Here is a statement that deserves an immediate, loud, and hostile response.
"I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."
This is from Newt Gingrich, who wants to be President of the United States.
One's first impression is to laugh at this statement.
A secular atheist country dominated by radical Islamists?
We really have to question the sanity of such a person - for reasons that are too obvious to mention.
But, while shaking our collective heads in mocking disbelief, we must remember that this is one of the leading contenders to become President.
We have another reason for speculating why he might have said such a thing. Recently, several Republican Presidential candidates gave speeches to a conservative gathering in Iowa.
Haley Barbour (R) and Newt Gingrich (R) were politely and well received, but it's Bachmann who really fired them up with criticisms of the administration, an artful weaving of audience response, and backing up her points with a litany of "statistics."
(See MSNBC: Bachmann: 'I am an Iowan')
A couple of days after that happened, we see Gingrich attacking atheists and linking them to Islamic fundamentalists. And, at the same time, he links atheism with being anti-American. An atheist, apparently, does not understand what it means to be an American. You simply cannot be an atheist and, at the same time, understand what it means to be an American.
And he makes a well calculated emotional appeal by attaching these sentiments to an apparent concern for the future of young children. Can you imagine these cute and innocent children growing up in a country with secular atheists? It's enough to make you gag.
It doesn't matter that it makes no sense. What matters is that it is politically useful. It is something that may persuade one highly irrational and bigoted part of the population reason to support Gingrich's campaign, but give others no reason to oppose it because they simply ignore it.
Which is a part of the problem.
Let Gingrich or any other political candidate claim that by the time their grand children are his age they will be "in a Jewish community" and the Anti-Defamation league and their allies will end that candidate's Presidential ambitions before the week was out.
Gingrich did not even qualify his contempt for atheists – the way he qualified his contempt for Islam by adding ‘fundamentalists’. Whereas Islamic fundamentalists worry him, all atheists worry him, without exception or qualification.
However, he says this about atheists and it is barely worth mentioning in the news. Those who favor this message will repeat it to their friends and associates - those who are opposed will likely not even hear about it.
Part of the reason is that the atheist community has no organization to pay attention and to tackle events such as this - have no way to send the word out to the various atheist and anti-discrimination organizations (including the Anti-Defamation League).
His success in this strategy will only encourage others while it teaches its audience a wide lesson that looking down on atheists is acceptable, right, and proper. It contributes to a hostility towards atheists by building a community in which these values are accepted, but which go unchallenged in society at large.
Whereas widespread and public objections to these types of claims will help to discourage other candidates from taking the same path, while teaching the public at large that this type of bigotry is unacceptable in the public at large, and particularly among Presidential candidates.