Saturday, June 07, 2008

Religion an atheist can live with

Today, a friend of mine linked me to an article by About.Com's atheism spokesman, Austin Cline. It raised some of the concerns that Cline has about his ability to live with Barack Obama's religious views should he become the next President of the United States. Cline thinks Obama is sending out mixed messages that may either represent the Senator's confused thinking or simply that he is talking out of both sides of his mouth.

I was shocked at the low level of logic and reason that Cline used. I like to think that we atheists and agnostics are generally "a cut above" when it comes to the use of our free-thought capability. What disturbed me most from his article was this. First, Cline quotes Obama and then dissects the comment.

And by the way, we need Christians on Capitol Hill, Jews on Capitol Hill and Muslims on Capitol Hill talking about the estate tax. When you've got an estate tax debate that proposes a trillion dollars being taken out of social programs to go to a handful of folks who don't need and weren't even asking for it, you know that we need an injection of morality in our political debate. ... So the question is, how do we build on these still-tentative partnerships between religious and secular people of good will? It's going to take more work, a lot more work than we've done so far.

We need Christians on Capitol Hill? What kind of statement is that? Almost all legislators are Christians — in fact, they are a higher percentage of legislators than they are of the general population. It makes no sense to say that "we need Christians on Capital Hill" when almost everyone on Capitol Hill is already a Christian. I would only expect such a statement from a Christian Nationalist who doesn't believe that most Christians in America are "real" Christians in the first place.

Really, Austin? Seems terribly clear to me that Obama was saying that we need Christians on Capitol Hill to demonstrate the morals they claim their faith informs, in this case by taking a hard look at an unfair estate tax which would cost social programs dearly. This is a classic case of taking out of context, in particular his dwelling (needlessly) on the first part of the sentence "We need Christians on Capitol Hill".

If he really wants to know how Obama would likely allow his faith to inform his decision making, Cline could have done a little more research. There is plenty of information out there like this video, which I think would have greatly assuaged his concerns. Is it too much to ask of a fellow rational thinker? Anyway, we know we are going to have a President who represents some religious tradition. That being the case, Obama is a man of faith that this atheist will gladly accept.


The Exterminator said...

That being the case, Obama is a man of faith that this atheist will gladly accept.

Not being a PollyEvo, I'd omit the word "gladly." I'd also change "live with" in the title of the post to "tolerate."

Otherwise, yeah. Good points. Although I suspect you're dreaming if you don't think Obama's going to become a committed Christian again sometime during the course of the race.

the chaplain said...

I think Obama will be easier to accept than McCain for many reasons. McCain may be less religious than Obama, but I don't believe he's any more moral than Obama. I'd rather take an ethical Christian who respects the need for secularism as the foundation of common ground between diverse people than an unethical person of indeterminate, or even no, religious faith, regardless of the latter's position re: secularism.

I think most, if not all, of you will agree that morality, whatever its alleged source, is a far more serious consideration in a political candidate than religiosity or lack thereof.

John Evo said...

I agree, Chappy. Can't speak for others. A "weak" theist who continually demonstrates a decent (secular) moral sense while not attempting to enforce his beliefs on others would be my preference over an atheist/secularist who has poor judgment in treating others according to a "golden rule" morality. I might tend to respect the intellect of the atheist a bit more but, overall, I'd rather be in a foxhole with the other guy.

The case of Obama vs. McCain is more clear-cut. I respect both Obama's moral sense AND his intellect more than McCain. And at least I'd be in a foxhole with Obama. If I were with McCain, he'd end up getting us into a POW camp.

How long until some right wingnut reads that and goes ballistic that I'm dishonoring McCain's service to the country?

PhillyChief said...

Well I think it's important to call out those of us who might be mistaken, regardless of their high level of celebrity or personal relationship we have with them. That is, I feel, indicative of intellectual honesty and indicative of most atheists in the atheosphere.

I think you did a decent job here Evo of examining Obama's comments rationally and in context. Sometimes, I feel, when you're so keyed up for a fight you lose perspective and act irrationally. I think that's what happened here with Cline.

