As a means of improving the political fortunes of American Nonbelief , permit me to make a helpful suggestion: I propose that the godless of our great nation nominate their own candidate for a 2008 presidential run.
Will the candidate who represents the Party of Nonbelief win? Of course not. In all likelihood, he or she probably won’t even make the ballot in most places (Democrats–who would rather be Tasered than Nadered in a battleground state–will wage war to keep an atheist presidential contender off the slate in, let’s say, Ohio or Pennsylvania).
No, no, no. This is not about winning or losing. This is about figuring out who nonbelievers are. This is about learning where they are. This is about building a grass-roots political infrastructure. This is about training cadres of young operatives in the mixed-martial arts combat that is an American presidential campaign. And most of all, this is about gaining acquaintance with deep-pocketed non-theists who will be bankrolling day-to-day operations for years to come.
Think of it this way: this might very well be the first campaign in history where the kids holding the clipboards and collecting names and addresses will be more important than the candidate delivering the stump speech. Nonbelievers need to discover themselves. If I know my co-irreligionists well enough, then these are some of the discoveries that they are poised to make:
Nonbelief: ‘tis a manly ship. The number of men who gravitate to atheism and agnosticism, specifically white men, is wont to leave one slack-jawed. I do not know a single conscientious nonbeliever who is not concerned (or embarrassed) by this state of affairs. An effective leader will exert great energy to welcome and recruit women, African-Americans, Latinos, and so many others to the movement.
Little tents. The flora and fauna of contemporary nonbelief is astonishingly variegated. There are the Big Science Secularists (who sometimes have a creepily cocksure, pre-postmodern, faith in the possibilities of reason). There are the Refugees who are escaping dysfunctional Fundamentalist homes. There are the Church-State Lifers who would rather immolate themselves than endure another breach of the Wall of Separation. There are The Philosopher Kings who are in it for intellectual thrills and who might be reading anything from Ayn Rand to Heidegger to the Death of God Theologians. There are The Lone Rangers who see “Stop” signs as infringements on their personal civil liberties and will ferociously resist being wrangled by any institution, organization, campaign, etc. There is a small–too small, I think–Gay contingent. There is The Lunatic Fringe composed of those who–speaking in secular tongues–equate all Evangelical Christians with the Taliban. And lots of others too. In previous posts, I have intimated that non-believing secularists need to make common cause with believing secularists. Before that occurs the groups mentioned above must be positioned, by force if necessary, under a big tent.
Community versus virtual community. The single greatest thing that could happen to nonbelievers would be to have their laptops and Blackberries confiscated (preferably, for purposes of strengthening group solidarity, by James Dobson). In order to correspond with one another they would have to congregate regularly, look one another in the eye, and hash out the always unpleasant, but ultimately life-affirming (or so they say) business of living as a real human community.
With this said let me suggest a few potential candidates who could represent the Party of Nonbelief:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Probably would also rather be Tasered than take on a mission such as the one I am proposing. But the talented chief executive of New York City has precisely the political savvy (and connections) that nearly all of the micro-organizations associated with nonbelief in the United States lack. He may or may not be a nonbeliever. But he certainly knows how to get things done.
Sam Harris: Best selling author who has tremendous appeal among the younger generation of nonbelieving secularists. Could be teamed with vice-presidential running mate Christopher Hitchens. Security costs might be prohibitive during their October swing through the Red States.
Congressman Peter Stark (D-California): The only member of the House or Senate to publicly proclaim his atheism. If 1/535th of the Congress is atheist in a country of 300 million then–let me do the math–it would suggest that: a) there are only 560,747.66 non-theists in the USA, or, b) non-theists lack proportional political representation. In any case, they would be wise to field candidates in a dozen or so congressional races over the next few years in the hopes of giving Representative Stark a few like-minded colleagues.
Carla Bruni: Italian-French supermodel turned successful singer. Her lack of American citizenship could, admittedly, pose a constitutional hurdle. Has never expressed much of an interest in our politics either. On the plus side, produces some of the most intellectually satisfying pop music I have ever heard (might I recommend her Quelqu’un M’a Dit and the recent No Promises). Her lyrics taste like that bitter, dark roast that is French aesthetic laïcité: death, love, sex, excess, more sex. Need I remind American secularists: Les Français sont nos maîtres.
Tom Flynn: Well respected editor of the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry. Has had to read and edit the deranged ramblings of every nonbeliever under the sun (including the present writer). Trained at a Jesuit university, he is intellectually and morally equipped to think seriously and pragmatically about the future of nonbelief.
Salman Rushdie: An artist of substance with undeniable street credibility among nonbelievers far and wide. Would produce better Op-Ed pieces than any other candidate in the race.
Camille Paglia: Would help feminize the manly ship. Would purge the Lunatic Fringe through sheer force of ridicule. “Although I’m an atheist who believes only in great nature,” wrote Ms. Paglia, “I recognize the spiritual richness and grandeur of the Roman Catholicism in which I was raised. And I despise anyone who insults the sustaining values and symbol system of so many millions of people of different races around the world.” My sentiments exactly. Though permit me the partisan substitution of “Judaism” for “Roman Catholicism.”
Write-in candidates are welcome.
By Jacques Berlinerblau |
September 20, 2007; 7:37 AM ET
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