Ellen Johnson on Politics and Religion

Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, speaks about John F. Kennedy, the troubling union of religion and politics, and how atheists should let their issues guide their votes.

At the very end, she makes this remark (read the full transcript here):

… But we need to work very hard to make the politicians aware that a quarter of the United States population are not religious. We are a huge voting bloc. If we non-religious Americans make our issues our primary concern on election day, then we can make our voting power work for us.

Vote your atheism first, and together we can enlighten the vote…

How does one “vote my atheism first”? There are no atheist candidates (even if there were, that shouldn’t be the only reason to vote for them). And while the viable candidates are all religious, the major Democratic nominees do at least respect state/church separation.

Also, should we really vote our atheism first? Surely, the best we can hope for is a president who isn’t in the pockets of the religious right and doesn’t use religion as a justification for policy. That president would also be a science advocate and someone who supports equal rights for all Americans. You don’t have to be an atheist to be on the right side of those issues.

After that, what else can we ask for?

(via The Great Realization)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://nogodsallowed.wordpress.com Chad

    Vote your atheism first, and together we can enlighten the vote

    Yea, I’d have to disagree as well. It’s pretty much the same as the fundies saying they should all vote based on their religion first, regardless of the candidate.

    Of course, as we’re more rapidly turning into a theocracy, maybe this is the best choice…

  • infideljoe

    I don’t care for her very much. She says some stupid things. I think she does more harm then good for the atheist community.

  • http://TheGreatRealization.com magikent

    I think the entire monologue is great up until the last sentence. I agree. Voting our “atheism first” is no different than the fundies voting their religion first.

    I think she’s just calling for atheists to come together as a “voting block” to speak out against the current goings on in this election.

    One votes their atheism by supporting a candidate that supports the separation of church and state and understands that one can be a good citizen and support freedom without being religious. Mitt Romney has already show that he does not support these concepts. Meanwhile Barack Obama has come closer than anyone to supporting these ideas. Please visit my “Presidential Faith Watch” to see examples.

    Thanks for the link.

    -magikent

  • Maria

    Surely, the best we can hope for is a president who isn’t in the pockets of the religious right and doesn’t use religion as a justification for policy. That president would also be a science advocate and someone who supports equal rights for all Americans. You don’t have to be an atheist to be on the right side of those issues.

    I would have to agree with this (that’s why I’m voting for Obama! :)) I think this is what she meant, it just didn’t come out right…..IMHO she meant that we should vote for those who will respect the rights of the non-religious…..you know, someone who is NOT Bush

  • Mriana

    Romney creeps me out with his religious views, but yes, it is very troublesome that every single politician seems to have to make a religious stand for this election. It really bothers me greatly. The Constitution states that politicians should not make a religious stand as a qualification for canidacy (I can’t spell this morning). This whole race troubles me and I’m a liberal non-theist. I really hope Obama makes it because he does not have such an emphisis on religion and he sees all of us as Americans regardless of our religious stance- or lack there of. I don’t think he will base his policies on religion. I would be surprised if he does, but even he has had to make a stand, which is not a good thing.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Vote your atheism first

    Does this mean that atheists should consider church/state separation issues or science funding as the most important issues in selecting a candidate?

    Besides the fact that I don’t believe in single-issue voting (I grew up among conservative evangelicals who chose candidates solely on their opinion about abortion), it seems to me that there are many issues that are just as important as these “atheist” issues, if not far moreso. Do atheist issues trump concerns about the war? Unjust and exploitative trade policies? Environmental issues? Immigration? Trillions of dollars of national debt? The farm bill? Third World debt relief? Our totally fucked up health care system? Should I ignore disagreements on all those issues as long as the candidate will fund stem cell research and keep prayer out of the schools?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think separation issues and science funding are important, but voting them “first”? Sorry, but there are too many other important issues to consider as well.

  • Mriana

    Mike, currently the issue of Separation of Church and State should be one of the issues priority wise.

    Consider this:

    1. If someone like Romney or some other religious reicher gets into office, the potential for a modern day Darkage and inquisition is great. You might not have the right to practice liberal beliefs and be forced to commend and support religious extremism.

    Maybe that is paranoia and maybe it’s not, but I do find such ideas and a strong emphisis on religion frightening.

