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Politics and Religion
Posted: 12 October 2007 04:41 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Do you think it’s possible for a politician to be successful and be non-theistic?  I know it would be anathema to the Presidential office not to end every state of the union address with “Good night and God bless”, but can we even hope to keep religion out of local elections?  A local school board candidate referred to her faith as a guiding principle for making decisions.  I guess I’m glad she did so I know not to vote for her, but she’s quite a popular candidate.  I’m actually interested in getting more involved in local politics, but I’m somewhat worried about my non-religious beliefs getting in the way of being elected. 

Vanessa

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Posted: 12 October 2007 05:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Well, the data shows that atheists are the least popular political candidates nationwide, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an atheist (or non-theist) couldn’t find some niche in local government to get started with. I imagine the secret would be to run on the merits of your platform, and leave religion aside.

And please do get involved in local politics! I’d say go for it.

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Posted: 12 October 2007 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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vanessa,

I absolutely agree with Doug that you should get involved in local politics.

but where I probably split from him is that I do not suggest you seek out government job positions - elected or not.

I am firm believer that you can change politics more by the outside than in the inside.

contemplate what issues are important to you and that effect you locally and seek out or create organizations to work at achieving your goals.

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“Unsustainable systems can’t be sustained.” ~ Robert Jensen

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Posted: 12 October 2007 06:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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While I don’t feel that theism or atheism predispose one to be more or less ethical, honest, or dependable, that isn’t the common view.  I believe it was in a recent copy of Free Inquiry that quoted a survey of voters which said that the second least likely person they would vote for would be a homosexual.  Only atheists were rated lower in voter approval.

I believe that’s why many atheists and agnostics join the Unitarian Universalist church.  Until recently it was a great refuge for non-theists.  Unfortunately, it is moving to the right religiously, but it might still be a decent cover (if you can stomach it, Vanessa).

Occam

[ Edited: 12 October 2007 06:13 PM by Occam ]
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Posted: 12 October 2007 07:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Well, since we are cultural Jews, I have that “cover” available to me; I just don’t know what I would say if someone asked me about God or my religious beliefs.  I have yet to learn that fine political art of answering a question without answering it at all. 

As for changing things from within vs. from the outside, I think both can be done.  I really don’t have the energy to create my own organization, but I feel like I have enough diplomacy skills to potentially influence other School Board members.  And at this local level, the issues are more about allocation of resources, expansion of school programs, healthy school lunches, etc., but I do remember reading about the parent who pulled their child out of the weekly all-school (elementary) assembly because of the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the mention of God.  Anyway, I like the idea of being elected and then slowly subverting (or at least subtly chipping away at) the dominant paradigm.

Vanessa

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Posted: 12 October 2007 11:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I definitely think that you should run for office Vanessa!  I would vote for you.

If you are asked about God or your religious beliefs, I would suggest the approach that Sam Harris endorsed in his recent talk at The Atheist Alliance Conference.  I know that this talk has been heavily criticized on this forum, but if you haven’t read it already check it out at http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/sam_harris/2007/10/the_problem_with_atheism.html#more

His rebuttal to his critics gives an excellent template for addressing issues that conflict with religious ideas, without turning them into atheist vs religionist arguments-
http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-my-fellow-atheists/

Say what you actually think without qualifying yourself as an atheist before statements… that you respect individuals of all religious and cultural backgrounds and that you will fight for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Americans.  I am under the impression that you do think those things so they wouldn’t be dishonest.  And, I don’t see any reason why you should allow anyone to define you with a term that they intend as a means of belittling you.  If asked outright, just answer with the same sort of statement, that you respect individuals of all religious and cultural backgrounds and that you will fight for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Americans.

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Posted: 12 October 2007 11:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Well, if vanessa is your real name, you might be in trouble! wink I know I’ve ruled myself out as a viable candidate for anything many times over by things I’ve said on this forum.

But seriously, I’m a bit of a cynic about the exigencies of political office and how they change your perspective and priorities over time. Getting and staying elected becomes a full-time preoccupation, and changing the world takes a back seat. I like to think the “good guys” can get elected and subvert the country our way without public notice (though if they can, that so could the “bad guys” I guess) but I’m not convinced. I tend to think TA is right that changing how people think, in general and on specific issues, as an advocate from outside the government is more likely to be effective, and to provide the conditions needed for elected officials to be able to do the things we’d like them to do. The strength of a democracy is also its wekaness—change happens only with the will, or at least complicity, of a substantial portion of the population, so change in the cultural probably has to precede change in the institutions.

I wouldn’t discourage you from running, since you’re the sort of candidate I’d like to be able to vote for, but I’d be careful about how much impact you expect to have and what the “art of the possible” will do to you and your values over time.

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Posted: 13 October 2007 09:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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vanessa - 12 October 2007 07:35 PM

Well, since we are cultural Jews, I have that “cover” available to me; I just don’t know what I would say if someone asked me about God or my religious beliefs.  I have yet to learn that fine political art of answering a question without answering it at all. 

And that is the problem.  I was born into Christianity, so I guess that is a cultural thing.  The thing is, I spent years hiding behind that, but when I openned my mouth, the weirdo Fundies would start practically screaming “infidel”, “atheist”, “heretic”...  You get the idea and I had not denied the existence of any deity.  Well, sometimes I’d admit to not believing in that invisible man in the sky, but regardless, something would get me into trouble with hardcore religious people.

