Posts Tagged 'Barack Obama'

Obligatory Survey Celebration

Have you heard? Atheism is definitely on the rise in the USA, and it seems to be gaining traction with incredible speed. I’m a bit late to the party on this one, so I’ll just quote some of the big sources that have already weighed in with their opinions:

Among the key findings in the 2008 survey:

• So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion,” the report concludes.

• Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants, retirees and young job-seekers have moved to the Sun Belt. While bishops from the Midwest to Massachusetts close down or consolidate historic parishes, those in the South are scrambling to serve increasing numbers of worshipers.

• Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%. (Source)

Note that this makes atheists and agnostics among the largest religious groups in the USA, second only to Catholics and Baptists. That’s a pretty staggering thought, and one that indicates the strength of the ‘New Atheist’ movement. While I may have my doubts about some of its tactics, you can’t argue with progress like that. (Although, if I may put a mild dampener on the festivities, I have to wonder how many of the atheists who responded to the poll are of the frequently-juvenile ‘I just read The God Delusion and you all suck’ variety.)

You can find the ARIS report itself here, although it doesn’t add much to what’s already been reported elsewhere: Catholicism is losing ground fast, while atheism and agnosticism continue to grow. The geographical breakdowns are quite interesting, though, and you can track the grown of ‘No Religion’ by state on this Google map.

Needless to say, not everybody is overjoyed that those who predicted the death of atheism were apparently way off. One commentor on the Friendly Atheist blog had this to say (and yes, he was apparently being serious):

Yeah, go ahead and yuck it up right now you immoral liberal fornicators. Know that your ways of spreading global iniquity will fall in 2012 when the GOP leads America and the world to a new age of morality via Sarah Palin.

The numbers you celebrate here are the same numbers that will all be sharing the same fierty eternal fate if you don’t change your perverted atheistic ways!

His username links to a conservative Christian website with more vitriol, but it’s just a little bit too psychotic and deranged for my tastes. If you’re really curious, do a Google search for ‘christwire.org’ – among the site’s recent offerings is an article called ‘Michelle Obama’s Sinful and Unholy Prom Dress’. Just letting you know what you’re in for… (Upon closer inspection, I cannot for the life of me work out whether that site is a prank.)

This is all welcome news, but it does not mean that the ‘battle’ (if you want to call it that) is anywhere near being over. The great majority of Americans are still theists, and a majority of those theists still seem to be more than willing to oppose gay rights, stem cell research, abortion and the teaching of evolution in high schools. Only a very small percentage of Americans are ‘out’ as atheists – we might be gaining ground, but we are still very much in the minority.

UPDATE: The humorously well-disguised ‘Reverand Right’ predicts that the rise in atheism will soon mean that the USA becomes ‘like Denmark‘. Good heavens. Unfortunately, there probably are plenty of right-wingers out there who would view this as a bad thing.

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So Help Me God

Obama has requested that the words ‘so help me God’ be added to his inauguration oath, apparently not caring much about the ongoing attempt by an atheist (atheists?) to keep everything secular. Honestly, I can’t say I blame him. Sure, it’s annoying that the government constantly makes clear that it supports Christianity in a way that a lot of people deem inappropriate, but this really is pretty trvial. Nothing is going to change if Obama omits a single phrase from his oath – the insidious effects of religious encroachment into science education are still going to go unchecked, homosexuals are still going to be oppressed by the Christian majority, and churches will continue to enjoy exemption from taxation.

I sometimes fear that atheism in the USA is in danger of being bogged down in these kinds of petty, entirely inconsequential swipes at religion.

Bisexuality – Here’s What It Isn’t

Warren and Obama should be pretty worried about the tide of hostility that’s been rushing their way lately, mainly because they’ve got people like Mona Charen trying to defend them. I’ve said some fairly disparaging things about the Religious Right in the past, but her latest Townhill article contains some mind-bogglingly stupid arguments that go far beyond the usual ‘traditional values’ nonsense. Spreading misinformation is always dangerous, particularly when your subject is one as volatile as same-sex marriage, yet Charen seems content to do it with reckless abandon.

