My Old Kentucky Homesite

Sometimes “Rational” Isn’t

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 03/17/2010

Can a person be too rational?

In just about every election since 1976, I’ve advocated not voting for any candidate who trots out “God” in his or her campaign literature. Since that year, church and state have become less and less separated in this country. Politicians routinely appeal to religious so-called “leaders” (ha!) not only in matters directly affecting the practice of their particular superstitions, but on many issues that have absolutely nothing to do with religion per se. Elected officials routinely attend “prayer breakfasts,” and frequently mouth “God bless America” as a kind of mantra. We have school systems all over the nation rewriting, or threatening to rewrite, American history to emphasize an imaginary Christian basis for the United States Government, and pushing for public-school bible-study under the deceitful guise of “literature and history.” Religious institutions and their highest level employees enjoy tax exemptions that are not available to others. Worst of all, the full-range of constitutionally guaranteed rights of women, of homosexuals, and of all non-Christian citizens have been slowly but all-too-surely eroded in the last thirty some-odd years by a bible-thumping populace and our god-fearing courts.

So in 2008, I blogged frequently throughout the course of the primaries and the election, urging atheists to refuse to vote for  any candidate who commingled religion and his or her campaign.  That meant not voting for anyone who attended a “Compassion Forum,” or who advertised as a “committed Christian,” or who made obeisances to charlatan mega-preachers like Rick Warren. I said that each of us should withhold our precious votes from those who, clearly, did not fully respect the separation of church and state.

A number of friends took me to task. Some of them insisted that stray, seemingly random, non-votes would be meaningless. We’d need an organized movement if our non-votes were going to have any effect.

Fine. We’ve now pissed away two years since then, and that organized movement has yet to materialize. It’s time to get it going. It’s time for all of us atheists, freethinkers, skeptics, doubters, even “liberal to moderate” theists — everyone in fact, who feels that he or she has any stake in preserving the separation of church and state — to do something practical. It’s time to organize, and empower ourselves. We shouldn’t necessarily look for only those candidates who reflect our own metaphysical philosophies; the pickin’s would be slim. Instead, we just have to refuse to support anyone, that’s anyone, who doesn’t recognize always that there must be a total distinction between religion and government.

So now for the oh-so-rational objections:

(1) Most reasonable people are not one-issue voters. We should select from among the viable candidates and pick the least of evils.
Answer: Separation of church and state is not just one issue; it spills over into every issue. Religion has created a voice for itself in dozens of areas of government: military activity, foreign policy, the economy, the environment, education, and civil liberties. Any elected official who thinks that his or her god is “on our side,” or is “punishing us” for fictional transgressions, is endangering America. I don’t want leaders whose decisions are dictated by imaginary characters, do you? If that makes us “one-issue” voters, so be it.

(2) If we vote against the lesser of two evils just because he or she indulges religionists, then we’ll wind up with the greater of two evils.
Answer: That’s probably true in the short-run. We may have to lose an election, even a few of them, until the political sharks can smell our votes in the water. But anyone who has a concept of recent history knows how quickly the Christian right was able to solidify as a national voting bloc. In the 60s, it was a collection of laughable hicks. In the 70s, it was a frequent target of satire. But by the 80s, it had become a notable force in determining who would be elected.  And its power persists. Only yesterday, in 2008, we had presidential candidates of the right, left, and center who didn’t dare not to pander to those folks on the fringes.

Yet, according to some polls quoted with glee throughout the Atheosphere, about 15% of the population does not believe in, or doubts the existence of, the traditional Yahwistic god. Let’s call that an overestimate by more than half; we’ll say conservatively that only 7% of Americans question religious “truisms.” But then let’s add in all those theists, the Barry Lynn types, who object to having “faith” injected into the national political dialogue. Again, we’ll be ultra-conservative: does 5% of the population sound grossly overinflated for the Madisonian theists among us? If we organized, we’d now have a faction of the electorate that numbered 12%. That’s enough to swing any election.

(3)We’re not organized yet; we’re not ready yet; we need to think about this more prudently.
Answer: Q.E.D. Yep, a person can be too rational. When thought is used as an excuse to avoid doing, it’s time to re-think the inflated glories of thinking. Descartes was happy sitting in his small cell, contemplating his navel, and celebrating his own intellectual existence. We don’t live in a world where that kind of philosophical masturbation is possible any more. As religious zealots throughout the globe have shown time and time again, they desire the annihilation of not only our principles, but of us, too. Soon, the theocrats may be banging on the cell door, eager to drag us to the burning pyre in the town square. It’s time to rise up and say: “I act, therefore I am.”

Consider this post the opening salvo in an Internet organization effort. Now go write your own version. Spread the idea around. Send links to major organizations that should be taking this kind of position themselves. Let’s begin acting.

12 Responses to “Sometimes “Rational” Isn’t”

  1. We have traces of religious wacko factor in Australia but nowhere near as bad or as pervasive as in the US. Thankfully.

  2. J-Co:
    Good on yer. I think the religious wackos have a tough time gaining a foothold in Australia because they’re too busy trying to figure out how marsupials and monotremes fit into god’s plan.

  3. This made me do some thinking. It is amazing that we, who represent a larger bloc than Jews, Blacks, or Hispanics, allow ourselves to be bullied into the fringes. Even homosexuals look at us as outsiders, which I find bizarre considering most “holy books” condemn them to stoning.

  4. On second, thought, most “holy books” probably condemn us to stoning, too.

  5. Des:
    No, atheists don’t get stoned. Yahweh, himself, sends floods or famines or — in my case — a plague of basketballs.

  6. I too an Actor yet have vowed never again to play Peter Pan onstage in green tights.

  7. Percy:
    In other words: You think, therefore you don’t act (as Peter Pan onstage in green tights). Does that mean you might play Peter Pan offstage in green tights?

  8. The true crux of it is that I find the “boy who never grew up” theme somewhat offputting…

  9. According to St. Bob of Dylan, “Everybody must get stoned.”

    I stress the “everybody” part.


    Agreed. It seems like an intrinsically wrong sort of fantasy.

  10. Percy:
    Well, at least it’s the true crux. How much are you selling the pieces for?
    I do agree that Peter Pan’s theme is extremely flighty. But the sad fact is: James M. Barrie possibly never did grow up (although he got slightly taller).

    St. Bob of Dylan may not have grown up either. Didn’t he sing “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”?

  11. the chaplain said

    re: a plague of basketballs. If you were willing to jump through some hoops, you wouldn’t have this problem.

  12. Chappy:
    I’m going to let that comment pass and get traveling before I turn into a dribbling idiot.

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