A new first has happened in America: an openly atheistic woman has been elected to state office. And it’s happened in the very deeply religious state of Arizona, of all places. Today Lord Snow Presides over another sign of Christianity’s coming decline.
When Liars-for-Jesus Gain Power Over Others.
As NPR tells us, something like 20% of Americans have no religious affiliation. But our elected officials are overwhelmingly religious. More than that, they are overwhelmingly Christian. The number of people who are not Christian is miniscule to say the least–9% or so. As of that NPR piece back in January, there was exactly one–ONE–elected official in the United States Congress who openly said he was not part of any religion.
Of course, that number doesn’t count the number of undeclared Nones, agnostics, and atheists serving in elected positions; one humanist group’s leader says there are 24 that her group knows of, but none are willing to openly declare their position. Just as we see in regular everyday life, “Christian love” is such a powerful, overwhelming force that people rightly fear the brutal wrath of the religion’s many failed ambassadors!
Christianity has had a position of easy, unwarranted dominance in the United States for so long that it’s downright hilarious to hear any adherent of the religion even try to claim that they’re part of some persecuted minority in this country–and yet that is one of their favorite beliefs.
When the leaders of a broken system get real power in their grabby little hands, nothing but misery follows as they run roughshod over those they view as their inferiors. That’s the rule, and there are no exceptions–only dark secrets of abuse that are hidden, ignored, whitewashed, and covered up with varying amounts of effectiveness. When you start noticing the signs of a broken system within a group, your main question at that point should be how bad the abuse is, not whether there is any.
Literally the only thing that stops people in a broken system from wreaking the abuse they ache to unleash are the laws created by a secular nation that has enshrined freedom of and from religion as one of its citizens’ defining liberties. That said, how well the people of a broken system follow those rules depends very largely on how well they are forced to follow them. If the people who would ordinarily force potential lawbreakers to follow the rules are also part of the broken system, then yeah, things don’t go so smooth.
And that’s where Arizona enters the conversation.
Bill of Rights? Who Cares? Dominance Is At Stake Here!
Athena Salman is a Democrat in Arizona who got elected to her state’s House of Representatives. She’s also an open atheist. She is not the first atheist, period, in that position; her colleague Juan Mendez, whose seat she was chosen by Arizona voters to fill after he went on to the state’s Senate, is also an atheist. But she suspects that she is the only openly atheist woman in a state-level elected position.
In her capacity as a Representative of her state, she gave an invocation a couple of weeks ago–as you do in these situations. Invocations are speeches given at the beginning of official group business that are supposed to focus people’s minds on higher and loftier ideals.
But in doing so, she violated a state law that, itself, violates federal law.
You see, in Arizona the Christians there are getting very nervous about their religion’s continued loss of dominance. In a state that is a cesspit of drugs, lack of healthcare, and poor education, you see, the Republicans who overrun that state–who are, of course, overwhelmingly fundagelical Christians–demand a religious showboating exercise before they get down to denying people their rights, ripping children away from their parents, and destroying the lives of their black constituents. If they don’t get enough Jesus-talk, then they just can’t get up enough of an oppression-boner to work their wills upon those unfortunate enough to be in their power.Some time ago, the Religious Right in charge of Arizona’s legislature displayed their laser-lock focus on what their constituents need from them by passing a law that demands that all invocations must be explicitly religious in nature by appealing specifically to some kind of “higher power.”
So a short while later, when Athena Salman gave a invocation in April that did not explicitly reference any gods or supernatural beings, her fellow lawmakers got furious. It was a beautiful speech about unity and teamwork and passion, but the people listening to it had long ago lost their capacity to appreciate anything she was talking about.
No, their terror and rage had been ignited.
She hadn’t bent knee even symbolically to their tribal dominance. So obviously she had to be punished.
Their magic won’t work if the spells aren’t said just right, so one of them actually demanded the go-ahead to give a second invocation that explicitly mentioned Jesus just in case his god had noticed that a bunch of fundagelicals in Arizona hadn’t given him adequate fawning before conducting the business of a secular government that is meant to represent all Arizona residents, not just the ones in their tribe. This waste of time was allowed, and he gave one to cover up the scary atheist invocation. Later on, she got rebuked for not following that completely ridiculous law.
Those measures momentarily unruffled all those ruffled Christian feathers–for a little while. Just for a while, though. Athena Salman is still in office, and she very obviously won’t fall into compliance with fundagelicals’ overreach in government.
Before you wonder, no, nobody involved even asked why Christians were getting that antsy about public prayers when Jesus literally told them not to do that in public. It’s been years since they came up with the necessary hand-waving rationalizations that allow them to do exactly and precisely what their god literally told them not to do and still feel totally in the right about it.
It Actually Matters a Lot.
Just don’t imagine for a moment that Arizona’s Christian legislators don’t care about the Constitution. They do. They care a lot. Their overreach against this most powerful of documents means (to them) that they are still dominant–for just a little while. If the Constitution didn’t matter to them, then they wouldn’t get so focused on violating it. The bigger the transgression and the show of force and dominance, the more relieved and soothed they feel.
Remember the principles of power in broken systems?
- People in power in broken systems seek ever-increasing amounts of power, and they don’t like to share.
- Power is their meta-religion; the Christians in this story use the trappings of Christianity to cloak their overreach, but really it could be anything: the Confederate flag, a police badge, a crescent symbol.
- There’s only one goal for those in power in these systems: protecting their own positions of dominance. To do that, they will violate every single principle they claim to hold–because these three principles are what really matter.
Arizona’s legislature fits every one of those descriptions. And now Athena Salman has invaded their Christian clubhouse of horrors with her scary atheism. She is a visible sign that the penalties for not being part of the tribe of right-wing Christians are starting to lower a little more, and that despite their attempts to enshrine their own religious privilege into law in that state, they are still losing the war they created in their own minds. She is as much a sign of their decline as all those homeless pipe-organs are that we talked about a short while ago.
It’s a beautiful thing.
I’m glad she’s gotten a Visibility Award from the Secular Coalition for America as a consequence. She really does stand for the Constitution that Christians pretend to fetishize, and I have very high hopes that there’ll be a lot more people like her gaining office–and a lot more NOT like her losing office. Congratulations to her!
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