There Are Now As Many Nonreligious Americans As Evangelicals: 6 Ways Politicians Can Court Their Vote

This article was originally published on AlterNet.

In the aftermath of President Obama’s electoral romp over Mitt Romney, the media and pundits have paid much attention to the demographics that propelled him to victory, especially women, Hispanics and young voters. But there’s one more group which played an underappreciated yet crucial role in his reelection, and which only now is starting to get the recognition it deserves.

A growing segment of American society – up to 20%, according to recent surveys, and higher than that in younger generations – is what pollsters call the “nones,” people who answer “None of the above” to questions about religious affiliation. This includes declared atheists and agnostics, as well as people who choose not to identify with any organized religion. In many swing states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia, President Obama lost both Protestants and Catholics by relatively small margins, but won non-religious voters by huge margins, enough to put him over the top. In the country at large, there are now as many nonreligious people as there are evangelical Christians.

Swinging the election of a president was a dramatic demonstration of nonreligious voters’ electoral clout, but the political loyalties of this group can’t be taken for granted. For example, despite his dependency on unaffiliated voters, President Obama has broken a campaign promise by continuing to fund and promote George W. Bush’s “faith-based initiative,” which funnels federal money to religious charities that discriminate in hiring. In effect, nonbelieving taxpayers are being forced to subsidize jobs they could never be hired for.

In this cycle, the specter of a Romney presidency indebted to the religious right persuaded nonreligious voters to choose the lesser of two evils. But there’s no guarantee that this will happen in every future election. If Democrats continue to antagonize atheists and other nones, we may just stay home, and that’s a prospect that they shouldn’t take lightly. As the Republicans become increasingly ideologically purified, Democratic candidates will need, more than ever before, for their base to turn out in big numbers, and that includes the nonreligious. Anything that turns us off, that dampens our enthusiasm or discourages us from showing up, could mean the difference in a close race.

So, how do politicians motivate the nonreligious vote? How do they appeal to us and get us to come out and support them? Here are a few suggestions:

Be one yourself. Until the last election cycle, there was just one out-of-the-closet atheist in the entire U.S. Congress, California representative Pete Stark. But following the 2010 redistricting, Stark was forced into a runoff race against a fellow Democrat and lost. There was some initial excitement over reports that the new Arizona congresswoman-elect Kyrsten Sinema was an atheist, but her campaign later disavowed that label, saying merely that “she does not consider herself to be a member of any faith community” (although by definition this still makes her a “none”).

Of course, nonreligious Americans won’t automatically vote for a nonreligious politician. Even if we have a (lack of) belief in common, we may still disagree on any number of other important issues. But at the very least, it’s a good indicator that that politician has had the experience of being an outsider in a Christian-dominated political community, just as many of us have, and has an incentive to cast votes for a more enlightened and tolerant politics on that basis.

Even if you’re religious, don’t gratuitously bash or exclude those who aren’t. For the most part, the nonreligious are politically realistic. We know that in a society as religious as the United States, some amount of pandering is an electoral necessity. But just because you speak to churches doesn’t mean you can’t also speak to the unchurched. We like when politicians reach out to us!

In March 2012, for example, the Reason Rally brought together tens of thousands of American nonbelievers on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. One of the speakers at that event was Iowa senator Tom Harkin, and despite some grumbling over his support of non-evidence-based medicine, we recognized that it took political courage for him to address us. The next time he’s in a tight race, it’s very possible that a few Iowa nonbelievers will remember that, and will be willing to do just a little bit more to support him.

Of course, there are also politicians who serve as examples of what not to do. When student activist Jessica Ahlquist waged a brave but lonely battle against an illegal prayer banner in her Rhode Island public high school, her Democratic state representative, Peter Palumbo, denounced her as an “evil little thing,” an outrageous and completely gratuitous insult. It’s safe to say that by scorning an important demographic of Democrats, Palumbo has effectively sunk any chance of ever being nominated for a higher office.