She begins by giving the usual spiel about same-sex marriage eventually opening the doors for polygamy and paedophilic marriage (and more on that in a minute), but backs it up with what appears to be a profound misunderstanding of what bisexuality is; apparently, the B in ‘GLBT’ sunders all attempts at justifying gay marriage.

But consider the name that many gay activists have adopted. You no longer see gay and lesbian alone. Instead, the new terminology is LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Lesbians and gays say that without gay marriage, they cannot fully express themselves as they really are. But what about bisexuals? I ask this not to poke fun or to hurt anyone’s feelings, but in all seriousness. How does gay marriage help a bisexual? I assume that if you are bisexual, you believe that you need to have sexual relationships with both men and women. If you are a bisexual man married to a woman, don’t you need to break the marriage bond to express your bisexuality? If you choose to express just the homosexual side of your bisexuality, then aren’t you gay? Likewise, if you choose to express only the heterosexual side, how are you a bisexual? Why is bisexuality not a recipe for infidelity?

I shouldn’t have to point out that the most erroneous part of this near-incoherent paragraph is ‘I assume that if you are bisexual, you believe that you need to have sexual relationships with both men and women’, a sentence to which I would reply ‘You assume wrong’. Bisexuals are people who either have sex with males and females or are attracted to both males and females. A bisexual man married to a woman is probably not going to wake up one morning with a pressing need to immediately have sex with another man lest he spontaneously become heterosexual – if he’s attracted to people of both sexes, he’s bisexual.

Why is it that bisexuality is so frequently misunderstood? And this goes double for homosexuals, who really should know better than to judge someone prematurely based on a scant knowledge (at best) of what their sexual orientation is.

Regardless, bisexuality is only an issue for same-sex marriage proponents in whatever fantasy land Mona Charen resides in, but she does raise some other, potentially more troubling issues. It’s the usual ‘slipper slope’ argument, but it’s something that I haven’t addressed in much detail here.

Where do you draw a line? Once traditional marriage — supported by centuries of civilization and the major Western religions — is undermined in the name of love, there is no logical or principled reason to forbid polygamy, polyandry, or even incest. Gay activists recoil from incest. But on what grounds exactly? Suppose, after we formalize gay marriage, two 25-year-old sterile (to remove the health of offspring argument) twins wish to marry? Let’s suppose they are loving and committed. What is the objection? That it offends custom and tradition? That it offends God? Isn’t that just bigotry?

I have absolutely no problem with polygamous marriages, provided that all involved consent to the union and that there is total equality in how the marriage is arranged – in other words, provided that any number of men and women can be married, as opposed to a single man being allowed to marry multiple women but not the other way around. I’ve seen it pointed out that there are some potential difficulties in extending the legal benefits of two-person marriage to multiple partners, but I don’t see anything insurmountable about that.

I also have no problem with incestuous relationships or marriages in which there is no possibility of childbirth (for example, where one or both partners are sterile or where the couple is homosexual). Things become slightly more complicated when there is a possibility of childbirth, of course, but consider the following: people with a very high chance of passing on genetic disorders are generally not prevented from marrying or having children. (As far as I’m aware, people who are knowingly infected with HIV are also allowed to marry.) On top of that, an incestuous couple that was determined to have children could simply do so without being married; as I’ve pointed out time and time again, there is a complete disconnect between the ability to procreate and the willingness of the state to grant a marriage license. With that in mind ask, yourself this: do we prevent incestuous couples from marrying because of the risk of inbreeding, or do we prevent them from marrying (and shun their relationships) due to knee-jerk disgust? And does that disgust have any sort of rational basis?

