Question of the Week: September 3, 2014

Sep 2, 2014

Despite the growing number of secular Americans, we are staggeringly underrepresented in public office. During off-year elections in the United States, progressives and secularists fail to show up at the polls with the same regularity as conservatives in the Religious Right. Which leads to our Question of the Week:

How can we motivate more of our fellow secularists to get to the voting booth every Election Day and assert a greater influence in politics?

45 comments on “Question of the Week: September 3, 2014

  • Australia has compulsory voting. Both at the national and state level. While this has some down sides. An idiots vote counts the same as an informed persons vote. It does get everyone to the polling booth to get ticked off. Whether you actually put any marks on the ballot paper before you put it in the ballot box is for you and god to know. Audits are done and “Please Explain” letters are sent to people who fail to vote, with a monetary penalty if you have no valid excuse.

    Australia can and does regularly elect secular representatives. We’ve had two Prime Ministers that were opening atheist and no one cared. Hawke and Gillard. It’s not an issue in Australia. Numerous politicians at all levels of government are open secular or atheist. In Australia’s recent national census, atheism was the second largest grouping behind the Pope’s team, and the fastest growing.

    I assume the question relates to America. America, because of its power and economic preeminence, hasn’t needed the rest of the world for probably 100 years. They haven’t cared, or even known what’s happening elsewhere. I suspect this has caused America to socially stagnate. While “civilization” has progressed in the rest of the world as the evidence changed, America appears to still be stuck in the 50’s, fighting Khrushchev, watching Leave It to Beaver and My Three Sons, imagining a world where white picket fenced churches with white congregations are the world norm.

    Sometimes people need a slap, to wake them up. 9/11 was such a slap, but when they woke up they had guns in their hands instead of brains in their heads. Cue ISIS.

    I have no idea how to wake America up to grasp evidence based decision making. It’s like America is a Walter Mitty country, living in dreams and fantasies, and believing them. It might be too late for Homo Sapiens as a species, but a third of Greenlands’ ice sheet falling into the North Atlantic might do the trick. Short of that, America is on the decline to a failed religious theocracy.



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  • Success…actual or a belief in the likelihood is the short answer.

    The long answer is we must believe in ourselves. We have a lot to contribute like honesty, intelligence, and an evidence constructed reality. To even have just a small bit of those traits in today’s political world. What a better world it would be.



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  • How can we motivate more of our fellow secularists to get to the voting booth every Election Day and assert a greater influence in politics?

    Sort out and regulate the media and get some legal standards of honesty put in place.

    Await the screams of “censorship” and have the mockery of disingenuous tantrums from loud-mouths ready!



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  • Require fines for failing to vote; make it easier for everyone to vote, either by mail or on weekends on more than one day, and all across the U.S. Fine any state which attempts to limit voting. Allow paroled/termed out felons to vote. GET THE MONEY OUT OF POLITICS.



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  • Good afternoon. My first time to respond to a Question of the Week, and it’s a good one. Thank you for asking it.

    I just finished reading the Op-Ed share from CNN on Mr. James Woods in Arizona and his run for Congress of the United States. In the interests of full disclosure I believe in God. I am a Christian. But I am also an American and I believe strongly in the Rule of Law, Debate, and Simple Civil Respectful Discourse. It matters not your stripe, condition or socioeconomic status to me.

    In so long as you are of age, sound mind and a citizen of this country
    you have every right to run for elected office.

    Your religion or lack thereof matters not

    to me. If you have a platform, a plan, and a progress to advance this country and frankly this world forward then I want to hear from you.***

    More importantly, and to answer the question, I want you and yours to go to the polls with me and vote for said. Because I am going to vote for said. Although I am just now getting into all things James Woods I am impressed! Doubly impressed.
    And will work, all I can, to get the young man elected to office.

    And I think in so doing, to continue to answer the question, we will generate more and more interests from secularists to come out. This is, after all, your country and your world too!
    WELCOME. Fear not. Fret not.

