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Austin Cline

Obama Campaign Accepts Anti-Atheist Bigotry, Doesn't Care About Atheists

By November 3, 2008

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Is that right, the Barack Obama presidential campaign doesn't really think of atheists as equals and isn't interested in their votes?? Yes, that seems to be the case. Anti-atheist animus and bigotry was made unambiguously clear during the "Presidential Forum" (Wednesday 10/29/08) at the Christian Life Academy in Pennsylvania. If the remarks in question had been made about a minority like Jews, the Obama campaign would be effectively dead today. It's only because Christian hatred of atheists is so widespread that no one cares — and why the McCain campaign isn't making a big deal about it.

The only people who care about this are the atheists, agnostics, humanists, and pagans who were personally, directly, and deliberately attacked either by or in the presence of two high-ranking, paid members of Barack Obama's campaign: Don Miller and D. Paul Monteiro. In either case, these two men clearly don't like atheists, don't want to have anything to do with atheists, and as far as I can tell they are speaking for Barack Obama on such matters.

Dave Silverman has published a letter from Carl Silverman who attended the aforementioned forum.

I submitted a question, specifically for the McCain-Palin people. Here's the question, as asked by the moderator, who only slightly rephrased it from the original:

"With at least 8% of Pennsylvanians being atheists, agnostics, and humanists, what are the McCain-Palin campaign going to say tonight to attract any undecided voters from that group of Pennsylvanians?"

McCain's National Evangelical Director, Marlys Pompa, said that McCain was going to be a president of all the people, people "of all faiths and no faiths." She mentioned the "wonderful melting pot" of America, and generally emphasized the inclusiveness and unity of a McCain presidency. She, of course, did not mention Palin.

The moderator then proceeded to ask another question, this time directed to the Obama campaign, but the Obama representatives insisted on responding to my question first.

There are three things that I think are very important and which should be kept firmly in mind at this point. First, the question was about more than just atheists — it includes agnostics and humanists as well. Second, the question was directed at the McCain campaign and their answer was surprisingly positive: they have no intention of denigrating or discriminating against atheists. John McCain apparently regards atheists as equal to religious theists.

Finally, and very ominously, the representative of the Obama campaign insisted on answering the question as well. This means that they weren't blind-sided by a surprise topic and it means that we aren't looking at casual prejudice. Don Miller and D. Paul Monteiro are quoted as going out of their way to talk about atheists.

Don Miller, an author and social conservative who delivered a prayer at the Democratic convention, said, "Senator Obama has a policy director and an advisor for many different faiths. He has nothing on atheists or agnostics. There's not this grand effort for the Democrats to reach out to a group of pagans to try to get them to vote for Senator Obama."

D. Paul Monteiro, Obama's National Deputy Director for Religious Affairs, then said, "Senator Obama has a twenty-year history, a twenty-year testimony" and described Obama's support for Bush's "faith-based partnership program" and how Obama said "no" to those who distributed flyers at the Democratic National Convention urging him, on the basis of church-state separation, to oppose public funding of faith-based initiatives.

Then, referring to Sen. Obama, Monteiro proclaimed, "This is not some crazy wacko atheist trying to make sure that your children grow up to marry trees."

[emphasis added]

At this point, witness reports vary as to what really happened. Silverman reports the above while a comment made by someone else who was there says that Don Miller made the comment about atheists wanting others' children to grow up and "marry trees." In a response to all this, Monteiro insisted that the attendees were all wrong because no one from the Obama campaign made any such statements — it must have been someone else there.

I've made repeated attempts to contact the Obama campaign about this, both on the national level and in Pennsylvania. I can't get any response or comment about the situation — it frankly looks like no one wants to talk about it and it's possible that they are hoping that it all goes away before election day. I can't know that for sure, obviously, but the absence of anyone interested in commenting on the matter is suspicious.

What Monteiro doesn't deny, though, is that neither he nor anyone else from the Obama campaign cared enough about the treatment of atheists to say anything at the time. Nor, upon later reflection, did Monteiro care enough about the treatment of atheists to condemn the remarks in hindsight, to apologize for not speaking out at the time, or to insist that those remarks don't reflect the beliefs of Barack Obama, himself, or any of Obama's other advisors.

So what did Monteiro eventually have to say for himself?

“We talk about people of good will and good intent, and we strive to highlight the values that we share across lines – values like accountability, responsibility, honesty and transparency. We’ve done over 200 Values Forums across the country, and at these forums we were talking to atheists and secular humanists as well as people of faith. Those conversations revealed that we can all agree, across faith lines, on these and other basic American values. These values are accessible to all people of good will. That’s what these forums are all about”

Well, Mr. D. Paul Monteiro, how about being accountable for your refusal to condemn the bigoted remarks? How about being responsible for standing up against bigotry when you see it? How about being honest about what you really think about atheists? There are a lot of values missing from Monteiro's list — values like basic decency, opposition to hatred, and support for equality. I wonder what Monteiro would think about a white person who refused to speak out against racist remarks made in such a forum and then refused to condemn them later when given an opportunity to do so.

It's interesting that Monteiro touts how many of the "Values Forums" have been done, but how many have not occurred in a church or have not been hosted by religious organizations? When "values" are so unambiguously conflated with "religion," the entire "Values Forums" agenda becomes more a matter of sending voters the dog-whistle message that Democrats are just as bigoted against atheists and the non-religious as are Republicans. When you host "values" conversations in the exclusive or even near-exclusive context of religion, you are not talking with atheists or secular humanists, you are talking down to them.

It's true that "basic American values" are "accessible to all people of good will," but for such statements to mean anything you're going to have take the values-rhetoric out of the churches and hold the conversations in a neutral, secular context.

I asked: “Does your office include atheists?”

