Atheists: Why don’t we leave?

Pledge of AllegianceBy Brandon Bub

A few weeks ago, one of George W. Bush’s former press secretaries, Dana Perino, sparked something between “eye-rolling ire” and “mild outrage” on Fox News when she commented on a Massachusetts lawsuit aimed at removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, saying that if atheists didn’t like the pledge they could just leave.

Oh boy, here it goes again. Someone on Fox says something stupid and lefty commentators like me are going to milk it for all the blog hits it will get them, am I right? Except when I read more about this story, I found myself more fascinated than upset.

Perino reminded viewers that the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed resolutions in 2002 (in response to a similar lawsuit that ended up being dismissed for want of standing) reaffirming that “under God” was not going anywhere any time soon. She added, “If these people [the Humanist Association of Massachusetts] don’t like it, they don’t have to live here.”

Now, people like David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, have denounced Perino’s comments as bigotry. But what strikes me here is that Perino has a point. Getting rid of all this country’s atheists would not be like the Colonization movement that sought to send freed slaves back to Africa in the 19th century. First of all, atheists cannot claim nearly the sort of discrimination that African Americans have faced since this country’s founding, and secondly, no one is trying to tell us to move to Liberia. Telling us to leave might be more feasible than you’d think.

If I really were fed up with public figures thinking I’m morally bankrupt for not believing in God (can’t say I’m there yet), I could pack up my bags, apply to graduate school in London and live about as comfortable of an existence in the U.K. as I do here in Texas. And while I can’t speak for all nonbelievers because I’m sure we come from all socioeconomic stripes, I imagine my situation is not extraordinary. Only about 5 percent of Americans identify as atheists and about 20 percent consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. Would this country really come to a standstill if we all left for Western Europe?

Of course such a plan is silly, but I do wonder sometimes why it is so easy to score political points by telling a group like nonbelievers to leave. Lately Republicans have been scrambling to win over the votes of Latinos (albeit with decreased vigor since immigration reform has been indefinitely halted), but Latinos demographically constitute just 17 percent of the population. Statistically speaking, nonbelievers are about comparable in size (though I hesitate to conflate the religiously unaffiliated with general agnostics; it’s simply the best metric I have right now), yet politicians who tell Latinos to “get out” tend to be the victims of Daily Show diatribes and embarrassing landslide losses at the polls (most of the time, anyway).

So, I’m led to ask the question: what gives? Why do politicians on the left and right not want my vote? A statement of Christian commitment is a sort of shibboleth these days to run for elected office, and the only openly atheist politician to have ever served in Congress was Pete Stark (who did not “come out” for three decades). Did atheists just end up on the wrong side of the Madisonian dilemma? Or perhaps will nonbelievers show more political clout as their numbers steadily grow? It’s a trend I’ll no doubt be following these next few years.

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Posted by on September 30, 2013. Filed under Recent News,Religion,Top News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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