    All the best.



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  • 7
    Michael says:

    As a non-believer living in the Chicago land area, I think the best way to organize atheists in order to increase participation in the democratic process is to develop local secularist meeting groups that get together on a regular bases to discuss science and other topics such as politics. By organizing local and constant meetings it will be easier to encourage and inform the public about secular organizations and candidates. The ability of the Evangelical church to influence political power is their ability to organize politically during their services. As seculars we should be organizing meetings on a regular bases in order counter that influence.
    Thanks Michael



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  • To press home the point made by David above; wouldn’t it be better to vote for candidates according to their politics rather than their belief in God or lack of it? This seems to fly in the face of calls from secularists to keep religion out of politics, as it brings a religious element back into the equation … or in this case an anti-religious element.

    “I’ll vote for him/her because they’re a secularist; their political stance is less important.” Can this be the best approach to an election debate?



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  • On a practical level, I think that we need a reminder (emailed or web-posted) to get out and vote. In addition to this, we could all benefit from a summary of the candidates’ voting record and/or stated position much as what the Texas Freedom Network does for the current and prospective candidates running for the State Board of Education. Nowadays, you listen to a candidate’s message at your own peril given all the spin and doubletalk that passes for campaign rhetoric. When we look at the current gridlock in Congress due to extremism and investiture in non-negotiation, I think that we would all benefit by voting out these non-functional parasites and we can only do this if we know who they are.



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  • Join with many other atheist/secular groups and form one ‘information’ mailing list where any IMPORTANT information is shared with all – make sure you have states or zip codes so you can target mailings and then fire off warning about secular candidates right up to election day and get the vote out – later when you have some money do robo calls – just like the christian right.



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  • 11
    Larry_T says:

    Explain that diversity drives creativity and the atheistic rejection of organized religion is a major catalyst for such creativity. Point out that the words “god” and “jesus” do not appear in the Constitution and the Constitution specifically calls out that an affirmation may be substituted for any oath of office. Also ask them to read Article VI which expressly forbids any religious test for office of position of trust in the Federal government. With all of that, theocratic extremists have been spreading lies about the United States as a “christian nation” and claiming special rights for religious groups. It will only stop when either the United States is a full-fledged christian theocracy like Iran with a cross, or freethinkers get more involved to stop it. There is no middle ground.



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  • So much effort and expense just to get people to the polls! What a waste! I agree with @David R Allen in that voting needs to be made compulsory and held at a time convenient for the majority, with avenues in place for those who cannot get there on the day. Perhaps the ability to cast one’s vote before polling day?
    As for fielding candidates, I’m not sure how successful that would be as it’s been said many a time that being an atheist does not automatically place the voter at the ‘left’. I have never heard one good reason for voting NOT to be compulsory. It raises the level of awareness of the entire population and forces those in a state of despair to at least have a go. If the voter really has no desire for input, it gives them a chance to write an expletive on the ballot paper.
    This method may not increase the likelihood of an atheist candidate, we need to look at the stats for that.



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  • I just checked and we are not in good company! I don’t know who would stand to benefit by voting to be non-compulsory. I think it’s even compulsory in Australia at the local level. Anyway, I definitely take an interest in every election held for every level of government.



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  • Motivating more people to vote begins with campaign reform. First and foremost, overturning the Citizens United ruling. Elections with which I’ve partaken have proven to be nothing more than a matter of choosing the lesser of evils that are forced in front of me. The Citizens United ruling was the absolute nail in the coffin in terms of motivating people to vote. I do not know what could feel more patronizing than knowing only those with the wealthiest backing and already established power can ever be put forth as candidates. Not to mention, the legal corruption with which it all operates.

    Trust in the political process and government alike has long been broken. This serious lack of trust by the people is not some new cultural phenomenon. It has been present over several decades, felt by many generations. I fear the damage is irreparable. The issue in my opinion is not, nor has it ever been, a lack of motivation by the people to vote, but rather a lack of trust in those we are asked to vote for. A lack of trust which I would say is unfortunately quite justified.



