Thursday, March 08, 2007

The First Openly Godless Member of Congress

On Monday, a member of Congress will step before the cameras and announce to the world that he does not believe in God.


I'm a little embarrassed I'm only becoming aware of this now, but apparently this has been an ongoing effort by the Secular Coalition for America. They launched a contest to identify the highest-ranking elected official in the U.S. who is a non-theist. Apparently they found one, and he will be revealing himself at a news conference on Monday.

On the first day of 2007, I speculated that such a person existed. I even listed my top suspects, whom I dubbed the Rational 12. Based on several postings that I came across (but no longer have links for), it appears that this "outing" will be a voluntary one and that the congressman (yes, the Coalition has referred to him as a he) will be participating.

I've seen some guessing games ID Barney Frank and Bernie Sanders as likely candidates. Maybe. I kind of figure Barney Frank for a closet theist. It would be kind of a bummer if it were Sanders, if only because it would provide an excuse for all the silliness about socialism and atheism to re-emerge. So, I'm hoping it's a face that's new to the media, so that they approach the issue with a blank slate, rather than preconceived notions about the specific person.

Oh, and as you'll see in my list of suspects, the Coalition is actually a little late with this. As I pointed out, the new, 110th Congress includes the first Buddhists to sit in the House of Representatives. Buddhists don't believe in God. So, let's hope the media factor them into this story (assuming one of them isn't the person in question) and makes the point that there will, as of Monday, be three confirmed members of Congress who reject the existence of a SuperMagic Deity. It's a start.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jesus 2008, Part II: John McCain's God

This is the second posting in a series that will look at each of the major presidential candidates in light of their personal relationship with Jesus. Please continue to check back for additional posts in this series.

Previously, I talked about the sad spectacle of John McCain pandering to the religious right by disavowing all the credit he once gave to his fellow POWs for keeping him alive in Vietnam, to instead credit God for his survival.

But there is another interpretation, one that speaks better of his integrity, but at the same time suggests that the God John McCain believes in...might not be the one he's supposed to believe in.

Here's the video, from McCain's website, of him talking about his faith. Not, it's worth noting, talking about God or Jesus, but talking about his faith.

"My faith has been my salvation. ... My faith has been my anchor and my guide... The reason, the only reason why I'm here today is because I believe that a higher being has a mission for me in my life, a reason for me to be here. Now, that doesn't mean that he wants me to be elected or not, but it does mean that I have a purpose. And that purpose, I think, is to live a life based on Judeo-Christian principles and honor and integrity."
George W. Bush hired a speechwriter to ensure that his public remarks evoked the same God, the same Jesus, that the conservative base believes in: A personal, anthropomorphic God who has preferences when it comes to presidential elections, Grammy results and the Super Bowl. McCain's mistake here is to reveal that he does not believe in this God.

McCain, it is clear, either believes in the progressive, non-literalist left's notion of God, or he believes in the not-really-God that many on the left call God--the god who's just love or fate or an energy that binds us or some other similar nonsense--or McCain is simply lying and doesn't believe in God at all.

After all, it's not God or Jesus who saved McCain, he says. It's faith. In other words, it wasn't the intervention of an external force that saved him, it was an internal phenomenon that saved him: His own mental stance, faith. And McCain clearly does not envision a God of personal preferences. McCain could have said he does not know whether God wants him to be elected. But he didn't. He said he's not claiming that God has a desire one way or another.

And look at the mission McCain's God has for him--to live a life based on Judeo-Christian values. It's the language of a non-religious person trying to fake religiosity. A Jewish God, after all, would want McCain to base his life on Jewish values; a Christian God on Christian values. There's no conceivable God that could want believers to base their lives based on the values of two separate religions. A true believer--in any religion--would have used language that avoided choosing one sect over another. McCain made the mistake of combining them, which no sect's God would ever do.

Furthermore, unlike George W. Bush--whose mother told him the pastor was "talking to you" in talking about God's desire that Americans find a leader--John McCain says the only mission he thinks God has in mind for him is the same one God would have for anyone: Live by good values, don't be a jerk. The God of the religious right has specific missions for each and every person. Preach the gospel, win American Idol, whatever. McCain doesn't get that.

We don't know whether McCain lost faith and found reason in Vietnam. But in his book, "Faith of My Fathers," McCain makes clear that the driving faith in his life has been the faith in country, honor and integrity instilled in him by his military family. His salvation was not Jesus, God or even religious faith. It was the cellmates who kept him going and told him dirty jokes.

It's possible that McCain believes in some sort of magical entity that might qualify as "God." But if he does, it's clear from his own language that this god is the same god that much of the left believes in. But it is most assuredly not the hurricane-causing, miracle-granting, prayer-listening-to, president-rooting-for, political-policy-having god of the religious right.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Jesus 2008, Part I: McCain Betrays His Fellow POWs

This is the first posting in a series that will look at each of the major presidential candidates in light of their personal relationship with Jesus. Please continue to check back for additional posts in this series.

John McCain's courting of the religious right has been so transparent, even the religious right has not been fooled. And that's saying something.

It has been a sad and disappointing sight, especially for those who appreciated McCain's candor back when he drove his "Straight Talk Express" right past "agent of intolerance" Jerry Falwell during the 2000 campaign. But recently, McCain's courting of the religious right took a turn that betrays a lot more than just swing voters. His desire to win that voting demographic has led him to do what even torture could not make him do: Sell out his fellow POWs from Vietnam.

