Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Religion and Politics

Is It a New Poison?

Feel free to disagree with me, but in my opinion the North Carolina Senatorial campaign between Kay Hagan and Elizabeth Dole has brought out the worst in both politics and religious discourse in the United States.  Religion has been used as a sword against The Other by one of the major parties.  Since this is a nominally non-partisan blog I won’t say who is the guilty party.

In his discussing the presidential race, fmr Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama and one of his major concerns was the way that the Republican party was using religion to divide the country between “Pro-America” and “Anti-America.”  Michele Bachmann’s comments on Hardball about both Barack Obama and a plea for the media to expose the “Anti-America” elements in the House of Representatives were especially upsetting to him.

More importantly, he mentioned the ongoing rumor which insinuates that Barack Obama is a Muslim and not a Christian.  He not only pointed out that Obama is a Christian, but then he made an even more important point.   While the denials that Obama is a Muslim and is instead a Christian are important as far as getting the facts straight, the more important point is that it should not matter.

If Obama were a Muslim, his qualificatons for leadership would not change.  Anti-Islamic bigotry should not be used against politicians.  From the transcripts:

Headstone At Arlington

Headstone At Arlington

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave.  And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone.  And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey.  He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.  Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.  And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know.  But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

I am troubled at how religion has been used to divide Americans.  I don’t know if there were ever periods in our history when we weren’t facing some sort of religious dvide, but it seems to have been accentuated in this race because of a candidate whose middle name is “Hussein.”

This is not the first time that a candidate has been smeared because of his religion.  Alfred Smith was the 1928 Democratic Party nomnee, but was often cast as being more beholden to the Pope than to the US Constitution.  John Kennedy ran as a candidate in 1960, and the anti-Catholic bigotry once again reared its ugly head.  Kennedy addressed the situation with a speech that really should be used as a template when discussing a candidate’s religious beliefs:

Kenned Speaking

Kenned Speaking

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

I really want to be clear as an atheist that while I have serious disagreements with the role that religion should play in society, I have no qualms against voting for somebody whose religious views differ from mine if I find that the person in question has a poltical view that I share.  I vote for Christians in elections, even knowing their beliefs.  In the 2006 mayoral election, I even voted for a Conservative Christian Republican.  I practice what I am preaching here.

One more point before I get to my conclusion and open the topic for comments.  This is not a new phenomena, nor was it new in the 20th century.  Ed Darrell at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub (an excellent blog whose writer is interested in correcting misunderstood versions of American History) refers us back to the 1800 presidential campaign.  John Adams, a defender of religious liberty, engaged with the assistance of Alexander Hamilton in trying to smear Thomas Jefferson as an atheist.  Hamilton convinced editors of newspapers to publish articles and editorials claiming that if elected, Jefferson would send the Army to confiscate Bibles:

One might recall Dumas Malone’s description of the election of 1800, between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson thought it beneath his dignity, and not part of American politics, to discuss a candidate’s religious faith.  Alexander Hamilton, on behalf of Adams, led a campaign of calumny in newspapers throughout the U.S. saying that because Jefferson was atheist, as president he’d send the army to confiscate Bibles.  Jefferson refused to respond.  Malone notes that on election day, fully half of all American voters were convinced Jefferson was atheist.

They voted for Jefferson anyway, rather than stick with the failed policies of Adams.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

It’s not new, you see.  It’s just much more effective thanks to the internet and to 24-hour cable.  Karl Rove has mastered the technique of getting the news media outlets to “raise the question” without stating a position.  The question-raising is often enough to shift opinion against a candidate.  The Washington Post featured an article on how it is possible to convince the populace that a candidate’s religion makes his/her patriotism suspect, even if the candidate is not a member of that religion.

Kay Hagan’s response to Elizabeth Dole’s slimy campaign ads involved the disclaimer that she is a Christian.  Many atheists who had donated money to support her were disappointed that she had not used Colin Powell’s example to say that “While I am not an atheist, so what if I were?”

If I ever run for office, atheism will not be my central plank.  But since I am way out of the closet, there will be no way to hide that fact.  And I would not run from it, either.  If it were to become an issue, I would remind voters of what Kennedy and Powell said.  I would also remind them of the way that the voters responded to the charges of Jefferson’s atheism in 1800.


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Making Sense of the Veep Candidates

Minnesotans were waiting throughout Friday morning to see if we would once again have a presence on the national ticket of one of the two major parties.  Some of us breathed a sigh of relief when Tim Pawlenty was not named (it would leave us with Carol Molnau as governor and Molnau is credited with the failure of the MnDOT to prevent the I35W bridge collapse.)


Sarah Palin Fishing

Sarah Palin Fishing

We, along with the rest of the country, were completely taken by surprise that Sarah Palin of Alaska was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Republican Party.  Palin’s biography has been published and there is a great deal of discussion of her background and the shallowness of her experience in government.  I’m not going to pile on that.  I am also going to leave alone her positions on abortion, stem cell research, abstinence-only education and polar bears.  I think that those things are being covered in enough of the media and blogosphere to make it unnecessary here.