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  • Local Government is not compulsory in Oz. (For internationals, that’s town mayor, and a council that concerns itself with roads, rates and rubbish.)

    Australia’s system has pre-poll voting for people who won’t be able to attend a polling place. This is usually a postal vote, but includes teams of officials from the Australian Electoral Commission who will visit places like nursing homes, remote indigenous communities and even the troops in Afghanistan. The Australian Electoral Commission manages every election at the Federal and State level, and every referendum. They maintain an Electoral Roll that contains the details of every registered voter in Australia. They run campaigns every year and before every poll to ensure that persons recently obtaining the age of 18 get their name on the Electoral Roll. It’s a system to fills me with confidence. We could never have the debacle of the “Hanging Chad” in the Bush / Florida election.

    We have publicly available registers that contain the details of all donations to all political parties and candidates. It’s not quite bullet proof but it means that big money must declare itself for all to see. All political advertizing must be authorized by a real person that can be traced and bonafided. And there is a ban on political advertizing 3 days before any poll. This is great. (TV I think?)

    There was an Australian referendum in 1916 WW1 with compulsory voting, and the Electoral Officers even went to the trenches on the front line in Flanders’, France, to ensure that every Australian citizen got a chance to vote.



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  • 16
    dmabiz says:

    The first lesson in marketing is WIIFM. What’s in it for me? People will be motivated if they believe that by voting they will be defending their values and beliefs. Perhaps step one is to establish what it is that atheists like me hold dear and are prepared to be galvanised for. Once we know what it is that we are passionate about , then we have a clarion call which we can more easily disseminate.
    Put simply:
    Are you prepared to loose ……….through apathy? Candidate X supports …….and s/he needs your help!



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  • Nominate and support more OS (openly secular) candidates. An OS candidate would get my vote (all other aspects being equal). Perhaps a bigger Q of the W should be: How do we encourage more OS candidates?



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  • Is it possible to be Religious Left Wing perhaps? I actually think most of the left-wing ideals spring from Christ’s teachings, so I would contend (again) that it doesn’t really matter whether a candidate is religious or not, or whether voters are religious or not, it’s their political stance that’s important, and voting for a right-wing secularist (and I would guess there are plenty) may be worse than voting for a left-wing religiot.



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  • Cumbria Smithy.
    I’ve encountered such people during the course of my life, though they seem to be the exception. I consider the former Labor politician Kevin Rudd to be an example of a genuine believer with a particularly humane ideology. It happens on occasion. Needless to say, I voted for Rudd.
    On the conservative side, it’s not that being an atheist and conservative are mutually exclusive. Off hand I cannot think of a single example, though there must be many non-believing, Tory politicians.
    As a believer yourself, why is it that so many god-fearing folk advocate such a harsh agenda? I find this puzzling.



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  • Result Tony Abbott !

    The Jesuits helped to instill in me this thought that our calling in life was to be… ‘a man for others’… I am a pretty traditional Catholic… I’m not an evangelical, a charismatic Christian, I’m not. I try to attend Mass, but I don’t get there every Sunday any more… Faith has certainly helped to shape my life, but it doesn’t in any way determine my politics…”.

    —Tony Abbott on ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet; September 2013.

    Here

    I’m glad to hear that that bastard God has no influence on his politics. Maybe Gina Rinehart, 6th richest woman in the world and a climate change denier, has more influence on his politics ?



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  • Most of the voting population do not think that their vote will make a difference since history has shown them time after time it does not. Many occasions opinions are beaten down or simply ignored therefore when it is time to vote people will avoid the pain of rejection, one more time.
    Democracy is a verb not a noun. With consistent practice of voting in homes, schools, neighbourhoods and workplace it would second nature and confidently carried over to many areas of life. It needs to start with children allowing a say in where the family spends next Christmas and should the family get a pet and what type. In a short time having a say, hearing yes and enjoying the results, democracy for both voters and leaders would be familiar of bestowing gifts of patience, giving and taking.



