Question of the Week – 1/11/17

What if you were the only atheist in Congress: What issue or piece of legislation would be your top priority?


Our favorite answer wins a copy of A Brief Candle in the Dark by Richard Dawkins (no repeat winners).

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39 COMMENTS

  1. Requiring any member of Congress seating at any committee that has the word “Science” in its title to demonstrate thorough understanding of the difference between Science and pseudoscience.

  2. Based on the fact that the US has a secular constitution with a distinct separation of religion and state, I would immediately move to reform the:

    White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships,[1] formerly the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) is an office within the White House Office that is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_House_Office_of_Faith-Based_and_Neighborhood_Partnerships

    I would not try to eliminate the funding of charitable works by the government but I would strongly sideline the religious organizations that are so keen to get their hands on public tax dollars to serve their own ends.

    While some religious organizations may be doing genuinely good charity work with no attempt to indoctrinate the people who need their help, there have been too many cases of quid pro quo exchange by these religious charity workers and it’s caused me to lose all trust in them now. I also don’t appreciate that they may be prone to help only their own preferred tribe of like minded religious believers. Charity should be based on need, not on creed.

    There have also been too many cases of clergy who line their own pockets before any meager remainder goes to the poor. This is criminal but oh so common. I lost trust in the clergy decades ago. We need total transparency when dealing with charity dollars and private religious institutions can hide and obscure dirty dealing.

    As Phil Rimmer once said here, (paraphrasing) the fact that we need private and religious charities to help the poor in this country indicates that the government is not doing its job for the citizens best interests. So if I was an atheist congressional representative I’d try to move the responsibility to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable people in our society out of the hands of the religious community and into the hands of the secular members of government that the people have elected or who have been appointed by those who have been elected based on ability. That’s the key phrase here – A record of excellent experience in this field!!

    Come to think of it…this might be my future dream job!!! 😉

  3. If I were the only atheist in Congress no one would necessarily know it.

    Campaign finance reform would be up there.

  4. I would legislate against nuisance litigation with particular emphasis on free speech, where, for example, Ezra Lavant was called before the Human Rights Commission to justify reprinting the Danish cartoons. I would also litigate against the publishing of lists of the type by Southern Poverty Law Center who list, amongst others, people such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz as extremists, simply because they are outspoken critics of some aspects of Islam. When free speech is extinguished violence will fill the void.

  5. I would go for insistence on labelling all laws that essentially religious superstition. I would not insist they be nullified, at least not yet

    for example abortion laws that depend on the existence of a soul inserted at conception
    anti-euthanasia laws because there is a sky fairy who owns you.
    anti-gay laws because the bible said to kill all gays among scores of other groups
    laws that permit creationism to be taught is schools

    I suspect a softening up process of realising how many laws are actually imposed religion would prepare people to get rid of them.

  6. This question is an elaborate puzzle. Were I a declared atheist in Congress, I’d be an anomaly, and generating the necessary allegiances to propose an issue or legislation would require some sort of common agreement with other than anti-atheist fellow members. The key would be in identifying which fellow members were lying about their religious affiliation and getting their support. In general, the top priority would be an evidence-based approach to all proposed legislation and funding the data capture for measuring and reporting on the intended results. As most fellow members like to announce initiatives and have nothing to do with follow-ups, that leaves the field of needed issue and legislative collaborators rather limited. Still, for the lone atheist in the US Congress, the top priority needs be evidence for proposed legislation and funding for results measurement and scheduled results reporting.

  7. Here’s my answer: if I had a position of power in government my atheism would not matter; but as a man of compassion and good will I would want to end aid to Israel while they continue their persecution and occupation, cut the military budget by fifty percent, would call for increased taxes for those at the top so that all that money cold be put into medicare and medicaid, I would end lobbying (with money)m and reform campaign finance, would appoint a progressive judge (and would absolutely use a litmus test), would advocate massive spending for public education on the state and federal level, and I would do everything I could to protect our environment. I would strengthen the separation of church and state by removing all possible loopholes, while making sure that religious freedom ( in the real sense) would not be infringed upon. But with better education this wouldn’t be a problem for long….

    And so much more.

    Now here’s where the dictator in me would come into play. (We all have a dictator in us, I think). I would force everyone to read the complete works of Dickens before they are eighteen. The God Delusion would be required reading in the early grades. I think I’d also let all the animals out of the zoos (except maybe some amazing zoos that treat the animals very well and where have a lot of space. Children like to look at animals.) and I’d make sure that Man does not continue to destroy so much of the land. The animals need that land, as do we.