No, what I want to approach here is her attitude towards the idea of teaching Intelligent Design along with evolution in science classes.  I also want to mention that our own governor of Minnesota, a frontrunner for the Vice Presidential nomination has a similar position on science education.  This was a surprise to me, even though Pawlenty had appointed Cheri Pierson-Yecke as the Commissioner of Education when he first took office in 2002.  Yecke was the commissioner who had tried to write “Teach the Controversy” into the science standards when they were being reviewed in 2004.  She was narrowly defeated in her efforts.

Many people wonder what the problem is regarding teaching the controversy, and accuse scientists of academic suppression when they don’t let Intelligent Design into school standards.  Simply put, there is no science to Intelligent Design.  Introducing Intelligent Design into the science classroom would be a clear example of a violation of the three-prong Lemon test developed by the Supreme Court in deciding the case of Lemon v. Kurtz.  Intelligent Design is religiously motivated (and transparently so) and has been determined to have no secular value.

Sarah Palin said in an interview that the schools should teach both Intelligent Design and the competing theory of evolution (as if there were only one.)  She actually didn’t specify the Intelligent Design form of Creationism, but she did say  this at a gubernatorial forum in Alaska in 2006 (Anchorage Daily News:)

• PALIN: “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. “Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject — creationism and evolution. It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.

Intelligent Design isn’t actually based on information (although they spend a great deal of time mis-using Shannon Information Theory,) and so “giving information” on Intelligent Design would be a disservice to education.  Those are the main reasons that I see a problem with Palin’s position.  We really should be teaching kids how science is done, and not bring the “origins” and religion debate into it.  And evolution as we understand it is based on the same methods of science as chemistry, physics and geology. Hypothesize, research, test, analyze, test again and re-analyze.

Tim Pawlenty said recently (August 31 on Meet the Press🙂 


Tim Pawlenty Fishing in Polluted Waters

Tim Pawlenty Fishing in Polluted Waters

GOV. PAWLENTY: We’ve said in Minnesota, in my view this is a local decision. Intelligent design is something that in my view is a plausible and credible and something that I personally believe in; but more importantly, from an educational and scientific standpoint, it should be decided by local school boards, by–at the local school district level. 

I can assure you that this is not the case in Minnesota, and it doesn’t make sense for Pawlenty to claim that local schools are free to set their own standards. He signed the current standards into law (MNSCE’s Judy Budreau:)

 In the past, Governor Pawlenty has been unclear about his position on including Intelligent Design in Minnesota classrooms; his first appointment for Commissioner of Education, Cheri Pierson Yecke was publicly supportive of Intelligent Design/Creationism. Dr. Yecke’s appointment was not confirmed, due at least in part to this stand. To Governor Pawlenty’s credit, he signed into law the current Minnesota Academic Standards for Science, which do not contain provisions for teaching Intelligent Design/Creationism. 
    On the other hand, when several Minnetonka citizens spoke to officials at the Minnesota Department of Education in November and December 2005 to get clarification on whether or not the Minnesota standards allow or encourage teaching ID/Creationism, the reply was always the same: Minnesotans favor local control of school districts and the academic standards allow for this. 

Oh, so even though the local control aspect is in contravention to state law, the governor’s office and the Department of Education are enforcing the policy that they want rather than what is in the law.  This seems to bean example of the Republican strategy of legislating from the Executive Branch (see the Bush Signing Statements.)

Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin were but two of the finalists to be McCain’s running mate, but it was a short list and both of them are in favor of subverting science education.  What is going on here? Well, either McCain is unaware of their positions, or he is aware and doesn’t think that this is a problem.  

In my mind, the approach to Intelligent Design serves as a bellwether for how a person approaches important issues.  The evolution denialists use the same thought processes to establish their positions on origins as do the global warming denialists (I can’t call them skeptics for obvious reasons.)  And McCain’s tacit approval by proxy of this sort of thinking process calls into question his ability to choose people who will be able to advise him on science matters.

It also brings up another problem with McCain and who he would choose for his cabinet.  If critical thinking is unimportant to him in evolution and climate, how important will it be in economic matters?  Will he be willing to examine the effects of tax cuts for the wealthy from an economics standpoint or will he be compelled to follow the Reagan line that the benefits to the wealthiest of such tax cuts will trickle down to the rest of us?  Will he be able to exercise reason in foreign policy, or will he continue to take advice from a neo-con lobbyist such as Randy Scheunemann?

The Republican Governors, one chosen and one nearly chosen, send to me a message that McCain’s own power of discernment, which he needs in order to be president is lacking.  The President of the United States doesn’t do all the deciding on his or her own.  They surround themselves with people we expect to be competent to enact sensible policies.  I don’t trust the people McCain favors, and Palin is only one of many problems with McCain.

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