Prove your intellectual independence. Nothing makes non-religious voters more nervous than a candidate who gives the impression that his political platform comes straight from the proclamations of his church, with no critical consideration or judgment in between. We’ll be greatly reassured if you can prove that you have a mind of your own. President John F. Kennedy, although he was a Roman Catholic, gave the template for how to do this in a stirring speech that’s still considered one of the finest examples of pro-secular rhetoric in American history:

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

(This is the speech of which Rick Santorum said, “It makes me throw up” – another strong point in its favor.)

In 2012, Joe Biden gave a similarly strong answer during the vice-presidential debate. When he was asked about abortion, he made it clear that, regardless of his beliefs, it’s wrong to legally impose one’s private religious convictions on others:

I accept my church’s position on abortion as what we call a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others… I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.

Stand up for separation of church and state. “Secularism” is often treated as if it were a dirty word, and we want to reclaim it and give it the robust defense it deserves. What we long for, perhaps more than anything else, is a candidate who can articulate why separation of church and state is a good thing and an essential American value.

We want to hear you say that church-state separation is clearly set forth in the First Amendment, and that it’s spared us from religious wars and persecutions like those that ravaged Europe for centuries. We want to hear you say that America is, and was always envisioned as, a culturally and intellectually diverse melting pot whose people could all live together in peace, and that Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation helps guarantee that for everyone. It’s good for religious minorities, so that their right of free exercise won’t be trampled, and it’s good for religious majorities, so that they’re not tempted to sell out their principles for political power or expediency. Secularism is and always has been part of America’s DNA, and we’ll respond positively to leaders who aren’t afraid to say so.

Stand up for marriage equality and reproductive choice. As I’ve written in the past, the nonreligious are strongly progressive on social issues. We consider it self-evident that same-sex couples should have the same rights and freedoms, including the right to marry, as opposite-sex couples, and we believe that those who oppose LGBT equality will soon be viewed with the same universal scorn and revulsion with which we now view those who opposed interracial marriage.

And as surveys consistently show, nonbelievers are overwhelmingly pro-choice. Since we lack the judgmental, dogmatic certainty of religious fundamentalists, we tend to see abortion as a more private and personal issue, and we take a dim view of laws that deny women autonomy over their own bodies. Politicians who condescend to women or speak in belligerent terms about outlawing abortion, as so many Republicans did in 2012, are apt to make nonbelievers respond with distaste.

Stand up for science. Obviously, the nonreligious have no use for religious dogmas being passed off as science. We want candidates who take a firm line against creationism or abstinence-only sex ed, who affirm that these are religious ideas which can be taught at home or in church, but which have no place in our secular public schools.

But it doesn’t end with opposing religiously motivated pseudoscience: we also want to see good science promoted and supported. We want candidates who’ll support generous funding for fundamental scientific research, and not just those branches of science that have military applications. We want to see candidates who accept, and are willing to act on, the overwhelming scientific consensus about the reality of human-caused climate change (as compared to the conservatives who deny it for explicitly religious reasons). We want investment in alternative energy, in next-generation infrastructure and mass transit, and in making higher education as widely available and affordable as possible. Since it’s a well-known fact that greater education correlates with less religious extremism, this is not only good policy, it’s good politics, and it benefits both progressive Americans and America as a whole.

Image credit: Ludovic Bertron

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.

  • Andrew T.

    Nicely said, Adam.

  • c2t2

    Bravo! Also, stem cells!

  • Pjs8200

    Thank God for this……..living in the bible belt you have a tendency to think people that think like this don’t exist

  • InvolvedAmerican

    Excellent. Acceptance of an individual’s right to be and think differently is paramount to our country moving forward based on new knowledge and understanding; move forward peacefully. More “nones” and atheists in political office I believe could help accomplish this goal. A greater focus on human diversity, environment, and education would do a world of good.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Haven’t they already been doing those six things for the past 40 years, thus *creating* the non-believing community?

  • Frank Key

    I’m simply pleased we have the numbers to cancel out the Evangelical influence and others are starting to notice.

  • Azkyroth

    Who are “they?”