Because of that, I wouldn’t recommend hiding behind culture, unless you reword it a bit, like maybe even say something like Dawkins does only “I come from a Jewish background”, instead of Anglican.  Later, if it comes back to bite you in the butt, you can honestly say, “I did not say I am Jewish…”  Yes, it is a matter of semantics.

Other than that, GO FOR IT!  :D

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 13 October 2007 08:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Thanks, erasmusinfinity, for the links.  Without a doubt, my favorite quote from the Sam Harris speech is: “Another problem is that in accepting a label, particularly the label of “atheist,” it seems to me that we are consenting to be viewed as a cranky sub-culture.”  I laughed at first, but then I realized that’s exactly what’s happened in the larger community with regards to that term.  Why can’t people respect the beliefs of others?  Do we fear it will dilute our own beliefs?  Much easier to relegate those “cranky” atheists to a small sub-culture and be done with the whole issue, I guess. 

And Brennen, I appreciate that down the line if I pursue this route, I may get stuck in the whole “election-oriented” mindset, but at the local level I’m contemplating, I can’t see that as a main issue right now.  I agree that it takes the “will” of many to affect change, but I also see that a lot of decisions are made behind closed doors by a select few.  I want to be “in” on that closed-door conversation, not read about it tomorrow in the weekly news rag.  We’ll see.  I might just be too opinionated to be electable, never mind my non-theistic beliefs!

(Mriana—I like the “I come from a Jewish background” angle.  I always say “I identify Jewish or I’m a cultural Jew,” but I like your way better.)

Vanessa

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Posted: 13 October 2007 08:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Actually, you can thank Dawkins for that.  In some interview he said he was from an Anglican background.  It caught my attention only because I was Episcopalian for years.  So, I got it from him.  :D

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 13 October 2007 08:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Well, I am a candidate for my borough’s Council.  I have not mentioned anything to do with religion.  Aside from one of my running mates citing her volunteer work with her church as a positive attribute for council work, we are not bringing it up.  It tends not to come up at elections here in NJ anyway. 
My problem will likely arise if I get elected.  I do not say the Pledge, as it is a religious oath.  I do stand when I attend Council meetings (something I don’t do at general public gatherings, so I admit a sort of cowardice here!!).  If I’m elected, eventually someone will notice I am silent.  Then the cat’s out of the bag!!
I seem to recall a local office holder who’s atheism was revealed after he was elected.  The town sought a recall (and got it, if I remember correctly).  Something to look forward to!!
So, wish me luck and don’t squeal to the Repubs wink
Linda
(If you live in NJ and are curious, send me a message and I’ll tell you where I live)

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Posted: 13 October 2007 08:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Good luck, Happy Humanist.  :D

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 13 October 2007 09:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Thanks, Mriana.  And, Vanessa, I say go for it.  It’s like jumping off a cliff.  big surprise  Get yourself a good campaign manager and a good accountant, go to council (or whatever) meetings regularly, and talk to people in your town.

What’s the worst that can happen?  I lose.  Big deal.  There is always next year or the year after that.

You know the saying: Be the change you want to see.

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Posted: 13 October 2007 09:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I was also going to wish you luck, HappyHumanist.  But before I do, what is your stance on…

LOL

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Posted: 14 October 2007 07:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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HappyHumanist - 13 October 2007 09:03 PM

You know the saying: Be the change you want to see.

Great to hear from someone who’s running.  I, too, hope to become the change I’d like to see in local politics.  I wonder how often issues will emerge that touch on religion in some way?  When looking for elementary schools for my kids, I went to a Friday assembly and the Principal asked everyone to rise for the pledge.  “Here we go,” I thought.  Then, they held up a flag of the earth and all the kids from K-5th grade recited a pledge to take care of the earth, the animals, each other…I was absolutely floored.  Needless to say, I signed up for that school the moment the assembly ended.  (We ended up moving, so we had to switch districts, but I will always remember that moment and that terrific school.)

The last time I checked, there’s supposed to be a separation of church and state, but those lines seem to be blurred more and more.  I have also mostly mouthed the pledge (since I was a little girl—odd, now that I think about it.  I have no idea how that got started), although I’ve always liked the idea of reclaiming the pledge in some unique way (see example above).

Vanessa

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Posted: 14 October 2007 08:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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vanessa Posted: 14 October 2007 07:52 PM
The last time I checked, there’s supposed to be a separation of church and state, but those lines seem to be blurred more and more.

It is pervasive.  I recently attended the state Dem conference.  Every meal began with a prayer.  Ugh.  I ignore them, no head-bowing or anything like that. I eat through them and looked for the waiter for more coffee!  Finally, by the last dinner, I had had enough and got up and walked out when the god-guy’s ramble to the Invisible Spaghetti Monster began.

I met one of the young women who helped organize the event (an acquaintance).  I explained that this was a secular event and religion has no place.  I am offended by praying.  I don’t go to places where people pray.  I expected to be god-free at a political event!  But she explained that it is always done this way.  The higher-ups demand it and people would miss it if it were omitted.  I don’t believe the last point, but the rest floored me. 

So, if it comes out that I’m an (gasp!) atheist/secular humanist, I may face a few problems. 

I like the Earth Pledge.  Very creative.  Personally, I’d be happy with the original Pledge.  It was good enough to get us through WWII, it’s good enough now.

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