Michael Medved: Clueless Dominionist

I don’t make it my mission to slap down every loudmouth religious-right crackpot on the internet. Really, I don’t. If I wanted to make it my mission, I could do nothing else, but it wouldn’t accomplish anything and it wouldn’t make for a very interesting site.

However, the other day, this giant, flaming meteor of stupidity landed in my inbox, and it was just too tempting not to have a go. The author of this benighted epistle is Michael Medved, nationally syndicated right-wing radio host. In it, he applies his talents to the issue of why atheists are unfit to serve as president of the United States of America.

First:

Just as the Queen plays a formal role as head of the Church of England, the President functions as head of the “Church of America” – that informal, tolerant but profoundly important civic religion that dominates all our national holidays and historic milestones.

The “Church of America”? Good grief. Does Medved really think a vital part of the President’s job description is to issue mushy ecumenical proclamations reassuring voters that God approves of us? I must have missed that line in Article II. Somehow, I think the nation could soldier on if the President didn’t come out of the White House every so often to give us all a theistic pat on the head. The President is the President, not the Pope of America. His job is to faithfully execute the laws. That’s all. I can assure Medved that those Americans who wish to go on believing have more than ample opportunity to find like-minded clergy members elsewhere.

For instance, try to imagine an atheist president issuing the annual Thanksgiving proclamation. To whom would he extend thanks in the name of his grateful nation–-the Indians in Massachusetts?

Oh, the horrors that would ensue if a president refused to issue a religious proclamation at Thanksgiving! Good thing we never had a president who dared such an impious act!

What? We did?

Who was he, some kind of liberal?

I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting and prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them, an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands where the Constitution has deposited it… every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.

Oh, yeah: it was the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Then there’s the significant matter of the Pledge of Allegiance. Would President Atheist pronounce the controversial words “under God”? If he did, he’d stand accused (rightly) of rank hypocrisy. And if he didn’t, he’d pointedly excuse himself from a daily ritual that overwhelming majorities of his fellow citizens consider meaningful.

I have a third alternative: why not say the Pledge as it was originally written, by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, before a meddling Congress inserted the words “under God” in the 1950s to give themselves a talking point about how we were superior to those evil, godless commies?

Medved unintentionally puts his finger on a reason why the Pledge should be restored. It’s quite true that the President should be able to participate in the patriotic rituals that unite us as a people. That’s why the current, religionized Pledge is so unfortunate – because it divides us, and makes a large number of Americans reluctant to participate in this civic institution without being made to violate their own consciences or feel like outsiders. And that’s why it should be fixed, so that all Americans, religious or not, can participate. Medved’s solution is to preserve that bigotry and keep the atheists out; I would rather get rid of the divisive language so that atheists can enter fully into the fold of American citizenship.

Next, Medved says, the “United States remains a profoundly, uniquely religious society” and should have a leader whose beliefs reflect that. Yet at the same time, he says, a candidate like Mitt Romney or Joe Lieberman would still be qualified:

There’s a difference between an atheist, however, and a Mormon or a Jew – despite the fact that the same U.S. population (about five million) claims membership in each of the three groups.

Uh, no. The most recent major survey done on this issue, last month’s Pew poll, found that self-declared atheists and agnostics account for about 4% of the population. That’s 12 million people. The “secular unaffiliated”, very likely atheists in all but name, are another 6%. That’s 30 million people, not five. Perhaps five million people seems like a small enough minority for Medved to safely ignore, but 10% of the population is pushing it.

For Mitt and Joe, their religious affiliation reflected their heritage and demonstrated their preference for a faith tradition differing from larger Christian denominations. But embrace of Jewish or Mormon practices doesn’t show contempt for the Protestant or Catholic faith of the majority, but affirmation of atheism does.