    And are they statistically significant?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    They is the a large portion of the grade, middle, high school and college academic teaching community.

    And given the dictatorship of moral relativism and the large number of Democratic sheep voting against their best interests, I would say yes, “They” are statistically significant.

  • Azkyroth

    What do either of those groups have to do with “creating the non-believing community?”

    You seem…shall we say…confused.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    The number one way people become non-believers is through education- especially when they come from families that are not already non-believers.

    Families that are already non-believers, embrace such things as homosexuality and choice, which means that demographically, they fall below the Zero Population Growth line of 2.1 children per family.

    Therefore, the only way this population can grow, is through educating the next generation to be more secular.

    There has been a movement in academic circles ever since the Scopes Monkey Trial to make education more secular; it appears to be working. The fact that many of those schools are government funded, shows that this demographic is coming along perfectly to plan. After all, when human beings do not have loyalty to religion, they are easily molded to accept whatever the politicians tell them.

  • UWIR

    “And given the dictatorship of moral relativism”

    It’s the religious people who who trying to tell other people what to do, and apparently when you say “moral relativism”, you mean “any system of morality other than mine.

    “The number one way people become non-believers is through education”

    And conversely, the number one way people stay religious is through ignorance.

    “Therefore, the only way this population can grow, is through educating the next generation to be more secular.”

    You seem to be confused between the difference between “secular” and “nonreligious”.

    ” After all, when human beings do not have loyalty to religion, they are easily molded to accept whatever the politicians tell them.”

    People are nonreligious because they refuse to accept whatever people in authority tell them.

  • UWIR

    Also in the gratuitous insult category: Obama said that we can do what we do because we are “one nation under God”.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    By moral relativism, I mean any system of morality based on subjective thinking and ignoring data.

  • DavidMHart

    “There has been a movement in academic circles ever since the Scopes
    Monkey Trial to make education more secular; it appears to be working.”

    Well, education should be secular (i.e. neutral with regards to religion), unless and until one of the world’s myriad religions can come up with good evidence that its supernatural schema is actually true. Until then, the only fair thing to do, that doesn’t arbitrarily privilege one particular religion, is to leave religion out of the classroom, except when it is in the form of education about the various religions, rather than indoctrination into one particualr religion.

    “After all, when human beings do not have loyalty to religion, they are
    easily molded to accept whatever the politicians tell them.”

    You’re actually going to run with this bizarre conspiracy theory? Firstly, you don’t actually have any good evidence that humans without religion are more easily molded to accept whatever politicians tell them. Most of the world’s more autocratic regimes are deeply religious.

    And if politicians really wanted a population that was pliant and non-religious for some reason, surely it would be far easier to indoctrinate them in to some rival non-supernatural ideology, like North Korea’s Juche for instance, than to train them to be critical thinkers and skeptical of authority, which is what most actual atheist activists want.

    Atheism isn’t an end in itself – it’s simply that, given the lack of good evidence that gods exist, we are confident that given a truly level intellectual playing field, most people if given enough education and critical thinking skills will reach the conclusion that there are probably no gods simply as a side effect of becoming more discerning of reality. It’s the wanting people to become as discerning of reality as possible that really matters … and that will also tend to lead to people wanting to engineer social systems in which each individual person is as in control of their own destiny as possible, not one where absolutist religious authority has been replaced by absolutist secular authority.

    Or are you so deeply authoritarian that you cannot even conceive of a society that divests itself of a supernatural dictatorship without instituting some other sort of dictatorship in its place? In which case, you should try visiting the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the UK, Japan and a few other places that seem to have managed just that.

    Edit: Also

    “Families that are already non-believers, embrace such things as homosexuality and choice”

    Are you saying that families that are non-religious are more likely to produce gay children? Citation extremely needed. Or are you just saying that non-religious families are less likely to be bigoted against gay people? In which case, how on earth is that a bad thing?

    And ‘choice’? I presume you mean things like family planning. In which case, in your ideal society, how many children should each person be legally compelled to have? And why should the ones who don’t want (that many) children listen to you particularly?

