract payment from your debtor. In a free society, private methods of arbitration would emerge to check any attempts to use coercion. However, there would be nothing wrong with a creditor using non-coercive means to try to convince the debtor to make good on his end of the deal (like putting his name on a list of bad credit risks, bringing civil charges against him in the aforementioned private arbitration system, etc).

    As for roads, they are most certainly not a natural monopoly (despite that common misperception fostered by anti-market economists). Just imagining my own trip from home to work, there are at least 3 major highways I can choose from for the major part of the trip, 3 or 4 routes from the major highway to my office, and 3 or 4 routes from my house to a major highway. My neighborhood itself opens onto to major streets. If all those roads were private, there would be route competition than you see in many private industries today. As far as the road that goes directly to my house, I live in a development governed by a Home Owners Association. In a free market, HOAs would most likely own the roads in their developments and maintain them as part of their duties just as they maintain common areas. They would likely not charge ‘tolls’ to residents apart from some portion of their annual dues. They would probably form some kind of access agreements with owners of the roads the neighborhood opens onto. There are a vast (and unpredictable) range of possibilities for a market that doesn’t yet exist. But as other markets show us, efficient and fair arrangements will tend to crop up due to market pressure.

    And I don’t claim markets are perfect–because life isn’t perfect. Markets are just closer to it (and more obliging of freedom and property rights) than a socialized, nationalized, or command-and-control system.

  • lpetrich

    Darren, all you are doing is describing some imaginary anarcho-capitalist utopia and then applying that No True Scotsman fallacy to any capitalist behavior contrary to that.

    My point is: you DON’T have the choice of 4 or 5 roads stacked on top of each other. Each place has exactly ONE road. It’s not like cars or gasoline or repair, where it is much easier for competing providers to coexist. Even then, if there are not many providers, they may be reluctant to compete with each other too much — oligopoly is not much of an improvement over monopoly.

    Also, look at how businesses are run internally. I think that that’s where capitalism groupies get their caricatures of “socialized”, “nationalized”, and “command-and-control” systems from. They take all the features of business management that they dislike and project those features onto anything that they dislike.

  • Darren from NC

    I think what it comes down to is this: the natural state of affairs is freedom and no government (no involuntary taxation, no monopoly on force, etc). I think those who support the existence of government (and all that entails) have the burden of proof on them to logically explain how it’s okay to violate individual natural rights by forming such a government. The burden isn’t on me to explain why education and health care and roads and income support shouldn’t be provided through the government’s forcible confiscation of wealth. If supporters of such things can’t provide rock-solid logic to justify them, they should be eliminated at once. (And my view is that rock-solid logic for such aggression against person and property does not exist)

  • lpetrich

    Pure anarchist utopianism. Darren, why don’t you try to construct a society of virtuous anarchists?

    And I notice that you had neglected to mention military forces and police forces and court systems and prison systems — I find it curious that a self-proclaimed libertarian should look the other way at governments’ tools of coercion.

    Furthermore, loansharks are 100% private sector, and “private sector good, public sector bad” would mean that loansharks are good. And what makes loansharks “criminals”, anyway?

  • Darren from NC

    I actually did discuss courts. I mentioned that private methods of arbitration would emerge in a free society. As for the rest of it (military, police, prison, etc) these are all things that would emerge privately in a free society if they weren’t first prevented from doing so by government. Of course, none of those services would be coercive (at least not if they wanted to stay in business long). There are lots of ways such services could be provided privately (and justly), but my personal favorite theory is that something like today’s Chambers of Commerce would end up providing many of those, including military. Except there wouldn’t be just one per geographical area–there would be multiple competing organizations. They would have members who would pay dues, as well as raising money through fund drives in their communities (like non-profits do now). It would be understood that there would be free-riders (these services would be serving some people who had not contributed), but that’s how it is already: your local Chamber of Commerce does a lot to improve the quality of life and economy in your area, but it’s very likely you haven’t contributed anything to their efforts–you’re a free-rider.

    Also, not being allowed to coerce someone to appear in court (like the government does today), you could accuse someone of aggressing against you and that person could just not show up at the arbitration hearing. Of course, this would look very bad for him and he would be at risk of hurting his reputation, which could make life very difficult for him. Also, he could choose to appear before the arbitrator chosen by the plaintiff and have the ruling go against him–but he could then take the case to an arbitrator of his choice for a possibly different ruling. If his arbitrator ruled differently, their would probably be a system in place that one or both of them were subscribers to that would automatically take the case to a private appeals court (which of course would also have competitors–I imagine someone like Consumer Reports would rate all these various courts and appeals courts on how effective and fair they were, and they would also just naturally gain reputations in the market based on the fairness of their rulings). Of course, the guilty party could refuse to pay whatever the punishment was declared to be, but again, this would result in some sort of black mark against him in society. In this free market I’ve described, you could not force anyone to do anything, but market and social pressures would result in a system in which judgements were extremely fair (you wouldn’t want to be seen as that arbitrator that had a bias) and in which frivolous lawsuits would be practically non-existent (you would have a range of incentives that would severely punish you if you made false charges). I imagine there would also be far less crime in the first place.

    As for loansharks, they’re ‘criminal’ because by definition they use force to extract payment from their debtors. Such folks would be run out of town in short order due to the effectiveness of competing private justice systems. More likely, they would see the financial ruin of such a career choice before ever going into it and choose to do something more productive with their lives.

    Got anything else for me?

  • RiddleOfSteel

    Darren from MC, declaring some rights as non-existent or artificial is not a good way to deal with the issue of competing rights. I think it is actually you who are being inconsistent, by acknowledging the rights of certain parties, while ignoring the rights of others. By insisting on adherence to terms of agreement that are freely entered into, all the while ignoring land that was appropriated without freely entered agreement or compensation to those who’s rights have been infringed.