“Being a grass roots movement, there are tons of volunteers across the country and many are people of faith or atheists or secular humanists. I think Senator Obama said it best when he said that ‘religious people do not have a monopoly on morality’. Senator Obama is trying to navigate this contentious landscape to bring people of all faiths, including no faith, together to help address the common challenges all Americans are facing right now.”

“We have a clear desire to be as inclusive as possible, and to bring every American to the table. Senator Obama is serious about bringing people of all traditions into this effort, and we want to make sure that this message is made clear.”

This is no better than the "some of my best friends of atheists" excuse. In fact, it's worse: how does it demonstrate that your campaign doesn't ultimately stand on the side of bigotry and hate if you've managed to get some atheists into donating their time to help you get elected when you don't actually employ any alongside Christians, Jews, and Muslims? The simple fact is that you aren't really trying to reach out to people of "no faith" unless you actively and strongly stand opposed to the bigotry, hate, and discrimination they face simply on account of their not having any religion or any belief in any gods.

That, however, does not describe D. Paul Monteiro specifically or the Barack Obama presidential campaign generally. It's not enough to say that you want to be inclusive, you have to act on it — and, so long as you say things not reflected by your actions, what you're saying are lies.

I asked: “Is there anything else you’d like to say to the nonreligious population?”

“We are asking for all people of good will to support Senator Obama. He is serious about bringing people of all traditions together to address the issues facing America.”

People of all traditions... but not dirty atheists who want your children to grow up to marry trees. Right Mr. Monteiro? Hey, he didn't reject or condemn any of those remarks, so he can't complain about being saddled with them after the fact.
You know that if such statements were made about Jews or Latinos, he and others would be falling all over themselves to ensure that everyone knows that they reject such bigotry and that no one should mistakenly attribute such views to them. Given that, I can't act as though the remarks in question don't reflect his position and thus the position of the campaign: despite all the seductive rhetoric about "change" and "inclusion," the Obama campaign can't even be bothered to issue the slightest criticism of ridiculously over-the-top anti-atheist bigotry.

If that's too much to ask of the campaign, when they are actively seeking support from voters, there is no way they can be expected to take action against anti-atheist bigotry or discrimination during an Obama administration. This really shouldn't be a surprise because Barack Obama did reject those opposed to the continuation of George Bush's faith-based funding schemes and he didn't offer even a peep of protest when Leah Daughtry organized a prayer breakfast at the Convention where atheists were specifically excluded and where Daughtry made it clear that the Democratic Party was for "people of faith," meaning that atheists weren't welcome.

That's not "change" I can believe in and it's certainly not change I can vote for.

Speaking for myself, I no longer think I'll be voting for Barack Obama. I have to conclude that comments like this, coming as they do from such important members of the campaign, likely represent official policy for Barack Obama. At the very least they are a clear indication of the sort of people he has already and will in the future put in charge of faith-based programs and any religion-related office: pure, unadulterated, and unapologetic bigots. After so many years of politically and religiously conservative bigots in the administration, I feel no rush to replace them with politically and religiously liberal bigots.

Comments
November 3, 2008 at 1:39 pm
(1) EvilPoet says:

Atheist bigotry is not very respectful to Obama’s Momma.

November 3, 2008 at 1:52 pm
(2) Dewhurst says:

Being part of a minority (non-believers) here in the USA can be quite difficult. Especially when everyone is afraid of you, and would rather resort to name calling and insults than to critically examine the group in question.

November 3, 2008 at 2:26 pm
(3) Dean says:

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

November 3, 2008 at 3:10 pm
(4) marc says:

Unless there is a vote of “no confidence” option, I cannot vote for either one of these candidates. The McCain side is crazy and the Obama strikes me as too caculating and a liar. Both parties are anti-atheist.

November 3, 2008 at 3:31 pm
(5) Barbara_K says:

I read about this over the weekend and was pretty disappointed upon hearing that McCain’s campaign gave a more inclusive response than Obama’s.

If I were living in a swing state, I think the rational choice would still be Obama. But as a California resident, a progressive, and an atheist, I am left with no good reason to vote for him or to give my vote to the Democrats. The party’s leadership (Leah Daughtry under Howard Dean) has made it perfectly clear that atheists are not welcome in their big tent, so why crash the party when it’s not the only one in town?

November 3, 2008 at 3:39 pm
(6) KC says:

I’ve already voted for Obama and am at ease with it. He is, IMHO, just another stepping stone on the path to greater things.

November 3, 2008 at 4:25 pm
(7) galderon says:

I agree with KC. I wouldn’t read too much into this. Obama pretty much has the atheist vote already, so going out of his way to include atheists is only going to hurt his chances.

He already has to go out of his way to proclaim he’s more Christian than he really is, to try to placate the bigots who think he’s a Muslim.

People already won’t vote for him because of his name, his skin color or because his parents were non-religious.

People often wonder aloud why we don’t get a politician that actually tells the truth and speaks his mind…but the answer is easy…if he did, Americans wouldn’t vote for him.

November 3, 2008 at 4:27 pm
(8) fauxrs says:

Niether party is going to be up front about this. So the McCain camp made a wonderfully inclusive sounding sound bite. considering the recent history of the Republican party (vastly over religious IMO) and their VP nomination, am I really supposed to believe that somehow a McCain Adminastration is going to be inclusive of athiests, humanists et. al?

Sorry, candidates say what they need to get votes, if anything the Obama campaign gets the nod for being up front about it as opposed to the McCain campaign for dissembling.