  • smrnda

    What data exists? All value judgments are, to an extent, subjective. Even with a monotheistic God, you’re still just dealing with the subjective preferences of a powerful being. “God says” isn’t really much more meaningful than saying “Ghengis Khan says.”

  • smrnda

    And all the religious people, parroting church dogma, are free, independent thinkers?

  • smrnda

    Education tends to make people less religious, because knowledge tends to make the claims of religion appear ridiculous, and the more you learn about world religions, the more utterly made-up and plagiarized all of them look. Nothing convinced me Islam was not just false but ludicrously false as a course I took at a secular university on the history of Islam, taught by a Muslim professor.

    On voting against one’s interest, as a person with a disability, I don’t vote for Democrats, but the Republicans would want me either 1. to die in the streets or 2. to become a ward of some religious gulag where I’d be used as cheap labor and denied any sort of freedom in exchange for substandard food and housing.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    They’re freer than those who parrot the dogma of the latest fad and claim that anybody against that dogma is intolerant, bigoted, and on the wrong side of history.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    2000 years of experience in trying to build a better civilization, but hey, that data is just ritually impure because it comes from a religious source, right?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I didn’t say the movement was wrong. I just said it *exists*.

  • DavidMHart

    “I didn’t say the movement was wrong”

    No, but it sounded like you strongly implied it. Sorry if I misunderstood you. Can you confirm that you are in fact in favour of secular education whereby religion is kept out of the classroom except in the comparative study of religions?

    “2000 years of experience in trying to build a better civilization, but
    hey, that data is just ritually impure because it comes from a religious
    source, right?”

    Well, the ‘data’ for Catholicism at least, are: the suppression of minority religions, the systematic imprisonment, torture and even murder of people declared to be heretics, the systematic suppression of science that contradicted the church’s myths, the church’s official approval of the conquest of South and Central America and the famously cruel cultural genocide and, often, actual genocide of many of the peoples that lived there, a little short of 2000 years of blood libel against Jews, inspiring pogroms galore, which we can fairly count as historical, (though that cannot be said of the church’s recent-to-contemporary efforts to prevent the bringing of paedophile priests to justice, its official stance that gay people should be treated as second-class citizens, its opposition to women’s equality and in particular its insistence that a woman must be forced to carry a foetus to term even in cases where it would threaten the woman’s life to do so, and its utterly bizarre and deranged insistence that using contraceptives is somehow unethical, even in situations where condoms are by far the most likely-to-be-effective measure against AIDS) … and note that many of these cruelties have only stopped because the Church can no longer get away with them and has thus been forced to moderate its position in response to secular efforts to improve life for people in the here-and-now … if these are ‘attempts to build a better civilisation’, they are extremely misguided attempts. And they are misguided precisely because they prioritise the presumed wishes of an almost-certainly-imaginary supernatural being over the wellbeing of real, live actual sentient humans.

    So no, the data are not ‘ritually impure’ because they come from a religious source, the data are strongly indicative that the hypothesis that taking your instructions from a religious source does not reliably cause people to treat each other well. If a religion was able to come up with strong evidence that believing its supernatural claims actually made people behave better than all the other alternatives, then there would be a good argument to be made that maybe we shouldn’t be too concerned about the truth of those claims (though if you were to make that argument, you would need to also show good reasons to believe that there would be no significant risks of those beliefs becomingmaladaptive in response to new information or changed circumstances) … but Catholicism is very unlikely to be that religion. It just has too much blood on its hands to be able to assert that on present evidence.

    No. The data you need on what constitutes a good society to live in are data on human wellbeing. This can be difficult to quantify and gather, sure, but we can start with the rather obvious observation that the less people are murdering each other over religious differences, the less people are in abject poverty (exacerbated by lack of family planning), the less we are kept ignorant of the nature of reality, the less we are beholden to arbitrary priestly authority (or indeed arbitrary non-priestly authority), the less we are compelled to deny ourselves and each other happiness in this world in the hope of finding happiness in a future life that probably doesn’t exist, then the better we are likely to be as a society.