    I would have to use punitive measures. But no death penalty.

    (Btw, that schmuck Trump was complaining about fake news at his ridiculous press conference He started that, with his “Obama was born in Kenya” BS! That hypocrite should be put in a cage for six months. That would be my choice of punishment if I had any say I the matter. Kellyanne Conway would be in there with him. But no talking or hanky-panky.)

  8. I would propose a very simple law:
    “No statement that is factually accurate shall ever constitute slander, libel, defamation of character, disrespect, incitement, blasphemy, infringement of religious or other rights, or any other kind of prejudicial behaviour.”

    There would be some exemptions: – it would still be treason to tell the enemy military secrets in time of war, and it would still be unlawful to publish confidential medical records, – but otherwise, telling the truth would never be unlawful.

    The test would be that the statement must be proved to be factually accurate; not merely that it is believed to be so.

    P.S. The software suppressed my apostrophe. Freedom of speech for punctuation marks!

  9. Olgun

    What is closer to home? What does “it” refer to? I hate when people use the word “it” like that. I don’t particularly care about the Ukraine or Crimea. But the hacking and interference by Russia was very destructive, has created confusion, is unacceptable and unlawful, will continue. Trump has underplayed it, and so has Assange who has taken Trump’s side; both are complicit.

    Israel is another matter altogether.

    I don’t like Assange, although I know very little about this odd man. I used to think he was good, a whistle-blower. I feel differently now. He is one of these enigmatic, shadowy, twisted anarchist-libertarians (I think), likes Trump, hates Hillary. I am not interested in Assange or his views on anything. I looked, reluctantly, at the article. I already know about the Israeli lobby (AIPAC) and how powerful and destructive it is. This other thing, the so-called anti semitism awareness bill, sounds awful; but I would take what Assange says with a large grain of salt. I don’t trust him.

    We have to be very careful now. No one knows what is real or not, and no one trusts anyone. Next thing you know Trump, with the help of his minions and fellow conspirators will target someone else. Who will it be? The media today. The Jewish media tomorrow. I am against Zionism, bribery, blackmail and propaganda – but I am not against Jews as Jews. Trump and his team like Putin today and tomorrow might provoke a war with them (and that’ll be the end). I wish Assange would leak Trump’s tax returns, but that would be good, and Assange doesn’t want what is good, does he? I don’t know what he wants. Does anyone? Do you?

    Trump and his appointees are all sick and Trump no right to put us through this. He is degrading us all, and threatening our very survival. I hope he’s impeached.

  10. I would want a law passed that separated church and state, if it did not exist already. A theocracy has no place in proper governance. Other members of congress may entertain religion on a private level, but not in their capacity as political representatives. Their purpose should only be to protect mans’ rights – rights that derive from man’s nature, not from religion.

  11. I would want a law passed that separated church and state, if it did not exist already. A theocracy has no place in proper governance. Other members of congress may entertain religion on a private level, but not in their capacity as political representatives. Their purpose should only be to protect mans’ rights – rights that derive from man’s nature, not from religion. This is a fundamental requirement of proper governance.

  12. I would campaign for it to become law to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Assuming the majority of the House are Christians, they should recognize that rule, and support the Bill. Since this rule is rarely followed now, it would probably only become apparent once it became law, and cases started appearing in the courts, what some of the implications would be, such as “only try to enforce your beliefs on others if you don’t mind being forced to abide by theirs”, “only pollute someone’s land/water/air if you don’t mind them polluting yours”, “only pass laws that disadvantage the poor if you don’t mind being poor and disadvantaged”, “only withhold vaccination from infants if you are happy to be at serious risk of fatal diseases for no good reason”, “only constantly lie to the electorate if you don’t mind everyone constantly changing the stories they tell you”, “only exploit the world’s resourses at an unsustainable rate if you want everyone else to do the same (and suffer the consequences together)”…

  13. My number one issue would be to encourage more people to ‘come out’ as Atheists and run for office in the US. If more people spoke out, the quicker religion will become a taboo for one’s candidacy. It’s very rare for politicians to air their religious views in the UK as they’re highly likely to be considered nutters amongst the masses. 🙂

  14. My top legislative priorities would be education!

    Pushing accurate education for children (science based on science) and education spending so it’s more engaging.
    Helping the public with education on political science issues, such as balanced debate on TV.

    Trying to push atheist (really, scientific) ideas on an uninformed public hasn’t had much of an impact. We can convert more of the existing public to factual views, but even that is hard. For a long term, sustainable science-minded electorate, educating children before their views are so deeply embedded is the best way to get more people to embrace, enjoy, and push science themselves!

