Tuesday, May 8, 2007

No More Monkey Business

Clearly, and for reasons passing my understanding, evolution remains, 82 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, a debatable issue in America. A recent Newsweek poll found that nearly half of American don't believe in evolution. This is troubling and, as someone who travels and lives in other countries, it is embarrassing. Having grown up in Massachusetts, however, this issue never really presented itself. The people I grew up around never proselytized their faith or even mentioned it much. So, when I listen to politicians having to qualify or apologize for their belief in evolution, I die a little inside.

In the recent Republican debate, when asked by my man Chris Matthews who did not believe in evolution, three candidates raised their hands. By itself, this was a sad moment, but then John McCain, who thankfully was among those that did not raise their hands, felt the need to explain further -- assuaging those voting Americans that when he goes hiking in the Grand Canyon he can see the face of God. (The Daily Show recently aired this clip. You have to scroll down) Wow, Senator, that's really great, but why did you feel obligated to tell us this useless piece of information? Because, like all political candidates, Senator McCain felt compelled to let us know that he has religious faith in his life. And this bizarre requisite that we have for our leaders is not just a Republican phenomenon. On the most recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, Harold Ford also wanted to add a little amendment to his belief in evolution (watch the very end of this clip. Also, Gary Shandling is terrific throughout the episode).

All Americans complain that our politicians' rhetoric rings false, and in my eyes, this is never more apparent than when they speak of their own faith. In my opinion, religious faith and the practice of it should be an entirely private choice. Like blowjobs or love. When Tom Cruise got up on Oprah's couch and professed his love for Katie Holmes, those that watched felt not only a deep, vicarious embarrassment but also a knee-jerk skepticism -- to feel the need to so publicly and shamelessly announce one's love at best diminishes this love and at worst undermines it by overcompensation. The same is true for me when I watch these politicians openly discuss their faith. Both faith and love are by nature precarious sentiments -- for one who truly possesses them, faith and love are internal struggles not external absolutes. Perhaps, it is with this in mind that Tom Cruise's love and a politicians conspicuous faith ring false, and also why I was most troubled by a recent Time Magazine poll which "reported 66 percent of Americans have no doubts God exists". But I digress from my more immediate critique, that these same leaders feel compelled to apologize for their belief in science.

Let's rephrase the belief in evolution question a bit, just to demonstrate how odd these equivocating answers sound:

Moderator - Senator, do you believe in a theory steeped in empirical data, which has been subjected over centuries to rigorous and skeptical testing?

Senator - Yes...but also the other thing.

...Remember, those of your who are running for political office, that it's only nearly half of the electorate who doesn't believe in evolution. You still got the majority who trust in science. So, rather than bow and curtsy to religious fanatics, maybe try to appeal to them with a decent health care package or prove to them that their country won't forget them after they retire. To run for office and speak about personal religious faith, when there are pressing issues afoot, is a waste of breath, a waste of airtime and, in the end -- like with Tom Cruise's couch stomping -- it only serves to undermine and diminish your actual faith. So, Politicians, all I ask is that after you have proudly stated your belief in science, do like our evolutionary ancestor in the photo above, and shut your mouth.


Andy D said...

Why do you find it troubling that 66% of Americans surveyed by Time magazine believe God exists? I don’t mind politicians discussing their faith unless it doesn’t ring true. There are politicians that are deeply religious. George Bush, no matter what you think of his politics, is obviously a very religious person. There are others who claim to be religious, but don’t really sound as if they are.

BostonDissentator said...

Hey, I'm glad you are still reading our blog!

I think what CapeTown meant was that he found it troubling thta 66% of Americans "have no doubts God exists," as opposed to simply believing. I think it is the "blind faith" and absolute certainty that so many people have in something that can never be known for certain is what troubles CapeTown.

While I am here, I will point out that McCain actually said that he saw the "hand" of God, not the face (seeing the face would have been SWEET), and he wasn't even referring to the real hand, but rather he saw something that was made by the hand of God, like saying "I think God had a hand in this." Anyway if you haven't watched the Daily Show clip yet, it's an instant classic.

CapeTownDissentator said...

