Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Disappointed in Sam Harris . . . by which I mean he's a gutless chicken

I'm not very fast with the news, sometimes. I don't like reading the news, because I feel most of it is just retreaded lies. Even tho' it makes me quite a bit behind the times, I like reading about things in books where people have had the time to actually get data rather than producing copy for the news cycle. However, it has come to my attention that noted atheist proponent Sam Harris has opined about the Democratic nomination contest.

Apparently he supports Barack Obama. The article is What Barack Obama Could Not (and Should Not) Say. It's a fascinating article. I'm easily fascinated by newspaper pieces, but some of this stuff just really thrills me.

Being a reasonably insightful person, Harris makes some astute observations - in particular the extent to which American politicians feel obliged to bow down to fundamentalist religious figures.

The stultifying effect of religion is everywhere to be seen in the 2008 Presidential campaign. The faith of the candidates has been a constant concern in the Republican contest, of course--where John McCain, lacking the expected aura of born-again bamboozlement, has been struggling to entice some proper religious maniacs to his cause. He now finds himself in the compassionate embrace of Pastor John Hagee, a man who claims to know that a global war will soon precipitate the Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (problem solved). Prior to McCain's ascendancy, we saw Governor Mitt Romney driven from the field by a Creationist yokel and his sectarian hordes. And this, despite the fact that the governor had been wearing consecrated Mormon underpants all the while, whose powers of protection are as yet unrecognized by Evangelicals.

Like every candidate, Obama must appeal to millions of voters who believe that without religion, most of us would spend our days raping and killing our neighbors and stealing their pornography.

Absolutely true. I wouldn't care about religion at all - any more than I care about various other delusions and fantasies that people have - except for the tremendous social power religion has in America. Including the fact that even very secular candidates like Obama have to kowtow before some religious nutjob. Religion twists the social fabric of America into bizarre knots.

Yet, Harris goes on to say . . .

The problem of religious fatalism, ignorance, and false hope, while plain to see in most religious contexts, is now especially obvious in the black community. The popularity of "prosperity gospel" is perhaps the most galling example: where unctuous crooks like T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar persuade undereducated and underprivileged men and women to pray for wealth, while tithing what little wealth they have to their corrupt and swollen ministries. Men like Jakes and Dollar, whatever occasional good they may do, are unconscionable predators and curators of human ignorance. Is it too soon to say this in American politics? Yes it is.

Ignoring for a second that I feel the biggest problem with religion isn't the ignorance and false hope, but the promotion of fantasies above the evidence of one's senses, one's experience and reason (which isn't the same as ignorance - but something beyond it, I feel), he says that religion is run by poltroons for profit, that it's generally bad, it's obviously and demonstrably bad but . . . Obama shouldn't say it. Because it's "too soon".

Man. What a gutless load of crap! This is the problem with the Democratic Party - they're a bunch of gutless fucking wimps that won't fight for what they believe in! I mean, here's Sam Harris, who's career is basically pointing out how horrible religion is - that nothing religion does can't be done better without religion, who points out that religion is organized delusion, that it's responsible for innumerable horrific acts around the world, blah, blah, blah. And this man, this deeply atheist man, this man who in every other way I can find is committed to atheism is willing to, because of Presidential politics, abandon his principles.

To me, that's abandoning them when you need them them most! Here he is, in the position to come out and take a stand, but the stand he takes is, basically, atheists shouldn't bother to stand up for their political beliefs because "America isn't ready". How gutless! Rather than calling on atheists in the Democratic Party to band together to stop this craven toadying to religion, he says America isn't ready.

How long do atheists have to wait? He's not even proposing some sort of plan. He's not saying, "Well, thirty percent of the Democratic Party is atheist or strongly agnostic, and if we gather that energy up into a voting bloc, we can really get something done in the party - really make them notice us." No. He just praises that chump Obama and says we've gotta wait.

He knows the stakes. Not just those profit preachers, but the extent to which America's military actions around the world are guided by religion - fundamentalists just love it that good Christian soldiers are over there fighting Islam. There are lives at stake - thousands, maybe millions, over the next four years. But we've got to wait. Disappointing, weak and hypocritical.

Interestingly enough, the religious right in America doesn't have that attitude. They don't go to their constituents, "Wait." They go, "Now is the time, because now is always the time to stand up for what you believe." And it's worked splendidly for them. So, y'know, in addition to be weak ass hypocrisy, it's also not good advice for atheists to wait. No one gets anything by waiting, not in politics, and everyone knows it.">

Edit: Apparently the Friendly Atheist is also in the camp of atheists who justify voting for a religious man. In this case, it's because he has a gut feeling about Obama. Perhaps that gut is right and Obama is not terribly religious (few Presidents are in any meaningful sense), but that's almost as bad, hell, maybe worse than if he was religion. If he's not religious, Obama's a hypocrite. If Obama won't stand up on this, what else won't he stand up on?

Increasingly, it also reminds me of the utter denial of the anti-war people last time around. I remember, time and again, from anti-war people and organizations such as MoveOn.org how, despite Kerry's words to the contrary, Kerry was the anti-war candidate. It's insane how people are willing to ignore the words and deeds of candidates to invest them with all their hopes and dreams!

I mean, hell, we don't have much of a choice. If you're going to hold your nose and vote for any of the major party candidates, at least say it because, y'know, you're more concerned about Iraq, or health care, or the environment, than you are about religion. Say that, despite your atheism, the religion of the candidate isn't that important. Don't ignore the candidates words and deeds, tho'. That's crazy.

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