A credible atheist

Forgive thread number eleventry trillion on religion and politics, but wanted some ideas on this topic.

Watching a Sam Harris vid where he says that you could be a billionaire genius with the looks of George Clooney and the social appeal of Oprah but unless you believe in a Judeo-Christian God you are going nowhere in politics in America.

Firstly - do you agree with this statement? Secondly - what would it take for an atheist president to get elected in the America we know today; is there anything that could ‘override’ the public distaste for atheism in order for a president to be elected to the highest office in the land? Thirdly, if a credible atheist candidate is not possible regardless of the individual, like Harris states, what changes would it take for America to see an atheist as a credible presidential candidate?

It would take long-term secular propaganda (the good kind), not achievable within the next generation or two.

And personally, I wouldn’t vote for anyone “with the looks of George Clooney and the social appeal of Oprah.”

Sam Harris has said that Jews have brought persecution on themselves by seeing themselves as the Chosen, and that it’s justifiable to kill people for holding certain beliefs. I rather doubt that these are beliefs he sincerely holds, however, and tend to think quite a lot of what he says is intended to provoke and keep people interested in Sam Harris. Kind of a “shock jock” for New Atheism whose assertions should be taken with a liberal dose of salt IMO.

That being said, I am interested in the claim that Americans dislike Atheists so much that a non-believer could never succeed in politics, etc. I do not have any credentials in the study of this question but have spent most of my life around religious folk and have never once heard any of them express any animus toward atheists.

I’d be interested to know what the basis is for this oft-repeated assertion. Is it that the religious right alone would be able to prevent a non-believer from being nominated/elected? Or is there substantial evidence that a majority of Americans are so horrified by atheism that such a candidate could never succeed?

It will take time, but I think it will happen. Look at how quickly gays went from pariahs (and even outlaws) to becoming mainstream and (largely) accepted. We have had gay Congressmen. We certainly will eventually have openly atheist Congressmen.

Organized religion tends to overplay its cards. By declaring that gay marriage would “destroy” traditional marriage, they put themselves in the position of being easily shown wrong. It’s like Jerry Fallwell saying that a hurricane would hit Disneyworld – and instead the hurricane hit Fallwell’s own town.

Really? Even if you agreed with their policies?

No doubt, since there’s money to be made in that kind of thing. However I am interested in this particular assertion of his, especially seeing as you noted it has solid basis. Atheists, for example, have been found to be the most distrusted minority in America. Interestingly though 45% of those surveyed claim they would vote for a qualified atheist candidate, which is *much *more than I was expecting. It suggests to me that there could be circumstances in which an atheist candidate could be feasible.

It’s a bit of exaggeration, but there’s definitely truth to the statement.

A Gallup poll from about a year ago says that 43% of people would not vote for a “generally well-qualified” candidate nominated by their preferred party if that person was an atheist. 54% said that they would. Muslims scored slightly better: 58% said they would vote for such a candidate, 40% said they would not.

If a large minority of your own party would not vote for you, you don’t have much hope of winning the election.

On the other than, I’ve heard in various places (warning: half-remembered; no cites) that the religiosity of younger generations is significantly lower than older generations. It’s possible that I will see an openly atheist president in my lifetime.

Already happened: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Stark

Mr. Kabayashi, I did not say there’s “solid support” for Harris’s claim–I’m asking whether there really is such support.

Note the sizable jump in “I would vote for an atheist” numbers between 2007 and 2012–54% overall polled say they would vote for such a candidate. And 70% of younger voters say they would, so I’d say the idea that a well-qualified, charismatic (I guess that’s what he means by invoking Oprah and George Clooney) candidate could not win is not well-supported by the Gallup poll,

And the trust issue explored in the Gervais studies doesn’t seem to me to mean atheists are the most disliked people in the US or that an atheist candidate could not win. Americans don’t trust lawyers very much, but lawyers get elected to office all the time (not sure if any used-car salesman have won office but I doubt being a member of the least-trusted profession in the US would be a barrier).

Also, Gervais has found that reminders of secular authority (police, laws, regulations) reduces the “I don’t trust atheists” effect measurably and consistently. An atheist candidate with a record of trustworthy behavior and demonstrated adherence to law might well overcome that particular reservation in the same way.

Could you maybe cite some specific quotes saying the above?

Christopher Hitchens was a bit of a shock jock. Sam Harris is anything but.

Near a majority at least:


This study is seven years old now, and it would be nice to think attitudes have changed markedly, but personally I as an atheist am not getting my hopes up too high just yet:

At the same time, I can’t really blame religious people for feeling this way.

Kable, the statement about Judaism is in The End of Faith:

The gravity of Jewish suffering over the ages, culminating in the Holocaust, makes it almost impossible to entertain any suggestion that Jews might have brought their troubles upon themselves. This is, however, in a rather narrow sense, the truth. […] the ideology of Judaism remains a lightning rod for intolerance to this day.

The people-can-be-killed-for-what-they-believe-statement is in Letter to Christian Nation:

“some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them”.

I returned the books to the library so can’t give you a page number.

The stats in your cites are from 1999 -2003 it appears. I think a great deal has changed, don’t you? With Sam Harris selling books and giving popular lectures and all.