  • David Simon

    Ah, you’re talking about the real-world data that drives all sensible ethical decisions. I can totally get behind that.

    For example, we have the data about world population growth that indicates that replacement rates are the least of our worries.

    Or the data comparing gay and straight people which reveals that there’s really not much difference in terms of ability to care for children.

    Or the data showing that the very notion of an immortal soul is so ridiculously implausible that any decisions made on the basis of what happens to it after death are about as helpful as decisions about how to avoid letting any black cats cross your path.

  • phantomreader42

    And here teddy admits that he just doesn’t know what words mean. He’s got nothing to offer but delusional fantasies and raving nonsensical drivel.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    And you’ve never called anybody a homophobe, I assume?

  • Azkyroth

    The problem with religious “morality” IS the data. The results are fucking horrible most of the time, and when they aren’t, it’s demonstrably when people’s reason and compassion bleed through the dogma.

  • Azkyroth

    What was that about not being in favor of discrimination a thread or two ago?

  • smrnda

    I don’t see a solid 2000 years of success. I don’t see much to be enthusiastic about until the Enlightenment either, which was not a religious movement.

  • smrnda

    Nice straw-man caricature of people who have thought through issues (like the morality of same-sex relationships) and realized that there’s no utilitarian case against it. Ever occur to you that most of us have thought about these issues for a very long time, and that we’ve already heard all the arguments against, and found the all to be worthless?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Was Edison inventing the commerical light bulb a solid success? No, it was several hundred failures and one success.

    The Enlightenment was a bigger failure than all the rest.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    That’s funny- an atheist complaining about plagiarism, when there is nothing in atheist philosophy that isn’t plagiarism.

    I don’t vote for Republicans for the same reason as you. The funny thing is, I also don’t vote for Democrats for the same reason as you.

  • DavidMHart

    If atheists were plagiarising from other atheists, that still wouldn’t mean that they were incorrect to assert that there is currently no good evidence that any gods exist. But do go ahead and explain what you mean. Most atheist literature that I’m aware of tends to cite its sources, but if you’ve got a list of who Robert Ingersol stole from, who Bertrand Russell stole from, who Sam Harris and the other ‘horsemen’ stole from, etc, without acknowledging their sources, then do give us some examples.

    The problem about religions is that religions tend to plagiarise from other religions – Judaism plagiarised from Zoroastrianism and Babylonian religion, Christianity plagiarised from Judaism and Hellenistic saviour-god cults (and some gospel writers plagiarised from earlier gospels), Islam plagiarised from Christianity, Judaism and pre-monotheistic Arabian mythology, Mormonism plagiarised from earlier forms of Christianity etc … suggesting that they were not actually the result of divine revelations but, essentially, fan-fiction by people who wanted to set up their own religion.

  • DavidMHart

    What exactly was the Enlightenment a failure at? As far as I can tell, it was successful at bringing a greater measure of religious and political tolerance to Europe than had been there before, and it was successful at kickstarting the scientific method, which has since come to be recognised as the most obviously reliable way of finding out new information about reality.

    Sure, it didn’t usher in a new era of total political freedom, an end to international conflict, or of total scientific literacy, but it was a step in the right direction. I’m starting to get the impression that you have a very black-and-white view of the world, which would allow you to conclude that everything that isn’t a total success must therefore be classed as a total failure. But please be aware that for most people, partial success is still a form of success, and if you are trying to argue that the Enlightenment wasn’t partially successful at those worthwhile goals, then let’s hear your argument.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I’m saying that atheists plagiarise from other religions *directly*. Especially the “Good without God” movement that fails to attribute their ethics to the very religions that they are rejecting. Ethics such as murder being wrong, or feeding the homeless, are directly stolen from Christianity.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    The scientific method existed before the Enlightenment. It wasn’t even about science. It was about the freedom to do evil.

  • smrnda

    Are you honestly telling me you think life was better BEFORE the Enlightenment? I don’t think we even had civilization until perhaps the 1970s.

