Friday, August 22, 2008

Democrats, Faith, Morals, and the Common Good

With the Democratic National Convention going on just blocks from where I work, it is perhaps unavoidable that I would turn my attention to the events going on there.

The first of those events that deserve consideration is the decision to start the convention with an inter-faith gathering; a gathering of religious leaders. The purpose of this gathering is to show that Democrats accept people of faith.

Indeed, according to Leah Daughtry, CEO of the Democratic National Committee,

"Democrats have been, are and will continue to be people of faith - and this interfaith gathering is proof of that."

Note that there is a distinction between saying "some Democrats are people of faith" and "Democrats are people of faith." The former clearly asserts that those who are not people of faith are not invited to be Democrats, while the latter is still consistent with "some Democrats are not people of faith."

Consistent with this, the leadership of the Democratic Party has not merely extended an invitation to people of faith to attend its convention and participate in these sessions. It has explicitly excluded atheists. As with any party, we can tell a lot about the values and opinions of those in charge by looking not only at those who have received invitations to the party, but also by looking at the list of those who were not invited.

Atheists were not invited.

This should be expected. Given the fact that so many voters are adverse to anything having to do with atheism, the Democratic Party had to choose between ostracizing atheists to win public office, or accepting atheists and exclude themselves from public office (as atheists themselves are excluded from public office). One of the core principles of marketing is to link that which you want to sell with something that potential customers' desire, and to link what the competitor is selling to something that potential customers hate. For years the Republican Party has sold itself by linking itself to religion and the Democratic Party to hated atheism. The rational response for the Democratic Party to take is to reject the atheists as well.

In following this path, the Democratic Party is simply trying to show that it is faithful to American values. One of those values, as expressed in the National Motto, is, "If you do not trust in God, then we do not want to think of you as being one of us." There is no better way for the Democratic Party to show its support for this principle than to say as loudly and as publicly as possible to atheists, "If you do not trust in God, then you are not invited to be one of us."

Given the lies spread earlier in the year – the lie that Obama does not say the Pledge of Allegiance, we can bet that there will be one or more conspicuous moments where Obama leads the Convention itself in the Pledge of Allegiance – probably when he gives his acceptance speech. If the cameras should catch sight of any portion of the audience itself remaining seated or refusing to participate, this will simply be taken as proof that the Democrats do not share American values. You can bet that there will be a lot of pressure and manipulation used to guarantee that Democrats show their proper respect to 'one nation under God', and their contempt for any who would reject this objective.

Whenever the Pledge of Allegiance is spoken in this country, participants are given two options. They can either stand and voice their support to 'one nation under God', or they can remain seated and show their contempt for 'liberty and justice for all'. There is no third option. If you doubt this, you need only look at any discussion on the topic of whether people should be required to stand for the Pledge, and these are the options people talk about. Even when people talk about the (free speech) right to remain seated, it is presented as a right show contempt for 'liberty and justice for all'.

Some atheists are preparing to protest these proceedings. I will be among them. However, in doing this, I think it is important to face up to some facts about what is going on.

I will bet good money that the leaders of the Democratic Party want this protest. In fact, I expect that those leaders will go out of their way to get the press to cover these protests, because that coverage will simply help to advertise the message that the Democratic Party wants to give the American people. It wants the people to know that it shares their distaste for atheists, and are not willing to consider atheists as "one of us." They think it will win them votes. The best way to do this is to ensure that the news covers this protest.

Consider the protests against segregation in the 1950s. Consider the sit-ins at segregated restaurants, where blacks would enter and sit in the white-only section until the police removed them. These protesters were not trying to embarrass businesses by exposing the fact that they were segregationists. Segregating customers was a badge of honor, and charges of segregation was good advertising at the time.

Instead, those protests were about telling people that segregation deserves contempt. Its purpose was to show contempt for the practice of dividing the nation between ‘white’ and ‘colored’.

In exactly the same way, the Democratic Party is not going to be embarrassed by the fact that they have decided to divide the country between a ‘we’ who ‘trust in God’ and ‘they’ who do not. They are going to wear this as a badge of honor, and consider news to that effect good advertising. Because of this, the objective of protest should not be to reveal this hidden truth of religious segregation. The purpose of protest should be to state loudly and clearly that religious segregation is worthy of contempt.

The Democratic Party deserves contempt not only for its act of religious segregation – for having its 'people of faith' meetings from which 'the faithless' are excluded. It deserves an extra measure of contempt for the content of those meetings.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula posted an announcement he received that states this content.

On Tuesday, August 26, the Faith Caucus will hold two panel discussions – "Common Ground on Common Good," an opportunity to discuss finding common ground on moral issues of the day . . . . On Thursday, August 28, the Caucus will convene for "Moral Values Issues Abroad," a panel on how the faith community can work together to address pressing moral issues around the world . . .

So, the Democratic Party has decided to embrace the prejudice that if morality is the topic of discussion, then atheists have nothing to say.

The paradigm example of bigotry is to morally denigrate the target group, to spread the message that, "If you belong to the target group (atheists) you are morally inferior and, as such, not worthy of respect or of being listened to when we (the faithful) discuss moral matters. On moral matters, you have nothing valuable to contribute."

Here I am, devoting hours of every day of unpaid time to moral issues, and the Democratic Party decides to tell the world that, on moral issues, atheists have nothing to contribute. There truly is no greater or purer insult in the land of bigotry than to make an accusation of moral worthlessness such as this.

Obviously, the Democratic Party has no interest in finding 'common ground' with the atheist. Nor are atheists to be included in the 'common good'. The 'common good’ to be sought is whatever 'common good' can be found between Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists (the four groups actually invited to participate in these forums). And no atheist, sitting at a table in which "moral values issues abroad" is being discussed, could possibly say something – could possibly provide a perspective or an argument – that the Democratic Party should hear and consider. Only a person of faith can provide moral guidance to the party.

An atheist ethicist . . . well, that’s just a contradiction in terms.


anton said...

Great post alonzo!

You have inspired me to create a new version of an old quote.

"Evil triumphs when good men are silenced."

Good luck, US America, you need it . . . in fact, the world needs it!

anticant said...

It's a hard fact of politics that there rarely is a viable third option between Black and White.

Anonymous said...

You were right in identifying the party offering as a consummable subject to the principles of marketing, and so it comes as no surprise that the brand would prevent identification with anything that would estrange its core demographic. I think the greater challenge is not just to demand equal time from the parties when addressing issues of ethics and morality, but to hold the process itself to a higher standard than one that resembles nothing more than an egregiously sycophantic commercial.