This video was posted on McCain's YouTube site six days ago. In it, he talks about his faith. Note what he says about Vietnam.

"I went through a very rough experience in my life many years ago, and the only reason why I'm here today is because of the faith that I had in a greater being who sustained me at times when I was under most difficult stress...The reason, the only reason why I'm here today is because I believe that a higher being has a mission for me in my life."
It is a deeply personal, and apparently sincere sentiment. The only person who could refute it would be McCain himself. And that's exactly what he did, back in 1999, when he was still a straight talker, and before Karl Rove made American politicians fear the wrath of the mobilized religious right.

Back then, McCain wrote a book called, "Faith of My Fathers." The faith of the title was not religious faith. It was, literally, his faith in his forefathers, a faith of patriotism, honor and comradeship that you would expect to find in a proud military family. In his book, McCain speaks at great length, more than 150 pages, about his 5-1/2 years in Vietnamese captivity.

He does speak, in several instances, about the role his religious faith played during that awful time. Some are relatively trivial, as when Christmas carols represent respite from atonal Vietnamese hymns.

In most of the accounts he relates, however, the religious element of each circumstance arose externally, either from the arrival of Christmas, or at the instigation of someone else. On 223, a Vietnamese interrogator asks McCain to explain Easter. McCain does so, but not with an explanation of how Jesus died for our sins, but with a matter-of-fact recounting of the bullet points of Jesus' life. It's not personal or emotional.

On 228, a Vietnamese guard draws a cross in the sand. McCain refers to it as an acknowledgment of mutual humanity. But he ascribes no impact to the event. It does not lift his spirits, nor give him hope, nor bolster his morale.

In one two-page sequence, starting on 252, McCain gives his longest account of the role religious faith played during captivity. He begins, however, not by relating the nature of his own personal faith, or his own relationship with Jesus, but instead by telling us that the Code of Conduct and his senior officers stressed three keys to resistance: Faith in God, faith in country and faith in fellow prisoners.

Here are some of McCain's most emphatic pronouncements about faith from that section:
"...keeping our faith in God, country, and one another was as difficult as it was imperative."
And, most vividly, this one:
"I discovered scratched into one of the cell's walls the creed "I believe in God, the Father Almighty." There, standing witness to God's presence in a remote, concealed place, recalled to my faith by a stronger, better man, I felt God's love and care more vividly than I would have felt it had I been safe among a pious congregation in the most magnificent cathedral."
There are a few others, as well. But they are often couched in ways that suggest McCain was drawing strength not from faith in Jesus, but from the power of ritual or community that religion can offer. When he is designated group chaplain and is allowed to copy passages from a Bible to share with the other POWs, he goes to the Nativity. Not the words of Jesus himself. Not the crucifixion of Jesus and his redemption of humanity. He goes for the Hallmark Card kiddie story.

On 206, he tells us he "prayed more often and more fervently than I ever had as a free man." But consider the context:
" eventually adjust to solitary, as you can to almost any hardship, by devising various methods to keep your mind off your troubles and greedily grasping any opportunity for human contact.
"The first few weeks are the hardest. The onset of despair is immediate, and it is a formidable foe. You have to fight it with any means necessary, all the while trying to bridle the methods you devise to combat loneliness and prevent them from robbing your senses.
"I tried to memorize the names of POWs, the names and personal details of guards and interrogators, and the details of my environment. I devised other memory games to keep my faculties sound. For days I tried to remember the names of all the pilots in my squadron and our sister squadron. I also prayed more often and more fervently than I ever had as a free man."
His prayers were not answered, nor does he tell us they gave him solace. They were one of a litany of "methods to keep your mind off your troubles."

On 312, McCain tells us he "will never experience again the supreme happiness I felt my fourth Christmas in Hanoi," his first night in Camp Unity. Why? Was it the Baby Jesus? McCain explains: "No other experience in my life could ever replicate my first night in Camp Unity, and the feeling of relief that overcame me to be living among my friends."

The most sacred service of his life, he tells us on 332, was the one he and the other men were allowed to hold without interference. The sanctity comes not from the service itself or from any religious experience during it, but from the very material fact that his captors, this one time, allowed them a moment of liberation.

And that's pretty much the meat of McCain's faith over the course of 150 pages about his captivity. So, how does this constitute a betrayal of his fellow POWs?

Look at what he said about them, and the effect they had on him. Compare these remarks to his remarks about religion--to which he seldom, if ever, attributed long-term, significant impact on his state of mind in captivity. Also, most importantly, compare these statements to his video posted last week. Remember, he called his religious faith "the only reason" he is here today. But here's what he wrote in 1999:
"I could have asked for no better companions. There has never been a doubt in my mind that Bud Day and Norris Overly saved my life."

"The only sustenance I had in those early days I took from the example of [Day's] abiding moral and physical courage."

"Of all the activities I devised to survive solitary confinement with my wits and strength intact, nothing was more beneficial than communicating with other prisoners. It was, simply, a matter of life and death."

"Communicating not only affirmed our humanity. It kept us alive."

"Bob Craner kept me alive."

"I derived my own resolve from the example of Bud Day...and from countless other examples of resistance... I would have been lost without their example."

