Welcome to another episode of 'Things that get so far up my nose, it scratches my hypothalamus'.
Prepare to get somewhat incensed.
One of my best friends grew up in the Mormon Church. I asked Steve recently what he thought of Mitt Romney's statement that "we need to have a person of faith lead this country." Steve, unlike Romney, isn't an orthodox Mormon, but he's a very thoughtful person, who knows more about religion that just about anyone I know.
Fairly standard entry point: 'I talked to someone of faith'. Anecdotal.
Steve's view is that religious believers of every stripe all have something in common with each other that's relevant to issues such as who ought to be president.
It seems fair enough, that is, if you're a believer, that is.
But he's careful not to overstate the matter: he emphasizes that many Christian churches don't consider Mormons to be Christians, and that such disagreements aren't trivial. (A good rule of thumb is that differences of opinion of the sort that have led large numbers of people to kill each other are probably pretty significant).
People get violent over religion. Not really a newsflash.
Still, Steve believes - correctly in my view - that in general the differences between religious believers are less important than the differences between believers and nonbelievers, and that this distinction is and ought to be relevant to political life.
And here we go again. Best to skip over less important points, like say, who's qualified to hold an office? Watch as he makes a stilted argument on discriminating against atheists.
That belief helps explain why, for example, Americans say they are far less likely to vote for an atheist for president than for members of various groups (women, Jews, ethnic minorities) who have been excluded historically from presidential consideration.
It's called discrimination, my friend. Imagine the response if you denied someone office based race, sex, gender, or any other civil rights matters. (I'm not going to accept a 'gee, just shut up or change your mind' riposte, because that stinks of thought police.)
Now among liberals, the knee-jerk reaction to such poll data is to condemn the intolerance it represents. Yet I think there are good reasons for refusing to vote for an atheist for president - subject to the caveat that I also believe genuine atheism, like genuinely orthodox religious belief, is actually quite rare.
Aye caramba!!! Do any of these people bother do any research? Wait for it: he'll reveal an underwhelming source a little later on. Albinos are rare: will you deny them public office on the grounds that not only are they rare, they make people uncomfortable?
Of course there are lots of people who claim to be atheists, just as there are lots of people who claim to be orthodox religious believers. But how many people, at least among the social classes that produce presidential candidates, believe in the doctrines of Christianity with the same degree of confidence with which they believe in, say, the existence of Antarctica?
Wait: what? How lopsided is that argument? G.B Shaw wasn't too far off when he said, "Those who cannot do, teach." How is this germane? Answer: it's not. Social classes? Nice of him to admit there actually is a caste system in American politics.
Naturally it's considered quite rude to press people on such matters,
You can press me anytime, 'professor'. I don't find it rude: I know few 'genuine' atheists who do. Of course, it helps to beg off on doing any real research, by pretensions of courtesy.
but in my experience most supposedly orthodox religious belief, on closer examination, melts away into a vague sense of an ultimate moral order, supervised by an even more vaguely conceptualized divinity. (Among a lot of liberal Christians, this is asserted openly, to the point where they seem to adhere to a form of Christianity that excludes all specifically Christian beliefs).
I'd advise this cat to get out more. 'Ultimate moral order'? Good thing he doesn't teach philosophy.
Conversely, when one presses a purported atheist, one almost always finds that the person believes in various propositions that simply don't make sense without a belief in some source of an ultimate moral order, i.e., what most people would call "God." For instance, almost everyone who claims to be an atheist still makes lots of "ought" statements, as in "we ought to preserve biological diversity," or what have you.
Hold on: there's a vast difference between propositions and believing in some anthropic principle that rules unseen over the unwashed masses. The ultimate authority is Man, that's it. If you require an unseen cosmic baby sitter to refrain from plunging into feral chaos, I'd say that goes more to your poor upbringing and lack of self-control. Who has this guy 'pressed'? Anyone I know?
The latter view is that of the famed biologist Edward O. Wilson, in his new book The Creation. Written in the form of a letter to a pastor of the Southern Baptist faith in which Wilson was brought up, Wilson argues that atheists like him and religious believers ought to agree that preserving biological diversity, and therefore in the long run humanity, is a profound moral imperative.
And that's it. Sum total of his research is...drum roll please...one book! Let's not forget that this is a strawman (obviously) - I'm guessing that the book in question had a bit more...substance. This appears to be the be-all and end-all of his research. Chatting with a buddy and reading a solitary book on the subject. Wow, don't exhaust yourself, Professor.
Wilson is a brilliant man, but this kind of thing has always seemed to me nonsensical on its face. After all, the human race has existed for an eye-blink of cosmological time and will certainly cease to exist in another eye-blink or two.
This paragraph is just - eye-crossing. What is this supposed to mean, exactly? That we shouldn't give two rips of a rat's fart in a hurricane? Is this some weak jab at existentialism? Back-handed ad hominem, to boot.
The only response a genuine atheist would have to that fact is, so what? Which helps explain why there are almost no genuine atheists.
This is just pathetic. How much is this guy getting paid for this? I wouldn't give him 5 bucks to write this - hell, he'd have to pay me to accept the stupid thing. I write better articles for free, fer cryin' out loud. Obviously he's piggy-backing on the 'cold empty lives' stereotype about atheists. "Believe in nothing - why should I care?"
Bad news, prof: we're thinking, breathing, living human beings regardless of our un-belief. No one I know or have met (online or otherwise) is in any way apathetic - we still have passion, we are allowed to raise our voices in the ruckus, our fists to the skies, cry J'ccuse! or Kudos!, and many of us are deeply concerned, both with our fellow human beings as well as ourselves.
Because this is all there is. That's it. Best to make the most of it. Touch a heart, a mind, one another, breathe, laugh, cry, enjoy, and most of all, help each other.
And guess what? I'm the real deal. A genuine atheist. And there's a lot more out there than just little ol' me. A lot more. Fifteen to sixteen percent (give or take) of the US population. So we don't get a seat at the table? No political representatives? What happened to 'no taxation without representation'? Hey, didn't we fight a war over that?
And maybe, just maybe, if you attended a Beyond Belief convention, or a Western/Eastern Atheists Meet, or actually left the campus and looked for us, you'd find out just how wrong you are.
Welcome to reality.
Here's his email. Send him your indignant responses (note: DO try to keep it somewhat polite - we still have a major PR problem, ergo, we should at least try to behave with a modicum of decorum).
Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at email@example.com.
And there you have it. Final analysis: rhetorical rigmarole.
Till the next post, then.