  • smrnda

    If I use the Pythagorean theorem, I am using it, not plagiarizing. There’s no reason not to re-use good ideas and arguments.

    The difference between atheist plagiarism is that nobody is intent on stating that they have anything unique or special to say – atheists don’t believe in special revelation, so an atheist idea, like a mathematical theorem, is something you figure out with reason. Religions tend to promote the idea that they are unique, special revelations from gods. If they are making that claim, then signs of plagiarism are different.

    In other words, 2 people coming up with the same mathematical result isn’t necessarily plagiarism, but 2 people with the same poem… much different.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    We haven’t had any civilization since the 1960s. We’ve had a barbarian intrusion into civilization.

  • Demonhype

    I hadn’t thought about it that way before but…yes, that is very satisfying!

  • Demonhype

    No, they are not. You do realize the Code of Hammurabi predates those religious ideas for example? You do realize we see many, if not most, of those characteristics we label “moral” in other species that have no religious faith at all? You do realize that all those “nice” parts of religion, the parts that are humanist, are simply based on human empathy, which is shared by all people? You can’t make public property belong to you just because you take one of your turds and write your name on it, and you can’t make common human altruism the property of your faith just by declaring it to be “divine mandate”. Just because religion jumped in early and, in its usual disingenuous way, took credit for something it had no part in creating, does not mean it really created it. You may as well be claiming creator credit for some public domain song like “twinkle twinkle little star” or something–it would be about as credible.

    In my case, I learned a lot of my ethics, actually, by noticing how the religious around me behaved and what my religion promoted as important and moral, and doing the damned opposite because I could see, objectively, that it was absolutely not moral! So sure, maybe I got my morals from the examples of religion–if you consider religion a good example of what NOT to do!

    Like when they made the usual “Only religious people can be good, because there is no way to be good unless you believe in divine rewards and punishments for your actions” I rejected that idea right away–and I was only six! I realized even as a believer that when I did something good for someone or avoided doing something wrong, it wasn’t because “God told me to or not to” or I’d get to go to heaven or might go to hell–it was because I saw another human being who was no different than me, who could feel the same pain and despair that I knew, and that I didn’t want anyone else to feel those things, and that I did want them to be happy and healthy. And not a single bit of that came from my religion. Also, i realized that that was not an argument for morality but for obedience–that if you’re just doing something because God said, and because God is bigger than you, you are simply obeying a tyrant. They weren’t making any case for anything being moral, but making a case for memorizing by rote what religion was declaring to be moral (much of it objectively immoral, BTW*) and acting accordingly because a larger person ordered you to, without any understanding of why any of it was moral. And I knew without a doubt that that was immoral. Again, I was under ten years old–what is the excuse for most full-grown religious people?

    Or when they insisted to us that religious people were being “persecuted” by not being allowed to commandeer the law to enforce their own religious beliefs on other people, because the “morality” of their religion mandated that the faithful use any means necessary to convert the unfaithful, so preventing the faithful from using the force of law to wipe out atheism and alternative faiths was, in fact, teh persecution! Again, I’m only six, and I’m aghast as I realize they are seriously, without a flicker of embarrassment, saying that to be prevented from persecuting others is a form of persecution! That to be told to play nice with the other children in the sandbox is, in fact, oppression!

    That’s also how I learned that when it comes to morality, religious people are often hypocrites. They wanted us kids to play nice and not peg other kids with stones on the playground, but there were apparently some exceptions to the rule–as in, whenever it was convenient to them to not play nice and to peg all the other religions (or races, or classes, etc) with stones, it became not only not immoral but a moral imperative. Kind of like “thou shalt not kill–now go kill all of those people over there, because morality doesn’t count when it’s in the way of something you really want, like someone else’s resources.”

    *If atheists are just stealing morality from religious claims, then how come the morality of atheists is so very different from the morality of believers? How come there is such a divergence between what atheists are claiming is moral and what believers are claiming is moral? Probably because the claim that religion created morality is complete bunkum, but it’s bunkum that some people are sadly deeply invested in.