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  • The fundamentalist Christians I encounter are rigid and unyielding and believe they speak for all Christendom, and the atheists I encounter are equally inflexible and believe that they represent all the right thinking peoples of the world. Could this be an issue with electing secular candidates? A right wing candidate can run for office calling on a base of like minded supporters because they are clustered in distinct geographic areas and communities. The secular community is not communal enough to carry a candidate into office. Additionally a candidate that assaults the beliefs of the section of the community that is religious but also believes in secular governance is steering supporters away from the poles. In this time when the political right is driven to the far right to appease a smaller and smaller base, it is foolish to pull equally far to the left in response, cutting off your nose to spite your face.



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  • As much as I agree with you, the religious right is a majority and definitely won’t vote for him because he is a secularist, regardless of his credentials or his politics, I’d vote for him because he is a “secularist” just to get the ball rolling.



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  • Nitya,
    Tony Benn identified himself as a Christain, although I am not sure how active he was and how much he really believed. He was born in an era when fewer people admitted to being atheist or agnostic.

    I think the thing that makes being right wing and religious attractive is that religion is about controlling people, there is little democracy in any of the established churches, they all have fairly rigid rules on what we should do.

    As for the supposed teaching of the Jesus character in a different post, they are of little signifigance to most modern religionists as they have all interpreted and re-interpted the bible to say what they want. Plus we are dealing with a bunch of stories written many years after the events they purport to portray. Much of the bible can be shown as false, Nazareth not existing at the time it was supposed to being a main one, that we are left wondering whether the central character was one person, stories amalgated about a few or did not exist at all. Personally I think a Jesus character did exist but certainly not in the way the bible portrays him.

    I would certainly not vote for someone just because they were an atheist but the more religious a person is, especially if they are religionist, will certainly turn me away from supporting them.



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  • Nitya, I can’t answer your question without undertaking a study of politicians and their beliefs, but the extreme right-wing examples are the ones who stand out. However, moderate right-wing politics can hardly be called ‘harsh’, and there are probably numerous believing politicians in both camps who just get on with their jobs without hitting the headlines. And of course history has proved that extreme left-wing policies can also be damaging to society. From a Christian point of view I think Jesus was not only a figure of great compassion, but he was also quick to emphasise and encourage personal responsibility; and, knowing full well that no two societies would ever be identical, rather than stating exact rules and principles He gave us numerous guidelines and left us to use our intelligence in the way we order our societies.



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  • How would you view our current UK Prime Minister? I think he claims to have no particular religious convictions yet he seems happy for the church (of all denominations) to continue in its traditional role. So does that make him a secularist, or merely agnostic? I guess he would claim he stands for freedom of belief, so how should a secularist politician speak and behave? Would he/she be expected to ban certain activities or behaviours?



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  • Cumbria Smithy.
    It’s not just politicians, but people I meet in everyday life. More often than not, those I encounter with a really hateful agenda ( xenophobic, misogynistic, often cruel, punative parents) are regular churchgoers. You must know the type! I also have Christian friends who embody the qualities that are supposedly Christ-like. These friends have a great deal of trouble in relating to their fellow parishioners. It’s the tough line versus the softhearted line.
    It’s not a stretch to say that some of the nastiest people I know personally, are supposedly devout Christians. How do they plan to get into heaven?



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  • . Steven Mynett….I think the thing that makes being right wing and religious attractive is that religion is about controlling people, there is little democracy in any of the established churches, they all have fairly rigid rules on what we should do.

    It’s all about the RULES! Agreed! Pity help the transgressors. That must be it. I think I can even see it playing out at a household level. We ran a fairly democratic household, in which the kids had some input in decisions that would affect them.
    Not that I’d like anarchy mind you, but only rules in areas that lead to the smooth running of society, ( or family). A liberal dose of ethics is essential, but not religion.



