09.20.07

Politician’s moral compass

Posted in Society at 11:46 by RjZ

According to a University of Minnesota study, U. S. Americans have identified atheists as the most mistrusted minority.

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

A Gallup poll ranked atheists at the very bottom, below Catholics, Jews, blacks, married for the third time, 72 years old and even homosexuals in response to the question: “If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be …, would you vote for that person?”

Why don’t Americans trust atheists to be president? Is it because they’re a bunch of Satan worshipers? Surely a few Americans feel that way, absurd as it is. Atheists no more believe in Satan than they think a giant mystical panda created the universe. More likely it’s because voters are concerned that Atheists, without the guidance of a higher power, have no morals of their own.

But does belief in a higher power really mean the candidate shares your morals? Who really has more reliable morals? The person with no moral compass of his own who must refer to a book, even a really great and popular book, to determine right from wrong? The person who doesn’t doesn’t trust his own notion of good or evil but relies upon the interpretation of a religious leader for guidance? Couldn’t we be better served by someone who knows in his heart what is right, good, just and fair and has had the wisdom to analyze his experience and studies to construct a world-view that is consistent. Americans seem to assume that religion gives a person morals, but ask yourself; do you need religion to tell you that pedophilia is abhorrent, (the Bible is ambiguous on the topic) or do you just know it is?

Voting for someone based on his claimed religious beliefs gives you absolutely no idea what he’s likely to do anyway. Religion’s moral compass spins in almost every direction you can imagine. The Ten Commandments neglected to forbid slavery! Is it alright to kill or not? Eye for an eye, but turn the other cheek. Should we be the judge or leave it to God? Should we save unborn life but kill criminals? Moreover, do devout religious people commit fewer crimes or avoid fewer scandals? You can find just about every opinion or behavior supported by religious dogma and worse faith isn’t the slightest guarantee that the believer actually follows the doctrine in any event. I won’t even bore you with the countless examples of the faithful going astray. It’s pretty clear that what one says, particularly what a politician says, doesn’t guarantee how he will act, and religion doesn’t seem to be an effective indicator.

Or maybe not. Imagine a politician who had the courage to describe how his morals come from experience and observation and not from a higher power. Of course, he is committing political suicide, but one thing is sure, he’s the most honest politician you’re likely to ever hear speak.

6 Comments »

  1. erin said,

    September 20, 2007 at 13:25

    Fascinating piece! I wonder if there’s research that shows the percentages of atheists in jail. My guess is that atheism is pretty low not just because so many “find” religion while there (where was it hiding?), but also because even those who don’t practice probably don’t consider themselves atheists – they just don’t drink from the God fountain.

    Why is the concept of atheism so foreign to people? Why does it scare them? I know a couple who have been happily married (well mostly) for 45 years – he’s an atheist, she’s a devout catholic. Clearly they’ve decided that the beliefs of one do not affect the beliefs of the other.

    Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die. no wait a minute -that’s bs!

  2. dan said,

    October 1, 2007 at 22:00

    This whole topic makes me quite sad. I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” where he looks at this in some detail. He argues (quite persuasively) that humans have an inherent sense of morals, and when people say things like “if you don’t believe in god, how do you know what is right and what is wrong?” it is so easy to turn it around and reply “you mean if you found out there was no god you would have no sense of right and wrong? The only reason you don’t cheat and steal and rape etc etc is because the bible told you it was wrong?” But he also makes the point that those people who rely on the bible for their morals actually *do* use their inherent morality, because christians take some parts of the bible literally and other parts as metaphor or as out of step with the times. If you take all of the bible literally, you would have to believe that we should stone people to death who are caught working on the sabbath. So the question is, how do you judge what parts of the bible to take literally and what parts to consider metaphor? The judgment you are making is relying on your inherent morality. He also outlines why natural selection would favor certain moral judgments.

    I think back in the McCarthy era atheism was lumped in with communism and other “evils,” in fact I think I recall that they tried to spin that it was the godlessness of Russia that made the country so “bad.”

  3. dan said,

    October 1, 2007 at 22:03

    Oh wait, one more thought:

    I just saw a democratic presidential debate where audience members got to ask a question. One of the questions was “what is your favorite scripture?” Of course all of the candidates came up with one. It just reminded me that in our puritanical country no one could even get close to getting elected unless they at least pretended to be intimately familiar with the bible and had a suitable number of photo ops at church on Sunday. Ugh. It’s ironic that the european countries, which had a long head start on us with all this nonsense, are far ahead of us on weaning off of it.

  4. Traveling Hypothesis » Should conservatives choose between Rand and Jesus? said,

    June 29, 2011 at 13:11

    [...] is likely that most politicians are not truly believers, but rather succumbing to the oft reported (even by me) distrust of atheists in American society. Unfortunately, their tacit support of religious [...]

  5. Traveling Hypothesis » Why there are no atheist politicians said,

    July 13, 2011 at 10:50

    [...] to share moral views with a religious voter, even if she isn’t the same religion. I’ve already discussed this fallacy of where our morals come from in some detail, but I overlooked another challenge potential [...]

  6. Traveling Hypothesis » No shortcut to reputation said,

    October 12, 2011 at 12:46

    [...] U.S. conservatives, and their core of evangelical Christian voters, may now have to face up to the question of where we get our morals. [...]

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