Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Be careful what you ask for

One presidential hopeful is a preacher, another proudly Mormon, and most openly tout their Christianity. In an arena where faith can make or break a politician, the one in 10 Americans who profess no religion feel left in the cold.

"They're very disconcerted," said Darren Sherkat, an atheist sociology professor specializing in religion at Southern Illinois University.

"They're horrified by both the Democratic and Republican rhetoric surrounding religion -- that people who are not religious ... are immoral, that they're not qualified to serve in public office," he said.

Ian Thomas, 25, got involved in political campaigning as a student and in 2005 ran for a place on the school board in his local district in Pennsylvania.

Days before the vote, a county council member emailed local community groups disparaging Thomas for having an atheist bumper sticker on his car, and for writing a letter about atheism to a local newspaper.

"They are entitled to their beliefs and free speech but it doesn't make a sound foundation for elected officials who makes our laws ... to promote an Atheist that we know anything about," read the ungrammatical email, shown to AFP.

"I was very, very insulted," Thomas said.

The small-town incident was part of a wider pattern of "disenfranchisement" of non-believers, according to Margaret Downey, president of the educational organization Atheist Alliance International.

She claims atheists are "the fastest-growing minority in America."

But they are also "the least tolerated group by conventional standards of religious toleration in the US," Sherkat said.

While church and state are constitutionally separate, politicians must reckon with a largely religious electorate -- some 160 million out of the 200 million adults considered themselves Christian, according to 2001 figures from the US Census Bureau.

Critics complain that candidates face a public "test" of their faith credentials.

"Atheists and agnostics find all the candidates distressingly religious," said Michael Shermer, an atheist writer and publisher of Skeptic magazine.

"Legally, there is no religious test for office, but culturally there obviously is," he said, as polls showed Republican Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, surging ahead in key early nominating states.

Religion surfaced prominently when Huckabee's rival Mitt Romney, a member of the Mormon church, made a bid this month to reassure the powerful conservative Christian voting bloc.

"I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from the God who gave us liberty," Romney said, fighting to dispel mistrust of his denomination, which some dismiss as a sect.

"Yeah, well, what about the approximately 30 million American nonbelievers, Mitt?" Shermer retorted, in comments to AFP. "You have no plans to represent us, or to protect and defend the constitution for us?"

More than one in 10 US adults have no religious affiliation, according to the census figures. But a Gallup poll in February found more than half of voters would not back an otherwise well-qualified candidate from their favored party if that person was an atheist.

"We're very saddened that people walk into the voting booth and do bring their prejudices, in terms of only voting for people who believe in God," said Lori Lipman Brown, head of the Secular Coalition for America, a Washington-based group campaigning for separation of church and state.

"People have this prejudice against non-theists and think that we don't have values or morals or share their ideas on issues, or live compassionate lives," she said. "All of which is not true. But they're going to vote based on those prejudices."

Two observations. One, an atheist friend of mine once told me that in his experience there were two kinds of people who termed themselves athiests. One group, and by far the smallest, were people who were genuinely persuaded that there was no God. The other, and by far the largest, actually believed in God, they were just really pissed off at Him.

The other observation is that while a person can be a moral and compassionate person and hold no religious faith that those who do so are free riders. They have adopted a mindset which comes from their cluture's Judaeo-Christian underpinnings while rejecting the reality of the Judaeo-Christian faith. They have wrapped themselves in the effect while rejecting the cause.

One can do this for a time, but with each generation the effect, divorced from its cause, grows weaker. Anyone who doubts this only needs to look at Europe where in some nations elderly people are afraid to go to the doctor for fear that he will decide that they have lived "long enough" and give them a lethal injection. An act which is illegal, but for which no jury will convict.

In Old Europe which has turned its back upon God we see a culture which has lost its faith in itself and it's future to the degree that people have stopped reproducing. Consider this; the old Soviet Union and Western Europe today share a birthrate which is below replacement levels. The USSR was a land of both political repression and material deprivation. Western Europe is a land of great personal liberty and material abundance. What they share was an abandonment of religious faith, or at least faith in the transcendent God of the Bible.

It is not an accident that the only group in Europe or Russia today which is growing their population are religious Muslims.

When confronted by those who have faith those who lack faith cannot stand. It is difficult to get someone to die on Thursday morning for the right to go out and party on Friday night. This is why Europe is slowly but surely being absorbed into a great Islamic Caliphate.

This is why America is willing to devote large amounts of its blood and treasure to the fight against Islamofascism and why the Democrat Party (which is the home of the faithless) is opposed to that fight. This is why observant Jew Joe Lieberman was driven out of the Democrat Party.

The atheist among us should get down on their knees and thank the God they don't believe in that they live in a nation which is so heavily Christian. They should be glad to see nativity scenes on courthouse lawns and crosses on city seals because those things remind us that we are still a nation which is Christian in character and will therefore fight to preserve the freedom to reject Christianity.