Thursday, May 22, 2014

Let's Get A Frank Explanation of Why We Should Vote For Atheists

I was busy with family matters when Barney Frank came out as a "pot smoking atheist" on Bill Maher's show.   It, apparently, wasn't big enough news in New England that it made it up here from the Boston news market.   What it means, who knows?  Frank's record in office is quite good,  how it relates to him being an atheist would be for Frank to parse.   I would love to ask Frank some questions about what he thinks of the wide-spread atheist denial of the reality of free will, free thought, things I'd expect Frank believes in.  I would love to discuss where he believes rights come from and where the moral obligation to respect those rights arises.

Once, years ago,  I heard him on TV on the topic of suicide responding to Henry Hyde going on about suicide being a violation of the right to life.  Frank made what I've always thought was a good point, that a right resides in the person who has it and, in the case of suicide, it would be the person who possessed the right who would be violating it.   I'd like to ask him how he squares his view of rights as an inherent possession of persons with his atheism.   If he has come to some non-materialist atheism, it would be fascinating to hear someone of his intelligence and practical experience as a politician elucidate it.   I don't read anywhere that Bill Maher pursued any of those interesting topics.   I know, shocking how Maher could have let those pass.

I have always liked Frank, have favored his election and would have loved to vote for him and I still would based on his record.   This isn't about whether or not I'd vote for Barney Frank, it's about whether or not the ideological declarations of atheists over the centuries have made atheism a legitimate issue for people to consider in whether or not to vote for an atheist.  Atheism isn't a neutral attribute, it is an ideological position generally containing a belief in materialism and materialism has no ability to generate the bases of egalitarian democracy.  It has proven unable to do that.  An atheist has no more right to someone's vote than a biblical fundamentalist does and a politicians thinking about rights, obligations to respect those rights, etc. are entirely legitimate questions when they will be voting on exactly those issues and making laws affecting us.   And, have you ever heard an atheist declare that someone has the right to someone's vote because they were religious?


This is all about a rather silly article by Mary Elizabeth Williams who cites Frank and a handful of other out atheists who are politicians claiming that we need to vote for more atheists.   She cites a Win-Gallup survey to claim that the number of atheists has grown enormously in the past nine years, 1 to 5 % and that religion has dropped 13% in the same time.   Perhaps Williams missed a few details in the news report of the survey that SHE LINKED TO but there are some rather bizarre features to it.

Barry Kosmin, the principal investigator for the ARIS report, said he’s skeptical of the new study.

“The U.S. trends are what we have found and would expect, but the actual numbers are peculiar to say the least,” he said. “The drops in religiosity seem too sharp for the time period — people just don’t change their beliefs that quickly. Most of the trend away from religion has demographic causes and demography moves ‘glacially.’”

Specifically, he points to the poll’s finding that Vietnam, while showing a sharp 23 percent drop in religiosity since 2005, also shows no atheists. “Eight million Communist Party members but zero atheists?” he said. “That statistic makes me very doubtful of the accuracy of the survey overall and some of the international comparisons.”

Which would lead one to strongly suspect that there is something wrong with the study, which is quite at odds with the Pew Surveys that are usually the go-to organization for atheists to make claims about the success of their insurgency, generally either misunderstanding or falsifying what those surveys say.  Did she actually read her own citation?

Furthermore what the report Williams cites says about other countries makes you wonder how she could make her claims from it:

— Besides Vietnam, Ireland had the greatest change in religiosity, down from 69 percent to 47 percent.

— China has the most “convinced atheists,” at 47 percent, followed by Japan (31 percent), Czech Republic (30 percent) and France (29 percent)

— The most religious countries are in Africa (Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya), South America (Brazil, Peru) and Eastern Europe (Macedonia, Romania, Armenia).

— Countries with the same percentage of atheists as the U.S. are Poland, Moldova and Saudi Arabia.

I strongly suspect that Win-Gallup conducted and published this poll to get some news attention, which is why I think Williams wrote what she did and the reason Salon published it.  I've come across lots of atheist-click bait of the same quality, when you click on the links to their citations, those don't say what the article claims.   I mean, the article she cites pretty much trashes the credibility of the Win-Gallup survey that she makes her claims from.

But it isn't until the end of her column that the real problems become obvious.

Nevertheless, it’s frustrating that in a nation that built the ideal of keeping God out of government into its foundation, voters are still so reluctant to support candidates who keep God out of their own lives. As a Catholic, I want leaders who don’t interfere with my faith but I don’t need them to share in it. In fact, I strongly prefer they not. I want politicians who can serve all their constituents, without moral conflicts of interest. You’d better believe I don’t like what happens when the dictates of a faith collide with the healthcare needs of women. That’s why I vote in a manner that works toward keeping religion out of government. And one of the easiest ways to bring that about is to support more candidates without religion in the first place.

