In the US CNN have just held a two hour special on Democrat presidential hopefuls "talking about their faith". Yes, sounds absolutely ghastly, so I was moderately relieved to read this review of the event by Rev Debra W. Haffner:
"But, parts of this were
troubling. Was it really appropriate for Soledad O'Brien to ask Mr.
Edwards what his greatest sin was? Or Mrs. Clinton how her faith helped
her deal with her husband's infidelity? And how many times could the
CNN pundits and personalities state that abortion and gay issues are
not the only moral issues, yet try to focus on them? (And with Mr.
Edwards "no" on marriage equality and Ms. Clinton's softball answer on
abortion, I'm beginning to feel like the conservative Republicans who
don't think they have a candidate who supports their issues.) But,
more troubling to me is that secular CNN gave two hours to covering a
program primarily aimed at evangelical Christians and implicitly
promoting the idea that personal faith practices are criteria for
judging candidates. Does it matter that Joe Biden prays the rosary each
day or that Hilary Clinton and John Edwards have turned to faith in
their times of great personal trial? Would it matter to our voting if
they did not? Surely I trust that George Bush means it when he says he
prays to God for advice and that Jesus is his favorite philosopher --
but that doesn't mean that I think his decisions and actions are moral
or right for America. "
I'm afraid, once again, the yanks are showing themselves to be way ahead of us in the use of video and virals in political campaigning, and it isn't simply down to spending more money. Take this spoof job interview viral produced by Democratic runner for the presidency Bill Richardson. It's got great humour, it gets the message over and most of all it isn't embarrassing to watch. I know just about nothing about Richardson but just from this it makes him look a human being (not always a given with political candidates) but with serious experience. We need to catch up:
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, we've already had in the last week the sight of three Republican contenders for the US Presidency admit they don't "believe" in evolution. Now look at this pickle Senator McCain has got himself into over teaching creationism in...yes you've guessed it school science lessons. Melissa Rogers reports:
"Senator John McCain's staff answers some of the Hotline's questions
about McCain's views on evolution, creationism, intelligent design, and
their places in elementary and secondary public school education.
Here's the bottom line, as described by the Hotline:
believes in evolution, personally believes that :"intelligent design"
"creationism" shouldn't be taught in SCIENCE class, but is willing to
leave that decision up to the states, ultimately, and also, believes
that students should be exposed to the theory elsewhere, presumably in
religion or social studies class."
As with David Cameron Senator McCain seems to think truth should be devolved to local committees vulnerable to capture by religious activists - leadership certainly is not the word that comes to mind.
Yet more evidence to suggest that, on the contrary, in the US the Democrats don't have a troubling problem with religious voters, but the Republicans do have a big problem in how they scare off secular voters:
"...those who attend worship less than once a week are increasingly voting
Democratic. In 2006, they did so by a whopping 63-37 margin -- a
nine-point swing in favor of the Democrats from the 2004 election. And
the gap is "larger than the difference among frequent attenders has
ever been...That points even more to a Democratic advantage, because 54 percent of all voters are less-frequent attenders.
"...Democrats, in short, may be able to
reap the benefits of resisting the faith-based politics of the other
side. Republicans, caught between their solid "values" base and a more
secular-minded electorate, may have their work cut out for them."
Here's a fascinating thought, is Karl Rove actually an atheist and, indeed, is George W Bush not quite the fervent believer he is often portrayed? This article, if it eventually turns out to be true, is amazing stuff and would show the Bush administration to be far more cynical than even most of its critics would have believed.
This from Crooked Timber seems hopelessly optimistic to me, but on the other hand does sounds nice:
"On the one hand, the Pew Survey shows that Democrats and
Independents are becoming pretty similar in the views to people
elsewhere in the developed world (such as Europeans) – liberal on
social issues, moderately social-democratic in social policy,
preferring peace to war and so on. Not surprisingly, this translates to
a strongly negative view of the Republican party, just as it does
everywhere else in the world.
On the other hand, Republican
support is contracting to a base of about 25 per cent of the population
whose views are getting more extreme, not merely because moderate
conservatives are peeling off to become Independents, but also because
of the party’s success in constructing a parallel universe of news
sources, thinktanks, blogs, pseudo-scientists and so on, which has led
to the core becoming more tightly committed to an extremist ideology."