  • Demonhype

    O. M. F. G. You can’t be serious. First of all, teachers in most schools are freaking terrified to actually teach any inconvenient facts that might contradict the claims of religious fanatics. Our education has been suffering as a result, and we are coming in near last in lists of first world countries when it comes to education at this point–all because of the religious doing their best to freeze real education and to insert their own dogmas in its place.

    Also, you are seriously saying that there are only two choices–either be indoctrinated to your priest or minister’s will, or be indoctrinated to a politician’s will? And that being a religious fundamentalist fanatic, indoctrinated to believe whatever dogma, is superior to political indoctrination? You seriously believe it is better to Absolutely Obey an invisible cosmic tyrant with far less accountability than the worst worldly politician and/or tyrant could ever aspire to? And that somehow we haven’t merged politics and religion so much that there is no meaningful divergence between the two anymore? You seriously believe that to be indoctrinated by a politician is mutually exclusive from being indoctrinated by a religious faction?

    That’s a whole lot of detachment from reality there. How do you even begin to argue with that?

  • Demonhype

    So you don’t mean secularism, then. Because secularism rejects the subjective thinking and ignorance of data that is fundamental to religious belief. (And yes, there are religious people who are secular, but they manage to base their real-world actions on reality and not on any intangible fantasies they might be partial to, so secularism is not tantamount to atheism.)

  • Demonhype

    Because it didn’t build a better civilization. There’s a reason the first thousand years of Christian dominance in the West are called “the Dark Ages”–the Greeks and Romans weren’t perfect angels, but they at least had some serious interest in creating a better world. Christianity tanked all the advances that the Romans and Greeks had ever accomplished and set the clock backward. Christianity was only interested in dominating everyone and crushing human freedom and intelligence under its boot. The Renaissance was when they tried again to build a better civilization, and that was built by questioning, revising, and in many cases rejecting many if not most of the claims of Christianity and religion in general.

    No, it’s not ritually impure because it came from a religious source. It’s simply been proven both objectively wrong and highly immoral throughout history. It has been shown to actually make things worse and to damage any chances of making things better. It has been shown to be an emotional and psychological bludgeon by which the powerful can force the powerless to do their bidding and, in many cases, physically enact their will on the bodies and lives of other people.

    It’s like Euthyphro’s dilemma–is a thing good because God said it is, or is it good based on its own merits? If it’s good on it’s own merits, we can take it on its own merits. If it’s only good because God said so, then you have defined “good” as “whatever God says”. So yes, if something is “good” entirely because religion or “God” declares it to be so, it can absolutely be just thrown out on the spot. If you can’t make an objective, non-”God sed so” basis for something being a moral good, then there is no need to keep it–and in many cases, rejecting it is a moral good in itself, as most concepts that are entirely based on “God sed so” tend to be morally repugnant, unconscionable, and are propped up entirely by religious prejudice and nothing more.. If an idea can be shown to be good on its own merits, we can just accept that one idea on its’ objective real-world merits. And just because you respect one idea from a religion as being objectively good does NOT mean that you have to swallow the whole hook, line and sinker as being “good” too, which is what the religious would have us do.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    ” Code of Hammurabi predates those religious ideas for example”

    Hammurabi? The same one who wrote “Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, to bring about the rule in the land.” in the preface to the code, was supposedly now an atheist?

    Ok, I’m done. I’m not going to respond to YOU anymore.

  • DavidMHart

    That’s absurd. Ethics like those get co-opted by religions all the time – and because religions tend to have had a near-monopoly on writing in the early stages of human history, we quite often find that the earliest written expressions of them are in religious texts. But that is a very different thing from saying that religions invented them. There is literally nothing at all about the proposition that it is unethical to kill other people that you would need to believe in a god to see the truth of. All we need is the ability to understand that other people have the same sort of range of cognitive experiences as ourselves, and the empathy to see that what we wouldn’t want done to us, we shouldn’t do to others. It also helps to have the faculty of reason to help us expand our empathy beyond the small circle of family and tribe that humans tend to prioritise if the scope of their knowledge is sufficiently small – but you don’t need to believe in anything supernatural to have those things.