This is the old canard that atheism is somehow intrinsically disrespectful of the religious in the way that other religions are not. It’s hard to see how this claim can be sustained, though, because Mormonism and Judaism both deny fundamental tenets of Christianity: one rejects Jesus’ claim to be the messiah, while the other asserts that he was just one in a potentially infinite line of deified humans. These faiths already deny so many of each other’s major tenets: why does the one additional tenet denied by atheism make all the difference?

Finally, Medved asserts, only a religious president could win the war against “Islamo-Nazism” (yes, he actually calls it that; I cracked up laughing too).

Our enemies insist that God plays the central role in the current war and that they affirm and defend him, while we reject and ignore him. The proper response to such assertions involves the citation of our religious traditions and commitments, and the credible argument that embrace of modernity, tolerance and democracy need not lead to godless materialism.

Is Medved really saying that al-Qaeda would go away and leave us alone if only we prove to them that we hate atheists as much as they do?

I have a news flash for you, sir: Al-Qaeda devotes considerable time and effort to killing their fellow Muslims for practicing the “wrong” faith. Do you really think that electing a Christian of any denomination is going to appease them? And what about the Jews? You just said that a Jewish person could be qualified to be president. Would that choice ever satisfy the evil Islamo-Nazis? Or do you want to rethink your plan of selecting presidents based on whom our enemies hate the least?

In this context, an atheist president conforms to the most hostile anti-America stereotypes of Islamic fanatics and makes it that much harder to appeal to Muslim moderates whose cooperation (or at least neutrality) we very much need.

Uh-huh. Because presidents who call the war on terrorism a “crusade”, and presidential candidates whose chief religious advisers openly preach that we are in a divinely ordained “religious war” against Islam, are not going to inflame Muslim sentiment in any way. Mr. Medved, you seem oddly open to diplomacy for a member of the right, but I have to break it to you: if you think that’s how this fight is going to be won, then you’re backing the wrong side altogether.

In sum: Like nearly all members of the religious right, Michael Medved’s view of America is aggressively anti-historical, his idea of our enemies is an ignorant cartoon, and his beliefs about atheists are a load of smug tripe. His popularity shows the widespread and glaring lack of intellectual standards among the religious right. His opinions can be safely dismissed by people of intelligence and good sense.

There, I feel better. Sometimes you just need a little bit of catharsis. Now, on to more important subjects.

About Adam Lee

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

  • hb531

    Not to mention Article 6 of the US Constitution:

    …no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    How would Medved respond to this? Call it a minor, “quaint” clause in the constitution? He seems to have placed more importance on the revised Pledge of Allegiance’s reference to god than the original text of the constitution. Where is the intellectual honesty in people like this? Would the framers of the constition write such a clause if they wanted to exclude atheists? I’d bet that the constitutions of current theocracies don’t have such a clause. This isn’t just a

    giant, flaming meteor of stupidity

    it’s a black hole of willful ignorance, sucking up all the intelligence of those who read it. I feel dumber after trudging through half of the original post.

  • terrence

    Hope this post doesn’t discourage anyone from tuning in to the fine radio program of this inteectual giant, who is also a fellow of the Discovery Institute and a devout believer in the existence of Sasquatch. Just the other day, he interviewed an author claiming to be in telepathic contact with huge numbers of Sasquatches living underground all over North and South America. See what you can learn if you just keep an open mind?

  • mikespeir

    Medved isn’t wrong about everything here. Americanism has become very much a religion in some quarters; interestingly, especially among Evangelical Christians. I think that at some level it gives them a little heartburn to realize that they actually subscribe to two religions. “No man can serve two masters,” they know, so they solve the problem by having Christianity co-opt Americanism. Simple! Here it’s easy to see how they genuinely believe one can’t be a patriotic American without being a Christian.

  • http://yunshui.wordpress.com yunshui

    I’m particularly amused by his first point, speaking as I do from the UK. Our Head of State is indeed also the leader of our state religion (mostly because of Henry VIII’s desperate need for a quickie divorce), which technically gives us the same theocratic structure as one other country making headlines today. Can you guess? Our good friends in Iran. If Mr Medved is so keen to live in such a theocracy, he must be having real issues with the US’ current sabre-rattling.

