Dogma vs. Democracy

This is a guest post by Jon Nelson. He is a sophomore at Kansas University and member of the Society of Open-Minded Atheists & Agnostics (SOMA).

Yesterday China downgraded US debt and Mitch McConnell promised he would be holding the debt limit hostage in the future. On this news, the Dow Jones shed 500 points. This sort of idiocy has no place in our politics. We in the secular movement pride ourselves on reason, but in a democracy we must all be reasonable…

“Citizens engaged in certain political activities have a duty of civility to be able to justify their decisions on fundamental political issues by reference only to public values and public standards.” -John Rawls

The idea of democracy is not a new one, but the mass execution of the theory taking place in western countries is unprecedented. One person, one vote. The currents of society, decisions of government, and indeed all civil interaction is governed, ultimately, by the citizen. The onus placed upon her is a heavy one, but the load may be lightened through the collective enterprise of reasoning together in the public forum. But if we are to distribute power, we must first agree on a standard for what is acceptable to bring to the forum and what must be left in the personal sphere. Ideologies and moral frameworks, varied as they are, must all be taken into account, but they must also be held to a public objective standard. A burden of proof must be met and it is here that America faces its greatest dilemma.

Ideologies and moral frameworks often find their roots in religion. As such, a person’s spiritual upbringing will impress itself upon the reason he brings to debate. Perhaps it is a humanistic Buddhism or peaceful variant of Christianity, but it is also likely that the citizen’s upbringing will be of the fundamentalist variety. Raised with a dichotomous world view, and cursed with the backfire effect, the citizen will view those that disagree with him as morally and thus politically illegitimate. The fair-minded public reason needed to engage in self-governance is thoroughly absent in such individuals. It is a bleak view predicated on the sinful nature of humans and ultimately supernatural salvation. That we should govern as though we are all fallen beings is a disgusting ideology that opens the way for terrifying acts of violence. Hope, however, can be found in the burgeoning secular movement.

The secular movement is, at its core, a resurrection of the ideals first postulated during the Enlightenment. We hold beliefs, actions, and, most importantly, ourselves to a humanistic worldview with a firm footing in scientific evidence. As our democracy is faced with economic stagnation, global warming, war, and the looming energy crunch, we will need science more than ever. But science is not enough. What is needed is proud humanism and the insistence of holding our elected officials to the public golden standard of objective evidence and the compassion it evinces.

The youth of the secular movement (now 22% of 18-29 year olds), as with all revolutionary movements, are the key to our success. The movement is already underway. With more conferences being held every year and public visibility growing, we are gaining the capacity to begin to dismantle the fundamentalist basis of right-wing ideology. Our message is one of salvation on Earth if only we dare to reach for it. Of radical equality for all peoples and the worth of every individual. It is the light for which we must strive, lest we fall into the bitter self-loathing of our religious brothers and sisters. This is the decision with which we are now faced.

Ultimately, democracy means that we choose our future. There is the fundamentalist, misogynist, racist, bigoted future of those that would exploit ignorance. And there is the enlightened humanist future where all people are deemed intrinsically valuable and worthy of compassion. Reason is what makes us human. Now is the time to use it to preserve our democratic ideals and ensure that our shared humanity is put above hatred and strife.

The future is waiting.

The choice is yours.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    this is a lovely series, Hemant. thanks for giving all these young scholars a voice in your public space, they deserve it. 

    you know what i recommend to all these young activists? reaching out to the fundamentalist environmentalist movement. yeah, yeah, i know. we’re skeptics, etc. but for the under 30 set, progressive skeptics and progressive fundamentalists (no, really, they exist!) have so much in common. it would be way cool to see the two groups coming together and working for sanity in our political leadership, and as the author of this post notes, it’s their future. 

  • Defiantnonbeliver

    Good article, but …     First NAP(National Atheists Party), now SOMA( Society of open minded Atheists and Agnostics), are the name choosers of these organizations out to sabotage the movement and feed the just laugh them off as ridiculous cat calls of the opposition?  ‘Everyone should take some soma and then a nap?’

  • NorDog

    This post is rife with unintentially fatuous irony.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570978466 Jon Nelson

      I thought so too, at least at first. But then I saw that, unlike religious fundamentalists, our “fundamentalism” (that you seem to think fatuous) derives itself from the best way of objectively knowing the world: science. We can use the vast mountains of knowledge we now have to engineer a better society. No, it won’t be fast, nor will it be easy. But last time I checked science was a little more reliable than religion.

      • Nordog

        Let’s just say I am leery of social engineers bent on eutopia.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      NorDog: No it isn’t.