November 3, 2008 at 4:35 pm
(9) Tep says:

Neither party is supportive of atheism. But aren’t they just responding to a pervasive opinion in the US populace? What needs to happen is for that opinion to change. That’s worth working for. Expecting either party in the US 2-party system to go against such a trend I believe to be just wishful thinking. I have no sense whatsoever that the Republicans are any more supportive of atheism, and while it’s a shame that Obama seems to have these opinions, I really don’t expect any politician to hold opinions that mean she/he can’t get elected. I’d like them to be better, but that’s not realistic. Atheists, I think, need to look a little more long-range, and for me, that’s still voting for Obama in this case, as right now it seems to me that voting Republican is voting for Christian dominionists.

November 3, 2008 at 4:44 pm
(10) Barbara_K says:

“People often wonder aloud why we don’t get a politician that actually tells the truth and speaks his mind…but the answer is easy…if he did, Americans wouldn’t vote for him. ”

I’m an American, and I would. And have. But I understand what you’re saying, although in spite of the irrational nature of the electorate I try to be a little more optimistic about voters than the evidence would lead me to be.

“am I really supposed to believe that somehow a McCain Adminastration is going to be inclusive of athiests, humanists et. al?”

Unless you’re in a swing state, the Republican party is not the only other party in town. Obama shouldn’t get a free pass for conveniently ignoring the anti-atheist, pro faith based initiative rhetoric coming from his campaign. And really? They get a nod for being up front about their bigotry?

I think I’ll reserve my nods for honesty that’s mixed with a bit of integrity. I personally cringed to hear that McCain’s campaign had a more inclusive message, so they’re not getting any nods from me either.

November 3, 2008 at 4:50 pm
(11) fauxrs says:

“And really? They get a nod for being up front about their bigotry? ”

You betcha… when the difference is letting me know their bigoted or telling me a lie, I go with honesty every day, even if I cant agree with it.

We need more politicians with the integrity to tell me something I’m not going to like hearing, rather than just spouting what they think I want to hear.

so yeah I give him nods for being up front about his beliefs, I do not give him nods FOR his beliefs.

November 3, 2008 at 4:50 pm
(12) Austin Cline says:

Obama pretty much has the atheist vote already

Allowing ourselves to be taken for granted like that is part of the problem. No one should simply “have” our vote, they should have to earn it.

What needs to happen is for that opinion to change.

Of course, but it’s a mistake to think that popular politicians shouldn’t take the lead in helping change opinions. Remember that presidents have relatively little power themselves; their biggest “power” is the ability to command attention and thereby convince people to take new courses of action.

It wouldn’t have cost Obama a thing to denounce any “values meetings” at the convention that inappropriately excluded secular atheists.

November 3, 2008 at 5:00 pm
(13) galderon says:

“I personally cringed to hear that McCain’s campaign had a more inclusive message”

Yeah it’s not surprising. McCain is going after left-leaning undecideds, so his message will be more inclusive to appeal to them. Obama is going after right-leaning undecideds, so rejecting “pagans” is the better move.

Counter-intuitive, but there ya go.

I agree in principle, however. It would be nice to have a straight-talking politician…but I don’t think we’re quite ready.

Historically speaking, politicians that speak their mind get run out of office by the mob with pitchforks and torches. Jesse Ventura, former Governor of MN spoke his mind, and the public hated him for it.

November 3, 2008 at 5:04 pm
(14) Sherry says:

As a registered Republican for 35 years, I’m here to tell you there is no room in that party for anyone who is not a fundie Christian or Zionist Jew. The GOP left me, I did not leave it.

I’m so frustrated that this election denigrated into an unconstitutional religious test. Did you know that “Ike” wasn’t even baptized when he was elected in 1952?

November 3, 2008 at 5:08 pm
(15) galderon says:

“It wouldn’t have cost Obama a thing to denounce any “values meetings” at the convention that inappropriately excluded secular atheists.”

I agree with most of your points, but I disagree here. I think it would cost Obama votes to publicly endorse the non-religious.

However, you’re absolutely right, that you need some controversy to raise everybody’s consciousness. Getting an African American into office will make it that much easier for other minorities to be accepted for their merits.

Even Palin running is helping the overall cause of raising consciousness. We’ll probably have record numbers of women trying for public office after this year with Palin and Clinton in the limelight.

So I agree, it shouldn’t be the way it is. Obama took the safe, cowardly route in this case, picking short term gain over long term gain. This year, he can take the atheist group for granted, due to the two-party system mostly, but it won’t always be that way.

November 3, 2008 at 5:09 pm
(16) fauxrs says:

Yes, we are a long stretch from having straight speaking politicians that tell us what they really think. I’ve said it before that I personally believe that many politicians are a lot less religious than they would like the general populace to believe, the problem is they dont vote that way..

Jesse Ventura as previously mentioned spoke his mind and of course ended his political career for it.

He said (I paraphrase) “Religion is a crutch used by the weak-minded” or soemthing to that effect. His acceptance went down immediately, but I applaud his courage from saying that and not really backing down from it.

November 3, 2008 at 5:09 pm
(17) Sherry says:

As a woman and veteran of 10 years of military service, I had to go with Obama/Biden.

Besides that, Palin really is a whack job. “End Timers” shouldn’t have access to the red button.

November 3, 2008 at 5:20 pm
(18) Barbara_K says:

“so yeah I give him nods for being up front about his beliefs, I do not give him nods FOR his beliefs. ”

Yeah, I guess I will concede on that point. There is a lot to be said for honesty, at least we won’t feel blindsided by any other religious bigotry that arises from his (not voting for him but still crossing my fingers) camp/administration in the future.

November 3, 2008 at 5:36 pm
(19) Austin Cline says:

I agree with most of your points, but I disagree here. I think it would cost Obama votes to publicly endorse the non-religious.

Saying that atheists are as welcome in the Democratic Party isn’t the same as endorsing them — no more so than saying “religious people do not have a monopoly on morality.” The question is, will he limit himself to empty platitudes in the expectation that this will satisfy atheists, or will he actually oppose bigotry when it comes to internal events (i.e., events that affect only committed Democrats and will have impact on others). If he can’t bring himself to oppose bigotry and discrimination when it comes to internal party events, he’ll never do it in the government.