    So, sure, in that sense atheists ‘plagiarise’ humanist ethics that people have already worked out – but they have been worked out because they are available to anyone willing to think about them – and atheists generally say “this ethical precept seems legit”, not “we atheists have invented this ethical precept”.

    This is a very unusual sense of ‘plagiarism’ that you’re using – it normally means taking someone else’s text, or other idea, and claiming that you personally came up with it, rather than pointing to an original idea and saying “this is a good idea, and you don’t need to believe in any gods to understand why it’s a good idea”.

    And one thing’s for sure, most of the ethics you are talking about were not uniquely invented/co-opted by Christianity; they were incorporated into plenty of religions that both pre-dated and post-dated Christianity, so there’s no reason to give your chosen flavour of god the credit.

    And note that what atheists tend to do is accept the ethical precepts that religions have co-opted that are actually likely to increase human wellbeing, while rejecting the harmful ones that can only be justified by reference to holy texts. If you genuinely need a god to tell you that murder is ethically problematic, you are not a moral person: you are a psychopath on a leash. However, when it comes to the proposition that a married couple should never be allowed to divorce, no matter the circumstances, or that heretics should be tortured, or that gay people should be treated as less-than-equal citizens, or that women should have to be obedient to men, or that having sex outside marriage should be criminalized, or that condom use is unethical, then you do need some sort of dogmatic ideology that is insufficiently grounded in reality in order to justify that – and these are all ‘ethical’ precepts that reliably cause harm to real human beings, in an effort to please an almost-certainly-imaginary supernatural being.

  • DavidMHart

    We haven’t had any civilization since the 1960s. We’ve had a barbarian intrusion into civilization.

    Have you read Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels Of Our Nature? It presents a compelling case that interpersonal violence has been, on average, in decline over the course of centuries (with some obvious temporary reversals), and that we in the industrialised West are living an about the most peaceful, safest time to be alive in human history. We’ve seen several ‘rights revolutions’, so that once-discriminated-against segments of society, such as women, children, racial minorities and sexual minorities either have achieved equal rights in legal terms, or are well on the way to it. We are also in a modern scientific and medical golden age, where we know so much more about the universe and how to fix ourselves than our ancestors even a generation ago.

    If you think we’d be better off in a period of relative scientific ignorance, greater racism, greater sexism, furious homophobia, widespread legal violence against kids in schools and at home, greater risk of interpersonal violence, greater risk of death from disease and injury etc, you’re welcome to make the case for it, but I really don’t understand why you would consider the last 5 decades a ‘barbarian intrusion’.

    The scientific method existed before the Enlightenment. It wasn’t even about science. It was about the freedom to do evil.

    Okay, the scientific method may have been gearing up for a long time beforehand, but it was with the Enlightenment that it really got going, became institutionalised in many societies. But as for the ‘freedom to do evil’ thing … I’m afraid (as has happened in the past in discussions with you) I simply have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you perhaps using an extremely idiosyncratic and counterintuitive definition of ‘evil’? If you mean ‘the freedom to do things that the church disapproves of’, that’s a very different matter from the freedom to do evil as most people would understand the word ‘evil’ – i.e. (roughly) actions done with the conscious intention to cause harm to others.

  • David Simon

    Hold on, party foul. You’re not reading Demonhype accurately or charitably.

    The phrase Demonhype used was “those religious ideas”, referring specifically to Christianity and its specific religious ideas (i.e. monotheism, sin, redemption through the suffering of another, etc.). This was in response to your explicit claim that atheists steal the idea of murder being wrong “directly from Christianity”.

  • smrnda

    You should read Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature” which lays out actual proof that things have gotten better. Though I’m sure you’d be fine with more violence, more poverty, more disease and shorter life expectancies just as long as people spouted the right religious slogans.

    Could you tell me what you consider to be markers of ‘civilization?’

    Oops. Realized DavidMHart already recommended that book.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X