  • Gibbon

    What a load
    of bollocks. Trying to resurrect what one perceives to be the ideals of a past
    era? That is always the recipe for disaster. That post is dripping with nothing
    but naïve and idealistic optimism.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570978466 Jon Nelson

      Yes, how stupid of me to think that we might someday actually live in a (truly) democratic society. Cynicism, on the other hand, is so fulfilling. I guess I’ll just go grouse because society is such an obvious failure and utterly incapable of reform.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      Gibbon, your comment reeks with unintelligence.

  • Anonymous

    To be clear, a huge part of the market sell off of Thursday was motivated by the concerns about the current “European Debt Crisis”, which is occurring in many European countries (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain).  This “European Debt Crisis” has been impacting global markets around the world.  And if you watched the market today, you would see clear points where the market changed direction on news about Europe as it developed throughout the day.

    These types of things need to be understood before placing disproportionate blame on a politician / political party with whom you disagree.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      Europe matters? /typical American

      • Anonymous

        hehe :) I know, hard to believe that American isn’t the only important player in the global economy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570978466 Jon Nelson

      Excellent point.

      Ultimately, we need to look at the system and see what works and what doesn’t. Reason can help us do that. Still, I will admit that I did capitalize on the crisis to take a stab at Boehnhead and the Teabaggers.

  • http://twitter.com/JFLCroft James Croft

    In general I appreciate the tine and thrust of this article.

    I’m intrigued by the idea that right wing views have a ‘fundamentalist basis’. I feel like reason may in principle lead us to adopt certain views (particularly economic views) we now consider right-wing. What do you think?

    • Kenneth Dunlap

      I have yet to see reason applied to right-wing views by those who hold them. Nearly every concept of right-wing economics has been thoroughly debunked, mostly by practice. Tax-cuts on the wealthy being beneficial, trickledown, corporate responsibilty, etc. have all been tried and have completely failed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570978466 Jon Nelson

      It depends on what you’re trying to justify. If your reasoning’s goal is to maximize personal profit, disavow responsibility for your fellow humans’ well-being, and rape the environment, then yes, there is a selfish reasoning that will lead to right-wing conclusions.

      However, it fails to take into account the limited nature of our natural resources, the fragility of our ecosystem, and the moral depravity of tolerating gluttony alongside mass starvation. Much like the market, right-wing ideas can operate for great private benefit so long as they ignore such externalities. However, we each pursue our own gain at great peril to the planet, our fellow man, and ultimately ourselves.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570978466 Jon Nelson

      It depends on what you’re trying to justify. If your reasoning’s goal is to maximize personal profit, disavow responsibility for your fellow humans’ well-being, and rape the environment, then yes, there is a selfish reasoning that will lead to right-wing conclusions.

      However, it fails to take into account the limited nature of our natural resources, the fragility of our ecosystem, and the moral depravity of tolerating gluttony alongside mass starvation. Much like the market, right-wing ideas can operate for great private benefit so long as they ignore such externalities. However, we each pursue our own gain at great peril to the planet, our fellow man, and ultimately ourselves.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tbourqueulc Thomas Bourque

    We don’t have a democracy. We have a republic. There’s a difference.

    • Nordog

      Quite right.  pure democracy is just a fancy phrase for mob rule.

      Another important distinction to be made is that between the American founding French Revolution.

      The former sought to engineer a limited government; the latter sought to engineer society.

      Societal engineering leads to the guillotine; mob rule accelerates the process.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570978466 Jon Nelson

        The guillotine was of the aristocracy’s manufacture. Had they not so bitterly dispossesed and oppressed the fourth estate, perhaps the revolution would have been more rational or at least less violent. Never the less, I would contend that mob rule, at times, has led to much more rapid and beneficial outcomes for humanity than rule by a privileged few (see: dark ages).

        • 59 Norris

          Be that as it may, one cannot expect science and reason to prevail against a mob.

          • 59 Norris

            …except through superior violence of course.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570978466 Jon Nelson

      Point taken.

      However, when our representatives work for lobbyists and our votes are corrupted by misinformation, what is to distinguish our republic from a plutocracy? I would even go further to state that any republic that fails to maintain a culture of democracy is very much open to the kind of capture we see today.

      • http://profiles.google.com/tbourqueulc Thomas Bourque

        We need fundamental system change in the USA. Politicians are the problem. Both parties are at fault. Both parties are pretty much the same when you get down to it. If you elect one or the other you get more of the same bullshit. They’re all out for themselves.

        NO MORE CAREER POLITICIANS!


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