Allowing the police to forcibly remove an agnostic who stands up to object to what’s going on, however, endorses bigotry. Imagine if a Jew were ejected by the police for standing up and questioning why everything was Christian-centered.

Secularists have already been thrown under the Obama Bus and they don’t even know it so they’ll still vote for him. That’s what bigots like Monteiro are counting on.

November 3, 2008 at 6:57 pm
(20) Paul Buchman says:

Of course I’m disappointed by the events mentioned in your column today. I expected better from the Obama people. Despite that, I still think we should vote for Obama.

1) As political disappointments go, this is not even close to being the biggest. That dishonor, for me, goes to Lyndon Johnson after the 1964 election. He promised peace and gave us a terrible war.

2) Look at the big picture. Some things are more important to the country as a whole than anti-atheist bigotry: war, civil liberties, deregulation, the economy, church / state, and so on. The Republicans have set the USA on the road to ruin. They really should be thrown out before they can do more damage. A vote for a 3rd party is not as helpful to that end as would be a vote for Obama. Under current conditions I don’t feel that I have the luxury to be a single-issue voter.

November 3, 2008 at 7:08 pm
(21) Austin Cline says:

I don’t feel that I have the luxury to be a single-issue voter.

Bigotry isn’t an “issue” like taxes or abortion, it’s a question of a person’s basic character and competency for public office. Political issues are things which people of good will might reasonably disagree on and have to work through those disagreements in order to come to some sort of solution. Bigotry of any sort doesn’t qualify.

Refusing to vote for an anti-atheist bigot is in the same general category as refusing to vote for an anti-Semite or a White Supremacist.

Look at the big picture.

I do. In that big picture we’ll never achieve real justice on the basis of bigotry and injustice.

Some things are more important to the country as a whole than anti-atheist bigotry

That’s very noble of you, sacrificing your own equality and dignity for the sake of the country. Would you vote for a candidate that promised to disenfranchise atheists if that candidate promise other things you thought important for “the country as a whole”?

I would hope not, but that means that anti-atheist bigotry can be a reason for you to not vote for someone. The question would then seem to be how much bigotry is enough for you to say “no” and how much sh** you’re willing to eat when it’s handed to you by the bigots.

Personally, I’m done eating what they want to feed me and I’m done compromising on bigotry.

Nothing personal is intended in the above comments, by the way. Everyone has to consult their own conscience when making this sort of decision.

November 3, 2008 at 8:03 pm
(22) The Sojourner says:

As an atheist, I would much rather have a “moderate” Christian for president, than a full blown wingnut like Bush. I think Obama is between a rock and a hard place. He can’t afford any mis-step that would give the opponents fodder.

Unfortunately this country is known worldwide for its religious bent. Most world powers do not consider religion a qualification for public office. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case here. The whole Liddy Dole flap is a perfect example of how things can go awry, when the mix is too potent.

I still think that having an intelligent, articulate president far outweighs having an angry old warhorse and his “End Days”, creationist, book banning, female Sancho Palin VP sidekick running the country.

Perhaps in time, people will no longer feel uncomfortable about we “so called” godless citizens. Last time I looked, we were still citizens and should be excercising our rights to educate, discuss and otherwise try to familiarize more people about our minority.

It took many years before blacks had civil rights and a degree of acceptance. Now it looks as though we may well have an African-American as president. Even with that, some people still can’t get use to that idea yet. They would rather vote for a 72 year old hasbeen ex Nam “hero” than Obama.

I voted early and for Obama. I still think he could be the first catalyst for positive change in years. He may even be open-minded enough to finally accept, without rancir As Joe E Brown said in “Some Like it Hot” . . .”Nobody’s perfect”.

November 3, 2008 at 8:10 pm
(23) The Sojourner says:

As an atheist, I would much rather have a “moderate” Christian for president, than a full blown wingnut like Bush. I think Obama is between a rock and a hard place. He can’t afford any mis-step that would give the opponents fodder.

Unfortunately this country is known worldwide for its religious bent. Most world powers do not consider religion a qualification for public office. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case here. The whole Liddy Dole flap is a perfect example of how things can go awry, when the mix is too potent.

I still think that having an intelligent, articulate president far outweighs having an angry old warhorse and his “End Days”, creationist, book banning, female Sancho Palin VP sidekick running the country.

Perhaps in time, people will no longer feel uncomfortable about we “so called” godless citizens. Last time I looked, we were still citizens and should be exercising our rights to educate, discuss and otherwise try to familiarize more people about our minority.

It took many years before blacks had civil rights and a degree of acceptance. Now it looks as though we may well have an African-American as president. Even with that, some people still can’t get use to that idea yet. They would rather vote for a 72 year old white, hasbeen ex Nam “hero” than Obama.

I voted early and for Obama. I still think he could be the first catalyst for positive change in years. He may even be open-minded enough to finally accept atheists and atheism, without rancor, eventually. As Joe E Brown said in “Some Like it Hot” . . .”Nobody’s perfect”.

November 3, 2008 at 8:15 pm
(24) The Sojourner says:

I don’t know how, but I somehow got in twice. Sorry.

November 3, 2008 at 8:50 pm
(25) Ron says:

Has anyone listened closely to Obama’s Statements to get a feel of what his world view is? For sure, he is not a Muslim, nor, a Christian. Deist, maybe. you do what you got to do to win an election. Otherwise, why run for office?

November 3, 2008 at 11:47 pm
(26) Paul Buchman says:

Bigotry isn’t an “issue” like taxes or abortion…

Point taken.

Would you vote for a candidate that promised to disenfranchise atheists if that candidate promise other things you thought important for “the country as a whole”?

Of course not.

