News: Religious Make-up of US Congress

According to the latest Pew report the largest religious groups in the US are represented in roughly the same proportions in the US Congress. There is one exception – Unaffiliated – non-religious, agnostic, atheist.

16.1% of the Unaffiliated US population is represented by 0% of US Congress.

Alex McCullie

News: Nigeria, Religion and Politics = Trouble

BBC News reports that hundreds of Muslims and Christians have been killed during clashes over local elections in Nigeria.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in central Nigeria after Christians and Muslims clashed over the result of a local election.
A Muslim charity in the town of Jos says it collected more than 300 bodies, and fatalities are also expected among Christians.
There is no official confirmation yet, and figures are notoriously unreliable in Nigeria, says the BBC’s Alex Last.
Police have imposed a 24-hour curfew and the army is patrolling the streets.
They have been given orders to shoot on sight in an effort to quell hostilities that mark the worst clashes in the restive West African nation since 2004.
For the second straight day on Saturday, angry mobs went through the town burning homes, churches and mosques.
The Nigerian Red Cross says at least 10,000 people have fled their homes.
(full report 29 Nov 2008)

Alex McCullie

News:End Is Nigh in Aussie Politics

The economic crisis has given a whole new philip to apocalyptic doomsayers and they love the Book of Revelations. Here’s one from down-under in the heart of our government.

LABOR MP James Bidgood, the first-time MP under investigation for selling pictures of a protester attempting to set fire to himself outside Parliament House, has declared the global financial crisis an act of God.

Mr Bidgood, who was carpeted by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd over his actions yesterday and apologised to parliament, makes the claims in a DVD.

In a speech to a function held in parliament he argues that Christian marches for Jesus in London caused the October 1987 stock market crash.

He also predicts the end of the world and one world monetary system.

“We have to say ‘What would Jesus do?’,” he says.

“In 1987 there was another march for Jesus. That took place in April. And guess what happened in October 1987? The stock market crashed. All property values lost one third of their value and over a million people lost their homes.

“I believe when Christians pray, God does things. I believe what is happening today is as much to do with God in economics bringing judgement.” (Australian 4 Dec 2008)

Alex McCullie

News: Sarah Palin – We’ll Miss You

The newspaper, The Age Online, has an amusing article about Sarah Palin’s future and the word from God.

Defeated Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin says she hopes God will “show her the way” before she decides on any future bid for the White House.

However the devoutly religious 44-year-old mother-of-five said that if God wanted her to run for the highest office, she hoped to be shown the way.

“You know, I have – faith is a very big part of my life. And putting my life in my creator’s hands – this is what I always do,” Palin said.

“I’m like, OK God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I’m like, don’t let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is,” she added.

“Even if it’s cracked up a little bit, maybe I’ll plough right on through that and maybe prematurely plough through it, but don’t let me miss an open door. (full article 11 Nov 2008)

If you understand this, I’d advise keeping it to yourself and not admitting to the fact.

Alex McCullie

News: Obama Quotation – Religion and Rationality

“…Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing…”
(Senator Barack Obama – full speech)

This is reassuring rationality from a 21st century US politician. We are so used to hearing that God gave the President the invasion orders.

Alex McCullie

News: Palin and Stupidity Becomes a Boring Combination

Here’s another video demonstrating Sarah Palin’s fitness to be the next US Vice President – perhaps not.

Alex McCullie

News: Harris Despairs over Sarah Palin’s Faith

Sam Harris wrote of his despair in Newsweek over Palin’s public appeal despite her ignorance and, more concerning, her faith-driven views on politics.

I care even more about the many things Palin thinks she knows but doesn’t: like her conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs world events. Needless to say, she shares this belief with mil-lions of Americans—but we shouldn’t be eager to give these people our nuclear codes, either. There is no question that if President McCain chokes on a spare rib and Palin becomes the first woman president, she and her supporters will believe that God, in all his majesty and wisdom, has brought it to pass. Why would God give Sarah Palin a job she isn’t ready for? He wouldn’t. Everything happens for a reason. Palin seems perfectly willing to stake the welfare of our country—even the welfare of our species—as collateral in her own personal journey of faith. Of course, McCain has made the same unconscionable wager on his personal journey to the White House. (full article – 20 Sep 2008 – my emphasis)

Alex McCullie

Comment: Faith-based secularism – US style

pdf: Pew Forum comment (right-click to save)

Pew Forum Transcript

At a 2007 Pew Forum Faith Angle Conference, Wilfred (Bill) McClay, a professor of intellectual history, argues that US-style secularism is a highly successful mixture of minimal church-state separation and the active participation of religions in society and politics to provide the necessary moral compass. US secularism values individuality through free expression and free association over secular public policy. He calls this Political Secularism. By contrast McClay characterises and almost demonises the European alternative, Philosophical Secularism, as creating social environment essentially hostile to public expression of faith. Throughout his presentation McClay equates this type of secularism with ‘religions are poisonous’-type comments attributed to the so-called new atheists. McClay continues his anti-secular stance with his suggestion that the “higher reaches of securalism…[has]…begun to exhaust itself intellectually”.

According to The Watkins Dictionary of Religions and Secular Faith by Gerald Benedict, a religious studies lecturer, “a truly secular culture is not anti-religious, but creates the free space in which religions of every kind can benefit from the free choice people make, uninfluenced by established and official policy. A truly secular society is an ‘open’ and pluralistic society.” This is how most Australians and Western Europeans see secularism. However many conservative religionists see institutionalising non-faith governments and public education as an anathema. Instead of offering freedom to make private religious or non-religious choices, they take a “for or agin” attitude expecting their faith to take precedence over the lives of others. In Australia and Europe they represent only a small but unfortunately vocal and very well organised minority.

Compared to Australian and European perspectives McClay advocates a minimalist version of secularism – one that we may not even call secular. With just enough separation between church and the US federal government required by the constitution, US offers an open competitive market of religions, typically Protestant, vying for social and political influence and control. McClay doubts whether Islam would support the individualistic approach required to fit within such as system. Religions are also seen as the major contributors to the moral values of the US society. Much to the amusement and concern around the world, a US president has even declare publicly a personal communication with his god supporting a foreign war.

I agree with McClay that a US style secularism isn’t transportable to another culture even though he hints that Turkey may benefit. I question, though, whether or not it is superior to the secularism as implemented in Western Europe. His presentation suggests he holds that belief.

So, does the US style active participation of religions in society lead to a more humane society? Put simply none of the happiness surveys and crime statistics support this claim. It appears that the greater support offered by the more secular governments of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, for example, leads to happier and more contented lives than those experienced in the US. Australia has a national health insurance scheme that provides protection of all citizens regardless of financial circumstances. Similarly our government provides social services benefits for the most vulnerable of our society including the unemployed, single parents and permanently disabled. Many argue that it is not enough support, but it provides good security for all citizens. Interestingly, other surveys throughout the world suggest that there is a broad correlation between higher levels of discretionary non-belief and greater personal security (Zuckerman 2007).

The presentation is explicitly supporting high levels of religious involvement in society and politics while acknowledging there should a minimal level of state-church separation. I’d questioned the way McKay has presented the US approach and his implied degradation of the European alternative. Presented to a faith conference so I’m not totally surprised by the uncritical questioning and responses to McKay’s propositions.

© 2008 Alex McCullie


Benedict, G. 2008, The Watkins Dictionary of Religions and Secular Faiths, Watkins Publishing, London

Zuckerman, P. 2007, ‘Atheism Contemporary Numbers and Patterns’, in Martin, M. (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge