If I believed in a god, and one with a sense of humor, I would think she had a big chuckle over timing the South Carolina Republican primary for the same week the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Day.
On May 2, 2000, South Carolina became the last state to make King’s birthday an official state holiday. But South Carolina also then created another official state holiday on May 10 — Confederate Memorial Day. Prior to this legislation, state employees had the choice of celebrating the birthday of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, or Martin Luther King.
Some of our South Carolina politicians think nothing of rewriting history, even when they can easily be caught. For instance, Congressman Joe Wilson claimed that he spearheaded the effort to have King’s birthday recognized. A friend of Wilson’s from his state legislature days said Wilson must have been confused about which holiday he supported, which was really Confederate Memorial Day. When confronted with circumstantial evidence, Wilson said his memory must have failed him. (This is the same Joe Wilson who famously yelled “You lie!” at the country’s first African-American president during a speech to a joint session of Congress.)
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul voted against Martin Luther King Day both in 1979 and 1983, when the bill passed. In one of his newsletters, Paul referred to the holiday as “Hate Whitey Day.” Paul, who is viewed as the presidential candidate least likely to lie, claimed that he neither wrote nor read the newsletters that bore his name.
Martin Luther King is not the controversial figure he once was in South Carolina, with racism today subtler and less institutionally sanctioned. But in 1962, at the height of the civil rights movement led by King, the Confederate battle flag was placed atop the State Capitol by vote of an all-white legislature. In 2000, a so-called compromise moved the Confederate flag to the Capitol grounds. When the NAACP continued its boycott of South Carolina, state senator Arthur Ravenel, a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, called the NAACP the “National Association for Retarded People.” He later apologized–to the mentally handicapped for comparing them to the NAACP.
Presidential candidates are often asked what they think of this flag situation. Former candidate John McCain went back and forth about whether it was a states rights’ issue or a symbol of racism and slavery. In 2008, Mitt Romney took a stronger stance, saying he didn’t think the Confederate flag should be flown at all. I’ll be interested to hear if he changes his mind about this, too, in time for Saturday’s election.
The safest, if not the most courageous, answer for national candidates is to call the Confederate flag an issue for South Carolinians to decide. In fact, last month Newt Gingrich said at a town hall meeting, “I have a very strong opinion: it’s up to the people of South Carolina.” He added that he is opposed to segregation and slavery. Well, that’s a relief. But I’m quite sure that Martin Luther King would disagree with Newt about what he just told a Charleston audience was the biggest domestic threat to America: “Removing God from the public arena.”
In 1998, fiscally conservative Charleston County councilman Tim Scott insisted on posting a Ten Commandments plaque on the wall of County Council chambers, ignoring advice that he would lose the anticipated legal challenge. Scott insisted that the display was needed to remind residents of moral absolutes. After the plaque went up, the Charleston Post and Courier asked Councilman Scott if he could name all the Commandments. He couldn’t. As expected, the court declared the display unconstitutional and handed taxpayers a substantial bill for legal costs.
Councilman Scott was not laughed off the political stage. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2010, the first African-American Republican in South Carolina to serve in Congress. He is now a tea party favorite, and all Republican presidential candidates are seeking his endorsement. He is my congressional representative, though I can’t say that he represents my views. I wonder what Rev. Martin Luther King would have thought about all this.
Here is a brief history of non-religious freedom in South Carolina. The 1778 State Constitution stated, “That the Christian religion is the true religion” and “The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State.” That was updated in 1868 to its present form, “No person shall be eligible to the office of Governor who denies the existence of the Supreme Being.”
They probably would have been upset, too, had Obama read from the U.S. Constitution, a document with no mention of a god. We’re a country of both believers and non-believers, so Obama shouldn’t have to say anything about God, one way or another. Atheists and theists can agree on the value of setting aside at least one day per year to give thanks, though we may disagree over “to whom” and “for what.” This should properly be left to individuals. On Thursday, I thanked my friends who prepared a wonderful Thanksgiving meal and provided us with the opportunity to share each other’s company.
We are a diverse population, and E pluribus unum confirms American diversity as our source of strength. We are one nation made up of people from many lands, and people of many faiths and none. Similarly, during the McCarthy era, the words “under God” were added to our inclusive “one nation, indivisible” Pledge of Allegiance.
Proposed regulations in the Affordable Care Act would provide preventive services for women that Catholic doctrine considers sinful. I am not surprised that John Garvey, President of Catholic University, doesn’t approve. But I thought I was reading George Orwell’s novel 1984 when he said: “In objecting to these regulations, our university does not seek to impose its moral views on others. All we ask is respect for the religious beliefs we try to impart to our students.”
Huh? Has the Catholic Church not spent over 30 years trying to impose on everyone in the world its moral views on contraceptives and abortion? It is not the place for government to either respect or disrespect the religious beliefs that Catholic University tries to impart on its students. It is up to informed students to decide whether they respect such beliefs. And they don’t. Some 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/13/us-contraceptives-religion-idUSTRE73C7W020110413)
Perhaps Garvey should focus more on the Catholic Doctrine of Free Will. Like it or not, female students have a choice to use or ignore services offered in their health care plan.
