The 10th entry in “The ‘R’ Word,” The Revealer’s ongoing forum on what the campaign might look like if covered by a religion journalist, comes from The Raving Atheist, one of the most popular godless godbloggers on the web.

By The Raving Atheist

President Bush is a Cancer, born with Leo rising and the Moon in Libra. Senator Kerry, a Sagittarius, was born under a full moon with Sagittarius rising and the Moon in Gemini. Americans have elected moreCancers than Sagittari (9.5% versus 7.1%), but Kerry may still prevail insofar as the 180° polarity of Gemini/Sagittarius is the axis of thought, communication, and education — not to mention a jumping polarity which is as enthusiastically American as apple pie. On the other hand, Bush has Saturn at 26 degrees of Cancer in the 12th house, and, astrologically-speaking, Saturn is the judge and the equalizer.

If this doesn’t seem like a meaningful way to talk about the presidential campaign, I’m afraid the standard religious analysis is no improvement. It sounds pretty much the same. Bush, after all, is a Methodist as well as a Sagittarius, born into sin and capable of salvation only through the grace of Jesus, the virgin-born, sacrificed and resurrected son of an undetectable but ever-present being. Kerry, a Catholic, accepts the salvation-through-resurrection thesis too, but communicates with that ethereal spirit through the designated representatives of an unattached, elderly virgin bachelor. Americans have elected four times as many Methodists as Catholics, but because Kerry disputes the legal enforceability of some of the bachelor’s teachings, his religion is rising in the house of Methodism. Moreover, because Bush accepts most of the bachelor’s teachings, he is rising in the house of Catholicism.

Like astrology, religion is something that should be extirpated from both the public and the private spheres because it is false, because it is worthless at best and harmful at worst, because it’s no more useful for resolving moral or political questions than coin-flipping. Religion either trivializes or completely obscures the debate over such questions, questions which should be answered by reference to the measurable effects of policies on living human beings rather than by reference to the imagined will of some supernatural being.

Accordingly, journalists who reject the truth of atheism are unqualified to cover the religious issues that arise in the presidential campaign or politics generally. Such people are in no position to judge, objectively, the subject matter of their reporting. They either don’t understand the truth, or don’t think that the truth matters.

And as a militantly atheistic, intolerant, evangelical, anti-religion writer, I see little difference between how religion writers and mainstream journalists cover presidential politics. Religion writers may be more attuned to the supposed differences between Pentecostalism, evangelicalism, fundamentalism, Bush’s Methodism and Kerry’s Catholicism, but such distinctions are hardly more worth discussing that the ones between Chinese, Vedic and Celtic Lunar astrology, or those between “mainstream” Kabbalah and Madonna’s version. And except for the atheists among them, both types of reporters for the most part have adopted the same seriously flawed set of superstition-coddling premises in their political coverage. Among the primary offenders are these:

1) Religion is something to be respected, and religious tolerance, freedom and diversity are to be valued and celebrated.

2) There’s some neutral or agnostic perspective from which all religious (or anti-religious) viewpoints can be evaluated objectively.

3) All beliefs about religion, including atheism, are equal, and are held by faith alone.

4) Where moral or political position is derived from a religious belief, the truth of the religious belief (or its internal consistency) is irrelevant.

5) A candidate’s religious rationale for a moral or political position — and often, consequently, the position itself — are immune from criticism or serious examination.

6) The sincerity of a candidate’s religious beliefs should not be questioned.

7) Comparisons involving religion and astrology, the Wizard of Oz, the tooth fairy and invisible pink unicorns are unfair and insulting, but there is no obligation to actually defend any particular religion against the comparisons because religion is a matter of faith.

These premises mimic for the most part the unwarranted protections and privileges afforded to religion under American law. They declare that the truth, when it comes to religion, does not matter. They exalt beliefs supported by nothing, beliefs contradicted by logic and experience, over every other ideological, philosophical or political belief. They accord favored status to any moral position which is phrased in God-talk, declaring that the God-talk is more important than the position itself.