John Evo said...

My experience with Austin Cline -

I emailed him and invited him to comment. He (obviously) has declined to do so here, but we had a bit of a back and forth yesterday. I asked him if he'd mind if I used his emails in a new post (even promised to use them in full, no edits, and same for my own to him). He brusquely turned it down. Apparently:

I don't understand what he says.
Don't check my facts.
Use much abusive language.
Engage in ad hominem attacks.
Argue points the way religious people do.
Haven't read everything he is written and therefore (apparently) don't know what I'm talking about in this post of his.
Make assumptions and presumptions about many issues.
One of which is my presumption that he's not "for" Obama (huh? believe me, I said that nowhere in this post OR any of my emails).

Now, you might say to yourself WHAT THE FUCK?! Doesn't sound much like the John Evo I know and, anyway, what the FUCK does any of that have to do with the substance of Evo's argument in "Religion an atheist can live with"?

Well, he commented on that too. Apparently I still don't know what I'm talking about and he is unable to see that using the words "We need Christians on Capitol Hill" is used completely out of context. I have no point and I have most certainly not plainly demonstrated such. Me telling him to carefully read the paragraph is much like Christians telling him to read scriptures more carefully and "then you'll understand" like us superior thinkers.

What can I say? This is a "rational thinker" in our reason-based community. One who gets a lot of people reading his information at (Which reminds me - that was another of my great failings. I called him a "spokesperson". I 'obviously' haven't done my research to make such a mistake. So I did my research. At, he is known as a "guide", not a "spokesman". I just want to clear up that very deceiving misconception that I left in my post!)

I've read a number of his articles and, in all fairness, I thought they were good. But you have to still shake your head a bit that someone like Cline uses the argumentation style he does. I'm far more taken aback by his response to criticism and his debate points, than I am with him taking Obama so badly out of context.

PhillyChief said...

To take a stab at defending him, I'll say his behavior is one that has been forged in the crucible of dealing with asshats of the number and kind that far exceed the ones we've experienced like Rhology. I've seen this from several prominent atheist sites and organizations. It's frustration. Does that excuse it? Hell no.

Haven't read everything he is written and therefore (apparently) don't know what I'm talking about in this post of his.

Now THIS is ironic for several reasons. First, that's the classic religious argument. You don't accept my belief? Oh, well you simply haven't tried it enough. Here, read this and this and this and do this, etc. Second, doing this while accusing you of using tactics of the religious. Third, that he clearly failed to read everything Obama has said so, following his logic, he then doesn't know what he was talking about when writing that article. Nice.

Once again to his defense, I'd say that he's not even willing to put the comment "We need Christians on Capitol Hill" in context because he can't fathom a context for it being palatable. I'd feel more comfortable with his response if he just said that though. This bully and bluster attitude, I feel, has grown out of dealing with christians online, since that's largely their behavior and maybe the only behavior they know how to respond to. I don't know if after more exposure I'll become like that, but I hope not. I much rather remain calm and instead of yelling, "you're an asshat" instead say something like, "well clearly you're mistaken and here's a thorough breakdown of the failure of your argument.... and therefore sir, your argument and behavior is indicative of an asshat". :)

John Evo said...

I further fairness to Austin, he didn't call me an asshat or any ad hominem. On the other hand, he did accuse me of using ad hominem attacks while referring to statements like "you are not applying reason". I tried to explain to him that this is not "ad hominem", but he was unrelenting.

Here's what I think (and I freely admit this is merely a little psychological speculation)... He didn't like my "tone". He regards himself as somewhat of an expert on atheism (and probably the use of reason). Not only did I correct him on something, but didn't do it in a particularly friendly way that you might hope from a comrade. As you point out, he's used to getting crap from theists, and here I am giving him crap. From that point on, there was no room for agreement on anything.

PhillyChief said...

I don't care for people who require their medicine candy coated, or who refuse to acknowledge they need medicine, or who require you to blow smoke up their ass when you address them.

John Evo said...

Thanks for agreeing with me Philly. You may continue to comment here.