"I had a nearly devout belief in the restorative power of communicating... my defenses shattered, I had relied on Bob Craner to bring me back from the dead."
And then, there are these, most damning examples, when McCain specifically contrasts the power of faith with the power of solidarity with his fellow POWs.
"We were told to have faith in God, country, and one another. Most of us did. But the last of these, faith in one another, was our final defense, the ramparts our enemy could not cross."

"My first concern was not that I might fail God and country, although I certainly hoped that I would not. I was afraid to fail my friends."

"A filthy, crippled, broken man, all I had left of my dignity was the faith of my fathers. It was enough."
Bob Craner. Bud Day. Norris Overly. There are others, too. These men sustained McCain through hell. Their courage. Their humor. Their fellowship. Their support.

Over the course of more than five years--in which he was beaten, kept in solitary confinement, malnourished and in despair--McCain broke and taped a confession, but he never broke faith with those men.

But now, today, after six years of courting this nation's self-appointed stewards of values, the religious right, McCain has finally betrayed his fellow POWs. He has again made a tape to please his captors. Only this one is playing on YouTube. On this one, he finally relents and pays homage to the God of his latter-day tormentors, the religious right, denying credit to the men who saved him and according it, instead, to a god whose religion barely helped him at all. Unlike the tape he made under duress in Vietnam, this tape, this McCain, finally breaks faith with the men who saved his life.

More on the religious faith of McCain and other candidates in upcoming posts. Please continue to check back with us.


Friday, February 23, 2007

McCain Devolves

Funny. No mention of today's speech at the creationist Discovery Institute on John McCain's official campaign calendar. Selective amnesia, of course, an occasionally helpful survival trait.

UPDATE: My mistake, the luncheon IS listed. He just doesn't list the fact that Discovery Institute is co-presenter. Kind of appropriate, considering that Discovery Institute denies being creationist.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jim Wallis Takes the Low Road

Jim Wallis has been taken to task for claiming that Democrats are anti-religion. Who, exactly, has made these anti-religion statements, he has been asked. Well, now he is refusing to say. Why? He's taking the high road. No, he's taking the low road, the one blazed by Sen. Joe McCarthy.

Unless the people he claims to be quoting had a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, Wallis should name names. The reason he's not, of course, has nothing to do with taking "the high road." It's self-serving, in the following ways:

  • It allows Wallis to quote people without anyone being able to determine whether the quotes are accurate.
  • It allows Wallis to characterize these quotes as representative of Democratic thinking, without anyone being able to determine whether he's referring to Howard Dean or Lyndon LaRouche.
  • It allows Wallis to advance his political position in the guise of responding to these unattributed quotes, which may or may not be mere straw men.
  • It allows Wallis, as McCarthy did, to advance the generalization that his cause is under siege from evil enemies within.
It's self-serving cowardice and intellectual dishonesty...from a man of faith. No wonder so many Democrats are anti-religion!


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Atheists for McCain!

After six years of George W. Bush, everything beforehand feels like long ago, but politically speaking it wasn't so long ago when John McCain was considered a viable candidate not only by many Democrats, but by many on the left, as well. Why? Because back in 2000, his straight-talk express really did consist of a lot of straight talk. He had disdain for the same bullshit the liberal-media types who covered him had. He had no use for dumb faith-based politics.

How things have changed. Perhaps still smarting from losing the nomination to Bush, McCain doesn't seem to have missed anyone on the Christian right in his Panderpalooza. He's even speaking at the dark heart of anti-science, the Discovery Institute, this month.

All of which is why atheists should support him in his bid for the Republican nomination. Hell, maybe even for the general election. The reason is simple.

Either at the age of 72, he's changed his mind about how the universe works and suddenly believes in an anthropomorphic, intercessory god who wants Texas girls to get cervical cancer...or he's changed his mind about how to get elected.

Bush won by fooling the Christian right into accepting him as "authentic." Little did anyone on the right know that Bush answers to no religious orthodoxy except that of his own subconscious. Little did most on the left guess just how seriously Bush took the overall concept of a personal Jesus, whispering in his ear that he could do whatever he wanted.

So if a guy that we know has no use for the Christian right wants to trick them--yet again--into supporting a candidate who doesn't give a shit about their agenda, shouldn't atheists support that, instead of howling about McCain's hypocrisy?

After all, the more atheists and the left criticize McCain for cozying up to the religious right, the more the religious right is

Er...never mind. DAMN YOU, McCAIN!!!


Monday, February 19, 2007

The Left: Tomorrow's Creationists

As the Book of Revelation warned us, the First Trumpet shall be sounded by Deepak Chopra.

Now, that day has come to pass. And the ultimate battle between science and religion has begun. But unlike the battle over creationism, this time, much of the left will line up to oppose science. Chopra has volunteered to lead them.

I discussed a while ago how the sequel to the creationism battle will be the battle over the (alleged) human soul. Our increasing understanding of the brain (and ergo the mind) is rendering the concept of a soul obsolete, absurd and quaint.

Unfortunately, a lot of people on the left don't take kindly to the scientific concepts underlying this assault on the soul, and all the warmfuzzy infantilized nonsense that accompanies souls. Enter Deepak Chopra. In a two-part posting at Huffington Post, Chopra takes on the single discipline currently posing the greatest threat to the soul: Evolutionary biology.