    2. If a religious reicher gets into office, good people who are non-theists could be persecuted strongly. How would you feel if a good friend of yours, who just happens to be a non-theist, was subjected to a modern day Inquisition?

    You might not believe it could happen, but I know some Christians who are extremists in their views and support religious reich ideology, so much so that they want a religious reicher in office so that their views will be imposed on others. If that happens, we are all in trouble. We MUST keep church and state separate or we will have no freedom, because without freedom FROM religion, we have no freedom OF religion. Think about it.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Did you catch her saying this?

    We can all learn a lesson from [the evangelicals'] organizational skills and commitment to their cause.

    They make this too easy.

  • http://myangrylittleblog.blogspot.com Phillip

    Yeah, they do the same thing to us on LGBT stuff–they tell gay people that gay issues are the only important ones for voting–that we should disregard any candidate that doesn’t have a strong record on LGBT issues.

    As far as I’m concerned, the only real issue is the environment. It’s the only one where bad decisions will devastate humanity for centuries to come.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I don’t get to vote (for some reason being a foreigner bars me from voting) but if I did I’d prefer an atheist candidate. I’d prefer one because I’d want a leader who based decisions on reason and not superstition. I remain uncertain that a candidate with strong religious convictions is capable of this.

  • Samuel Skinner

    I think a better way would be someone who thinks about what they believe and doesn’t believe in nonsense. In other words atheists (I’m not sure where pantheists and deists fix in, although the new agers are probably nuts). Why would you want to vote for someone who A) doesen’t think about their beliefs or B) holds ones tht are false because of political expediecy or the refusal to change their mind? Atheism doesn’t make you a better canidate; it does however show tha you have the capacity to think straight.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    I’ve long been unhappy with Johnson and AA in general. They present themselves as “the” big atheist group in the US, but they are often philosophically clumsy and public access style dull.

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    I agree, the “vote atheism first” seems silly and even impossible. Could I vote for a creationist? In the unlikely event that I agreed with them on all other issues I suppose I could. With all the crap they throw out there is it hard to tell what are their real beliefs and what is pandering to the masses.

  • Siamang

    Watch the spinning atom. Keep your eye on the atom. Watch it spin. Your eyelids are getting heavy…. You are getting sleeeeepy… Sleeeeeepy….. You will vote your atheism first…..

  • Doug Indeap

    I see little reason to object to the slogan “vote atheism first.” It is simply a bumpersticker with no clear meaning. Those who “disagree” with it or “object” to it apparently have infused it with a meaning not to their liking. It could be understood simply to exhort atheists, when voting, to accord some priority to those candidates and issues of particular importance to those who don’t believe in god(s). No harm in that; actually an obvious, natural thing to do.

    Given that the American electorate currently is composed in large measure of those adhering to one religion or another, politicians by and large must realistically reflect some of that aspect of the electorate–otherwise they’ll be ex-politicians. Atheists who want to promote atheism and reduce the sway of religion in American society must, as a practical matter, largely work for that aim outside the political system. Within the political system, about the best atheists can expect is the election of the least worse religionist–one who at least will respect the separation of church and state and refrain from using his or her official position to promote religion.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    I agree partly with Doug. In her defense, she isn’t saying that all other issues are unimportant, just that her particular issue deserves consideration as well.

    On the other hand, she’s being clumsy with words. AA should be familiar enough with the freethinking community to know how people will react. First of all, they should know better than to invite comparisons to evangelicals.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Identity politics of any sort are getting way out of hand. Over and over again the media keeps telling us that women will for Hillary because she’s a woman, or black people will vote for Obama because he’s black, or that evangelicals will vote for Huckabee because he’s an evangelical. This may or may not be true, but the more they say it, the more it starts to become true. They start training us to think that what voters really want is someone who looks and acts just like them, irregardless of where they stand on the issues. Honestly just turn on the cable news channels – how many pundits said that Clinton’s win in NH had anything to do with her stand on the issues versus the fact that she got a little choked up a few days prior (and thus appealed more to women)?

    This whole “vote for an atheist” or “vote for a Christian” is just more of the same sort of “identity politics”. I am a Christian, but I’d rather have an atheist candidate that agrees with me on the issues, than a Christian who doesn’t. And if you are an atheist, I would hope that the same (in reverse) would be true of you too.