That’s very noble of you, sacrificing your own equality and dignity for the sake of the country.

I don’t think I’m sacrificing my equality by voting for Obama. Irrespective of the comments by Obama people quoted above, I believe that an Obama admin. would be more liberal in all areas than a McCain admin. I hope that my confidence in that belief is not misplaced.

Nothing personal is intended in the above comments, by the way.

Thank you.

November 4, 2008 at 5:22 am
(27) The Sojourner says:

I also feel that voting for Obama as the “liberal” candidate is the best use of my vote. If we let the fundies win (Palin, for instance) the power positions, the Christian Taliban is on its way.

We know at least one of the SCOTUS judges will retire or die in the next four years. If the GOPers win we could lose any chance of a fair and balanced court for decades. The GOPers always talk of not wanting judges that “legislate” from the bench. We, here, know what that means. Scalia and Roberts anyone?

Our country cannot afford to have the SCOTUS tipped anymore to the right, we have already had our constitution shredded somewhat because of the wingnut judges on the SCOTUS bench, as it is. That is why making sure your vote goes to good use, counts. We have a lot at stake, this time.

November 4, 2008 at 7:20 am
(28) Austin Cline says:

I don’t think I’m sacrificing my equality by voting for Obama.

Not in the way as with someone who promises to disenfranchise you, but you are voting for a Party where it’s been made clear that atheists don’t belong and Obama never objected to that. Bigotry of the sort we are talking about is all about causing harm to some despised group, primarily in terms of their equality and dignity but also in other areas of life. It’s not merely a passive, casual belief.

So any time you say that bigotry against you is secondary, you are sacrificing some measure of your equality and dignity for something else. You’re saying “I’ll let you kick me around, some, for the sake of some other goal.”

Irrespective of the comments by Obama people quoted above, I believe that an Obama admin. would be more liberal in all areas than a McCain admin. I hope that my confidence in that belief is not misplaced.

I don’t doubt that an Obama administration would be more liberal – but “more liberal” isn’t necessarily “less bigoted” and it certainly doesn’t mean “not bigoted at all.” The Democratic Party doesn’t believe that atheists have anything to contribute to discussions of morals and values. Barack Obama places unapologetic bigots in charge of religious matters – the same people who are likely to be administering his planned expansion of faith-based funding.

Being “liberal” or even “more liberal” doesn’t make a person good or a politician automatically deserving of your vote.

November 4, 2008 at 7:57 am
(29) elaine says:

As a Citizen of the United Kingdom and an atheist I am heartened by the comments made by the American people. The coments by atheists are put sensibly. I do believe that Obama is the less of two evils for he must have had some experience of discrimation, just as all us Atheists are experiencing now. A black American President would be a start

November 4, 2008 at 11:07 am
(30) tracieh says:

To me it comes down to the question of whether or not I believe someone will infringe upon my civil rights. Palin and McCain have said they will support such infringement–since I’m a woman in addition to being an atheist.

Obama’s camp don’t have to like me. And they don’t even have to refrain from insult of me–so long as the don’t pass laws that infringe on my rights.

I heard a speaker recently, I wish I could recall his name. But he was Jewish. He was talking about a movement to get people together. And one of his complaints was that he felt like the Democrats were not respectful to theists–that they promoted an elitist agenda that made people of faith feel inferior, due to rhetoric that scoffed at the beliefs of the religious right.

I remember thinking that it’s not a political party’s job to stop people from dialoguing or debating or to make them phrase themselves in ways that are kind and inoffensive. If a theist and I are working to achieve social justice, and I think the theist’s religious beliefs are idiotic (and say so)–what of it? Does that mean we can’t work together to achieve our goals any longer? We have to agree or silence our disagreement or feign respect that doesn’t exist?

If these comments were made–do I think they were foolish comments to make in a political campaign? Yes. Do I hope such stupidity doesn’t reflect Obama’s views? Yes. Is there a reason for me think that my rights as an atheist will be violated by Obama? I just haven’t seen that in the way I’ve seen McCain say he’d let the states decide my reproductive rights as a woman. When Obama comes out and says that the states should determine whether or not people should be legally compelled to attend a church service–then I’ll be more concerned.

The response to this, in my view, should be exactly what is happening here–public dialogue about what was said and what it implies and what it really means to us as a society. By all means, criticize and examine and respond. Prejudice and bigotry CAN lead to legal discrimination–surely. But do I believe they _will_ in this situation? That’s ultimately the question for me.

November 4, 2008 at 11:41 am
(31) Austin Cline says:

He was talking about a movement to get people together. And one of his complaints was that he felt like the Democrats were not respectful to theists–that they promoted an elitist agenda that made people of faith feel inferior, due to rhetoric that scoffed at the beliefs of the religious right.

Since the Democratic Party have specifically and officially made it clear that they are a party of “people of faith,” with atheists not welcome, this man was either too ignorant to have an informed opinion or was simply one of those theists who mean “I want a position of domination and privilege” when they say “I want to be treated with respect.”

November 4, 2008 at 1:35 pm
(32) Ron says:

Austin. So, what are you saying? Don’t vote? Too late. I already did.

November 4, 2008 at 2:27 pm
(33) GeckoRoamin says:

Sometimes Austin, you let your self-rightous indignation cloud your judgement.

November 4, 2008 at 2:31 pm
(34) tracieh says:

Austin:

The guy was talking, if I recall right, in 2000. And there was a name for the movement, but I can’t recall what it was. It was some interfaith group trying to plead its case for integration into the Democractic party. But the price they were insisting on was that their faith could not be disparaged–which turned me off. I just don’t think that I should have to act like I respect everything about everyone in the public arena just to be able to vote with them or work with them to achieve national, secularly based goals.