Hey, Andy, good to hear from ya. BostonD is entirely correct. It is not that people are religious (which is a much higher percentage than 66%) but that their religious beliefs are held with such unflinching certainty.
That's fine that you don't mind that politicians discuss their faith, but don't you think that there are some more pressing issues, and that if they prove to be effective leaders and the country is swell, then we can start delving into the whole realm of their personal life. You know, like with President Clinton.
Also, while I did let the post get away from myself a bit, my main point was that there should be no shame in saying that you believe in evolution, to the point that you have to add an explanatory clause to the statement just to prove that your religious.
In my opinion, there should only be shame if you say that you don't believe in evolution.

Andy D said...

To some degree I admire those with the blind faith. I am not one. I struggle with my faith on a daily basis.
I also think political belief should be open for discussion regarding a potential political candidate. To some degree, it gives you an indicator of their value system, and a potential peek at how they may feel on certain issues. No one can predict every issue a particular President will have to face. As a voter, you must decide how you think a President will act on issues that you may not even be able to imagine. Things like their religious beliefs can help give an indicator in that direction.
As far as evolution goes, there are many people who question if it accurately explains how life came to be on our planet. I think it goes without saying that there is an evolution force at work. However, did this force begin working some time after Adam and Eve were created? Did the evolution force create the first people? Does evolution work on its own, or is it directed by a supreme being? If you say you don’t believe in evolution, that may mean you don’t believe that is how man got on the planet, but you may still acknowledge that evolution is at work in the world around us.
Hopefully you won’t be to mad at me for not openly supporting evolution.

CapeTownDissentator said...

Andy, I'm psyched that we started another debate. I had honestly never thought of the possibility that there is a gray area for those that are forced to admit that they don't believe in evolution. That they think the theory is correct and natural selection takes place, but that they feel there is something else as well. Darwin in fact, as he wrote before Mendel figured out genes, did allow for the possibility that a divine force was at work in this process. But also, as a naturalist, he may have just been softening the blow of his controversial discovery.

And I also want to say that Evolution doesn't explain how life began, only how it evolved into the diverse speciation that has populated the planet for billions of years. Scientists are still not able to replicate the origins of life and the best we got is that it just somehow came from those amino acids in the primordial soup, which is what you learn in 7th grade science.

I get the sense that you may believe that man started with Adam and Eve, and thus I do not want to touch the rest of the subject. I have studied enough about primate behavior and evolution in college to see that we are pretty much just a higher order or apes. You ever walked with a group of buddies and passed another group of dudes, and both parties sorta grew a little silent, maybe had a little stare down? That is fucking animal instinct at work. We are human, all too human, but dammit, there are so many daily things that I experience that are straight outta primate behavior. If a god created all the species, then he wasn't being very creative when he made Chimps and Humans.

But back to the point of my original post. I agree that it is vitally important to be able to gague how a candidate may respond to unforseen events once elected, but I don't see how this has much to do with whether he or she believes Jesus is the Messiah or not. There are government policies that you and I are most likely agreed upon: universal health care, veteran care, etc. And the best way to figure how a candidate will deal with certain issues is to ask them about these issues and not what god they pray to and how often.

Bush, as you have said is devoutly religious, and while running in 2000 said that he thought American foreign policy was arrogant and that we shouldn't be in the business of nation building. So how exactly did his religious beliefs fit in when he sat for 7 minutes of inaction when the country could have used a leader. And from his campaign statements, how were we to predict his future foreign policy decisions. I know this is a bullshit, easy example, but I just don't see how his born-again status has affected his decisions. Which verse of the Sermon on the Mount did he look to when he decided to invade and occupy Iraq? How many commandments, let alone promises, has this administration broken?

I'm not completely against someone having religious beliefs, I just want them to keep them to themselves. There are some great moral concepts in religious texts, The Beatitudes for instance, but you don't have to accept Jesus as your personal savior in order to treat someone else with respect and decency. Wasn't the good Samaritan a Samaritan? He wasn't of Judeo-Christian belief. Would you vote for a Samaritan?

My basic point is that we're electing candidates for political office and not Ministers or Rabbis. This is a representative democracy and not a theocracy. I'm not religious and wasn't raised Christian, so how am I represented here. I'm more interested in policy than knowing which of the many sects of Christianity someone belongs to. It's great if religion has informed a candidate's outlook with morality and love for one's neighbor, just tell me how that affects your view on policy and save the religious rhetoric for the home and church.

Andy D said...

