Governor Mark Sanford’s Apology Excludes Atheists

This post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the Secular Coalition for America.  He also blogs at Rant & Reason

I just heard that Governor Mark Sanford was not hiking, but had in fact sneaked off to visit a woman in Argentina.  Also at issue is that he seems to have lied to his staff and his family about his whereabouts.  In a press conference today, he opened up about the whole thing.  I really wanted to feel sorry for him…  But he managed to offend me anyway.  I can’t find a full transcript yet, but the video on MSNBC starts when he’s saying:

“I guess where I’m going with this is that there are moral absolutes, and that God’s law indeed is there to protect you from yourself.  And there are consequences if you breach that.  This press conference is a consequence.”

You broke a vow you made to your wife and your actions have hurt her.  That’s not contrary to God’s law, it’s contrary to human decency.

According to Steve Benen at Washington Monthly,

The governor proceeded to apologize, in order, to:

* his wife

* his four boys

* his staff

* his constituents

* his friends

* his in-laws

* people of faith in South Carolina and nationwide

Why a special apology to people of faith? Why do they deserve an apology but the rest of us don’t?

I’m not offended that he didn’t apologize to me – I think his marital problems are something he needs to work out with his family.  No, I’m offended that he felt nontheists didn’t deserve an apology while people of faith did.

Nontheists care about compassion, we care about honesty, and we care about integrity.  If you let down people of faith by failing to uphold those values, then you let us down as well.

UPDATE: Just found a transcript:

But I am — I am here because if you were to look at God’s laws, there are in every instance designed to protect people from themselves. I think that that is the bottom line with God’s law — that it’s not a moral, rigid list of dos and don’ts just for the heck of dos and don’ts. It is indeed to protect us from ourselves. And the biggest self of self is, indeed, self. That sin is in fact grounded in this notion of what is it that I want, as opposed to somebody else.

And in this regard, let me throw one more apology out there, and that is to people of faith across South Carolina, or for that matter, across the nation, because I think that one of the big disappointments when, believe it or not, I’ve been a person of faith all my life, if somebody falls within the — the fellowship of believers or the walk of faith, I think it makes it that much harder for believers to say, “Well, where was that person coming from?” Or folks that weren’t believers to say, “Where, indeed, was that person coming from?” So one more apology in there.

It’s difficult to parse the somewhat rambling response, but I think he’s apologizing for reflecting badly on his faith?  Am I reading it right?  If so, he doesn’t owe us an apology for betraying our club – only for implying that God’s law was what he abandoned.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • Sarah TX.

    Meh. I don’t want his apology anyway. I don’t live in SC but if I did, I would be clamoring that he stop seeing his pastor and start seeing a therapist to resolve the reckless behavior that he’s been exhibiting. (It’s not the cheating, it’s the impulsive flight to Argentina and subsequent cover-up that should concern his constituents)

  • http://www.secular.org Jesse Galef

    Sarah –
    I’m with you on all points except for the ‘meh’ part. It’s not that he didn’t give me an apology (as I said, I don’t want one); it’s that he felt he owed one to people of faith – and only people of faith.

    I object to that mindset and his opinion that we nontheists are somehow less important.

  • http://noadi.blogspot.com Noadi

    I’m not a citizen of SC but if I was I’d be PISSED that he didn’t apologize to every citizen of his state for taking off to Argentina and abandoning his job for a week with no warning or explanation. That shows an appalling lack of judgment.

    His marital problems are between him and his wife and honestly I don’t care what he does in private.

  • freddie donia

    duuuuuuuuuuuuuuude, he’s apologizing to muslims and jews – he is SO not getting elected next term.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    And I’m concerned about the opinion of another washed-up amoral Republican creep because?

  • Gabriel

    He apologized to “people of faith” i.e. all of the diferent flavors of protestant christian but mainly conservative evangelical because he has to molify them to get elected. He sounds like he might be on the verge of a mental breakdown. He disappeared for 4 days. His security detail and his staff didn’t know where he was. He left the country and didn’t tell anyone. Where did he meet this woman? Online? Why Argentina?