I actually think the guy was aiming at the constituents who make up the party more than party leadership. Obviously leadership is going to pay lip service to all the politically correct things (and I do agree the quotes in your article go beyond that). But a good number of atheists I talk to are Democrats, with Libertarians coming in a far second, and then a smattering of Republicans. I could be wrong, but that doesn’t _appear_ to change with different geographies to a large degree with regard to the people who contact my group to discuss their views–and I’d guess your site gets a similar demographic? I also don’t doubt there are a fair shake of Democrats teaching on college campuses. And the percentage of religious faith, we know, goes down the more education goes up. Of the two parties, I think it’s fair to say avowed atheists lean toward Democrat as a general group.

I agree that lipservice is generally given to religion in both parties from the leadership. And I agree that this should be all that this guy (very frustrating I can’t remember him, but it was just someone I caught for maybe 40 minutes on Documentary Channel) should reasonably expect.

To be fair, his lecture was fairly intelligent until he got to this point. Up until then, I was with him. I can work along side Christians–I do it every day at my work. And I can support a political camp with Christians. But the problem comes in if we’re both Democrats when we have a discussion about the religious right’s agenda.

So, if I understood the problem as he was describing it–and this is me speculating–because he didn’t actually ever get this detailed–it would be something like Me and Moderate Christian Democrat(MC) are talking about Proposition 8 in California. Me and MC agree the proposition is unConstitutional and should not be supported. I think it should not be supported because it violates Constitutional rights, but I also see it as religiously motivated law, and I see that as pretty well harmful insanity.

My expanded view of the problem with Proposition 8 includes views that are inherently insulting to MC–because where I see people rallying for dangerous delusion, he sees people who believe in the same thing he does–who are just a tad misguided. But the truth is I believe they’re both nuts with their premise of belief–it’s just one is currently threatening other people’s rights and freedoms and the other is not.

In my view, my personal evaluation of MC’s religious views–whether I express them or not–should not impact the fact that we both oppose Proposition 8 for the same reason: unConstitutional (whatever else I may think). And I don’t think it’s beneficial for MC to say, “I would like to join you in opposing Prop 8, because I agree it’s totally wrong–but you think my religious views are nuts–so I can’t work with you on that.”

It’s like cutting of a nose to spite a face–or tossing out a baby with bathwater. For goodness sake! Tell me I’m wrong and an idiot–and then let’s go and rally against this illegal and harmful piece of legislation.

So, two points I have to agree on:

1. I would agree they get the leadership endorsement that I think is all that should really matter to them.

2. I would guess that since demographically there are more believers than atheists, the party MUST be made up of theists more than atheists. So, even if a minority of the party slander their faith–the majority of the party _has_ to be of like mind.

So, I got the distinct impression this guy would have supported not insulting atheists to the same degree he supported not insulting theists. I simply disagree that people have a right to not be insulted–or that a policy of not insulting one another is even a good thing. Sometimes in discussing ideas and views, I have to express things others might not agree with or like–but public dialogue is paramount to free society in my view.

November 4, 2008 at 2:46 pm
(35) Austin Cline says:

Sometimes Austin, you let your self-rightous indignation cloud your judgement.

That may be, but I think it’s worth noting that you don’t even try to show where my judgment here is mistaken, much less that it’s mistaken for the reason you give.

November 4, 2008 at 5:39 pm
(36) chuck b says:

Sherry says:
As a woman and veteran of 10 years of military service, I had to go with Obama/Biden.

Besides that, Palin really is a whack job. “End Timers” shouldn’t have access to the red button.

I’m sure you won’t ever see this “Sherry” but I agreed 100% Palin is a stupid whack job to say the least and that old man is one non heart beat from the grave. Could you imagine President Palin??? Oh hell NO!

November 5, 2008 at 5:37 pm
(37) The Sojourner says:

I’m sorry, maybe I missed it, but I can’t recall ever hearing any comment from Obama , himself, that accuses atheists of not being moral, decent or deserving of equality. In fact, as I gather, his parents were atheists or at least agnostic. Perhaps, even his grandparents. I don’t even think I’ve heard him mention religion in connection with them, at all. I’ve heard him speak, in glowing terms of their character, but not their faith or religion.

Obama decided to convert as an adult, as I recall. So what? He certainly didn’t disrespect his parents for their beliefs. Why would he disrespect anyone else?

Of course, a White supremacist, Nazi or Anti-Semitic wouldn’t get my vote no matter what. That’s a rather strange comparison to make. In fact, I consider that remark specious and irrelevant to my previous comment, akin to “have you stopped beating your wife?”. Not to mention, no major party would accept such a candidate in this country.

Now that Obama has actually won, I am breathing a sigh of relief. I voted for him with due consideration and diligence. I must emphasize the “for”. I was not voting with the “lesser of two evils” in mind. I actually think he is the best candidate for the job. He’s quite possibly the best to come along in decades. I have never seen people dancing in the street for a president elect! By the way, if it matters at all, I’m a Caucasian!

As a Chicagoan, I’m not only proud one of us won the election, but that we’ve passed the color bar, hopefully once and for all. I feel really positive about “that one”.

November 5, 2008 at 6:06 pm
(38) Austin Cline says:

I’m sorry, maybe I missed it, but I can’t recall ever hearing any comment from Obama , himself, that accuses atheists of not being moral, decent or deserving of equality.

Did someone say he did? If not, this is a straw man.

He does, however, tolerate it when the Democratic Party adopts the above standard. Somehow, I doubt that Jews would feel comfortable voting for him if he tolerated a similar exclusion of Jews from high-profile party events. If the Republican Party had held an analogous gathering that was whites-only, they would have received an even lower percentage of votes from blacks, Latinos, and other people of color.

So if blacks and Jews would refuse to vote for a party that treats them that way and would refuse to vote for a candidate that merely tolerated such official bigotry in the party, what does it say about atheists that they’ll not only keep taking it, but will actually express thanks for the opportunity to do so?

