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    The Religious Test is Alive and Kicking in American Politics. Again.


    As a non-religious person I have faith that religion will always be with us.  It's the way of the world, and if I'm baffled by its constancy, by its influence, by the sheer numbers of people involved, I'm even more befuddled watching the successful move away from any pretense at goodness and mercy by the Religious Right in favor of a peculiar form of public, political bullying.

    There are many churches that do good works and act as sanctuaries in a cold, cruel world.  Their congregations are loving and generous and, by the way, have no problem accepting non-believers like me. We work well together.  There is that understanding that our goals are the same; it's only the paths we take to get there that are different.

    I've hesitated to get into this, mainly because I have family and friends who are religious and I love those people.  Most of them have enough respect for me to lay off any proselytizing, but I know that a number of them can't help but pray for my damaged soul.  I'm good at pretending that's okay.  They mean well.

    But what's not okay is what brings me to this:  Rick Perry.  His phony piety, his bad acting, his destructive actions as governor of Texas showing him for the hypocrite he is.  It should have been Michele Bachmann's lame and lazy preaching that capped it, but Rick Perry has finally done it for me.  His performance at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University was as loathsome as Jimmy Swaggart sobbing open-mouthed on close-up for forgiveness or Jim Bakker weeping at the loss of his empire.  Rank insincerity is what bonds them all.  The significant difference is that, so far, Jimmy and Jim haven't aspired to be president of these United States.

    Billboard in South Carolina

    I listen to the calls to Jesus by Presidential candidates like Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and even Ron Paul.  I see our presidents and members of congress fighting to one-up their Jesus-is-my-lord-and-savior status, and it's clear that  scrupulous avoidance of religious tests for political candidates is a thing of the past.

    An avowed Atheist has never had a chance -- a fact that makes no sense in a democracy -- but even a quiet Christian wouldn't have a chance today.  If you're thinking of running for anything, you had better be out there professing your undying love of an accepted and specific God as defined by the one and only Holy Bible or forget about any future in 21st Century American politics.

    This new century of ours is a puzzler.  It's suffering the worst kind of growing pains, but it's not as if it came from nowhere.  It's roots are in several centuries of ups and downs and lessons ripe for learning, yet it's as if American history is some quaint, nostalgic throwback having almost nothing to do with this modern world.

    There are reasons for the need to see ourselves as a nation and not just as a country.  We're peopled with citizens as diverse as the world.  The fervent bleating of the more vocal Christian politicos cannot change the fact that not all Americans are Christians. We are not a Christian nation.  We never set out to be a Christian nation.  By clear Constitutional design,  there is no religious test for any candidate in this country. 

    If they can't get that one simple fact straight, one wonders what hope there is for understanding issues even more complicated.  Like the meaning of "Of the people, by the people, for the people", for starters.

    (Cross-posted at Ramona's Voices.)



    But, atheism is cool.

    Think back to the “cool” people you know in high school.  They were the ones willing to say what no one else was saying, the people who always maintained a certain level of confidence, the people who didn’t care what you thought because it just didn’t matter.  That’s the position a lot of young atheists are in now.  At an ever-lowering age, students are willing to challenge religion in ways we never saw in the past.  The number of Secular Student Alliance affiliate groups in college has skyrocketed in the past few years (nearly 300 as I write this) and the number of high school affiliates is well into the double-digits.  These are students who want to have discussions and debates about religion and who want to challenge the orthodoxy and what most parents teach their children.

    My daughter is one of these young people, challenging the adopted Catholicism of her mother. Though she attend UU gatherings, she reads a great deal of atheist literature, participates in (what to me seem pointless) debates with Christianists on Topix. She was telling me last night that one fellow at school had been very nice while he was trying to convert her, and having failed, is now rude to her. She takes that as a life lesson.

    Who could resist an article that starts with

    ‘Atheism is cool,’ says Archbishop of Canterbury

    The young, bless 'em, thrive on questioning authority wherever they find it.  Glad to see it still goes on.  I think I've run into that guy your daughter was talking about dozens of times.  Sometimes he disguises himself as a middle-aged woman. 

    I went to a hairdresser once who asked me where I went to church.  When I told her I didn't go to church, she said, "Oh, you should", and of course it didn't end there.  She gave me a great haircut but I just couldn't go back again.  My loss and hers, too.  Oh, well.

    Yeah, I had the pleasure of sitting next to such a woman on the airplane. She asked me something along the line of if I had accepted Jesus as my savior, and I tried to give the most generic answer I could that would still be truthful (I said something along the line about being very familiar with the Bible, which is true). Unfortunately (and not too surprisingly, in retrospect) that clearly indicated that I hadn't "accepted" him. I'm still trying to think of a good answer for the next time this comes up and I can't easily dismiss the person. (She wasn't otherwise rude. Just persistent.)

