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The U.S. presidential election exhibited some very emotionally charged talk about religious freedom. Almost all the current "religious freedom" rhetoric "puts the fear of God in me." My "fear of God" is a fear of any group that seeks to impose its will on us by any means other than convincing argument, given and considered with no hindrances such as censorship or dishonest rhetorical techniques.
Frequent repetition of bald statements ("America is a Christian nation") is a very effective way to popularize an idea. This method's exploitativeness, if not its sheer ability to produce results, warrants fierce contempt toward its practitioners. Good studies of logical fallacies describe other cunning ways to influence public opinion.
Although most of his talk of "religious freedom" is no less scary than that of Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, and the rest of the Christian fundamentalists, vice-President Al Gore did say two things that make sense to me. Unlike the others who make great political gains with their bigotry against us, Gore not only challenges bigotry, but on occasion actually does something about it.
Last year Gore castigated atheists who hold what he calls the "anti-religious view." He calls some "arrogant ... intimidating ... making people who do believe in God feel like they're being put down." He adds: "I've never liked that." Unfortunately (rather, fortunately), we don't hear from the vast majority of atheists who mind our own business and who are accepting of theists, though we honestly (and often vocally) reject the theistic viewpoint.
This does not mean I'll watch silently as truly dangerous Christians work overtly and surreptitiously to redefine and thus erode the Liberty that once made America great.
I'd ask Gore how we can challenge this dangerously intrusive theism without our being seen as bigoted. Theists speak all manner of lies against us, but we're often shushed into silence just for speaking.
In a more surprising move, Gore joined the fray resulting from a 1999 Gallup Poll asking Americans whether they'd vote for an atheist for President: Gore says he'd vote for an atheist who agreed with him on the key issues. John McCain found it hard to imagine that "a nation which is grounded in Judaeo-Christian principles" would select an atheist as their President.
McCain's concept of American history, like (for the most part) that of Al Gore, is manifestly flawed. Unlike Gore, McCain is a bigot. And McCain is not alone: in 1988, vice president George Bush told a reporter that "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God." Why is bigotry against us so often mixed in with history revisionism?
Fortunately, our Constitution prevents McCain's and Bush's view from becoming law. Unfortunately, to be elected to an office in the U.S., a candidate "must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion," as Aristotle said. Way too many Americans honor religious expressions that reek of bigotry. Although bigotry is, of late, notoriously taboo, the hatred of atheists remains popular among American citizens, and thus abounds in our political scene.
Copyright ©2000 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon