Sunday, October 19, 2008

Expect Obama to be No Friend to Secular Americans

If Obama is as smart as he seems to be, he will not be the secularist's friend during his term in the White House (assuming he has a term in the White House). He will either need to toss secularism to the wolves, or he will need to give up his office in four years to somebody else who will toss secularism to the wolves.

One of the observed facts of this campaign is the degree to which McCain's nomination of Sarah Palin galvanized the religious right to work for his campaign. It generated millions of dollars in campaign contributions, and millions of hours in volunteer labor, that he would not have otherwise had from the religious right.

It turns out that it had other ill effects. Palin's utter lack of experience, combined with her inability to form a coherent sentence on political policy, more than cancelled out the political advantages of her religious leanings. However, let us imagine for a moment that Palin was, in fact, capable of making intelligent statements about political policy – that she knew the Bush Doctrine, could cite numerous Supreme Court cases, was widely read, had travelled broadly as Governor of Alaska to set up trade deals with, for example, Japan, China, Russia, and the like.

There are a lot of religious conservatives that have these types of credentials. She happened not to be one of them. But that was a happy coincidence, not a law of nature.

I also want you to note the fact that the Obama campaign never attacked Palin's religious beliefs or her credentials. The criticism heaped on Palin came from forces outside of the campaign (or forces whose connection to the campaign were largely invisible). Obama does, in fact, seem smart enough to know that it would be political suicide to challenge the Religious Right – that his political future depends on his ability to appease them.

He will almost certainly continue to appease them through four years as President.

He will give them the Office of Faith Based Initiatives – making this a permanent part of the American political system. And he will, in all likelihood, increase funding – his way of paying to prevent the religious right from campaigning too heavily against him.

He will certainly condemn what I expect will be the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' opinion that 'under God' in the Pledge is unconstitutional. He will – probably with some politeness – assert in all likelihood that it is absurd to think that 'under God' in the Pledge is somehow oppressive. He will, by necessity, put his Justice Department to work defending "under God" and "In God We Trust" before the Supreme Court, as well as campaign publicly on what he is doing to protect these traditions. against us on this issue. And he will campaign against us hard enough so that the religious right will have little reason to doubt his sincerity, and thus have less of an incentive to close ranks and form a political army that will work against him.

[Note: Having a national pledge that equates one who does not favor 'one nation under God' with one who does not defend a nation 'indivisible, with liberty and justice for all' certainly goes a long way towards prejudicing the population against such a person, and there is a growing stack of evidence on how real and potent that prejudice is.]

So, I suspect that, in addition to giving the religious right the Office of Faith Based Initiatives, he will also give them the courts. He is going to choose his battles – and his battles will be on Roe v. Wade and forms of discrimination other than discrimination and the promotion of prejudice against atheists. He will toss the atheists to the wolves in order to save others who are more important to him.

The Religious Right will probably realize that if they keep the right to subject generation after generation of school children to the propaganda that atheism is as un-American as tyranny and injustice, that they will win on the other issues eventually.

I would like somebody to ask Obama the question – while there is still a chance to do so – "President Bush said that we need common-sense judges who believe that our rights come from God, and declared that these were the types of judges he would appoint. Do you share his view that a person who does not believe in God is, by that fact alone, unqualified to be a judge?"

As I said above, his personal views do not matter. What I am writing about here is the fine art of political manipulation. It has to do with being effective, versus being right, and a mindset that says that being effective goes a long way towards being right. He will console himself by telling himself about the good that he has accomplished. Though it was sad that he had to sacrifice some people (atheists, secularists) to realize these goods, the gains were important enough to justify the sacrifice.

So, what comes from all of this pessimism?

Well, actually, I think that we ought to live in the real world and make real-world plans that reflect the facts of the universe that surrounds us. What I have stated above is what I believe to be the political facts.

What I mean is that, if you believe in fact-based initiatives rather than faith-based initiatives, if you would prefer a society that did not teach prejudice that particularly targets young children, values science education, and would like to end the social barriers that keep atheists out of public office and positions of public trust, you need to take this message to the people themselves.

It is because our culture is the way it is that a politician like Obama will almost certainly need to sacrifice secular values in order to obtain other goods. It is because of the things that people are willing to invest their contributions of political time and money in that the politician who refuses to sacrifice seclar values will find himself replaced by one who does not refuse. It is only by changing the culture, from the ground up, that we can alter these political facts.

It means that it is time to stop thinking that the situation will magically correct itself. It means that it is necessary to contribute political time and political money to protesting the sacrifice of secular values.

Obama will almost certainly sacrifice secular values just to stay in office. Mumbling among ourselves will not accomplish anything.

Writing letters to Obama himself will be worth than useless. He will toss them aside and scoff, "Live in the real world, people. If I followed your suggestions I might as well simply resign and give my seat over to Huckabee or Palin because, by following your advice, I would give them an excellent chance of winning the next election."

The message has to be taken to the people themselves, and delivered in such a manner that even those who do not want to hear that message cannot ignore it.

Until we create a culture in which it is safe for a politician to support a secular government, we are self-deluded fools if we demand politicians to support secular government. Such a politician will simply be replaced with a different politician who does not have, or is smart enough not to let people know that he has, secular values.

We need to create a culture in which it is safe for politicians such as these to hold secular values, and we cannot do so by hiding our beliefs and praying that, without any effort on our part, a messiah will come along and do all of the hard work for us.

It is up to us to make the political and cultural environment safe for politicians with secular values.


Anonymous said...

What evidence do you have to support your prediction?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

(A) The North Carolina senate campaign.

(B) Obama's comments (or lack of them) concerning Palin's theocratic views.

(C) The lack of any secular support in any speech that I have heard during or after the Democratic convention. He has made no statement critical of the bigotry in the North Carolina campaign . . . and he will not do so.

(D) Obama's explicit statement of support for the Office of Faith Based Initiatives (as long as it does not promote discriminatory hiring). Obama Calls for More Faith-Based Funding to Help the Poor.

(E) Obama's statement in defense of 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance. "It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase "under God." I didn't."

I sense a pattern, and I expect that pattern to continue through the next 4 years.

Furthermore, it would be smart of him to continue this pattern if he wants to get re-elected in four years.

anton said...


Congratulations on another insightful posting. It is unfortunate but true that we have a "which came first, a chicken or the egg" situation because "Evil triumphs when good men stay silent". It appears that the "good men" who have the ear of US America won't be effectively speaking up in my lifetime.

It certainly wouldn't be fare to Obama to expect him to change America in one or two terms. After all, It has taken 200 years to get where it is now. In my province of Ontario we had an "insightful" leader (Bob Rae). He lost his support, and his position as prime minister, because he tried to do what needed to be done. Our population wanted change . . . but they didn't want to take the medicine that went with it!

Anonymous said...

This paragraph appears to be missing a piece:

"Note: Having a national pledge that equates one who defends rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all certainly goes a long way towards prejudicing the population against that person, and there is a growing stack of evidence on how real and potent that prejudice is."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering.

I remember one of Obama's speeches that impressed me as far as his liberal religious views, especially when he included "nontheists" in a list of religious groups, but it is true that that was a few years ago.

And overall, he really doesn't go on the attack about anything nearly as often as I'd like. When McCain went on about ending earmarks at the first debate, Obama could have nailed him with Palin's earmarking, but didn't. Obama could be bringing up the Keating 5 in response to the Ayers attacks, but doesn't.

So it's really not much of a surprise (to me anyways) that he doesn't say "you're a bunch of loonies" to the opposition's religious tactics.

Mike Johnson said...

thoughtful post. we have a link up at our site at

Anonymous said...

Why would you suggest that? you have anecdotal evidence, I see, but you ignore his votes on many key issues where he has firmly stood up for the secular view.