It’s a mystery to me why the press has adopted the law’s deferential stand towards religion as its own. The right against self-incrimination, too, is enshrined in our law, but no candidate who invoked the Fifth Amendment to evade questions regarding his or her suspicious private business dealings or campaign finances would be treated as noble defender of the Constitution. Nor does the press regard the Second Amendment right to bear arms, whatever its extent or limits, as a constraint on its inquiry to a candidate’s position on gun control. Yet the moment a candidate links an issue to religion in any way, the usual rules are suspended.

Witness, for example, Reverend Al Sharpton’s utterances regarding homosexuality and abortion. Both practices,Sharpton says, are against his religion. Life begins at conception and homosexuality is a sin, and the Reverend believes that God sentences those who transgress to eternal torment. Nevertheless, Sharpton declared that he “was placed here to fight for justice for all people” and “fight for people to have the right to go to hell if that’s what they choose.”

This sort of rhetoric is routinely applauded as a brave statement of principle, even though it makes no sense from any perspective. Announcing that an infinitely intelligent being condemns certain conduct is clearly a moral condemnation of it, particularly when the associated penalty is damnation. Serial killers, rapists, and manufacturers of unsafe pharmaceuticals presumably also go to hell, so under Sharpton’s theory their rights should be defended as well. And Sharpton is silent on the rights of those who wish to go to heaven, or why, the only right at issue being the right to act on one’s free will, he doesn’t side with them instead. Or why he was “placed” here by God to oppose the very policies He supports.

Atheists who raise these obvious objections are often accused of nitpicking or pedantry. The tacit assumption underlying the accusation could only be, however, that they’re taking Sharpton too seriously, too literally. Sharpton doesn’t really believe that homosexuality or abortion are immoral; doesn’t really believe that God objects to them; doesn’t really believe that God punishes the sinners with hell; doesn’t really believe in a hell; doesn’t really believe in a God. In other words, Sharpton doesn’t actually believe a word he says. But these objections to sincerity are rarely articulated, and the candidate is never seriously questioned about the particulars of his theology or the true basis for his moral position. He’s made a brave statement of principle, after all, and the fact that it’s related, in some incomprehensible way, to a position on religion renders it immune to criticism.

The position that there is a God and that it does oppose homosexuality, of course, is held sincerely by many, including President Bush. His sole stated reason for opposing gay marriage is that heterosexual marriage is “sacred.” He hasn’t addressed whether gays make poor parents, whether they interfere with straight marriages, or whether they otherwise compromise public morals, and doesn’t have to: The biblical condemnation by itself is sufficient. This being this case, one would think that at least Bush’s definition of God, the reason he thinks it exists, his basis for believing that the Bible is God’s word, the reasons that he believes God condemns homosexuality, would be fair subjects for inquiry. But I’ve never seen an interviewer probe him to any extent on matters like these. Rather, the questioning starts with the presumption that “faith” is enough, and that the only valid purpose of the interview is elicit some platitudes about “how important that faith is to him.”

Senator Kerry’s views on abortion are clouded by a similar religious haze. His first “extensive”interview on his faith revealed that he’s a “believing and practicing Catholic” and the Church is a “bedrock of values, of sureness about who I am.” But while he insists on taking communion — apparently convinced of the doctrine of salvation through transubstantiation — he’s silent on his reasons for rejecting the Church’s anti-abortion teachings. A man who presents himself as believing that wine turns into blood and bread turns into flesh shouldn’t be embarrassed by the prospect of offering an opinion on the moral status of the fetus at various stages of development, its rights as against those of the pregnant woman, whether the fetus goes to heaven, or whether the aborting woman goes to hell. Faced himself with the denial of communion for his pro-choice stance, and consequent prospect of damnation, one would think he’d feel some sort of urgency to clarify the issue, and that the press would try to elicit the response. Instead, the whole matter is dropped after a few murmurings about the separation of church and state. The implication is that there is no real moral issue involved at all, or, if there is, it involves only the ethical duty to for some reason reject any position promoted by one’s own religion.

The Raving Atheist is a Manhattan attorney and author of The Raving Atheist website: “An Atheistic Examination of the Culture of Belief [on] How Religious Devotion Trivializes American Law and Politics.”

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