  • Alexis

    He apologized first to his mistress, and his wife and children were down on the list.

  • http://www.myspace.com/staticmartyr Tim D.

    Personally, I’m not offended at all. If there was anything close to offensive about what he did, though, it would be the assumption that his infidenlity would only come as a red flag to “people of faith,” as if “people of no faith” were incapable of recognizing that as disrespectful and dishonorable behavior or condemning it thusly, and so they wouldn’t care one way or the other and therefore don’t need an apology.

    Seriously? I can denounce it as stupid and arrogant, but I just don’t have the time (or energy) to get up in arms about every stupid thing a popular Christian political figure does. It just happens too often — you gotta pick your battles, after all.

  • Miko

    Why a special apology to people of faith? Why do they deserve an apology but the rest of us don’t?

    An apology is given to acknowledge that the other person either is or believes herself to be an injured party. Since you have indicated that you believe based on marriage is not supernatural law but rather is an agreement between two (or perhaps more) individuals and since you weren’t one of those individuals, you are not a party to the matter and so don’t need an apology. A religious person might (incorrectly) believe that “God’s law” was involved and that an infringement of it injures them personally (e.g., by provoking God to kill everyone with a flood). Since their view is incorrect, an apology isn’t morally obligatory, but it nonetheless makes sense. So, what Sanford really was saying is that he realized that he only needed to apologize to (1) those actually involved and (2) irrational people. By excluding atheists, he was recognizing that we aren’t (as a group) irrational.

    I’m not a citizen of SC but if I was I’d be PISSED that he didn’t apologize to every citizen of his state for taking off to Argentina and abandoning his job for a week with no warning or explanation.

    1) He told his staff he’d be gone, so there was a warning.
    2) The legislature wasn’t in session and the state constitution has provisions for dealing with emergencies while the governor is on vacation, so he didn’t “abandon” his job.
    3) He most certainly doesn’t owe you or anyone else an explanation; you don’t tell him where you go vacation, why should he tell you?

  • John Larberg

    His second in command definitely had a lot to say about his leave of absence and it wasn’t pleasant.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    So he lives his life based on a list of “don’ts” rather than having a well thought out moral base. He failed. Oh well, pick yourself up and try again. See what you did wrong, find out where you went wrong and make sure you don’t repeat that same error.

    It’s not that difficult a concept to understand.

  • http://cycleninja.blogspot.com Paul Lundgren

    Just once, I want to see one of these politicians use the defense of an atheist. Some radio hack once asked Christopher Hitchens if he’d ever committed adultery. Hitchens’ response was, “None of your fucking business.”

    On the other hand, I fully approve of holding public officials to higher scrutiny.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    He appears to be a dick.

  • Richard Wade

    The Governor’s press conference consisted of several minutes of babbling Noodlespeak followed by a brief statement in English that he has had an affair with a friend from Argentina, then followed by several more minutes more of babbling Noodlespeak, which included his unintelligible statements to the “people of faith of South Carolina.” Our Noodlespeak experts are analyzing those babblings, and so far it seems to be a simple kissing of Evangelical voters’ asses.

    “Excluded” atheists from his apology? By that reasoning, he excluded left-handed middle-aged artists too. I’m in both of those categories, but I could not care less. His private problems are his own, and not for me to judge. All I care is that there’s one less babbling Noodlespeaking, Evangelical ass kissing Republican with a chance to run for President.

  • Aspentroll

    This guy is truly a politician. Bull Shit baffles brains in this case. I think he’s going on the pretext that he can do anything wrong he wants as long as he just apologizes. This guy is a pompous dork.
    I think the xtians in his area should drag him and his ass to the City gates and stone him to death with chocolate coated marshmallows.

  • And?

    Good for him. Argentinian women are crazy hot.

  • mikespeir

    “God’s law” apparently didn’t protect him from himself. Another failure.

  • Ron in Houston

    I don’t really care where he directed his apology.

