03 July, 2008

I guess we're all theocrats now

I guess we're all theocrats now.

Exhibit A: Candidate Obama embraces Bush's idea of the government's funding faith-based groups. Sure, he puts his own spin on it, as E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post approvingly notes—but for 8 years a significant swath of the intelligentsia and commentariat has been up in (figurative) arms about how Bush's faith-based groups, along with his religious talk, was turning the US into a theocracy. Entire books have been written making this claim.

Comes Obama to do the same, only with more restrictions on what faith-based groups can do with the money, and a lot more God talk preceding this offer, and I realized today that the word theocrat has suddenly vanished from public discourse. The only logical explanation is that we are all theocrats now.

Exhibit B: A recent Pew Research poll finds that 21% of, um, "atheists" believe in God.

atheist: someone who denies the existence of God.
And they say that we hold ludicrous beliefs!

You think I'm funning, so go read the report yourself. Not only do 21% of atheists believe in God, but 12% believe in heaven and 10% believe in hell. (Insert your own damn joke here.) 10% pray weekly. To what they pray, God only knows—or does he?

My sanity is somewhat preserved upon reading that 77% of atheists still believe religion causes more problems than it solves and I'm sure that number will increase once the remaining 23% learn that 21% of their number can't get their facts straight.

If you ask me (and no one ever does but here goes anyway) there are precisely three sensible ways to interpret this.

(1) These were atheists with either a naughty sense of humor, or a low tolerance for questions they deem as stupid. Or both.

(2) One of every five "atheists" has no problem answering a question without knowing what that words means to simple-minded, God-fearing folk like myself.*

(3) Convinced that we live in a theocracy, and that President Bush's jack-booted minions would come kicking down their door to cart them off if they gave the wrong answer, these atheists reported dutifully that they believe in God and pray.

Given my personal experience with atheists, I'd opt for (1).

*If option (2) is true, then it re-confirms something I've observed on too many occasions: a lot of discourse on the existence of God is carried out by people who are talking about completely different things.


Mike said...

Cute answers. Of course, I voted "other." Being charitable, one could assume that these "athiests" are simply unable to make the final leap in divesting themselves of their imaginary friends. The last one (or three) is/are the hardest. It's tough to do, since most of us are raised to believe in a deity in at least a cursory way, and atheists occupy a place in the public imagination somewhere between lawyers and child molesters.

Being less charitable, one assumes that they simply do not know the denotation of "atheist" and have accepted some connoted definition, like "an atheist is someone who does not believe in [insert faith here]." Having been raised in, say, a Pentacostal sect and rejecting it in favor of Unitarianism or good old-fashioned deism, they may well see themselves as atheists, having rejected their original franchise of the supreme being in favor of some nebulous divine power.

I like to think it's the first answer, though. :)

jack perry said...

Thanks, mike :-)

I like both your explanations. There could be an emotional connection for the act of prayer and humans tend to enjoy rituals. Sung prayer is my favorite activity in religion.

I should note that I do on occasion meet someone online who refers to himself as a "Christian atheist". These tend to be Europeans; I think one of them haunts James Hannam's weblog "Bede's Journal" (see links at right).

As for the place you say that atheists have in society, many people imagine Catholic priests to live in the same place, so you're in good company.—At least, I think so, even if you don't.

Some comments on the Washington Post discussion of this topic claim that we have stupid people in this country who see "atheist" and read "a theist". That strikes me as implausible. How would someone know the meaning of "theist" but not "atheist"?

Brandon said...

I'm very tempted by (1), and suspect that it might be partly true (it is always forgotten, and never should be, that virtually every survey has at least some garbage answers due to impatience or mischief). But I went ahead and put 'other', because I've met a few atheists who, while they say they are atheists 'literally' will claim to believe in God 'in some metaphorical sense of the term' -- usually it's a bit nebulous what 'God' is a metaphor for, but they tend to be stubbornly insistent that they have every right to be 'spiritual' and claim to have a 'God' as any theist, and I can well imagine them answering 'atheist' to one question and then saying that they do believe in 'God'. I suspect they are a reason that pantheism has historically been considered a form of atheism.

jack perry said...

Thanks. I don't think I've ever met such a brand of atheist; I thought those folks would call themselves New Age or something. It reminds me that some of the WaPo commenters pointed out that some forms of Buddhism are supposedly atheist, but that still doesn't square (to my mind) with the believe in God, Heaven, and Hell.