    My standard answer is "I'm sorry.  My religious views are private."  If I think the person is otherwise reasonable and interesting, I change the subject.  If I think this will lead to a no good, boring end, I don't hesitate to be rude.  Then it's, "My religious views are my business, and I don't care to know about yours, either.  I'm just not that interested."

    Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.  If they persist, I stick my nose in a book and don't answer.  I'm always tempted to stick my fingers in my ears and go "la la la la la la la", but so far I haven't done it.  I will though, if I need to.  ;>)

    The best way to avoid answering and avoiding being rude (even though the asking of such a personal question to a stranger seems rude) is to furrow your brows and say, "Interesting." and then look like you are pondering. If they persist, keep up with the noncommittal responses.

    Or raise one eyebrow and say, "Fascinating."

    Alas, I am unable to raise a single eyebrow. That's the real reason I rejected my Creator.

    I don't suppose you've ever considered telling such inquirers that your online handle is "Verified Atheist", and does that answer their question, have you? 

    I'm fairly certain that such an admission would only increase their fervor, because surely if I truly knew the Lord I could not deny His existence. Unfortunately, in real life I've felt the need to become more and more closeted about my atheism. I have friends I can talk about it openly with (even a couple who are themselves religious), but mostly I've made the decision to keep that aspect of myself available only to those I strongly trust.

    Yes. If furrowed brow and "Interesting" doesn't do the trick, proceed to one raised eyebrow and uttering "Fascinating". And don't worry if raising one eyebrow is a problem for you. Use a finger to raise the brow if necessary. It all adds to the effect.

    All I know is that there is a rumor going around that The Christ was Jewish!

    But was he a Zionist?

    As we say in Brooklyn, if Jesus was Jewish, how come he has a Puerto Rican name?  Answer me that.

    My thought is that what will change is the passion of evangelism. We're going through a particularly passionate phase, but I think it will recede from time to time.

    The thing I think is absurd is the juxtposition of "Faith in God" and "Knowing what God wants" all in the same thought--i.e. Perry's "calling". If you know what God wants you don't need "faith" because the mystery has been cleared up. "Faith" is what you need when you don't understand the mystery.

    I have no problem with a President or anyone else praying to a higher power with the thought of trying to do the right thing. But that's very much a private matter. What Perry is doing is what a huckster does in order to sell snake oil or vacuum cleaners.  It has nothing to do, imo, with religion or faith.

    Does anyone recall the Winter Olympics, where, to my casual observation, there was not a single athlete who implicated a deity of any stripe in his or her medal winning performance.

     How refreshing!  Also, spandex!

    Yeah, but they're all steroid-taking assholes.

    We're going through a particularly passionate phase, but I think it will recede from time to time.

    If so, even then we're not at all an extreme case comparatively, see:

    Irreligion By Country.

    I think the evangelism and religiosity of the U.S. is blown out of proportion by many foes, adherents and don't-care-that-much alike, precisely because it makes for great stories. I.E., if it really was bad, people wouldn't feel it appropriate to share stories about the crazy lady on the airplane on the internet or at a party because they wouldn't expect others to come up with "nod-nod" or "me too" reactions. It would be truly taboo to complain about it. And a governor holding a prayer rally to stop the drought is news precisely because it's considered wacky by a significant part of the population, it's an attention-getting story. If it was something every joe and jill expected to happen all the time, no one would bother to cover it.

    The one thing evangelical christianity does right (as in "to their benefit"), not just in the U.S., but across the world, is offer cafeteria or buffet-style grazing. Billy Graham really was a pioneer in megachurches and huge prayer rallies, and they are uniquely convenient for the nearly agnostic or foxhole Christians, you don't have to show a member card and you don't have to go regularly, you can just get a nice dose when you want it.  That's why they are growing so fast in the religion competition worldwide. You can believe the way you want, there is no hierarchy and no catechism, no rules, you can pick your own preacher and even then you are considered as good as him in interpreting the scripture.

    Here's the thing with the fervent ones. If they ask you if you've taken Jesus into your heart, and you say yes, they don't have a way of proving that you are telling the truth.cheeky Because they ain't got many rules about that, there's nobody in charge, no pope.