To a certain extent, I agree with what you are saying. I am interested to know if a particular candidate considers themselves religious or not. I am not likely to consider any particular religion as a make or break deal when it comes to Election Day with the exception of an Islamic candidate (let the name calling begin). If a particular candidate says they are Mormon, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, whatever, for the most part I don’t think very far past that when it comes to deciding who to vote for. The only reason I want to know if they are religious vs. atheist, is to see if they seek some sort of divine influence to guide their decisions.
I don’t base my whole election decision on if they have a religious background or not. I could care less how many Sunday’s they attended (or didn’t) attend service. However, I think the religious background, along with the character of a particular candidate; give the electors some insight into the moral judgment of a candidate.
I think George Bush is a great example. Iraq is a prime reason you should look at the morals of a President. I honestly believe we should be in Iraq and we should be there because it is the right thing to do. I think President Bush’s moral judgment lead him to that decision after reviewing the facts the intelligence given to him. Doing the right thing is tough sometimes, and only a person of character will do the right thing when no one else wants to. That is why you look for character and morals in a President.

BostonDissentator said...

First off, I think the original point of CapeTown's posting was about his disappointment with political pandering to influential interest groups (alliteration much?). Instead of standing by their personal opinions and staying true to their "character," politicians are primarily concerned with maximizing votes, no matter from who (or what their beliefs are), so when a question is "do you believe in evolution, yes or no?" McCain answered it honestly but felt that doing so would hurt his candidacy and thus he needed to qualify his answer (if you look at the footage you can see him desperately trying to get Matthews' attention to let him do this) by assuring certain voters that he believes in intelligent design as well.

My main problem with this is the inability of politicians to answer a yes or no question without expanding the issue effectively becoming their own spin doctors (just go ahead now!).

As far as the pandering, I am not completely disapproving of McCain's comments because of the notion that President should be the President of all Americans, not just the (excuse me) scientists, but also the very religious. The counterargument is that this would mean that the President should then account for the views of racists and murderers, etc etc etc, even throw Hitler in, and aim him at Virginia Dissentator. Of course I would say not believing in evolution is not really so bad compared with being racist or a murderer. So there is a line between which views are acceptable and which are not, and we want our President to represent everyone who has acceptable views, but this becomes pretty murky and subjective, so in the end it seems to me that the best candidate is someone who can stand bravely by their "character," answer "yes" to a yes or no question about whether they believe in evolution and be done with it, and if someone later asks them a yes or no question about intelligent design, then they can say yes to that too.

Now, as far as looking for a candidate who will use divine influence to guide their moral decisions, this is pretty problematic. I think a candidate's religion is interesting, like where they are from, what jobs they had before politics, what their favorite book is, etc, but I don't think I would make any of these an overwhelmingly important factor, just one of many in the very difficult process of figuring out what each politician is really about.

First off we will never know how truly religious a candidate is and how much of it is an act. Second, even if someone is religious, that is no guarantee that they will make decisions better than someone who is not, and visa versa. There are plenty of religious people that are scumbags and dishonest, etc, and there are plenty of athesits or agnostics or people that are slightly religious who possess moral views and moral character that Jesus would approve of (trust me I asked myself WWJD in that situation). Surely lots of religious people think the war was a mistake (for example, how about the guy who was THE POPE at the time of the invasion!!!), and lots of not so religious people think it was not a mistake, so religion does not seem to be such an important factor.

VirginiaDissentator said...

This is dissentating at its best.

I'll say that my biggest problem with someone running on a religious ticket - essentially saying that their decisions are guided by a divine hand - is the inconsistency that inevitably develops.

Supposedly, if you are making the decisions that God/Buddah/Allah/Satan would want, there should be some sort of predictable decision making. In the major religions you would say, I don't know, less killing if at all possible, honesty, humility, things like that. When someone who has been elected on this platform makes decisions that are contrary to those belief systems - on a consistent basis - I feel lied to.

If you claim to make your own decisions, I recognize your opinions may change. I take that risk by voting for an atheist / agnostic. But if you're claiming divine guidance, I don't understand how you support or condone the political firing of US attorneys, the exposure of a CIA agent, covering for a representative who molests children, etc.

When Cheney gets worked up and says "go fuck yourself," I don't feel like its a betrayal of that trust, because it's an outburst. Everyone slips up occasionally. Tense situations do not allow individuals to look to their God for guidance for every decision. But I feel that the consistent - for me that's the key, the consistency - policy decisions of this administration in particular do not represent the religious values in which they have draped themselves heavily enough to win two elections.