  • Carry On

    This is the BIG issue for me. A person of faith is not a rational person, (unless they are very under-motivated and passive about their belief system) and at this point in the upcoming election, every presidential hopeful is a deeply religious person, …or else. Candidates have to go where the votes are and atheists have not proven they are a significant or even a moderately organized group that will vote to wield true political power.

    In future elections, let’s hope there WILL be a strong atheist block of voters to offset the evangelical block. Then we might get candidates who don’t have to pander to a certain set of beliefs in order to get elected. If we’re real lucky we might get candidates who can say “I don’t believe”.

    These elections SHOULD be about the economy, health care, the environment and world relations. But the USA voted for a president in 2004 who was clearly not up to those challenges. And some of us knew that was a terrible mistake for America. Four years is a long time to have to cope.

    Our choices must be better balanced in the future. Without an effort to oppose such a large group of voters who only care about abortion, suppressing gay rights, or getting creationism and prayer into our classrooms, our elections are going to be in the hands of those people who demand strong faith as a prerequisite for leadership.

    Taking back our country from this kind of thinking IS the issue I care about the most. Our leaders should be intellectually superior to the average church goer. That means critical thinking and seeing more than one side of an issue. That means using judgement, logic and reason. Even common sense is a better basis for decision making than dogma, superstition, myth, or wishful thinking. I don’t have a problem if a person wants to have a spiritual side in his or her private personal life. But the person I elect should be more interested in the welfare of our nation, and all it’s citizens, than he or she is in furthering a particular religious (and social) agenda.

    There is no candidate who will represent me in this next election.

  • Siamang

    In current events, Mike Huckabee has declared in a speech that we should amend the Constitution to bring it in line with the “Word of the Living God”.

    And he’s the front runner.

    Huckabee has pushed religion and politics more shamelessly than any mainstream candidate since Pat Robertson. If he isn’t defeated soundly and shamed, the next floating cross candidate we get will only be worse.

    Where the hell is the outrage? There should be outrage. This should do Huckabee in. But it won’t.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Can you provide a link to that statement by Huckabee Siamang? I hadn’t heard about it and I’d like to read up on it.

  • http://TheGreatRealization.com magikent

    I agree. I’ve also never heard that statement by Huckabee. I’d like to see the source.

    And to Mike Clawson, who said:

    Identity politics of any sort are getting way out of hand. Over and over again the media keeps telling us that women will for Hillary because she’s a woman, or black people will vote for Obama because he’s black, or that evangelicals will vote for Huckabee because he’s an evangelical. This may or may not be true, but the more they say it, the more it starts to become true. They start training us to think that what voters really want is someone who looks and acts just like them, irregardless of where they stand on the issues. Honestly just turn on the cable news channels – how many pundits said that Clinton’s win in NH had anything to do with her stand on the issues versus the fact that she got a little choked up a few days prior (and thus appealed more to women)?

    This whole “vote for an atheist” or “vote for a Christian” is just more of the same sort of “identity politics”. I am a Christian, but I’d rather have an atheist candidate that agrees with me on the issues, than a Christian who doesn’t. And if you are an atheist, I would hope that the same (in reverse) would be true of you too.

    You have to understand that the reason people fall for identity politics is because entire belief systems (values that lead them to their stances on the issues) are linked into those identities. For instance – many Americans believe that a non-religious person is incapable of having a strong sense of morality and therefore is unfit to lead the country. So dismissing identity politics as nothing but a simple label is a huge mistake. There are prejudices and judgements linked to those labels and THOSE are what drive voters to identify with the label of black, Christian, woman, etc. For instance, many voters won’t vote for Hillary because “she’s a woman.” But it’s not because she’s a woman – it’s really because of a set of ideas or qualities that they link to women.

  • Siamang

    “I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

    http://rawstory.com/news/2007/Huckabee_Amend_Constitution_to_meet_Gods_0115.html

    It was on MSNBC this morning.

    And farther and farther to the extremes the political electorate goes.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I view purely “Atheist issues” as any issues involving the “here and now”.

    Purely “Religious issues” involve the afterlife.

    According to religion, the afterlife is infinitely longer than the “here and now”.

    Atheists want to have a nice life in the here and now because they believe that is all there is. I will support any candidate that will best support the here and now.

    I wish religious people would simply focus on the infinite afterlife and leave politics for debating “atheist issues” for making the infinitely short here and now the best it can be.