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  • Cameron is an Anglican and has involved religion in his “Big Society”. He has also been happy to promote a divisive minister of faith, Sayeeda Warsi, and has backed Eric Pickles, who is very pro religion. Cameron is neither a secularist nor agnostic and only minimal research will show this.

    Perhaps who are confusing him with the ineffectual deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, who is an atheist.



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  • As a New Zealander I’ve got to say I don’t understand the link between the right and religion in the USA. I presume by “religious right” what is really meant is “christian right”? It seems to me that somewhere along the way christians have hijacked the political right in the USA. Which is kind of odd because I tend to think that religion would naturally be more comfortable sitting with the ideals of the left. Anyway, I think labelling political parties with religious labels dis-enfranchises a whole lot of people and leads to perverse decision making based on dogma rather than policy and substandard outcomes. Using myself as an example, I’m right leaning in my political outlook, but atheist. If I were American I would have trouble voting as I have a choice between a right wing christian dominated party which promotes policies of discrimination which I abhor, or a left wing party with a socialist agenda that seems bent on making everyone equally broke. If I had to vote in this scenario It would go to the left. SO – the perverse thing is that even though I am atheist religion would influence the way I vote. At least that is the way I see it as an outsider looking in. I have no doubt I’ll get reamed for some mis-understanding of something or my description of left vs right in this example. Fortunately we don’t suffer from this problem in NZ. Check out the following link where the leaders of our main political parties are asked “Do you have a god?” The first to answer is the current Prime Minister of New Zealand (one of the most popular ever) who leads a right wing party. The last to answer is extreme right wing.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/national/news/video.cfm?c_id=1503075&gal_cid=1503075&gallery_id=145226
    So to answer the question, keep up your good work at RDF and focus on separating politics from religion. And can someone please explain how the political right and christians have become so intertwined in the USA?



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  • 33
    Vicar of Art on Earth says:

    I don’t think we have a democracy here anymore, our elections are more opinion polls and our parties are the choice of which magnates rule rather than for any change. Twice we elected a Democratic President who turns into the best darn Republican President since Lincoln. Want to change USA, first talk to the European based corporations who own congress people, then the oil countries who own as many.



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  • Atheism is wrong to trust secularism. Secularism is more like a religion if atheism is underrepresented in a country and is more against a religion if atheism is widely accepted. If a person believes in a religion, how he/she can separate religion from his/her person while performing his/her duties for a secular state in any capacity especially when religious liberty/freedom is constitutionally protected. Secularism is a very tricky principle. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says he thinks Christian values are necessary for capitalism to succeed. He failed to keep his religion separate while holding his position as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice-a secular country. Is there any penalty for not maintaining himself as secularist? No because not being secularist is covered by his right of religious liberty. Not only conservatives use secularism like a religion but progressives also do the same. Wherever there is lust for capitalism and imperialism, progressives even keep distance from atheism and anti-religion elements. Brandeis University withdrew planned honorary degree for Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali to avoid displeasing Islamic countries. Extremist Islam and human right violations in Islamic countries are being tolerated by Western countries only to keep capitalistic and imperialistic ties with those regimes. Only pointing out wrong beliefs and practices under religion is not enough to defeat religion. Atheism should not trust in secularism and progressivism. Both are equally enemy of atheism as are conservatives.



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  • I’m sorry you’ve had such bad experiences with supposedly Christian people, Nitya, but does it mean your experiences are the same as everyone else’s? So many people seem to abandon their beliefs and leave the church because of rough treatment by those within it, but if they’ve been in the church merely for the ‘social company’ of others I would suggest they haven’t really grasped what the church family is all about. But I also think we’d be digressing from the original topic if we continued the discussion along these lines.