Well, one possibility is that so many atheists simply don’t have as much self-respect as those other groups – they don’t believe strongly enough that they deserve equal treatment to actually demand and expect it from the politicians and parties representing them. So, when they keep failing to get it, it’s just business as usual and no reason make a fuss. I suppose there are other factors as well, but this is what comes first to mind.

Of course, a White supremacist, Nazi or Anti-Semitic wouldn’t get my vote no matter what.

So, there are minimum standards you have that will disqualify someone from getting your vote, even if they support issues you agree with. This means that we both draw the line somewhere but in different places.

That’s a rather strange comparison to make.  

It’s strange to compare one form of bigotry to another? I regard anti-atheist bigotry to be in the same general category as anti-Catholic bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, and so forth. I’ve compared anti-atheist bigotry to those and other forms of bigotry many, many times here and I don’t think you ever objected before.

He’s quite possibly the best to come along in decades.

That’s quite possibly the saddest commentary on American politics and society that I’ve ever read.

November 5, 2008 at 6:23 pm
(39) The Sojourner says:

Just out of curiosity. Austin, just why do you dislike Obama? I’m not trying to be argumentative, just curious. If you meant it in a positive way, that it’s too bad it took so long to find someone so well suited, and that color was not the issue, but character, than I would agree with that.

November 5, 2008 at 6:32 pm
(40) Austin Cline says:

Just out of curiosity. Austin, just why do you dislike Obama?

For exactly the reasons stated so many times so far. I was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt and, up until late last week, was going to vote for him. I even donated money to his campaign, I’m sorry now to say.

If the minority being targeted were Jews, I’d have withheld my vote. If the minority were Catholics, I’d have withheld my vote. If the minority were Latinos, I’d have withheld my vote. There’s no way I’m going to say “Oh, but it’s OK to treat atheists that way, cheers!”

If you meant it in a positive way, that it’s too bad it took so long to find someone so well suited, and that color was not the issue, but character, than I would agree with that.

No, I didn’t mean it positively. I don’t agree with you at all about how good he is, but I don’t disagree that he’s “the best” in a long time. I think that it’s a really sad commentary on American politics that he is the best we’ve had in so long.

and that color was not the issue, but character

I don’t actually understand what you mean by this. I basically responded to the above as if this phrase wasn’t there (if you take it out, the sentence works) because I just don’t see what it’s adding or changing.

November 6, 2008 at 12:47 am
(41) ChuckA says:

OK, OK…that did it! SHEESH!
[to quote that Jack Nicholson line from "Mars Attacks (see below clip at 1:26)]:
“Can’t we (atheists?) all just…
get along?”
Like…maybe what we need in this world…to shake things up (even more?)…is for some Galactic Aliens to reveal themselves?
[Humor me?]
Something like…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oC5O9NFWZCs&feature=related
“ACK, ACK!!!”
Off topic, a bit…(more) ;)
That reminds me; one of my all-time favorite 1950s, Classic, Sci-Fi films…”The Day the Earth Stood Still”…is coming out in remake in December. The theme of that film…nuclear (nucular?) weapons…still holds up, I think, in today’s, continued, dangerous, “World fetish”…a fetish, as in missile shaped, phallic symbolism, no less. My, how Freudian!
Yeah…”Walk softly; and BURY a big prick”? :shock:
[as in a nuclear Silo, of course.]

November 6, 2008 at 9:15 am
(42) Jean says:

Austin, I have been reading your blog for awhile, and as an atheist, find it, well, interesting to say the least.

As a woman, I have dealt with sexism, but never with this nefarious “anti-atheist” bigotry you seem to find a threat to your very sanity.

Grow the hell up.

Sure, I might get some weird looks when I first tell co-workers and new friends about my views, but these people soon learn that atheists can be decent, kind, compassionate, and, oh yeah, moral. I don’t toss about some notion of my so-called victimization, and act like a jerk because someone disagrees with my position. I only become rude when someone feels the need to make a huge deal out of nothing. (This is the problem I have with atheist crybabies like yourself.)

I find you, and the rest of these bitter and ugly “new atheists” to be nothing more than petulant children. If this makes me one of the “Uncle Tom Atheists” you so abhor, I am more than fine with that.

Oh, and as a Republican who grew nervous at my party’s growing religiosity and stupidity, I was excited to vote for Obama. He seems like a fine and intelligent man, which is a rarity in politics these days. And if he didn’t invite your ego to come have a seat at the popular kids’ lunch table, well, whatever. I personally do not take my atheism too seriously. Life is too short for that.

Plus, considering Obama had to duck all sorts of ugly allegations, kissing atheist butt may not have worked in his favor. As an atheist, what do I say? Good for him! I really don’t find atheists’ concerns as worth losing sleep over. (I find pandering somewhat offensive.) There are MUCH bigger concerns in the world.

Jean

November 6, 2008 at 10:12 am
(43) Austin Cline says:

As a woman, I have dealt with sexism, but never with this nefarious “anti-atheist” bigotry you seem to find a threat to your very sanity.

And this means… what? That it doesn’t exist?

Grow the hell up.

Feel free to show where I have written anything that might be described as immature.

I don’t toss about some notion of my so-called victimization, and act like a jerk because someone disagrees with my position.  

You mean, you don’t tell them to grow up when they disagree with you?

I find you, and the rest of these bitter and ugly “new atheists” to be nothing more than petulant children.  

Why, exactly?

Plus, considering Obama had to duck all sorts of ugly allegations, kissing atheist butt may not have worked in his favor.

Curious that you think condemning anti-atheist bigotry to be “kissing atheist butt.” Is it “kissing Jewish butt” to condemn anti-Semitism?