The law doesn’t require Catholics or anyone else to exercise all available options. No one is forced to commit the “sin” of taking a contraceptive. It is up to the Church to persuade their faithful that Church doctrine is correct. Since public money is being used for healthcare by Catholic University, they must either live with the regulations or set up another system without any public funding.
If the University wants to deprive its students and employees of access to certain forms of preventive healthcare, even if those students and employees are not Catholic or are Catholic and prefer to make their own moral choices, then it needs to limit its student body and staff to those who share their beliefs. It would have to modify significantly its website: “The Catholic University of America welcomes students of all faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds and recognizes that diversity is essential to a modern experience in higher education.” (http://admissions.cua.edu/undergrad/identity/index.html)
Perhaps the University can then require a loyalty oath that students and staff remain faithful to Catholic doctrine, with the threat of immediate dismissal for anyone found using contraceptives or engaging in unmarried sex. I wonder what that will do for enrollment, or for the quality of education at Catholic University.
I’ve studied economics and taught mathematics to students who became economists, but I’m not an economist. Still, I know enough to recognize that economists sometimes selectively focus on data that fit their liberal or conservative ideologies. At least both sides work with data and try to make convincing arguments for their models. Economists of all stripes recognize that their own models are by no means perfect.
I should have known it would be only a matter of time before biblical economics turned the “dismal science” into something even more dismal. Some conservative Christians are now educating themselves and others with quotes about economics that come from that same infallible “science” book describing a flat earth with four corners resting on pillars at the center of a ten thousand year old universe. It’s also the same book of biblical morals that once justified slavery, anti-Semitism, treating women as property, executing blasphemers and homosexuals, and burning witches and heretics.
Of course our government’s huge national debt is a looming threat to long-term prosperity. Good secular and moral arguments can be made on how best to solve the problem. We should analyze arguments over tax policy and deficit spending. We can have reasoned disagreements about what type of tax is fairest, and whether we should spend more on guns or butter.
The one thing we should not do is make economic policy based on “God’s plan.” Nobody knows God’s plan. I don’t believe God has an economic plan, because I don’t think God exists. Conservative Christians are citing passages from Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in which God tells Israel not to borrow money from any nation. The implications are that we (even though we are not Israel) should not sell bonds to other countries and use the money to help poor people in this country. Whenever I hear something about “God’s plan” I compare it with the “Tooth Fairy plan.” Usually the Tooth Fairy comes out better, but in this case they are similar. Empirical evidence suggests that the Tooth Fairy gives more money per tooth to children of rich people than to children of poor people. I guess she must be an economic conservative.
You can quote from selected biblical passages to make whatever case you want, and then claim the moral high ground. Here’s something for conservative Christians to contemplate. Jesus tells us to pay our fair share of taxes without grumbling, and that he favors class warfare. He is probably a socialist, and maybe even a communist. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.
Matthew 22:21: Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
Mark 10:25: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Matt. 19: 21: If you want to be perfect, sell your possessions and give to the poor.
Acts 2:44: All the believers were united and shared everything with one another.
Here’s a hypothetical scene in which four presidential candidates are asked about their religious views.
Candidate 1: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” He adds, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”
Candidate 2: “As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?”
Candidate 3: “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
Candidate 4: “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.”
Were this to take place at a public debate today, I expect Candidates 1 (Thomas Jefferson), 2 (John Adams), 3 (James Madison), and 4 (Abraham Lincoln) would be booed off the stage, their political careers ended.
None of the current Republican candidates seems to have the courage of the man once known as Mr. Conservative (Barry Goldwater), quoted in the September 16, 1981 Congressional Record: “I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?” Are we better off with today’s presidential candidates who pander to religious factions and cannot end a speech without “God bless America”?
I think the most reasonable Republican candidates are the two Mormons. My bar here is set pretty low: they never talk about their deity telling them to run or how to vote. Perhaps they have a good reason to downplay their Mormonism. The only thing atheists and Mormons have in common is that a significant number of Americans admit they wouldn’t vote for either.
As far as the role of faith in the 2012 election, I can’t say because I don’t know the faith of the candidates. I can take them all at their publicly religious word, but why should I? The major truth-telling test for me among candidates is whether a candidate expresses a view that he or she knows will be politically detrimental. That’s why I’ll believe any candidate in this country who says he is an atheist, and I’ll believe any candidate in Iran who says he is a Christian.
The important question to ask all candidates is if and how their private faith would impact their stands on public policy. I could be comfortable with a candidate who says she would compartmentalize her irrational, faith-based beliefs and govern rationally on evidence-based information.
I was appalled by the Christian values expressed by both the candidates and the audience in the most recent presidential debate. The audience cheered when Rick Perry proudly talked about how many citizens he was responsible for executing in Texas. And the audience again cheered when Ron Paul said the government should ignore the plight of a young person with a deadly disease because he failed to pay for health insurance. Even worse, in my mind, was that none of the other candidates publicly disagreed, though they had no problem challenging anyone who favored government money for health care.
As an atheist, I pick and choose from many books—including the Bible. I particularly like how the quote from Matthew 7:16 applies to the presidential candidates who were on stage that night: “By their fruits you shall know them.”