For someone with his reputation and presumably enormous brain, Chopra makes a lot of kindergarten-level mistakes not just about the specifics of evolutionary biology, but also in his reasoning.

What's most interesting is that he seems blind to just how well his reasoning parallels the reasoning of creationists. Consider this statement: "...let me take one issue, the claim of evolutionary biology to explain something as complex as generosity, altruism, or music. Such claims are thoroughly bogus. They do not invalidate the whole field of evolutionary biology. they simply step over the boundary of believable explanations."

Even today, creationists still argue that the claim of evolution to explain something as complex as the eye is thoroughly bogus; it simply steps over the boundary of believable explanations. As Marc Maron has summarized this reasoning: "I don't understand it; it must be magic."

And, of course, evolutionary biology makes no claim to causal exclusivity. In other words, it certainly does not reject, as Chopra implies, the impact of "culture, human values, religion, and philosophy."

After all, it's those cultural forces that help shape whether a trait--such as generosity--is beneficial or detrimental to survival. (And, as I'm sure he'd hate to hear, those cultures, values, religions and philosophies were all shaped in part by evolutionary biology...just ask the multitudinous anti-contraception Catholics, or try to find one of the remaining pro-celibacy Shakers and ask them.)

So what's Chopra's real beef? He wants to maintain an irreducible aspect to humanity's mental aspect. Another word for that is the soul.

And a lot of people on the left will sympathize with him. They'll buy into the childish notion that there's something romantic--as opposed to awful and creepy and prima facie paradoxical--about the soul. They'll claim that advocates of evolutionary biology are pushing eugenics or some other immoral viewpoint. They'll say that those who would explain bad behaviors (such as rape, violence, hatred) are in fact excusing them. They'll say lots of these things.

And in doing so, they'll be the next generation of creationists. And they'll help impede the advance of science. And they'll hurt our country as a result (see here and here).

Unless we make it clear it's time to declare a winner in the battle between religion and science.


Screw the Outrage; Ask Romney WHY?

It's great that there's quick, viral outrage to Mitt Romney's not-particularly-noteworthy remark that "we need to have a person of faith lead the country." (You can see it here, h/t to C&L and Street Prophets...not to mention the MSM). The rationalist left has to learn how to start responding to stuff like this. There are lots of (practiced) ways not to do so. And one enlightening way to do so.

We don't need more howling, however justified, about the Constitution's prohibition against religious tests for office-holders. We don't need to holler about discrimination against atheists (most people like discrimination against atheists. We don't even need to dissect all the intra-religious dynamics of a Mormon seeking the Christian right's support. There's only one thing we need to do when Romney or anyone else proclaims that faith is a requirement, or even an asset, for public office-holders.

We need to ask why.

What is it that belief in magic, and magic beings, gives politicians that rationalists can not offer? Which wars will theists get us into that rationalists will fail to? Which economic policies will atheists fail to embrace, due to the ostensible myopia brought on by not believing in magical people?

The year-long town-hall-palooza of 2007, and the subsequent 2008 primaries, offer us rationalists a unique opportunity. The next time Romney or anyone else in the race extols faith as better than not-faith when it comes to serving the American public, forget the outrage, drop the analysis, and do what journalists should be doing: Ask why. Keep in mind, the answer to this will be additional pablum. Which is why you'll need to be ready with challenging follow-up questions, to get at the alleged reasoning behind the claim, to ensure that his/her fundamental explanation is sufficiently exposed. (See here and here). Is it that accepting Jesus makes you a better person? How? Show us the statistical evidence. Is it that belief in God improves your moral reasoning? How? Show us the statistical evidence.

After 9/11 and George Bush, this should have been the year of the non-religious candidate. Clearly, that ship has sailed. But we can still push back on this discriminatory pandering toward the religious right, by subjecting "faith" to the same level of rigorous scrutiny any other politically self-serving claim would/should get.

In fact, let's all ask him right now and keep asking until the absurdity of his position forces him to recant it.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Instant, Sure-Fire, Politically Viable, Guaranteed Way to Get Out of Iraq Now

The Democrats and Republicans who oppose Bush's war in Iraq face a political quandary--pulling the plug on the war seems (or can be portrayed as) pulling the plug on the American troops before they've finished their mission there. But the mission there has become so complex, and so interwoven with other issues, that it's become a Gordian Knot--so intricately interwoven it can not be untangled. Well, the myth tells us that the real Gordian Knot was undone with a simple slice of a sword. Similarly, opponents of the war can slice through it with an equally elegant solution, which can be summarized in two words:

Declare victory.

I know, I know...the war keeps getting deadlier all the time. Bear with me a minute, it gets even more counter-intuitive than that.

First, opponents of the war have to do something painful: Admit that Bush was right on May 1, 2003, when he said major combat operations were over in Iraq, and that the United States had prevailed. When you look at the original, congressional authorization for the use of military force in Iraq, it becomes blindingly obvious: Bush was right. We had prevailed!

At the time, the anti-war left objected to Bush's formulation for an obvious reason--Iraq was a mess and the fighting was still going on. But those conditions didn't stop Bush from declaring victory in Afghanistan and pulling out of there after just a few months. So why didn't he do the same in Iraq?