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  • Religion will never be separate from politics in the USA. Therein lies the biggest issue we face. There is simply too much power at stake and as per usual religion is their strongest means of controlling the people. We claim to have separation of church and state, but we don’t at all. It’s on our money, in our highest courts… “In God We Trust”. USA is all about maintaining its’ illusion of “freedom” and the “American Dream” which is why they present us with this freedom of religion nonsense. In practical terms, all that really means is that we’re free to observe any religion, they don’t care which just so long as you don’t say you have none and don’t believe in God. No religion, but still a belief in God is the least they will accept and even then it’s hardly something they abide. Again, they won’t say that, yet their actions speak clearly of their position on all things God.

    I don’t see why anyone need ream you for mis-understanding any of it. I’m a U.S. citizen and I barely understand it, but that’s how those in power like it to be. They love a society misinformed, chasing their tails. Honestly, I don’t know that left and right truly are any different. I’m inclined to believe it is all an act on all their parts. None openly admit or speak to the atrocity that is religion as a whole. Yet, I know some of them (cough…. president obama) are too intelligent not to at least question it. They will never say it out loud though. And, as far as the candidate being open about his atheism, that’s a puzzle. I have a fundamental distrust of them all though, so I’m probably not the best to answer yours or even this question. I just thought I’d tell you that I understand what you’re asking and why. Cheers! 🙂



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  • Speak to people like me. “”Born” “a Muslim”” “:-)” raised in the UK, left school, effectively, at fourteen to become an electrician, educated myself (with the help of comedians) and interesting program’s on science to reaffirm my atheism, which then ran into reading. I say reaffirm because I really cannot remember a time when I ever believed in god. Can you be born an atheist? For me, education is the key. Religion makes no sense once the rest of the universe DOES.

    Although an atheist I feel uneasy when I read ” we atheists” as part of an educated elite and can understand (and relate to) why less educated atheists might stay away from sites like this and the ballot box.

    I would like to see many more schools based on science but am not sure how to get around dispelling the religious side of things without polarising people one way or the other. I believe there is an atheist in all of us but would prefer the easing in of a shoe horn rather than the wrenching out with a crow bar.



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  • Olgun Sep 11, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    I would like to see many more schools based on science but am not sure how to get around dispelling the religious side of things without polarising people one way or the other. I believe there is an atheist in all of us but would prefer the easing in of a shoe horn rather than the wrenching out with a crow bar.

    You are right about selecting the cure to match the disease! The more mildly religiously afflicted, are best eased out of their delusions, but the more aggressive deeply bigoted fundamentalist evangelical types, do need knocking back and wrenching into reality with a crowbar! – especially when they openly challenge for power, or seek to intrude on science education.



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  • I think there is nothing to be done, in the Bible Belt, where cactuses are the only atheists.
    Maybe in San Fransisco, or New York. But they, in the Bible Belt, think that the distance between those great cities is only 9 yards. Ha ha.



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  • You’re absolutely right. Because the majority of the electorate are stupid idiots, democracy is for stupidity. In Sweden there is national election just now. Hope that the right wing lose some votes.



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  • How can we motivate more of our fellow secularists to get to the voting booth every Election Day and assert a greater influence in politics?

    The best method would be striving to improve the political system, so that representation is, well, more “representative”.

    Repealing First Past the Post systems, in favour of more balanced systems, such as Proportional Representation or Alternative Vote (C.G.P. Grey has a nice series of videos on these systems (here, the video for First Past the Post; the others can be reached from there) would be a nice start, probably dispelling much of the fear of “losing your vote” if you vote for “unelectable” candidates (which quite probably includes secular ones, too).

    Probably having some compatibility rules avoiding simultaneous exertion of political mandates and religious ministeries would help too.



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  • Luis Henrique Sep 15, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Repealing First Past the Post systems, in favour of more balanced systems, such as Proportional Representation or Alternative Vote

    Proportional representation usually means candidates are elected from political parties’ priority lists, rather than individuals elected by voters in particular areas.



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