Aspirants to the White House, both Democratic and Republican, have, as we all know, begun “announcing,” thus initiating, from a rationalist’s point of view, a media carnival featuring, on both sides, an array of supposedly God-fearing clowns and faith-mongering nitwits groveling before Evangelicals and nattering on about their belief in the Almighty and their certainty that if we just looked, we could find answers to many of our ills in the Good Book.
The candidates will cloak their true agendas – serving the Lords of Wall Street far more zealously than Our Father who art (or really, art not) in heaven – in pious patter about “values,” about the need to “restore America” and return us to the state of divinely granted exceptionalism President Obama has so gravely squandered. This Season of Unreason will end with the elections of November 2016, but its consequences – validation of the idea that belief without evidence is a virtue, that religion, and especially Christianity, deserves a place in our politics, our Constitutionally enshrined secularism notwithstanding – will live on and damage the progressive cause.
But it does not have to be this way.
There will almost certainly be no (declared) atheist or even agnostic among the candidates. This is scandalous, given the electorate’s gradual, relentless ditching of religion. A survey just out shows that 7.5 million Americans have abandoned their faith since 2012, the year of the Pew Research Center poll that established that one out of five have no religious affiliation. Nonbelief is trending, and among a sizable, growing demographic.
Professing belief in a fictitious celestial deity says a lot about the content of a person’s character, and what sort of policies he or she would likely favor. So, we should take a look at those who have announced so far, and what sort of religious views they hold. Let’s start with the Republicans. Rand Paul, the eye-surgeon senator from Kentucky, is officially a “devout” Christian, but he has subtly hinted that he really does not believe. He finds it tough to see “God’s hand” in the suffering he encounters as a doctor, citing an example any New Atheist could have chosen to dispel the notion that a benevolent deity watches over humanity: “small children dying from brain tumors.” This gives Paul to wonder if one needs to be “saved more than once,” which implies his faith has failed him at times. Nevertheless, he says, he always does “come back” to Jesus. He closed his announcement speech asking for “God’s help” in getting elected. Whether he meant it, we don’t really know.
With the dapper Florida Sen. Marco Rubio we move into the more disturbing category of Republicans we might charitably diagnose as “faith-deranged” – in other words, as likely to do fine among the unwashed “crazies” in the red-state primaries, but whose religious beliefs would (or should) render them unfit for civilized company anywhere else.
Among the faith-deranged, Rubio stands out. He briefly dumped one magic book for another, converting from Roman Catholicism to Mormonism and then back again. (Reporters take note: This is faith-fueled flip-flopping, which surely indicates a damning character flaw to be investigated. Flip-flopping of a different sort helped sink John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid.) Yet even as a re-minted Catholic, Rubio cheats on the Pope with a megachurch in Miami called Christ Fellowship. As religion and politics blogger Bruce Wilson points out, Christ Fellowship is a hotbed of “demonology and exorcism, Young Earth creationism, and denial of evolution,” and is so intolerant it demands its prospective employees certify they are not “practicing homosexuals” and don’t cheat on their spouses. (Check out its manifesto under “About Us – What We Believe.”) As regards evolution, Rubio confesses that he’s “not a scientist” and so cannot presume to judge the fact of evolution on its merits, and holds that creationism should be taught in schools as just one of many “multiple theories” about our origins.
Though he magnanimously acknowledges that atheists “have a right to not believe in God,” Rubio has called the Almighty the “source of all we have,” and, worse, stated that “our national motto is ‘In God We Trust,’” which reminds us that “faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.” According to this logic, atheists are not fully “American.” Rubio also believes “You cannot do anything without God,” which he terms “a profound and elemental truth.” Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist known for, among other things, his far more profound and elemental accomplishments in melding the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, and, most recently, for publicly declaring his atheism, would beg to differ. It’s a safe bet, in fact, that most scientists have a better grasp on the vital verities than anyone rummaging around in Rubio’s beloved “sacred” tome of far-fetched fiction and foolish figments.
Yet of the Republicans, the most flagrant irrationalist is clearly Texas junior Sen. Ted Cruz. For starters, Cruz pandered fulsomely to the faith-deranged by choosing to announce at Liberty University, that bastion of darkness located in Lynchburg, Virginia. Once administered by the late Jerry Falwell, Liberty promises a “World Class Christian education” and boasts that it has been “training champions for Christ since 1971” – grounds enough, in my view, to revoke the institution’s charter and subject it to immediate quarantine until sanity breaks out.
Allow me a brief yet significant digression. One wonders, in Cruz’s case, if the malady of faith isn’t acquired, but transmitted genetically. In 2013, his father, Rafael, an Evangelical pastor, spoke at a Second Amendment advocacy meeting in Oklahoma. He declared atheism amounts to a lack of moral absolutes. Hence, “If there’s no god,” then no moral absolutes can exist, “and you can change the rules.” This “leads us to sexual immorality, leads us to sexual abuse, leads us to perversion, and of course, no hope!” At least one of Ted Cruz’s own direr musings — that gays are waging a ”jihad . . . in Indiana and Arkansas, and going after people of faith who respect the biblical teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman” — prompt the question: if Cruz is elected, will he classify homosexuality as terrorism and dispatch gay “jihadis” to Guantanamo?
During his 31-minute announcement address, Cruz recounts how his once-truant dad found Jesus and returned home. Otherwise, peppering his talk with references to God, Cruz informs us he will restore a United States brought low under Obama’s maleficent rein by uniting “millions of courageous conservatives” who will rise up “together to say in unison ‘we demand our liberty!’” From whom, exactly? He doesn’t say.