Why, in fact, did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld eliminate victory references from Bush's speeches at the time? Keep in mind, before the anti-war left ridiculed "Mission Accomplished," Rumsfeld was against that phrasing, too. Why? He told Bob Woodward it was "too conclusive." I know the anti-war left will have trouble doing this, but it's vitally important that they believe him.

A victory declaration was not too conclusive because it neglected to account for remaining resistance. It was too conclusive, literally, because it meant the conclusion of the war. And that would mean bringing the troops home. And until the rest of the Middle East falls like dominoes into the pro-American free market, the neocons who crafted this war will never let the troops come home.

It's not just that Bush wants war with Iran. Early on in his speeches--when Iraq seemed to be going well--he spoke openly about wholesale, regional transformation. The stated goal, of course, was the lie that free democracies won't produce terrorists (like Tim McVeigh). But the real goal is economic, allowing major, western companies to get into the Middle East bigger than they are now (remember, Halliburton was doing business with Iran even after 9/11 and after the Iraq war), and with fewer nationalist/socialist impediments.

As long as Iraq is going poorly, the president can justify keeping troops there. Opposition sounds anti-soldier, like another Vietnam, like calling our troops losers. And too many politicians are afraid of the name-calling.

So do the opposite.

Call the troops winners--as Rumsfeld didn't want to do. Hail their completion of the missions laid out for them in the original authorization for the use of military force. Instead of non-binding resolutions opposing the surge, introduce binding resolutions declaring the victorious end to hostilities with Iraq, which has now been liberated and stands shoulder to shoulder with the United States as an ally against terror.

Point out, as Sen. Ted Kennedy has, time and again, that the troops have now accomplished, or rendered moot, every single goal we set for them. Rep. Murtha already says the mission has been accomplished. Iraq says their mission is done. Our own generals have said there's nothing more to be done militarily. So stop letting the White House call the troops losers, by continuing to move the bar. First it was get rid of WMD. Then it was liberate Iraq. Then it was establish democracy. Now it's to establish a democracy that meets Mr. Bush's standards. It's a shell game, and the Democrats have to stop playing it.

WMDs? Gone. Anti-American government? Gone. Pro-terrorist government? Gone. UN-defiant government? Gone. Terrorist-harboring government? Gone.

It's time for Democrats to introduce a resolution saying so, and congratulating the troops on what they accomplished. Nothing in it--yet, anyway--about bringing the troops home. Simply a declaration of victory--spelling out precisely all the goals that have been accomplished.

Let the White House and pro-war Republicans object to calling our troops winners. Let them deny our troops the victory they achieved.

In doing so, we can draw the bright, clear line that's so desperately needed in this debate between the Iraq War, authorized and won, and the Middle East War that Bush has begun, and is trying to escalate beyond Iraq's borders. Americans were willing, albeit wrongly, to take on Iraq. But the best way to assure that the nation holds a debate on the next war is to make clear to the world that the first war is over. So far, Democrats have done that by arguing that we're losing. It's time to wake up and smell the victory.


Monday, February 12, 2007

2008: The Question for Candidates

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack, Dennis Kucinich, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and anyone else who's running for president will be making their way back and forth across Iowa and New Hampshire repeatedly over the next year. This year, more than ever, it's vitally important that each of them answer a single question.

To that end, I encourage everyone who lives in one of those states, or who expects to attend a town hall or other event anywhere in the country where you might have access to any of the candidates, to print out and take with you whichever version of "The Question" with which you're most comfortable (feel free to mix and match, if you wish!). Of course, anyone getting an answer is strongly urged to post it back here! (One suggestion--try to get a few friends or fellow travelers in on this, if the candidate hears people clapping when you ask your question, they'll be less likely to dismiss or dodge it.) Here they are:

The Nice Version

It seems these days that just about every campaign has advisors, paid or otherwise, to help ensure that candidates are sensitive to and reach out to just about every religious community: Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Most surveys in recent years have found that non-religious, atheist and agnostic Americans outnumber the American Jewish and Muslim populations. Can you tell us whether you have any advisors or have made any effort to be sensitive to or reach out to the non-religious, atheist and agnostic communities in this country?

The Provocative Version

Surveys consistently tell us there are more Americans who reject or question the existence of God than there are American Jews and Muslims combined. Our country is embroiled in religious violence overseas. We were attacked by religious extremists on September 11th and the president who misled us into an unjust war has said he is guided by his god, too. According to media accounts, most Democratic campaigns, and certainly some Republican ones, make specific, concerted, strategic efforts to include religious viewpoints and religious advisors. What will you do to ensure that non-religious viewpoints and advisors who espouse them will be a part of your campaign and, if you win, your administration?

The Righteous-Anger Version

I don't believe in any gods. I share Thomas Jefferson's view of Jesus: That he was not divine. And yet, polls show that me and people like me are considered less moral--because we don't believe in magic beings--than people who share the beliefs of George W. Bush, Joe Lieberman or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Numerous state laws discriminate against me and people like me. The first President Bush did not consider us full citizens. No one representing our views has ever been elected to Congress, even though we outnumber Jews and Muslims combined. Even you, I'm sure, reach out to many communities based on nothing else than their belief in gods or prayer or other forms of magic. To my knowledge, you have never spoken out against this socially-accepted hate against me and my kind. Why is that, and are you willing to oppose this discrimination by including open atheists in prominent positions in your campaign or cabinet?


