• The God Question: Sanders vs. Clinton

    bible-american-flag1While I have Facebook friends who are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Satanists, Pagans, and everything in between, the fact is that I am an atheist activist and blogger. That being said, most of my Facebook friends are atheists or identify with some label that is encompassed within the greater community of reason. Interestingly enough when I look at my Facebook feed, I see that the vast majority of my friends tend to support Bernie Sander over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary for President of the United States.

    What does that mean? It actually doesn’t mean much of anything at all. It’s anecdotal. It simply means that I am friends with a lot of progressive Democrats who happen to support Sanders over Clinton for whatever reason. Not all of them are even atheists. But I do think in this case, my friend list might just serve as a small microcosm of the greater atheist community. I do think that the vast majority of atheists do support Sanders over Clinton and for good reason.

    Sanders is for all practical purposes, an atheist. He describes himself as a “not particularly religious” Jew and when asked point blank about whether or not he believes in a God, he told Jimmy Kimmel the following:

    “I am who I am, and what I believe in and what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together. That I think it is not a good thing to believe that as human beings we can turn our backs on the suffering of other people.”

    In the New Hampshire Town Hall event, Sanders told Anderson Cooper and the crowd that he was spiritual, but his “spirituality is that we are all in this together.” Those things sound a lot like humanism to me. That sounds a lot like saying that he does not believe in a supernatural deity, but rather that he believes in real people working hard to make the world a better place. Now I could be totally reading into this and Sanders has certainly not come out as an unabashed atheist, but at the very least he is a secularist and almost certainly a religious “none.”

    Then there is Hillary Clinton. She is someone who like Sanders has been in politics for a long time. But while Sanders doesn’t play politics as usual when it comes to religion, Clinton does. During the first primary debate, Clinton invoked God three times and on the campaign trail, she has talked about how important her Methodist faith is to her. I should also point out that when she did claim to be opposed to marriage equality, she used Biblical justifications for her objection.

    To be fair though, I really don’t think that is any different from any other politician… except maybe one. It just so happens to be the one that she is running neck-and-neck with in a primary battle. If Hillary Clinton was running against pretty much any other politician her use of religious language might mean absolutely nothing at all.

    However, it isn’t just her use of religious language that concerns me, as an atheist. I am also concerned with her close association with Doug Coe and her involvement with his secretive K Street group “The Family.” A 2007 article published in Mother Jones details the extent of Clinton’s involvement with the group. The articles co-author, reporter Jeff Sharlet, literally wrote the book on “The Family.” He went undercover and infiltrated the secretive group. “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” goes through the history of the group and what they believe and what they have done. Clinton’s active membership and continued involvement with this group should be extremely troubling for any atheist or secularist.

    More recently, Clinton was asked on the campaign trail about her views of Separation of Church and State. At first glance, her answer should make secularists happy, but then she adds an interesting caveat:

    “Well, look, I think we gotta stick with our founding principles of separating church from state… Remember it was done, in the beginning, mostly to protect religion from the state. We need to stick with what has worked.”

    The claim that the Jeffersonian Wall is one-sided has been a vocal talking point of the Religious Right. While that is not exactly what Clinton said, it certainly does play into that narrative. For the record, the Founding Fathers were not some monolithic entity. They were an incredibly diverse group of people who all had different motivations. While I am sure some of them, particularly in the southern states, probably were concerned with protecting religion from the state, I doubt that was the intention of a many of the founders. It is important to understand that these were very educated people who were well aware of how religion had corrupted governments. This is especially the case given what was going on in France at that time.

    From a purely factual standpoint, Clinton is absolutely wrong when she says that in the beginning the Jeffersonian Wall was mostly to protect religion from government. Jefferson certainly didn’t believe that and neither did many of our other Founding Fathers. Clinton probably adopted that view from her close friendship with Doug Coe, who she has referred to as her spiritual mentor and who she alluded to during the New Hampshire Town Hall as sending her spiritual messages every morning.

    One criticism I am sure to get is that it doesn’t really matter what her religious views are or that Sanders is “not particularly religious.” Jimmy Carter was very religious and yet many atheists, myself included, would much rather have him as President than an atheist like Karl Rove. This is all very true except that Hillary Clinton is not Jimmy Carter and Bernie Sanders is definitely not Karl Rove. Of course we shouldn’t vote for or support a candidate purely on their religious conviction (or lack thereof), but I think it is safe to say that Bernie Sanders, for the most part, shares my humanistic, secular values. If he didn’t, we would be having a very different conversation.

    If Hillary Clinton was running against Barack Obama and they both used religious language, then we could argue about who was pandering more to the Religious Right. With Clinton’s involvement with “The Family,” I am not all that convinced that she is just pandering. On the other hand, I am reasonably certain that Bernie Sanders is not pandering. He certainly isn’t pandering to the Religious Right and it would be a pretty poor tactical decision to pander to the secular left. And if he was working that angle, he would have come out as full on godless.

    If I had a choice between a Christian like Hillary Clinton vs. whatever the hell Donald Trump is, I guess I would vote for Clinton. But right now, we have a very different choice. We get to choose between a Christian who is a member of “The Family” vs. someone like Bernie Sanders who has done the unpopular thing and not only admitted that he is “not particularly religious,” but also vocally speaks out in favor of our shared humanist values with sincerity.

    This is one of the reasons why I support Bernie Sanders and why I am pretty sure many other atheists do too.

    Category: AtheismElection 2016featuredHumanismPoliticsReligionsecularsecularismSeparation of Church and State


    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.