    Thankfully, the Church of England is far from a massive political lobby over here, despite our unfortunate lack of the First Amendment. A wonderfully English form of Christianity – they always seem a little embarrassed, a little bit bumbling. Not the fire-and-brimstone types at all – you want Baptists for that…

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Please please please, don’t leave out of your rant the Christian Right’s reaction when Muslims get elected to public office. Any particular reason why Medved leaves them out of his list of approved religions? Is having faith alone really enough, or is he lying through his teeth?

  • Christopher

    Terrence,

    Could you provide us with a text of that Sasquatch interview? I think we’ll all get quite a kick out of that.

  • 2-D Man

    “Those who believe that religious institutions actually damage the society constitute only tiny minority within the already small non-believing minority.” -Medved

    Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha.

    Ha HA! Ha ha-ha-ha!

    Maybe I just found that funny because I didn’t sleep last night.

  • konrad_arflane

    Please please please, don’t leave out of your rant the Christian Right’s reaction when Muslims get elected to public office. Any particular reason why Medved leaves them out of his list of approved religions? Is having faith alone really enough, or is he lying through his teeth?

    Not only that, but if an atheist president is to be avoided to avoid inflaming the Islamic world, wouldn’t an actual Muslim for president then be the most sensible course?

  • LindaJoy

    On this subject- I was watching David Gregory’s new show on MSNBC the other day, and someone called in and asked if an atheist could ever by President. All five of his guest commentators immediately said, “No way”. They agreed that since almost 80% of the American people believe in God, they would never even look at an atheist candidate. Pretty sad, but probably true……

  • Jeff T.

    Ok, I will come out and say this flame: Belief in God is a sign of incompetence. Regardless of its popularity, belief in a big invisible daddy in the sky does NOT change the fact that there is no big daddy up there. The fact that Americans seem to think that this belief in big daddy is some kind of merit badge just proves how moronic most people are. Most Americans seem to be religious autobots who embrace the traits of hatred, prejudice, and inequality. They spew lie after lie towards atheists while defending their own incredible failings with idiotic disclaimers like ‘God did it’ or ‘God loves me’… The article that guy wrote makes me sick and it pisses me off that Americans are so gullible. Ebon has my respect for still believing in the American democratic process, I gave up on it and washed my hands of it for reasons just like this one.

  • Penguin_Factory

    It’s stuff like this that makes me glad my parents moved back to Ireland when I was 7.

    “If I wanted to make it my mission, I could do nothing else, but it wouldn’t accomplish anything and it wouldn’t make for a very interesting site.”

    Oh, I beg to differ :D

  • konrad_arflane

    Most Americans seem to be religious autobots

    Well, better an Autobot than a Decepticon, I say.

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    Oh, argh. I’m so happy I found out about this! Now I can post my own scathing blog entry on it, though likely not as well written as this one. :)

    I’ve never liked Michael Medved. The man is clueless (and don’t get me started on the 1970′s gay porn star mustache). He really needs to shut the smeg up.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Reminds me of the site were a person compared the reasons for havingunder good we trust vs under white rule we trust. Sadly the reasons worked equally well- a point the ethical atheist has been making (I think that is the right blog).

    The irony appears lost on this guy that you could make the same arguments for even greater exclusion. After all how could a women represent us? Wouldn’t that inflame the Muslim world even more? Or someone who has liberal beliefs? Or…

  • nfpendleton

    Just the fact that Medved apparently finds it more important for the president to perform “sacremental duties,” as opposed to actually following/enforcing the laws of this nation is enough to completely discredit anything he might say from here on out. But he never had much credibility from the beginning, so it’s moot. Another Limbaugh groupie…

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Medved unintentionally puts his finger on a reason why the Pledge should be restored. It’s quite true that the President should be able to participate in the patriotic rituals that unite us as a people. That’s why the current, religionized Pledge is so unfortunate . . .