Cruz’s platform comes as no surprise. He wants to do many odious things, including protecting Hobby Lobby (the baneful Supreme Court decision that birthed a plethora of Religious Freedom Acts such as the one in Indiana and saving the (reactionary, contraceptive-denying) Little Sisters of the Poor. He also, of course, aims to “uphold the sacrament of marriage” (no parsing necessary). All this will come not from “Washington. It will come only from the men and women across this country . . . from people of faith, from lovers of liberty, from people who respect the Constitution” (except, of course, the parts of it that keep religion out of the affairs of state).
The sole Republican candidate unbound by religion’s “mind-forged manacles” appears to be the little-known Mark Everson, a native New Yorker who served as George W. Bush’s IRS commissioner. A dank, stygian gloom overhangs his campaign, however; he doesn’t even mention the Lord in his site’s “Letter to America.” He has thereby doomed himself among the faith-deranged. He gets next to no press.
And what of the (so far) sole Democratic contender for the White House? Hillary Clinton has announced, of course, by Twitter and a video, the first part of which was so bland I kept waiting for the tiny clickable SKIP THIS AD box to appear in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. The diversity of characters her clip features bodes well, though, for the faith-averse; she could not get away with ranting about the Bible unless she wanted to alienate such folk.
Yet Hillary does believe. Not only that, she claims to have grown up in a family elbow-to-elbow with none other than the Almighty: “We talked with God, ate, studied, and argued with God.”
Reporters, to verify her truthfulness, might ask her to be more specific: what type of cuisine did God prefer? Did God use Cliff Notes while hitting the books with you? How was God in a debate? Did he, being God, simply smite with thunderbolts those he disagreed with? If she replies that she didn’t mean to be taken so literally, then what exactly constituted evidence of the Almighty’s presence in her home? Did she actually hear a voice respond as she prayed? Did she have visions? If so, did she consult a psychiatrist? Which was more likely – that she was rooming with God or that she was suffering some sort of protracted, especially vivid mental disturbance? There are meds for that.
The virtual corollary to Hillary’s belief: her “Faith Voters for Hillary” website, which axiomatically tells us her “faith is deeply personal and real.” Sadly, we have no evidence to the contrary.
Hillary aside, with the ex-pastor Mike Huckabee and the Roman Catholic Jeb Bush (both inclined to wear their faith on their sleeve), rationalists can contemplate a depressing, even infuriating, 19-month run-up to the election. Reporters should do their job and not allow any of these potential commanders-in-chief to get away with God talk without making them answer for it, as impolite as that might be. Religious convictions deserve the same scrutiny any other convictions get, or more. After all, they are essentially wide-ranging assertions about the nature of reality and supernatural phenomena. As always, the burden of proof lies on the one making extraordinary claims. And if the man or woman carrying the nuclear briefcase happens to be eagerly desiring the End of Days, we need to know.
Here are some questions journalists might ask the candidates. They might begin with a preamble, though. As a Christian, you believe the Bible is, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proclaims, the word of God, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” You accept the New Testament, of course, which includes Matthew 5:18’s pronouncement that every last bit of the Bible shall be implemented, including the Old Testament, which enjoins the death penalty for all manner of often minor infractions and approves of behavior that, to put it kindly, is no longer acceptable (at least outside ISIS-occupied territory).
So, if you accept the Bible in its totality, do you think sex workers should be burned alive (Leviticus 21:9) or that gays should be put to death (Leviticus 20:13)? Should women submit to their husbands, per Colossians 3:18? Should women also, as commands 1 Timothy 2:11, study “in silence with full submission?” Would you adhere to Deuteronomy 20:10-14 and ask Congress to pass a law punishing rapists by fining them 50 shekels and making them marry their victims and forbidding them to divorce forever? Given that the Bible ordains genocide (as in 1 Samuel 15:3:), will you work for the release of Athanase Seromba, the Catholic priest imprisoned for his role in the mass Rwandan slaughter of 1994? Will you call on Congress to repeal the Thirteenth Amendment and reinstate slavery, since the Bible, in 1 Peter 2:18, de facto sanctions the horrific practice and demands that slaves submit to their “masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel?” Please clarify.
Ted Cruz, will you denounce your father for calling atheists, groundlessly, sexual abusers and perverts?
Marco Rubio, please explain how your membership in the fanatical homophobic cult of Christ Fellowship has influenced you? How much demonology do you believe? Has the Fellowship conducted any exorcisms lately? If so, have you taken part? Has the “the power of Christ” ever “compelled you?” If yes, please elaborate.
If any of the candidates have boned up on their Reza Aslan and laugh off your questions, telling you they don’t take the Bible literally, you might ask what scriptural authority they can cite that permits them to disavow some parts of their holy book but accept others. Answer: there is none.
And you, Mark Everson, if you are indeed an atheist, will you come out of the closet about it? Will you utter that vilest of stock phrases “God bless America!” to close speeches, thereby lending undue credence to the nonsense notion that an invisible tyrant rules us from on high?
Atheists can dream. They can dream of a candidate (and future president) who will, one day, say “I do not believe in God. I do not believe in a hereafter. I believe we have one life on our precious planet, which floats amid a cosmic void of unfathomable dimensions governed by the unyielding laws of physics. I will follow reason and promote consensus-based policies that will do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. I will work to build up Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state. Secularism and reason offer us the only way out of our dilemmas. We have to grow up and realize that, barring interference from forces of nature beyond our control, everything we humans achieve, or fail to achieve, depends on us. There is no hope, save in ourselves.”
We need a president who will acknowledge that. And we should settle for nothing less.
Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at the Atlantic. His seventh book, “Topless Jihadis — Inside Femen, the World’s Most Provocative Activist Group,” is out now as an Atlantic e-book. Follow @JeffreyTayler1 on Twitter.