    Also, more times than not, in my experience, the more irritating ones are those looking for someone to share their joy in discussion rather than convert. Sensible evangelical folks get the cues that you don't want to talk about that right now but something else, and redirecting the conversation works. Of course if they are especially fervent, their conversation will be sprinkled with references because that is their world, i.e., talking about how they do volunteer work at a nursing home doing bible classes. But they will listen to your work stories, too.

    I  think it's good for more agnostic and atheist folks to do a check on themselves by asking: would I have the same attitude in a conversation with a devout Muslim? If not, then you've got some issues yourself. Because in most cases, they have the cafeteria system, too.

    Speaking for myself, I'm pretty sure I would have the same attitude in a conversation with a devout Muslim. Obviously, I can't be 100% sure, because the situation has never arisen. To your point about the "me too" reactions, I think you've got a good point. A friend of mine who is a devout Christian was surprised when I told him how uncomfortable I was now that we found ourselves in a situation where I felt like an outsider to the degree that I feel the need to conceal my atheism. He told me that he often felt like an outsider at the University, where most people were atheists, agnostics, or cafeteria-style Christians (with an emphasis on the cafeteria-style, i.e., not really that committed to it). His admission was equally a surprise to me.

    Judaism without God? Yes, say American atheists

    For an atheist, Maxim Schrogin talks about God a lot.

    Over lunch at a Jewish deli, he ponders the impulse to believe — does it come from within or without? Why does God permit suffering? Finally, he pulls out a flowchart he made showing degrees of belief, which ranges from unquestioning faith to absolute atheism. He stabs the paper with his pen.

    “This is where I fall,” he said. “Zero.”

    Still, Schrogin, 64, is a dues-paying member of Congregation Beth El, a Reform synagogue here in Berkeley. He is among its most active members, attending Torah study, and, for a time, heading its social action committee. He organizes its community service projects and works with leaders of other congregations to help the poor.

    His two children were bar and bat mitzvahed. On Friday nights, he and his wife light Shabbat candles and recite Hebrew prayers. There is one song, sung by the congregation in Hebrew, that can bring him to tears.

    Schrogin isn’t alone.

    At the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many Jews who identify as atheists, secular humanists and other religious “nones” attend synagogue. Most go once a year — like Christians who go to church only at Christmas or Easter. But others, like Schrogin, are active, integral parts of a religious community that, ideologically, they stand apart from.

    There is that social aspect to it.  The church/synagogue/mosque is a community hall where people can connect.  I've been in many churches where the sermon is just something to get through before the real stuff happens.

    My husband and I, both non-believers, love Christmas concerts and go to a couple every year.  My dream is to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing live.  I do love hymns.

    I'm crazy about the Rev. Edwin Rowe, a Methodist minister in Detroit who works tirelessly to support and build up the poor and downtrodden.  I worked with him on a poverty program 30 years ago and I've never forgotten him.

    But I hate hypocrisy and that's what I'm seeing with this new breed of public religious figures.  Meanness, too.  They give religion a bad name -- not that it needs any help from them.

    Serendipity.  Bumped into this a couple of hours after reading your post:

    What Happens when a Leftist Philosopher Discovers God? | Religion and Other Curiosities:

    "Any sociologist will agree that religion, true or not, is useful for the solidarity and moral consensus of society. The problem is that this utility depends on at least some people actually believing that there is the supernatural reality that religion affirms. The utility ceases when nobody believes this anymore.

    Edward Gibbon, in chapter 2 of his famous history of the decline of the Roman Empire, has this to say: “The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful”. When you cross the philosopher with the magistrate, you get Habermas."


    I have to say that my heart sunk the first time I heard Obama do the "God bleess you and God bless the United States of America" bullshit.

    Will it never end?

    Hope not. 

    I take you find it other than a meaningless and tedious formula uttered not for any spiritual invocation so much as to demonstrate the fealty to spirtual values of the speaker?

    I take it as an expression of well wishing which is a good thing whatever the source.

    I suspect that some religious types are reacting so vehemently about social issues, where they can arbitrarily impose their will on others because of the huge loss of power that religion has experienced, and will contine to experience, in other more practical arenas. Which is not to say that religion doesn't still impede scientific inquiry, but every day we learn something new about reality that makes any literal interpretation of the bible, or of Christian dogma in general, highly unlikely. Religion will likely maintain political influence for a long, long time, but it's not going to be the driver of how we interact with the world in the future. Just given what we now know about physics and biology, it's hard for me to be any more generous than to say that a whole lo of people are letting fairy tales inform their vote.

    That is quite a billboard. Jesus as Dirty Harry.

    There is no religious test in the constitution so the requirement to confess a faith that you have pointed out is purely a reflection of voter demand. People want to see a show. Not everybody wants to watch the same one.