McCain and Obama are both secular - I might even fairly say agnostic or atheist people who are clearly pandering to the religious majority for political purposes. Ethics of that aside, Obama has the advantage of not having to rely on the religious right to be elected next time around. McCain will have to continue to do their bidding.

I do not feel like you were being completely fair in this post. Much of your argument relies on the idea that he's not fighting back against these elements... this is something you have to get elected to fight for first. He could make a point of calling out religious folks on everything and play right into the "threatening" characterization the McCain campaign has worked so hard to create about him.

Obama is doing the right thing for now - and when he gets in he will do the right thing. He has to get there first.

vjack said...

I generally agree with what you said in the post. The question is whether a leaderless movement without a clear agenda can succeed. There are, of course, many things we can do as individuals. But without some organization, I'm not sure how effective we can be.

anton said...


I agree with your comment.

Can anyone identify any movement that accomplished sustainable objectives without having a leader, a clearly stated objective, and a far-reaching organization?

For all of their common sense and intelligence, Atheists have been attempting to achieve the impossible for 2,500 years . . . without success.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

vjack, anton

First, there is more than enough room for more than one movement at the same time.

Looking around us I see the Science Network, Pharyngula, Freedom from Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Godless Americans Political Action Committee, Military Association of Atheists and Free Thinkers, Camp Quest, Atheists United, Skeptic, I could go on for quite some time.

Each organization has a leader - some more effective than others.

I do not see it as a problem that so many organizations exist. It has not hurt the religious community that so many different religions exist - some dramatically opposed to others.

We have a rich variety of atheist organizations.

I do think that atheist organizations have a number of handicaps. The worst of these is harm done to people who, as children, are taught to view atheists as the 'out group' - inferior (and passively subservient to) the in group. It is this that explains why it is the case, "For all of their common sense and intelligence, Atheists have been attempting to achieve the impossible for 2,500 years . . . without success."

It is because our desires and aversions are not subject to reason - so no amount of reason is going to overcome the emotional difficulty that we have, as out-group members, of overcoming the learned view that atheists should sit down and shut up.

We do nothing because society has programmed us to do nothing - programmed us as young children, tying those reactions to our emotions (not to our reason) so that we just do not like to speak up.

What it takes to overcome this is hard effort and mutual support - a determination that "Today, I am going to do something, even though I have been trained as a young child not to like it." In the hopes that tommorow, it will be easier. And the next day, easier still.

anton said...


It has not hurt the religious community that so many different religions exist - some dramatically opposed to others.

And each of them has a "figurehead" or "believe" that binds them together. There are more than 25 implementations of Christianity but each has common denominators -- the Bible, and Jesus Crhist! Similarly, there are several "versions" of Islam, Jewish, Hindu, etc. religions. There is plenty of room for a number of "organizations", unfortunately, most of those you named are "militant" and provide nothing for us to pass on to our young people. Every child of an Atheist is not about to go to an Atheist sponsored summer camp.

I propose, therefore, some "binders" that can be enjoyed by all.

For a start, we could all celebrate Winter Solstice. We wouldn't have to change much. After all, the Christians tried to stamp out Winter Solstice by proclaiming it as Christ's Birthday. We could have solstice decorations and "yule" things (yule is older than Christianity). We could give gifts to our loved ones, celebrate a New Year (Solstice was also a New Year's celebration), and have a festive holiday. I have had a "Solstice Tree" for years. On top is a star (a sun) from which all life is made possible. After all, Winter Solstice is a real event!!

If all the organizations got together and "endorsed" a common goal of celebrating "solstice" it would go a long way to accomplishing an Atheist agenda.

We could follow it up with a June Solstice celebration to overthrow the Catholic Church's attempt to subvert this other solar event.

Etc. etc. etc. I proposed most these events with my model of an organization almost a year ago with my introduction of the Milesians. ( In the time since, I have had lots of positive comments from religious communities -- but none from Atheists (except extremely negative ones). If this model is not acceptable to the Atheist community, at least they could "speak up" and help me perfect it.