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E Pluribus Unum for all faiths and for none

Foreigners could be forgiven for thinking that America is fast becoming a theocracy. No fewer than three of the remaining Republican candidates (Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann) have declared that they were called by God to run for the country’s highest office. Congress recently voted to renew the country’s motto of “In God We Trust” on nothing less than the coin of the realm. And this year’s Thanksgiving Forum in Iowa (co-sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage) featured most of the major Presidential candidates competing for the title of God’s quarterback.

Rick Santorum, for example, in the course of denouncing Islamic Sharia law, inadvertently endorsed the same as long as it is a Christian on the Judge’s bench: “Unlike Islam, where the higher law and the civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws. But our civil laws have to comport with the higher law.” Not content to speak in such circular generalities, Santorum targeted his faith: “As long as abortion is legal—at least according to the Supreme Court—legal in this country, we will never have rest, because that law does not comport with God’s law.” God’s law? That is precisely the argument made by Islamic imams. But Santorum was only getting started. “Gay marriage is wrong. The idea that the only things that the states are prevented from doing are only things specifically established in the Constitution is wrong. … As a president, I will get involved, because the states do not have the right to undermine the basic, fundamental values that hold this country together.” Christian values only, of course.

The historically challenged Michele Bachmann minced no words when she declared: “I have a biblical worldview. And I think, going back to the Declaration of Independence, the fact that it’s God who created us—if He created us, He created government. And the government is on His shoulders, as the book of Isaiah says.” A Bachmann administration would apparently consult the Old Testament for moral guidance because, she pronounced with her usual hubris born of historical ignorance, “American exceptionalism is grounded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is really based upon the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments were the foundation for our law.” Really? Where in our laws does it prohibit belief in gods other than Yahweh, ban the manufacturing of graven images, forbid taking the Lord’s name in vain, bar us from working on the Sabbath, require us to honor our parents, and interdict the coveting of our neighbor’s house, wife, slave, servant, ox, and ass? Even the notoriously difficult to follow 7th commandment is not illegal, much to the relief of candidate Gingrich.

Surely the pluralism of America’s religious diversity is what makes us great. Not so, said Rick Perry: “In every person’s heart, in every person’s soul, there is a hole that can only be filled by the Lord Jesus Christ.” But don’t politicians owe allegiance to the Constitution? Alas, pace Perry, no. “Somebody’s values are going to decide what the Congress votes on or what the President of the United States is going to deal with. And the question is: Whose values? And let me tell you, it needs to be our values—values and virtues that this country was based upon in Judeo-Christian founding fathers.” You mean the values and virtues of the atheist Thomas Paine and the Deist Thomas Jefferson, the latter of whom rejected Jesus, the resurrection, and all miracles as nonsense on stilts, and yet who nonetheless insisted on building an impregnable wall protecting religion from the encroachment of state abuse?

Finally, the erudite Newt Gingrich was more specific in his plan to bring about a Christian nation through legal means, starting by redacting the 14th Amendment: “I am intrigued with something which Robby George at Princeton has come up with, which is an interpretation of the 14th Amendment, in which it says that Congress shall define personhood. That’s very clearly in the 14th Amendment. And part of what I would like to explore is whether or not you could get the Congress to pass a law which simply says: Personhood begins at conception. And therefore—and you could, in the same law, block the court and just say, ‘This will not be subject to review,’ which we have precedent for. You would therefore not have to have a Constitutional amendment, because the Congress would have exercised its authority under the 14th Amendment to define life, and to therefore undo all of Roe vs. Wade, for the entire country, in one legislative action.” If the 14th Amendment can be averted on a technicality, what about the others?

If you are a Christian, of course, this is the mother’s milk of nursing privilege. Power to the (Christian) people. It’s the oldest trope in history—religious tribalism—and it’s being played out in the land of liberty. So it is prudent for us to educe that other national motto found on the Seal of the United States first proffered by the founding patriarchs John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson and adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782: E Pluribus Unum—Out of many, one.

How many make up our one? There are 300 million Americans. Gallup, Pew, and other pollsters consistently find that about 10 percent of Americans do not believe in God. That’s 30 million Americans. That’s not all. A 2008 study by the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) revealed that between 1990 and 2008 the fastest growing religious group in America were the “Nones,” or people who responded “None, No religion, Humanistic, Ethical Culture, Agnostic, Atheist, or Secular” in the survey. Remarkably, this group gained more new members (19,838,000) than either Catholics (11,195,000) or Protestants (10,980,000), and totals 15 percent, or 45 million Americans.

Read that number again candidates! If you are elected President of these United States are you really going to dismiss and openly refuse to represent 45 million people living under the same Constitution as you? And that’s just the Nones. Tens of millions more Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’i, Jains, Taoists, Wiccans, New Agers, and other law-abiding loyal Americans—many serving in the armed services protecting our liberty—are non-Christians who hold the same dreams and aspirations for what this country has to offer as do Christians. In fact, at most Christians comprise 60–76 percent of all Americans, which means that somewhere between 72 million and 120 million U.S. citizens are non-Christians no less deserving of representation in this democracy.