    Sometimes schadenfreude just feels enjoyable.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    @Richard Wade

    By that reasoning, he excluded left-handed middle-aged artists too. I’m in both of those categories, but I could not care less

    That’s not accurate. If he had specifically apologized to “right-handed citizens” or “non-artists” then it would be a fair analogy. He’s singled out a specific group.

    I’m not saying you should care about his apology one bit. I’m just pointing out that your framing wasn’t quite logical.

  • jynnan_tonnyx

    Is it just me, or is all of that rambling about “God’s Law” basically an admission that he requires faith in order to simulate respect for his wife (and, for that matter, common human decency)? And that it didn’t even work, at that?

    And WTF does “the biggest self of self is, indeed, self” even MEAN?

  • http://blondeshikseh.blogspot.com/ marfita

    AS a citizen of the backward state of SC, I personally don’t care what my governor gets up to in private life because that is, by definition, private. In fact, I’d just as soon not know about anyone’s private life, especially the part that involves private parts.

    I’m a bit annoyed with him for sneaking around and abandoning his post, but that’s nothing compared to his political grandstanding recently. I hope this kills his presidential hopes so it’s one less opportunistic conservative narcissist to worry about, but in a couple of years I don’t think anyone will care anymore. He’s too young and relatively handsome to be down for long.
    I think I managed to get an apology out of him just by being a “constituent,” didn’t I? His constituents-of-faith deserved a separate apology. I feel sorry for them for having pinned their hopes on a human being with human feelings and foibles.

  • http://www.BlueNine.info Blue Nine

    As much as I enjoy piling on another epic fail of religion, Sanders is more of a libertarian repub than an authoritarian repub (as most of them seem to be). He also did not sign the law for the “I Believe” license plates in SC. (Granted, he did not veto it, but who honestly thought he would?)

    Let’s replay that quote as captured on Wikipedia:

    In dissent with the Republican Party of South Carolina, Sanford, whose faith is Episcopal, opposes the faith-based license plates his state offers, marketed largely to the state’s conservative evangelical citizens. After allowing the law to pass without his signature, he wrote, “It is my personal view that the largest proclamation of one’s faith ought to be in how one lives his life.”

  • http://lyonlegal.blogspot.com/ Vincent

    I heard some of his talk. I kept thinking “no, this is called social norms and rules of ethics.” These are people’s laws, not god’s laws.

  • Pingback: God, Agrentina and the mistress | williamlobdell.com

  • http://noadi.blogspot.com Noadi

    1) He told his staff he’d be gone, so there was a warning.
    2) The legislature wasn’t in session and the state constitution has provisions for dealing with emergencies while the governor is on vacation, so he didn’t “abandon” his job.
    3) He most certainly doesn’t owe you or anyone else an explanation; you don’t tell him where you go vacation, why should he tell you?

    Since I’m not a citizen of SC he owes me nothing. However he is an elected state official and as such where he is definitely is a matter of public concern for citizens of SC to have public notice of when the governor is going to leave the country (where isn’t their business, the fact of his vacation is). While he told his staff he was leaving he told no one else and it isn’t clear if his staff even had a way to contact him. That is dereliction of duty as far as I’m concerned.

  • ZombieGirl

    Well, I don’t really care what politicians do in privacy, except if they rape people and/or animals (or some of other various mentally unhealthy things that make me uneasy about them making powerful decisions.) So he’s implying that not cheating is a value that only people of faith have? We all know that’s ridiculous…he’s just like every other person who thinks that, regardless of his political status. Yeah, it’s annoying, but that’s why us atheists should be more vocal about our non-belief. So people can think…”Hmm…my neighbor Mr.McMuffin is the most honest person to his wife…and he doesn’t subscribe to any faith! How about that?!?!” Or if they can’t make the connection on their own, we can help them.

  • Richard Wade

    Secular Planet,
    I agree with you that my framing was not quite logical, and not a good illustration of what I’m trying to do. I’m questioning the assumption that any mentioning of a category always implies the exclusion of a category that is seen by some as its opposite.