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fox Admits Its Bias

Bill O'Reilly seems to think he's scored a journalistic coup on this upcoming Monday's program by somehow piecing together the clues of an NBC conspiracy to pursue an allegedly liberal agenda. But meanwhile, you don't need to do a minute of sleuthing to learn whether O'Reilly has a bias. His own boss just admitted it.

That's right, O'Reilly's oberstboss, Rupert Murdoch, was asked on Friday, Jan. 26, whether his company, News Corp., which owns Fox News and the New York Post, managed to shape the agenda on the war in Iraq. His answer? (h/t Juan Cole and ePluribus Media): "No, I don't think so. We tried."

There you have it. In case anyone still had any doubts. News Corp.--with the knowledge and approval of its leader, Rupert Murdoch, and the assistance of people like O'Reilly who tell Americans they're independent thinkers just doing their best to convey the truth--undertook a concerted, organized, willful effort to lead Americans to think a certain way on Iraq. They report AND decide.

In case his answer wasn't clear enough, by the way, Murdoch went on to say, "We basically supported the Bush policy in the Middle East." And this is in the Hollywood Reporter? As opposed to, say, the news sections of every newspaper in the country?

At the very least, News Corp.'s print rivals, such as the NY Daily News, ought to splash this on their front pages. And News Corp.'s TV rivals ought to be cranking out the promos Monday morning.

They might not make every Fox viewer understand how badly they were deceived. They might not succeed in outraging everyone who mourns the 3,000+ American war dead and WhoTheHellKnows+ Iraqi war dead. But at least they can say, "We tried."


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Foolprints in the Sand


One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints.
Other times there was one only.

This bothered me because I noticed
that during the low periods of my life,
when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat,
like when I contracted AIDS
and when my son's leg was mangled by a thresher,
I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Lord,

"You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
there has only been one set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?"

The Lord replied,
"The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, my child,
is when I walked behind you, in your footprints,
so that I would have a better angle to inject you with AIDS
and steer that thresher over your son.
Okay, and one time I had to take off for, like, five minutes,
to create a tsunami.
Oh, and Darfur, obviously.
So two times."

(This poem is dedicated to those smart enough to understand that atheists don't hate god or blame him/them for bad things. They hate the irrationality that leads theists to credit god for the inner strength humans have to endure awful ordeals, but never to fault god for allowing those ordeals to occur.)


Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Author of Liberty: An Interview

Last night, in announcing that he had figured out a way to achieve the victory he wants in Iraq, President Bush revealed that he is placing is trust in "the Author of Liberty" to guide him. In His first sit-down interview, we spoke with the Author of Liberty about this influential work, and His other publications.
Q: Thanks for doing this interview.
A: No problem. Thanks for having me.
Q: You've written quite a few books over the years, under several different pen names. Why is that?
A: Well, I like to have each book taken on its own terms. And, frankly, it's kind of funny sometimes to see a particular book develop its own fan base. Then you end up with people arguing over which author really knows what's going on. It's pretty funny, if you think about it.
Q: So, did You hear the president's speech last night?
A: Actually, I helped write it.
Q: Really? That's pretty impressive. Is this your first collaboration together?
A: Oh, hell, no. We work together all the time. It's really not a big deal. He'll kind of call me up, very casual, and just ask me, you know, "what are some of the fundamental concepts of humanity?" So I tell him what I think. I mean, who's he going to ask for advice? His lower father?
Q: Are you worried that Liberty might not be selling well in Iraq?
A: I think we've all seen the sales figures and, yeah, they're not where We'd like them to be. Some of the guys in marketing suggested that we repackage Liberty, try to sell it as part of a box set with Education, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Religion and Minority Rights, but I didn't write those, so the copyright issues are sort of tied up with the lawyers right now. We'll work it out. Eventually, I mean.
Q: What made You decide to write Liberty?
A: Oh, honestly, I was just noodling around with a couple different concepts and that one just really seemed to click.
Q: What other concepts were You thinking about?
A: Um, I guess just, uh, non-liberty.
Q: So You went with liberty.
A: Seemed the way to go.
Q: I can actually see in some of Your earlier works, You seem to be wrestling with those two ideas. Can You walk me through Your decision-making there, how You decided to go with Liberty?
A: Well, I may not have specifically articulated Liberty in the clearest way right off the bat, but that's pretty much where I've always been.
Q: In Your best-seller 2,000 years ago, "The Book," You actually seem pretty much at home with the idea of slavery and even counseled people to respect the reign of Caesar, paying him tribute and so on. How would that square with Liberty?
A: You know, those were really different times. I mean, ask Strom Thurmond. He'll tell you. Really, the kind of Liberty I was addressing in "The Book" was much more of an internal, individual kind of Liberty. A freedom of conscience, if you will. So, uh...well, that's pretty much it.
Q: And yet, throughout "The Book," You Yourself are kind of telling people what to do. You know, when to plant, where to plant, what to eat, who to sleep with, who to worship, when to worship, how to worship, to worship. When exactly did Liberty of conscience, let alone nation-states, assume such importance for You?
A: I suppose I'd have to say it was the 18th century. I really wanted to inspire the American colonies to break away for themselves. I guess I sort of shed my authorial objectivity and took a real personal interest. I don't want to take too much credit. Those guys really took the ball and ran with it.
Q: Wasn't the concept of Liberty really advanced back then by people like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and, especially, Thomas Paine, who didn't attribute the concept to You so much as to a rational, moral view of the universe?
A: Uh...maybe. I guess.
Q: You guess?
A: I mean, you know, sure, if you say so.
Q: Are You sure You actually wrote Liberty?
A: Of course I wrote Liberty! Hello!
Q: All right, then, what's the ISBN number?
A: What?
Q: The ISBN number of Liberty. What is it?
A: The IS...? Okay, okay! Look, all right? I didn't actually write Liberty, okay? Satisfied? Jesus.
Q: Really? Wow? This is kind of big news. What about all those other books?
A: Look, have you ever heard of ghostwriters? I'm not the only one who does it, you know.
Q: Wait, so You're saying, You pay these people to write these books so You can put Your name on them?
A: Dude, they don't even ask me! They just write whatever they want and slap my name on the cover! No release forms, nothing. I don't even get a taste.
Q: Well, have You ever thought of writing something Yourself?
A: Do you know how disciplined you have to be to be a writer, especially when you don't even exist?
Q: So, what, You can't stop these people from putting out books with Your name on them?
A: Look, most of them are actually very flattering, so I really don't see the harm.
Q: Does that mean we'll see more down the road?
A: Oh, yeah, at this point it's like the Hardy Boys.
Q: You mean because it's for kids, and their favorite one is always the first one they read?
A: No, I meant, because they're always coming out with new ones, and updating the old ones to keep up with the times.
Q: So, what's next for you?
A: Same old, same old.
Q: Which is?
A: Not existing, remember?
Q: Well, good luck with that.
A: Yeah, no kidding. Peace.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Iraq Debate Debate