I really don’t find atheists’ concerns as worth losing sleep over.  

Curious that you don’t consider equality worth losing sleep over.

November 6, 2008 at 1:13 pm
(44) Paul Buchman says:

It’s not too much to expect Obama (or an Obama spokesperson) to disavow a campaign person’s bigotry, especially when the targets are presumed supporters of the campaign. Politicians do that all the time when they want to distance themselves from a perceived embarrassing remark by a friend, colleague, employee, or whatnot.

I voted for Obama, but I would have voted for Clinton or almost any other Dem. It remains to be seen how deep this bigotry runs in an Obama administration.

November 7, 2008 at 3:37 pm
(45) John Hanks says:

I wouldn’t attribute too much importance to a casual off-the-cuff bigotry. I refer to Republicans as block heads all the time (they are), but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t take them seriously, including their religious ideas. I am far more concerned about faith-based charities and education. Not only is that a violation of a basic principle, but it is also an endless source of graft.

November 7, 2008 at 5:35 pm
(46) Mike G. says:

Obama has said pretty much the same thing as the McCain camp did at this forum in the past, regarding non-believers. Here’s a video. Based on the content of this speech (held in a church!), I think it is likely that Obama will be more vocal about the equality of believers and non-believers than any high-ranking government official we’ve seen in the past. Why did Obama’s spokespeople contradict Obama’s position? Well, that’s anyone’s guess; but my suspicion is that they had not received any direction on this particular message and responded to the question based on the audience and the location. In the future, I would hope that the Obama administration will have a more coherent response to this type of question and a more visible and vocal message on this topic.

November 7, 2008 at 6:46 pm
(47) Darwin Finch says:

When I was kayaking this summer I paddled up to a duck and her ducklings. The mother started twisting and flapping in the water, splashing up a storm, moving quickly away from the ducklings. A little research told me that waterfowl do this as misdirection, to imitate a wounded bird for large predators (thus protecting the ducklings through distraction).

It’s clear that American politicians have to play their religion cards a certain way. I think everything you’ve said is accurate, but I voted for him. My hope and instincts are that Obama is more secular and freethinking than he can say with decisive candor at this moment in time, and is forced (through social circumstances) to misdirect voters away from this issue with some political wing flapping, seemingly abandonning that which he values but cannot acknowledge.

Yes I’d love for a presidential candidate to stand up and embrace non-believers and believers alike in non-vague terms before being elected (he or she would get MY vote), but those voters on the edge of doubt would eat the ducklings. And then what?

November 7, 2008 at 6:50 pm
(48) Darwin Finch says:

There’s also a part of me that wonders if, despite Austin’s uncommon honesty and insight, he has cleverly decided to de-endorse Obama the night before the election, knowing that this would in many super-religious circles, actually improve Obama’s chances. In other words, a vote against Obama from Austin Cline could inspire 20 votes FOR Obama. Regrettable? Yes. Clever? Yep. True? Probably not, but conspiracy theories are fun. :)

November 8, 2008 at 4:16 pm
(49) Drew says:

Here’s a bit of a Canadian viewpoint, which may be of interest to American posters and readers here.

Change will only come when enough Americans are no longer willing to endorse religious bigotry, and enough will stand up to it. US politicians can affect this, but it will come from the populace as a whole. Politicians do not lead attitudes, they react to them. Tony Blair and Stephen Harper, religious Prime Ministers both, are incapable of stemming the growth of atheism in the UK and Canada, either overtly or covertly.

Until the American population has a larger non-religious component than it currently has, US politicians will pander to those making the most noise. I don’t disagree that the fundies in the US are losing, but they are still making a lot of noise, and not enough people are calling their bullsh*t what it is. So, part of the problem is all those people who say they are “non-religious” rather than “atheist” in polls. Until they start laughing at the religious, they will continue to marginalise themselves and their fellow non-believers.

We’ve reached the point in Canada where religiosity is no longer a vote-getter, as was demonstrated circa 2000 when Stockwell Day lost an election and position as a party leader basically because he talked too much about his fundamentalist Christianity, and let it colour his conversation to a degree where it was noticable. The mocking he received from both the non-religious and the moderately religious was widespread, and demonstrates that our moderate religious are not afraid of siding with the non-religious, rather than fundamentalists, on some political and social issues (which, I don’t think, is the case in the US). Most importantly, moderates and nons outnumber the fundamentalist religious in Canada. And we have yet, I think, to have elected an openly non-religious Prime Minister; so this is a much less important component than other factors.

We are still mostly theists, but that has dropped to about 70%. Our theists are also much less fundamental, creationist, anti-gay, etc. We still have a long way to go, but our political culture is noticably more secular than most. Our current Prime Minister, while known to be an evangelical Christian, learned from the Stockwell Day debacle to NEVER TALK ABOUT his religion. Personally, I also suspect that his wife is an atheist, though I have no proof of that (just the fact that she does not attend his church, and that someone he respects must have told him to shut up about religion). I respect the fact that he demonstrates secularism in government.

I agree with Ausin’s points, that Obama should NOT be given a free ride by US atheists, who should indeed give him as much criticism as the Reps get; but I also agree with the decision of many US posters to vote for the less harmful choice. After all, if you can’t win the war, win the little battles that will help your CHILDREN to eventually win the war. I would have voted for Obama for the same reason Western society needs to “indoctrinate” the children of immigrants about freedom and democracy: little steps forward are the only way to get to the big steps.

November 13, 2008 at 10:17 am
(50) tracieh says:

I realize this strand is likely defunct by now, but just to say I found my notes on the interfaith rabbi. His name is Michael Lerner. So, just as an fyi, belated footnote to my prior posts on this thread.

September 27, 2009 at 5:56 pm
(51) Jdog says:

Who cars? atheists aren’t real people anyway! Good for him.

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