It’s time for candidates and politicians to stop the God talk and start acting like true representatives of the people—all of the people. It’s time for the 45 million Nones to demand both respect and representation no less than any other American, and for presidential candidates, when asked about their religion, to reply something along these lines:

I understand why you are curious about my religious beliefs, but I am not running to represent only Americans who happen to believe what I believe about God and religion. I am running to represent Americans of all faiths, and even the tens of millions of Americans who have no religion. If elected, my allegiance is to the Constitution and my duty is to uphold the laws of this great land, which are to be applied equally and without prejudice to all Americans no matter their color or creed. I realize that some candidates and politicians pander to their religious voting block in hopes of gaining support by tapping ancient tribal prejudices, but that is not my way. I get why other candidates are tempted to appeal to those deep emotions that are stirred by religious unity against those who believe differently, but I am trying to do something different. If elected I fully intend to represent all Americans under my jurisdiction, not just those Americans whose beliefs I happen to share. I am trying to build a better America for all Americans, not some. The original motto of this country is E Pluribus Unum. It means “Out of many, one.” It means that we are stronger together than separate, united by our common belief in liberty and the freedom to believe whatever you want as long as it doesn’t harm others. As a candidate for the highest office of this noble nation my faith is in its people—all of the people—and what we are able to do together to make the world a better place to live.

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Pat Tillman’s Atheism

The Tillman Story (DVD cover)

In the 2010 documentary film, The Tillman Story, the story of Pat Tillman and his tragic death at the hands of “friendly fire” is retold. Tillman was the NFL star who gave it all up to join the military cause in Afghanistan after being inspired by 9/11 to do something for his country. He did not do it for the glory or publicity, and gave up a lucrative football career for what he perceived to be a worthy cause. After his death the U.S. government implemented a publicity campaign to use Tillman’s death as a tool to promote the war as a cause so worthy that even a highly-paid NFL star believed it to be worth the sacrifice. What the government failed to mention is that Tillman was killed at the hands of his fellow soldiers during a “fog of war” incident in a steep and narrow slot canyon in which there was much confusion about where enemy fire was originating. It’s a very disturbing film to watch—infuriating in fact—and Jon Krakauer’s book, Where Men Win Glory, presents the story in excruciating detail in a compelling narrative.

Pat Tillman was an atheist. At his funeral his younger brother Richard got up to speak, visibly upset, noticeably inebriated, and with beer in hand proceeded to thank everyone for their warm sentiments, but upbraided those like Maria Shriver and Senator John McCain who made religious overtones in their sentiments, noting about his brother Pat: “He’s not with God, he’s fucking dead. He’s not religious. Thanks for your thoughts, but he’s fucking dead.”

Later in the film there is a radio interview presented with Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, who was the Regimental Executive Officer at Forward Operating Base Salerno on Khost, Afghanistan, under which Tillman was serving at the time of his death, and who led the military investigation into Pat’s death. I found the following exchange to be among the most disturbing things in the entire film that was missed by most reviewers, starting in reference to the grieving Tillman family who were at the time vigorously pursuing an investigation into Pat’s death and the government cover up of it:

Kauzlarich: “These people are having a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs. I don’t know how an atheist thinks, but I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough. If you’re an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die what is there to go to? Nothing. You’re worm dirt. It’s pretty hard to get your head around that.”

Host: “So you suspect that’s probably the reason this thing [the family’s persistence in getting to the bottom of Pat’s death] is running on.”

Kauzlarich: “I think so. There’s not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system.”

So…if you’re an atheist it means that you’re not going to buy into the belief that death—even a tragic, unnecessary, and friendly-fire death—will somehow be made acceptable by the belief that all will be made right in heaven where all the good Conservative Christian soldiers will meet up once again. This is very disturbing. What this knucklehead nincompoop is saying is that if the Tillman family were good Christians they would have gone along with the patriotic platitudes of the military in assuaging everyone’s grief by pretending that it was all done in the name of god and country. But since the Tillmans are atheists it means that they actually want truth and justice now! How inconvenient. How pathetic. And this is yet another point against religious belief: it leads you to blur your focus on the here-and-now and let slip your grip on reality, and allow yourself to be manipulated by those who have neither the conscience nor the courage to stand up for what is right and true.

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Debating “Miracles” on Premier Christian Radio

You don’t have to look far for claims of the miraculous. But what constitutes a “miracle” and do Christian beliefs in this area make sense?

Michael Shermer, a well-known atheist, says miraculous claims always have a natural explanation. Adrian Holloway is a London Pastor and apologist. He claims to have witnessed the miraculous and says that Michael’s skepticism is unjustified.

LISTEN to the debate

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Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil in the World?

Michael Shermer and Dinesh D’Souza go toe-to-toe on some of the greatest issues related to science and religion: is there evidence for God’s existence, what is the proper relationship between science and religion, and has religion been a force for good or evil in the world? (continue reading…)

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Michael Shermer Speaks in Philadephia

Michael Shermer recently spoke to the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking.

Part 1

Part 2

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