  • Nick

    I think you guys are taking it too literal. I figured she just meant just what Hemant described.

  • xarexerax

    “Vote your atheism first” vs. “Is that what’s most important?”

    Who said it has to be the most important issue? It’s my belief that you shouldn’t vote for a candidate you don’t believe in. If they must be an atheist for you to agree with them, then simply don’t vote for a candidate that’s not, even if that means not voting.

    Oops, now I’m unpatriotic. How’d that happen? In any event, I’d say that if you’re a “devout atheist” (is that a contradiction?), then it’s simply one of the matters that should factor in when you’re looking at candidates, and thinking about whom you’d vote for. Obviously, you’re going to take issue with the religious fundamentalists, but their faith isn’t a reason to discount them entirely – it’s what they do with their faith, and what they allow it to affect.

    Ideally, religion and politics would be separate from one another, however, insofar as politics is full of people, and people bring their own views to everything that they do, that’s simply a pipe dream. Even an “atheist government” which made moves to separate the church from the state, to remove religion from schools, political debates, and everything else to do with the arena is pushing a platform based on their faith, which is going to run afoul of any of a number of groups.

    Selecting a candidate simply because they’re an atheist is similar to the ideas that “all African-Americans must vote for Obama” or “all women must vote for Hilary”. It’s ludicrous. Look at the issues, ask yourself if you’re willing to give on certain things, and vote with your *heart* first.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Siamang posted:
    http://rawstory.com/news/2007/Huckabee_Amend_Constitution_to_meet_Gods_0115.html

    I’m afraid that Huckabee’s comments in that video are not worthy of my vote. For now I’m backing Obama…

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 Ben

    Hemant said:

    There are no atheist candidates (even if there were, that shouldn’t be the only reason to vote for them).

    Mike Gravel lists ‘Unitarian’ for his religion. Close enough? ;)

    Mike Clawson said:

    And if you are an atheist, I would hope that the same (in reverse) would be true of you too.

    Yup. Heck, I’ll even consider voting for someone who believes in UFOs if their positions on actual policy were good.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Heck, I’ll even consider voting for someone who believes in UFOs if their positions on actual policy were good.

    And as it happens, the candidate who believes in UFO’s actually does have some of the best positions out there IMHO. :)

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 Ben

    And as it happens, the candidate who believes in UFO’s actually does have some of the best positions out there IMHO.

    Seconded. I haven’t decided whether I’ll hold my nose and vote for Obama or happily vote for Kucinich or Gravel in the February 5 primary.

    http://www.politicalcompass.org/usprimaries2008 shows how bad the choices really are.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Which one is the UFO candidate?

    Johnson doesn’t understand what an atheist is if she thinks we can “vote atheism.” There aren’t any purely “atheist” political positions that only atheists can care about (SOCAS isn’t only an atheist concern), and atheists almost by nature have no particular reason to agree on anything.

  • Karen

    Which one is the UFO candidate?

    Kucinich

  • Pingback: Friendly Atheist » Should Atheists Vote in the Upcoming Election?

  • AD

    Dear Ellen, You certainly have the right to choose your own beliefs. I watched you on t.v. for the first time and I saw that without the Spirit of the Lord, you are dead inside. Everything that you spoke about was dead.
    Who cares what the Pope says, most Catholics do not under salvation either.
    When you are on your death bed, who will you want there? Right now, you are truly an abomination to your Creator. Even science itself has disproved every false religion and points to the truth that life could not have been formed except by life, by the One who is Life Himself, Jesus. I am not condemning you, those that deny the Lord are already condemned. I want you to know true joy in the Lord, and I am putting you and your whole organization on my prayer list. I used to think the way you did, and yet in my own spirit which the Lord has given to every person, I knew I was missing out on something so huge and so wonderful. You have a willingness to read a book on evil, I shall pray for you to see a vision of hell. Even those in hell know Jesus is the Lord, but it is too late for them. You said there was nothing in the Bible that made sense to you. The Bible says that you are a fool, even though you do not have the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible, it is all truth. The Bible also says that people choose to be deceived, you are one of the most blatant examples of someone that has chosen to deceive themselves. I pray you lose all influence and power over anyone that would listen to your foolishness. I pray you will never want to lead someone into
    eternal damnation because of your lack of wisdom and discernment of anything spiritual for you will have a far worse place in hell.

    AD


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