So, you know how the president is going to reveal his thinking about Iraq on Wednesday night, and then the nation will have a chance to engage in serious debate about Iraq and the way forward (or backward or sideways)?

Yeah, well, I've got bad news for you...

At Monday's media conference, Tony Snow said Mr. Bush is "very close" to wrapping up all the details of his plan for Iraq.

However, while James Baker, the U.S. Congress, the media and the American people have been vigorously debating what to do in Iraq for months (and, obviously, for years), the president has refused to enter into that debate. In fact, Snow reiterated that refusal Monday:

...when the President's plan becomes known in detail, then people will be able to talk sensibly about the details and about how the pieces fit together. At this point, I think -- and Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi will have their opportunities to express what they think is necessary for success in Iraq and how they define success. They'll have their opportunity to talk about how they support troops and what they think the troops need. So all of that will be part of the debate.

In other words, we shouldn't be getting into debate based on speculation about what the president's plan might be until we know what the president's plan actually is. He even says: "...wait until you see the whole package and then the debate will begin."

What makes Snow and the White House fundamentally un-American is a little fact that the media didn't seem to pick up on Monday -- namely, that after the president unveils his plan on Wednesday, it'll be too late for debate! Snow himself seems to have performed an act of internal mental dissociation from this fact, referring to the plan as "what the President is proposing." Proposing? A proposal is something the proposee has the option of rejecting. Anyone think that's what we're gonna get Wednesday?

Anyone--especially Tony Snow--who thinks the president will unveil his plan, and then say, "well, what do you think? Mull it over, get back to me and we can bat it around a little before going ahead with anything," is just as deluded as the people who get their guidance from a higher father.

Debate would have been good. Debate would have been American. We're still so used to the concept of debate that it didn't even occur to us, or the media, that the president's speech won't be the start of debate. It'll be the end.

It's just too bad that no one in the media called Snow on having it both ways--opting out of the debate before announcing the plan, because it wasn't ready yet...and opting out of meaningful debate afterward, because by then the debate will be moot.


Signing Statements May Define Battle Over Congressional Oversight

At a time when the arrival of a Democratic Congress, and President Bush's appointment of a Nixon/Reagan veteran as White House counsel, have raised intense speculation about an imminent constitutional showdown regarding oversight and access to information, a survey of White House signing statements reveals that the president has attempted to wall off Congress from information regarding a wide array of subjects, straying far from issues of national security.

Mr. Bush has famously used his signing statements to claim executive leeway on legislation concerning issues of national security, such as the McCain Detainee Amendment and, as revealed by the New York Daily News, even the ability to open mail without a warrant.

The Daily News story emerged only this year, despite the fact that the signing statement was posted online in December, with apparently no public reaction.

Now, a review of other statements posted online throughout the Bush presidency, shows that Mr. Bush has for years been staking a claim to unprecedented levels of secrecy on issues that have nothing to do with national security, ranging from Medicare to motor-vehicle taxation.

"National security" has long been a favorite refuge of presidents seeking to withhold information from Congress and the public. But a search of dozens of signing statements posted online at reveals that Mr. Bush repeatedly claims the right to withhold information not just for reasons of national security, but for virtually any reason at all, including:

- Impairing foreign relations (here, here and here),

- Impairing the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties (here, here, here, here, here, here and here),

- Impairing the deliberative processes of the Executive (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here).
It should be noted that virtually any information that reflects poorly on the White House could be interpreted as potentially impairing foreign relations. Similarly, any information that reflects poorly on the White House could be construed to impair the president's political heft and thus his ability to do his job. Likewise, damaging information about White House decision-making could impair the deliberative process.