Charen does not bring up paedophillic relationships again, but I’ll state the obvious and point out that they’re generally viewed as abhorrent in most societies for good reason. (Note that I’m talking about relationships with prepubescent children or young teenagers; there are of course places where marriage between adults and fifteen or sixteen year olds is acceptable, but I’ll leave that topic for another day.) Young children are simply not mature enough to be in romantic, committed, sexual relationships with anyone, let alone with adults who may be several times older than they are. Curiously, I have yet to see anyone on the Religious Right argue that such marriages should be illegal based on a child’s inability to become pregnant (or to impregnate someone). Given that marriage exists for the purpose of facilitating procreation, shouldn’t this be their number one argument against paedophillic marriage?

This Is Why We’re Angry

There’s been a lot written about Rick Warren in the past day or so, and much of it is predictable if you know the general opinions of the blogger you’re reading. Pro-gay or are gay themselves? Expect anger and bitter disappointment over Warren’s invitation. Anti-gay or simply not overly interested in gay rights? Expect reactions ranging from derisive accusations of hypocrisy to confusion. I usually hate the kind of special pleading that I’m about to engage in, but it seems as if a sizeable portion of the internet just doesn’t ‘get’ why GLBTs are so enraged at Obama’s decision. Hopefully I can shed some light on things, following in the footsteps of others who have tried to do the same.

Before I do that, however, I’d like to quote Mildred Loving, one of the plaintiffs in the historic Loving v. Virginia court case (and yes, I’m about to compare homophobia to racism).

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about. (Source)

When Loving said this, she was more or less directly comparing the situation she and her husband found themselves in with the situation that thousands of same-sex couples are in today. Yes, there were some major differences, greatest of all the fact that Loving and her husband were actually arrested for their ‘crime’, but she still feels that the comparison is valid. I’m not going to get into a debate over whether the plight of GLBT Americans can or should be compared to the Civil Rights movement, but I will say that, right or wrong, it feels the same to many of us. Plenty of commentators have expressed confusion over the overwhelmingly negative reaction that Warren’s invitation had received, and this is because they can’t seem to put themselves in our shoes.

The great majority of people today agree that racism is wrong. They would also agree that an avowed racist would be absolutely unworthy of being invited to pray at the inauguration of the next president of the United States – particularly at Obama’s inauguration, of course, but that’s beside the point. It is almost universally recognised that racial prejudice is unacceptable. To us, there is no difference between racial prejudice and prejudice based on sexual orientation – they are one and the same. They are both equally unfounded, equally cruel and equally backwards, which is why it’s simply baffling to us when people come out with sentiments like this. These same people would never consider for a moment that it could be appropriate for a racist to be given such a high honour – the phrase ‘self-evident’ springs to mind. They ask why we’re angry, and my reply is this: how could we not be angry, when to be prejudiced against us is still seen as a legitimate, even reasonable stance to take?

Consider how it looks from our point of view: here we have a president who is himself a shining example of the modernity of American society, faced with a choice of speakers at the inauguration of his presidency. It could be unthinkable for him to invite a racist or someone who believes that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote – those are both unreasonable prejudices – yet Warren’s opinions on homosexuality are no impediment at all. In other words, prejudice against us is, at most, the kind of thing that can be swept under the rug and treated as a mere divergence of opinion. It is seen as legitimate and deserving of a level of respect that almost nobody will now grant to other forms of bigotry.

That’s why Warren has drawn such heated criticism – not because we’re collectively moving as a group to sieze political power or because we see an oppurtunity for ‘shrill overreaction‘, but because his presence at Obama’s inauguration will be a sobering reminder of the inequality we still face.

A Gay High School? Uh…

Apparently, Obama’s prospective Secretary of Education is backing a planned high school that would cater to gay students (while still allowing straight students to attend, of course). I have to say, I’m not overly comfortable with the idea.

Don’t get me wrong – the atmospher in many high schools for gay teenagers might charitably be described as ‘hostile’, and there is a clear need to do something about that. Trying to draw gay students away from mainstream schools and into somewhere made specifically for them is certainly going to be an effective short-term solution to the problem, but I worry about how it will pan out in the long run. Many high schools already make it clear that they welcome students of any race, nationality or religion – why not start similar initiatives with regard to sexual orientation, where they don’t already exist?