There are so many problems with this paragraph that it would take a really long post to go through them.  The United States was not founded on "the ideal of keeping God out of government"  it was founded on the ideal that governments were there to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity".   The only relevance of religion in that is exactly the opposite of what Williams says, IT IS TO KEEP THE GOVERNMENT OUT OF RELIGION.  Especially that the government not establish one religion, to the discredit of it when the government is discreditable, and the disadvantage of members of other religions.

But her assumption that religion shouldn't and has not informed the decisions of The People, including those in who they vote for, to good effect is what's really wrong with it.  While it's fashionable to pretend otherwise, every single advance in rights, including the rights of women and GLBT people, certainly of Black people, Latinos and others has been more based on religious belief than it has on standard civics.   The Constitution with The Bill of Rights didn't end slavery, it didn't enfranchise women and poor men, it didn't provide welfare to the destitute or do much of anything that wouldn't be perfectly OK with the most right-wing, paleo-federalist sitting in a well upholstered office at any neo-fascist DC area think tank.

Every single effort to make the aristocratic 18th century document that the original Constitution was into a vehicle of equality and rights, was either explicitly religious or it included a major component of religious involvement.   The People are the real foundation of government,  in the past I said it was the trunk from which the branches of government take its life and from whom it derives its only legitimacy. It has been when The People are convinced that there is a religious requirement to pay a cost to provide justice, the exercise of rights to other people, AT A COST TO THEMSELVES, that real progress has been made.   Atheism has provided no such motivation, it has, most typically, resorted to some analysis under the guise of natural selection, which is inevitably an unequal competition in which the "fittest" survive and the weakest die.

On issue after issue fought out in the 19th and early 20th century, it was religious belief that powered movements to change laws.   There is no record of atheism powering any of that change,  frankly, I doubt that in any form I'm aware of, atheist ideology would most likely either be impotent or counter-productive in pursuing those goals.  Materialism, for its entire existence, has most often denied anything so metaphysical as inherent rights which it can't account for either existing or being equally distributed in the population.    It can't account for where a moral obligation to universally respect those rights exists in equal distribution, falling as much on the most intelligent, most favored by circumstances as it does on the least intelligent and most unlucky.

When you are talking about politics, making laws, being a judge, those are what governments do.  Unless someone has an absolute belief in the equal distribution of rights as an inherent endowment of people and the moral obligation to respect those then The People have more than a right to reject them, they have a moral obligation to reject them.   The only people who can tell us how atheism is compatible with those metaphysical endowments are atheists and, frankly, I read more of them denying the possibility that those are real than have demonstrated any kind of respect for them.   Barney Frank's record is what needs explaining in those terms.  If he can provide what generations of atheists have not, a secure and powerful foundation for rights and moral obligations, a powerful motive for people to trouble themselves and pay a cost for people unconcerned with them, he should do so.  He should because the common materialist rejection of them has been articulated for centuries.


  1. As I said at the Salon article, the fact that Christopher Hitchens would be disappointed upsets me no end.

    I quite agree with your distinction between government not interfering with religion and religion interfering with government. The argument that religion should stay out of government is just a political argument that my opponents should stay out of my way. I've encountered atheists as devoted to their idea of "reason" (which is commonly quite unreasonable, and means "think like me!") as any fundamentalist Xian is supposedly devoted to the "word of God."

    And as I consider it, the "free thinkers" of the 19th century were generally pretty well disposed to preserving the status quo which gave them a comfortable place in the world and the education and leisure time to consider why atheism was superior to religious belief; and also why the masses should continue to believe in an oppressive God so they would remain compliant to the powerful minority.

    Which is an immoral position critiqued by religion, not by materialism.

  2. It has been when The People are convinced that there is a religious requirement to pay a cost to provide justice, the exercise of rights to other people, AT A COST TO THEMSELVES, that real progress has been made. Atheism has provided no such motivation, it has, most typically, resorted to some analysis under the guise of natural selection, which is inevitably an unequal competition in which the "fittest" survive and the weakest die.

    Dawkins is on record pointing out far more of the Nobel Laureates come from England than from India, China, etc.

    And how clearly that is a good thing, and establishes the superiority of jolly olde England. Oh, and atheism, because England is not the benighted land of the non-white non-Europeans.

    He's a prince, that one; a real peach of a guy!