    First of all, in his rambling talk the Governor did apologize at one point to all the citizens of South Carolina. With that in place, his specifically singling out a sub group within that, the “people of faith of SC,” seems to me to be just an enhancement toward a group that he felt more compelled for contrition, (for whatever reasons, sincere or cynical, it doesn’t really matter) and doesn’t seem to be blatantly snubbing the “people of non-faith” in its omission.

    I just think that whenever somebody mentions people of faith, atheists don’t have to stand up every single time and say “Hey, you bastard, what about us??” It’s all about the context, all about what is actually being said. Sometimes it’s a snub that should be confronted, sometimes it’s an oversight that might be politely corrected, and sometimes it’s just not applicable to us, and so not a slight to us in its omission.

  • Richard Wade

    “The biggest self of self is, indeed, self.”–Governor Mark Sanford

    “I am that I am.” –God

    “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.” –Popeye

    I think the Sailor Man makes the most sense.

  • Cypress Green

    He said, “I guess where I’m going with this is that there are moral absolutes, and that God’s law indeed is there to protect you from yourself. And there are consequences if you breach that. This press conference is a consequence.”

    If I die and find out god really does exist, I’m gonna lobby for a press conference in lieu of hell.

  • stogoe

    It is difficult to begin telling you how wrong you are, because there are so many places to start.

    1) He told his staff he’d be gone, so there was a warning.

    Either they thought that he was Naked Hiking the Appalachian trail, and he lied to them, or they knew he was selling state secrets to a foreign powerbreaking up with his online girlfriend from another country. Nobody in the governor’s office had spoken with him in the week he was gone. That they lied and said they had talked to him is immaterial.

    2) The legislature wasn’t in session and the state constitution has provisions for dealing with emergencies while the governor is on vacation, so he didn’t “abandon” his job.

    Wrongo. Sanford was completely out of communication, and did not delegate his authority during his ‘vacation’ to anyone. Nobody has the authority to take charge in his absence. The powers of the governor have to be delegated. Who mobilizes the SC Guard in a natural disaster or riot? Nobody can, not until Sanford gets back from his weeklong disappearance.

    3) He most certainly doesn’t owe you or anyone else an explanation; you don’t tell him where you go vacation, why should he tell you?

    What would happen to you if you didn’t show up to your job without notice for an entire week? You’d lose your job, that’s what. If you can’t get away with completely disappearing for weeks at a time at Burger Mart, you sure as hell can’t get away with it when you’re the Governor of an entire State. Take a vacation, sure, whatever. But if you don’t let your boss know that you’re taking time off, and you don’t get anyone to cover for you, you’re going to get fired.

    4)Travelling without anyone knowing your destination and travel times is stupid and dangerous even as a private citizen. For government officials it’s even more insane.

  • Stephanie

    As an atheist in SC, this comes as no surprise. This type of talk is the norm. I’m not saying I agree obviously, but maybe it shocks people from more liberal states.

  • Heidi

    I feel kind of sorry for him. He sounds so completely pathetic clinging to his little god axioms.

  • Anon.

    Why is there an ad for dianetics on this site?

  • darryl

    I understand that Sanford has been separated from his wife for awhile, or has been having marital problems, and judging from his wife’s brief response to reporters she’s got to be too much for him to handle. I don’t really care about someone’s private life so long as it doesn’t interfere with one’s duties.

    Everyone knows what it feels like to fall short of your own standards of conduct, but these ambitious fundamentalist Christian fools that are forced by the ignorance of their voters to pander themselves into a corner–well, I have no sympathy for them: they weren’t forced to make their deal with the devil; they did it with eyes open. They’re either dishonest or just don’t have a good grip on their own weakness. I hope this keeps this Republican from any shot at the White House.
    I wonder how many of the wives of guys like this–young, handsome, ambitious, capable, well-regarded–understand that he is going to be a target of women when he takes a public office like that of governor. If these wives are smart they’ve got to know this. They should be more vigilant because it’s damn sure that the Spirit of God is just not up to the job.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X