And what's happening to the Republicans' core vote? From this graph they've got some hard work to do:
I recently criticised how the BBC covers the political and economic dimensions of the impending retirement of the baby boomers, so let's extend that criticism to Paul Harris writing in the Observer about the impact in the USA.
In a paragraph, Harris states boomers and the "elderly" are getting more powerful - mixing up two very different generations there but let's not dwell - he cites lots of star names from the worlds of entertainment (Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson), politics (John McCain, Nancy Pelosi) and journalism (Barbara Walters), in the process giving Observer subs what they want, an excuse to use lots of celebrity photos to go along with the article (how dare people say our press are dumbing down) - he also gives examples of why they are successful alongside stats on stuff like the annual income of the American Assocation of Retired People. Harris then goes onto write some alarming copy about the future costs of health and social care in the USA.
(Diane Keaton is doing alright for herself...great...we can slash health spending!)
Discussing how society responds to oncoming age transformation is a very good thing - here's my problem - but why do it by setting the scene and framing the big picture in terms of how well the rich and famous are doing, only then to go and discuss policy issues which matter most to ordinary citizens. Where are the human interest stories and the voices of middle and low income Americans...how do they feel, what's their opinion? Frankly, it don't matter what happens to social security for the likes of Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, and their careers are totally irrelevant to the real issues at hand.
And where the issues are discussed it's done in a manner that exaggerates what is going to happen and joyfully fits in with right wing neo-con narratives. For example, Harris claims, with no indication of where he got the numbers that "By 2030 the costs could be as much as 75 per cent of the entire federal budget", which is strange really when George W Bush - who has a huge ideological vested interested in making future spending sound as large as is possible - claims in a state of the union address that "By 2030,
spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone will be almost 60
percent of the entire federal budget."
It's all "blazing" new paths and "continuing boomer success" and not a single mention of the prospects for the majority of "ordinary" people. Oh yeah and the Guardian/Observer is supposed to be left wing.
This is the advert the American Humanist Association have placed in tomorrow's Washington Post in response to Congressman Pete Stark's decision to "come out" as America's highest elected "non-theist" . For background on the story follow this link:
...."non-theist"...Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a member of Congress since 1973,
acknowledged his nontheism in response to an inquiry by the Secular
Coalition for America. Stark is the higest elected representative found by the Coalition's inquiry and, apparently, is the first member of congress in over 200 years to "out" themselves as not believing in a god!
To the average Brit this is an incredible story, our society isn't free from religious controversy and intolerance, but it has long been the norm that atheists, humanists and the non-religious in general have openly played their part at all levels in society. The UK parliament is full of non-believers and several atheists/humanists sit in our cabinet. In recent memory the Labour Party has been led by one self-proclaimed atheist (Michael Foot) and one agnostic (Neil Kinnock). This is also the case across western Europe. So in a way this is a bittersweet story, it's good to know Americans are fighting back against prejudice against the non-religious, but that this hasn't happened until the year 2007 is incredibly depressing - the next highest representatives in found in this research were elected members to school committees!
Fred Edwards in the American Humanist Association press release says: "Nontheistic Americans, including humanists, are the group most likely
to be discriminated against for their convictions...Recent polls show that fewer than 50 percent of Americans would vote
for an atheist presidential candidate, even if that candidate is well
qualified. The fact that Pete Stark's public avowal of nontheism is
controversial reinforces this point. Americans still feel it's
acceptable to discriminate against atheists in
ways considered beyond the pale for other groups."
From the folks who brought you the weekend, a sometimes happy human blogging from the left of centre and keeping it sceptical, freethinking, secular and humanist. Because every reasonable human being should be a moderate socialist – or drinker – or preferably both.
“It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. Carl Sagan.
‘The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few. Where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe. And where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.’
The Labour Humanist Group
A Labour Humanist Group exists to spread awareness of humanism and humanists within the Labour Party and to promote humanist and Labour values. Membership of the Group is open to any person, who agrees with the aims of the group and is a member or supporter of the Labour Party, or a member of a group officially affiliated to the Labour Party.
To find out more visit Labour Humanist Group
What is Humanism
Humanism is the belief that we can live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. Humanists make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values. We seek to make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves. We take responsibility for our actions and work with others for the common good.