    The element that bothers me more than whether the confessor is sincere or not is the display itself. If one is actually acting upon principles, the actions are the words the speaker hopes to utter. In that sense, sincerity is best experienced as the end of language; a trick of the mind that political processes don't do very well.

    So the best arrangement would be a tacit agreement amongst all parties, in a political venue, to refrain from that kind of exhibitionist behavior. It is not so much about locating the boundary between church and state as it is making sure that all such egotistical proclamations belong to the sphere of pure rhetoric, untouched by human hands, doesn't happen because it would just be too embarrassing.

    The idea that confessing a certain belief proved anything by itself is odd. That oddness is a separate matter from the variety in articles of faith and the reasons why people carry them forward into succeeding generations.

    Long, but if you have the time, the following adds a very beguiling big-picture twist to your topic, and not just because Jesus happens to be the vehicle:

    Which one of you is Jesus?
    By Jenny Diski, Diary, London Review of Books, September 22, 2011

    In 1959, Dr Milton Rokeach, a social psychologist, received a research grant to bring together three psychotic, institutionalised patients at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan, in order to make a two and a half year study of them. Rokeach specialised in belief systems: how it is that people develop and keep (or change) their beliefs according to their needs and the requirements of the social world they inhabit. A matter of the inside coming to terms with the outside in order to rub along well enough to get through a life. As a rule people look for positive authority or referents to back up their essential beliefs about themselves in relation to the world: the priest, imam, Delia Smith, the politburo, gang leader, Milton Friedman, your mother, my favourite novelist. More

    That was terrific.  Thanks so much.  I have printed it out and will be pondering over it all day. :D  I found this insight was especially striking.

    A matter of the inside coming to terms with the outside in order to rub along well enough to get through a life.

    How very true.

    Welcome. There's so much in there that it struck me as odd that no playwright or screenwriter had ever seized on the Rokeach story.

    You ain't a kiddin' the religious test is alive and kickin', Mona. And in these times of elusive employment, loss of hearth and home, crippled education opportunities, and crumbled finances, how do our wise leaders guard us against all that bad stuff? Well, they introduce legislation to protect us from being sneaked up on by Sharia law, because somehow, that is more imperative than stirring up a few jobs, jobs, jobs for us. We're choked by personal debt, sleepin' in our cars, our kids are gonna stay stupid, and we're gonna get the right to work for minimum wage or less, but by gawd, our wise leaders are gonna save us from having to be Moooslems!

    Yep, we need us some little bit of Jesus to hep us not freeze to death this winter on account of they turned off the govvermint heat money. Why are they not working on the real needs of the people? Like housing, food, education. Isn't that their job? To serve the people? Why are they not working on guiding us citizens through this awful time?

    Promoting their own religiosity should be their very last public declaration, not their first.

    I have to say there are moments when I feel just a little threatened by the degree of what I will call Christian Nationalism in our nation defined by Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise Of Christian Nationalism, as "adherence to a political ideology that posits a christian right to rule" ( http://www.talk2action.org/story/2006/5/11/151212/239).

    In the same article linked above a link to Texas and Christian Nationalism:

    Christian nationalists believe in a revisionist history, which holds that the founders were devout Christians who never intended to create a secular republic; separation of church and state, according to this history, is a fraud perpetrated by God-hating subversives. One of the foremost Christian revisionist historians is David Barton, who , in addition to running an organization called Wallbuilders that disseminates Christian nationalist books, tracts and videos, is also the vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party. The goal of Christian nationalist politics is the restoration of the imagined Christian nation. As George Grant, former executive director of D. James Kennedy's influential Coral Ridge Ministries, wrote in his book "The Changing of the Guard:"

    "Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ -- to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.
        But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
        It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
        It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
        It is dominion we are after.
        World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish."


    I seriously hate that feeling that I could be the target of this large tribe of people that believe they should wipe out people like me.  Persecution like this is so rampant in the history of humanity.

    My daughter is eternally grateful that she was not raised with religion but was exposed to religion in the context of sufism and Dances of Universal peace that incorporated some information and sacred songs etc from a wide variety of religions and cultures in the world.

    Personally I see God as ':pure consciousness coming to know itself'. 

    The challenge I see is that young people crave coming together and an understanding of their deepest selves.  There is a pain I see them suffer in not finding a way to express this.  But I see them firmly opposed to the churches and religions that too often seem archaic and rigid in their views and not at all offering what they are looking for.  I am looking into starting a non profit and creating a space for these young people to get together and do some of the things they are craving to do.


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