    Actually, I think comments like this one could form the basis for an excellent nationwide atheist campaign. Every bigoted statement from a Dominionist or similar which states that atheists should not be considered equal or patriotic citizens based on the Pledge or on “In God We Trust” is evidence that such references are not “ceremonial deism”. Every such statement is further proof of the unconstitutionality of references to God in the Pledge and the national motto. So — seriously — start an “it’s not ceremonial deism and here’s why” campaign. Call it “Collect the Evidence!” Set up a website and get people who support the separation of church and state to send in examples. There must be hundreds, after all. It might make sense to limit it to published statements whose existence can easily be verified.

    Think about what this would do:

    1. It would mobilise people who want to support church and state — particularly atheists — and could contribute to your visibility as a voting bloc.

    2. It would recruit people to the atheist cause on this issue by showing that there is an issue. Many people would prefer to not rock the boat and subscribe to the notion of “ceremonial deism” or similar for that reason. Show them they’re wrong — with evidence, in true atheist fashion!

    3. It might make the other side think twice before providing us with ammunition. That has to be a good thing, right?

    4. I don’t know if it’s a legal argument. But it might be. “Large numbers of Americans do take these statements as an establishment of a religious position, as evidenced by this many hundred articles, editorials, letters to the editor . . .”

  • Polly

    Why is Islam only mentioned in the context of being “our enemies”?
    Jews and Mormons (and no one else it seems) are potential contenders for U.S. presidency while those American Moslems simply need to step aside?
    Maybe, THAT’s the attitude that’s hurting the U.S. image in the Middle East.

    An atheist president could be a more trustworthy neutral party in a world dominated by religious factions. Better than neo-crusaders and/or the “chosen people.”

    What is MM’s point in writing this drivel? Is there a danger that an openly atheistic candidate is going to run and win in the general presidential election? Only in my dreams…

    little factoid: “medved” means “bear.”

  • goyo

    Polly: I’ve missed you. Glad you’re back.
    Excellent post, Ebon: I tuned to Medved’s show this afternoon while driving home, and his guest was David Berlinski, the author of “The Devil’s Delusion”, who claims to be “secular”, but believes that atheism is wrong, and that religon is legitimate. He also has a cameo in the new movie, “Expelled”.
    They both made fun of Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, calling them the “holy trinity of atheism”.
    They took calls, but when atheists asked questions, Medved quickly hung up, then they would answer the question with no rebuttal. One atheist did ask, what about Zeus and the other mythological deities, and they said they considered them to be secular deities since they mingled with humans, and the god of the bible spiritual, whatever that means.
    Lynet:
    Great idea! We could start with the state of Texas. Every morning in Texas schools, we pledge not only to the flag of the United States, but also to the state of Texas. We’ve been doing this for years. But this year, the state added “under god” to it.
    It’s like we’re going backwards!

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Umm… the god of the Bible talked with his favorites, showed people his backside, and fathered a kid. That’s not “mingling with people”?

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Not to mention Jesus spent thirty years hanging out, eating, drinking, sleeping, chatting… if that’s not “mingling” what is? He’s not a god of the Bible?

  • Louis

    I would love to see the Pledge read “one nation, under the Constitution. . .”

  • http://entequilaesverdad.blogspot.com Dana Hunter

    Thank you very much for saving me a lot of time. I figured before I unloaded on this complete prick, I’d see who else was, and I see you’ve done it better than I could.

    Sometimes, I really wish we could do a Survivor-type show where we ship these annoyingly religious freaks off to a little island (okay, so we’d unfortunately need a large island) and see what happens when one group gains ascendency and starts persecuting the others. I think they’d figure out in a hurry what the 1st Amendment was for, and why religon + government = really bad idea.