Critics of the White House argue that some information should be revealed precisely so that the White House will pay a price for it, even--or especially--if it impinges upon presidential power. In constitutional terms, impairing the Executive branch is supposed to be one of the central functions of the Legislative branch.

One signing statement even rejects a requirement for information on the basis that disclosing such information might "impair the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties, including the conduct of investigations and prosecutions to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." In other words, the president declined to faithfully execute the law on the grounds it might prevent him from faithfully executing the law.

In fact, even as he has signed bill after bill into law, Mr. Bush has frequently attempted to rewrite portions of those laws that require officials in the executive branch to convey information to Congress or to congressional appointees. Some of the issues on which Mr. Bush has rewritten U.S. laws to block congressional attempts at oversight include:

- U.S. trade, including a provision of the signing statement that converts recognition of human-rights standards from a legislated mandate to a presidential prerogative.

- Prosecutorial decision-making at the Dept. of Justice.

- Justice Department activities related to the constitutionality of laws.

- Crime statistics.

- Investigations of alleged crimes or fraud related to specific National Transportation Safety Board projects.

- Medicare.

- Transportation issues, including motor-vehicle taxation and infrastructure financing.

- Proposed mission changes for agencies within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

- Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization, the congressional reporting on which Mr. Bush unilaterally reduces from a requirement to "a matter of comity."

- NASA plans, recommendations and budget requests.

Virtually every signing statement was issued regarding laws passed by a Republican Congress. For that reason, Mr. Bush's claim to have the power to rewrite the law has rarely been challenged.

Now that Democrats are in power and vowing to subject administration activities of the past few years to rigorous scrutiny, it remains to be seen which and how many of these signing statements will be challenged, either in court or with new legislation. Furthermore, the Democrats can be expected to send Mr. Bush plenty of new legislation of their own.

It's not yet clear whether Democrats will attempt either to inoculate their bills against signing statements with specific provisions addressing and precluding them, or to rescue their bills by challenging any signing statements in court after the fact.

In either case, both past and future signing statements on the presidential prerogative to withhold information specifically called for by law can be expected to figure prominently at the center of the coming battle over congressional oversight of the executive branch.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Keith Ellison: Tip of the Iceberg

While everyone goes ooh and ah over new Rep. Keith Ellison's choice of magic book to place his hand upon when he says the magic words that will make the man in the sky ensure that he keeps his promise, folks seem to have missed something. Ellison's status as the first Muslim in the House was just the tip of the iceberg with this new Congress. There's an even bigger milestone that I haven't seen much mention of (with one exception).

In Susan Jacoby's essential "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism," she quotes a North Carolina minister's objection to the proposed U.S. Constitution's ban on religious tests for officeholders. He called it, "an invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us."

Meet Hank Johnson and Mazie K. Hirono. They're two other members of the 110th Congress who are doing something no one in Congress has done before. Not even Ellison.

They don't believe in God. Not the Judeo-Christian God. Not the Muslim God. They're Buddhists. The first ever in Congress.

For the first time, as far as I can tell, bouncing around, the U.S. Congress as of Thursday will now include as members representatives who openly do not subscribe to any version of monotheism.

Johnson is from Georgia (4th district), for Christ's sake. And check out Hirono. She's from Hawaii. What does Hawaii's House Caucus look like in the 110th Congress?

Mazie K. Hirono -- Buddhist.
Neil Abercrombie -- "Non-Affiliated."

Hawaii only has two districts in the House. Neither member of the Hawaii Caucus will be an avowed member of Judeo-Christianity.

In fact, five other members of the House are also listed as "Non-Affiliated" by Americans for Religious Liberty. There's Mark Udall (CO-2), whose dad was raised Mormon and eventually decided he had no use for organized religion. His official bio makes no mention of a god or even church.

Then there's John Olver (MA-1), who's not only non-affiliated, he's a chemistry professor from MIT. Any guesses whether he believes in the god of Judeo-Islamo-Christianity? He's a Massachusetts Democrat, in office since 1991. His seat his safe--it's about time someone asked him point blank.

John Tierney (MA-6) is also listed by ARL as non-affiliated, and doesn't seem to have any overt religious references on his site, either. The others are Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), and Tammy Baldwin (WI-2), who, God bless her, listed her religious affiliation as GLBT. Unless that's a new version of the tetragrammaton, I'm guessing she doesn't have much use for magic super-powers-in-the-sky.

Oh, and according to veteran Washington reporter Jack Germond, speaking just last year, the secret atheists in Congress hide their lack of belief in magic by calling themselves Unitarians. As per, Germond is outing Sen. Kent Conrad, and/or Reps. Pete Stark and Nancy Johnson.

Toss in Mr. Ellison, of Minnesota's fifth district, and you're now talking about two non-theists in the House, one non-Judeo-Christian monotheist, six more possible non-theists and two allegedly possibly secret atheists. Add in Conrad in the Senate, and you have possibly as many as 12 members of the 110th Congress who do not subscribe to a Judeo-Christian worldview. By my calculation, that's more than two percent of the new Congress. One in 50. That's still woefully disproportionate to the vast (and growing) percentage of the U.S. population that's tossed off the chains of monotheism. But it's also a staggering leap at a time when the mainstream media is helplessly enamored of the faith-in-politics storyline.

Now, let's see which journalist has the brains and/or nads to start outing the Rational 12.

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