Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Sick and Tired of ‘God Bless America’

An op-ed in the New York Times because it looks at the seeming growing phenomenon in politics - especially Republican politics - of pandering to the most ignorant, religious extremist elements of voters.  Voters who deny science, joyfully embrace ignorance and who want to force their ugly religious beliefs under the false banner of "religious freedom."   In the current GOP field, Cruz and Rubio are the worse offenders, yet even Barack Obama attends the, in my view, National Pray Breakfast which is sponsored by would be theocrats.  The op-ed argues that those of us who believe that religion has no place in the public square and most certainly not in the nation's laws need to get organized and impose a political price on politicians who prostitute themselves to Christian extremists.  Here are column highlights:

The population of nonreligious Americans — including atheists, agnostics and those who call themselves “nothing in particular” — stands at an all-time high this election year. Americans who say religion is not important in their lives and who do not belong to a religious group, according to the Pew Research Center, have risen in numbers from an estimated 21 million in 2008 to more than 36 million now.

Despite the extraordinary swiftness and magnitude of this shift, our political campaigns are still conducted as if all potential voters were among the faithful. The presumption is that candidates have everything to gain and nothing to lose by continuing their obsequious attitude toward orthodox religion and ignoring the growing population of those who make up a more secular America.

Ted Cruz won in Iowa by expanding Republican voter turnout among the evangelical base. Donald J. Trump placed second after promising “to protect Christians” from enemies foreign and domestic. The third-place finisher Marco Rubio’s line “I don’t think you can go to church too often” might well have been the campaign mantra.

The question is not why nonreligious Americans vote for these candidates — there is no one on the ballot who full-throatedly endorses nonreligious humanism — but why candidates themselves ignore the growing group of secular voters.

Yes, America is still a predominantly Christian nation, but evangelical Christians (including multiple Protestant denominations), at 25.4 percent, are the only group larger than those who don’t belong to any church. At 22.8 percent, according to Pew, the unchurched make up a larger group than Catholics, any single Protestant denomination and small minorities of Jews, Muslims and Hindus.

Secularists remain politically weak in part because of the reluctance of many, especially the young, to become “joiners.” Rejection of labels may be one reason so many of the religiously unaffiliated prefer to check “nothing in particular” rather than the atheist or agnostic box.
But it takes joiners to create a lobby.
Yet there is some controversy over coalition building between those who consider themselves “hard” and “soft” atheists. I suppose I must be a “soft” atheist for believing that there is a huge political upside to ad hoc coalitions with liberal religious groups.

Freedom of conscience for all — which exists only in secular democracies — should be at the top of the list of shared concerns. Candidates who rightly denounce the persecution of Christians by radical Islamists should be ashamed of themselves for not expressing equal indignation at the persecution of freethinkers and atheists, as well as dissenting Muslims and small religious sects, not only by terrorists but also by theocracies like Saudi Arabia. With liberal religious allies, it would be easier for secularists to hold candidates to account when they talk as if freedom of conscience is a human right only for the religious.

Even more critical is the necessity of reclaiming the language of religious freedom from the far right. As defined by many pandering politicians, “religious freedom” is in danger of becoming code for accepting public money while imposing faith-based values on others.

Secularists must hold candidates to account when they insult secular values, whether that means challenging them in town hall meetings or withholding donations.  . . . . politicians will continue to ignore secular Americans until they are convinced that there is a price to be paid for doing so.

“God bless America” has become the standard ending of every major political speech. Just once in my life, I would like the chance to vote for a presidential candidate who ends his or her appeals with Thomas Paine’s observation that “the most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason.”

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