  • mikespeir

    “I think they’d figure out in a hurry what the 1st Amendment was for, and why religon + government = really bad idea.”

    Yep. I live in Texas. I’ve sometimes tried to imagine what would happen here is the Christians had their unrestrained way with the government. At first they’d all be giving each other high fives for their conquest. Oh sure, atheists, Satanists, and Muslims would be in trouble from the get-go. But who cares about them? After a while Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses would start feeling the heat. Mainline, “backslidden” denominations like the Methodists and Presbyterians would come next. Before long the Seventh Day Adventists would be blacklisted, followed quickly by the United Pentecostals and the Church of Christ. More “orthodox” Pentecostals like the Assemblies of God and Church of God would last longer, but would ultimately succumb before the awesome might of the Brobdingnagian Southern Baptists.

    Then the Calvinistic and Arminian factions of the Southern Baptists would split from one another and fight until one gained the upper hand. I’m not real sure what would happen after that, but you can bet it wouldn’t be pretty.

  • MisterDomino

    I can’t believe no one posted this earlier:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utkBu-mqi-c

    This is the old Warner Bros. cartoon “Old Glory,” with a very cute Porky Pig trying to learn the American Pledge of Allegiance. However, the cartoon was made in 1939, fifteen years before “under God” was inserted into the wording.

    @ terrence:

    See what you can learn if you just keep an open mind?

    I think he’s so open-minded that his brain fell out.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    It made me think, a campaign to remove “under God” from the Pledge should be called the “Restore the Pledge” campaign, because it would put it right out there that the purpose of the campaign is to restore the pledge to what it was BEFORE they added “under God.”

  • HairTonic

    Some religious Americans have a belief that God is overlooking and supporting their country. Some even go as far to call America a Christian country,neglecting the atheist population. This attitude is arrogant and has provoked the ire of people the world over, epsecially when they go and trumpet to other about how God is overlooking them(Manifest Destiny, anyone?). According to the Bible, God, if he exists loves all humans. He dosen’t support any particular nation whatsoever.

  • goyo

    Hair tonic:
    Actually the bible does say that god favors the nation of Israel.
    And most Protestant churches still brag that god will favor those nations who befriend Israel. Hence, our continual support of the country by churches here in the U.S.

  • http://daviddunwoody.com/ Dave Dunwoody

    Very well said. Not so much for the unfortunate Mr. Medved, and I doubt I’ll measure up but: from one Christian to another, I implore you, Michael – read a friggin’ history book that was published in the last ten years, then re-read your Bible

  • Gary Silvia

    Hi all, just ran across this forum, have some thoughts to share.

    First I have stopped referring to Christians, Jews and Muslim as such, to me they are all followers of Abraham (the bible), they are in my opinion, are to be called Abrahamics. They follow the same plan, domination at all cost, their story ends the same, with the utter destruction of the planet and all mankind (end days). Abrahamism is a doomsday cult; theirs is a blood god that demands sacrifice. The main concern of Abrahamics is personal salvation of the immortal soul, not world peace or harmony.

    There are many types of theologies out there, many concerned with more altruistic ideals. What of the theist who is not Abrahamic, the Deist, theocifer, Hindu, Native American Shaman and Buddhist. I would love to see some more Buddhist candidates, not actually theist more complicated than “big daddy”, but main concern is the cessation of all suffering, compassion the highest ideal.

    I have been wondering lately what it means to be an American, is it a matter of geography, or is it an ideal materialized in the constitution, a way to view all humanity, a set of ethics and ideals that when applied to society can foster pluralism and prosperity for all. What if we could stand bravely in defense of the rights of others even if we find their habits offense to our individual sensibilities, to protect the freedom we have by protecting the freedom of humanity to express itself. If we could see the glory and benefit of our diversity, we as a species can accomplish many wondrous things if we can ever embrace or interdependence. Imagine if we could view our diversity as an ever widening net to catch the bounty the universe has to offer.


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