I would say that Hitchens oversimplified things enormously, but would never call him a shock jock; he was a great deal more thoughtful and far more erudite than much of what he wrote and said might indicate at least taken out of context. I really don’t think he pandered to his fans in the way I think Harris clearly does; and compared to Hitchens Harris seems to me quite the intellectual lightweight.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet was born Jewish, but his dad was a Christian but neither parent were practicing. He has said that he practices no religion but when his 2012 opponent started running ads blasting his “atheism” he backed off and said that he believes in God.

I don’t think he does.

All the studies and polls that have been done over the years showing just how despised atheists are in America. And all the hatred expressed towards atheists in general; if you’ve never heard any religious people express hostility towards atheists then you haven’t been paying attention because it’s everywhere. And ruthless; it’s common for religious people to hate their own atheistic children, and abuse them if they can get away with it (like sending them off to some Third World “Jesus Camp” to be beaten and starved into “accepting Jesus”). I recall on 60 Minutes some years ago a bunch of parents being interviewed who said that they’d prefer that their children kill themselves rather than becoming an atheist. One of my early memories is reading the newspaper with some bishop talking about how it’s “better to kill for Kali” than it is to be even the nicest atheist, because at lest someone who kills for a “false goddess” is upholding faith.

:rolleyes: Why? Because the targets are “only” atheists?

I have that book, a page number would be great.

How did you remember it then? I googled your phrase and got this:

Not so much.

I have no idea why you would think that, but I guess you are entitled to an opinion. My guess is you just don’t like Harris as much because he more specifically targets your style of Christianity, while Hitchens didn’t so much.

I could have sworn we’ve had threads before, not just on religion and politics, but on this exact question.

Does he really think being a billionaire genius is an advantage?

If the majority of American voters would never vote for an atheist, it’d be because “he’s not like us; we can’t trust him; he can’t relate to us and our lives, and we can’t relate to his; he won’t respect our plain-folks values.” Being a billionaire genius sure isn’t going to help with that.

The same thing it’d take for a _____ president to get elected, where the _____ is any other group that hasn’t yet had a representative get elected: a candidate who personally is liked, respected, and trusted enough that enough voters want that person to be their leader.

Kable, I did not remember the exact words obviously. I remembered the statements from reading the books, then (just as you did) googled to get the quotes when you asked me for quotes.

I did follow your link and the very outraged writer was able to find the page in the book containing those exact words. And yes, that particular statement has earned Harris a lot of flack (deservedly so, if he meant it sincerely), and his supporters have responded with much indignation at taking him out of context.

I don’t think the context improves it much, though. It isn’t moral or ethical to kill people because of what they believe, not even Muslims.

How much I “like” Hitchens v. Harris doesn’t seem terribly relevant (I am well over thirteen), but Harris is often rather absurd (again, I do not for a moment imagine he is really serious in much of what he says). I listened to part of his talk about how moderate Christians are as bad as the religious right–when he opened with the statement that at least moderate Christians don’t crash planes into buildings, I was not the only one in the group who laughed out loud. And there was at least one staunch atheist in the room.

The only rule I think is true is that any statement of the form “There will never be a U.S. President who is an X,” for any kind of X, will be repeated over and over, right up to the point that an X is elected President. Then the people who said that will conveniently forget that they said it. They will then say, “There will never be a U.S. President who is a Y,” and deny the fact that an X has just been elected has anything to do with a Y getting elected someday.

I doubt Obama does either, but closet atheists are a whole different kettle of fish IMO.

I am not sure why you would put it that way. You did catch that I am an atheist too, right?

But no: what I meant is that if they believe the stuff that’s in that Bible they claim to hold so dear, they should definitely hate atheists, as well as people who practice various other religions that are an outrage to their Lord Yahweh.

Honestly, what I have the most trouble understanding is liberal Christians. I’m glad they are not conservative Christians, but I would prefer they be liberal atheists. I could understand them if they rejected most of the Bible like Thomas Jefferson did, and used just a few parts of the Gospels like the Sermon on the Mount, as their religious text. Oh, and they could also include Ecclesiastes, which is awesome. But as long as they are carrying around those full Bibles, with Deuteronomy and all the rest, I find it rather absurd how they try to deny that the Bible condemns homosexuality, is oppressive to women’s rights, etc.

I am a staunch defender of Sam Harris, by the way. He and Bill Maher have a lot to teach the typical American liberal.

I have looked at the studies and polls that have been cited on this thread. They don’t reveal a favorable attitude toward atheists but don’t reveal hatred either (again I could find a number of polls that put lawyers in disfavored categories, but don’t think that means that the majority in America hate lawyers).

I admit I don’t talk with any fundamentalists about their feelings for atheists; I don’t know any well enough to do that and they probably wouldn’t tell me. But I certainly do talk to my formerly-fellow RCs and current Episcopalian brothers and sisters. Two of my kids are avowed atheists and I don’t despise them, neither does anyone in my present church.

Again, I come from traditions in which works are valued over faith to a large extent and that may make me and mine more tolerant than average. But I’m not yet convinced that the average American hates and despises atheists.

What would it take for a lawyer to get elected president in the America we know today; is there anything that could ‘override’ the public distaste for lawyers in order for a lawyer to be elected to the highest office in the land?