  15. I will work on the taxes issue. The rich people must pay equal amount (in percentage) of taxes to any other middle class citizen. The low income people should be treated exceptionally. I will follow the recommendations of the economists in this regard.

  16. My primary concern would be to reform the tax code to eliminate tax exemption for religious organizations. The secular constitution clearly states that the Government shall pass no law regarding religion, however that is exactly what they have accomplished by giving them special legal status above and beyond other institutions.

    Personally, I would remove all of blanket organizational exemptions and require all organizations to itemize charitable donations and work annually. Any charity that has a requirement of a specific belief, gender, race or sexuality would not be eligible for Federal tax exemption. Is it really charity if you are only propping up your own faith? Sounds more like advertising and marketing to me!

    I’m a former “Worshipful Master” of a Masonic Lodge which was exempt from Federal and State taxes. We literally had fully catered meals at least four times a month. All of these were paid for out of tax exempt funds, but they certainly weren’t charity. There is literally no reporting requirement for 501c organizations beyond reporting total income and any salaries paid. The rest of the money can be spent for any purpose without accountability.

  17. If I was a legislator I would want to draft a law that would require the teaching of philosophy to all students from grammar school so that all kids learn critical thinking and empirical reasoning skills.

  18. I would make funding education and science my top priorities. I would also come out publicly as an atheist showing to the others that they don’t need to lie about their beliefs.

  19. Hiram #19
    Jan 13, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    If I was a legislator I would want to draft a law that would require the teaching of philosophy to all students from grammar school so that all kids learn critical thinking and empirical reasoning skills.

    While this is an excellent idea in principle, some US “universities” fudge philosophy and theology together to teach uncritical fallacious thinking as a sort of pseudo-philosophy!
    It would be very difficult to regulate this – especially given the propensity of philosophers to argue!

    I think critical thinking would be better included in a science course.

  20. The most important issue / legislation I would try to pass, or atleast put on the table for discussion, is a major reform of the media. It’s impossible in this day and age to remove money and profits from the media, creating a national broadcasting network that would be publicly funded and operate with a single goal : to inform the public in an objective and truthful, fact-checked manner. It would, however, be possible to institute a national / federal oversight and regulatory body, with say retired judges and scientists (who can’t be pressured or influenced) fact checking and penalising every false broadcast. These penalties would be of a varying degree, so let’s say monetary fine for misleading, suspension of airing rights for propaganda machine programmes and termination of same rights for broadcasts that aim to instill fear and hatred by falsely reporting news. The precise form and membership of this oversight body is to be thouroughly discussed and carefuly decided, and its powers given much thought, but it should be made as objective and detached from government and capitalism pressure as possible.
    I’m not proposing censorship and infrigiment on freedom of speech here, opinions would be allowed under this system and expressing personal views – however far they might be from reason and objective truth – but they would be labeled as such, putting a distinction between opinions and facts.
    The aim of this legislature would be “bursting the bubble”, be it Fox News bubble or a liberal one, with a goal of creating a single news platform based on facts, not political or religious bias. It’s impossible to achieve any agreement or even hold a meaningful discussion if people can’t agree on what the facts are. I would aim to have this rectified and bring back some trust in journalism, giving it back the respect and authority it once had.

  21. Pink ME #22
    Jan 14, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    The most important issue / legislation I would try to pass, or at least put on the table for discussion, is a major reform of the media. It’s impossible in this day and age to remove money and profits from the media, creating a national broadcasting network that would be publicly funded and operate with a single goal : to inform the public in an objective and truthful, fact-checked manner. It would, however, be possible to institute a national / federal oversight and regulatory body,

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/regulatory_framework/charter_agreement.html

  22. Well, the BBC is, obviously, UK based and the question was about what would you do in Congress, meaning USA. I supose there are simmilar standards over there too, but from what we see in television, they are not awfully well – if indeed at all – enforced. I don’t claim to be an expert on either of those countries media, was just giving my layman views. I do appreciate the info, and I was in fact talking about something on the lines of the links you provided and would love to see it implemented in the USA. The british media does have problems of it’s own, and I think this quote of Jim Hacker in the “Yes, minister!” explains some of them quite well:
    Hacker:” Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; the Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country, and the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it already is.”

  23. I would legislate federal money for free education to 18 and subsidised education to 22 – I do not think legislation for Atheism makes sense, but federally mandated education and syllabus set by experts that promote critical thinking will spread atheism as a better educated people is a more questioning people is a people more prone to atheism

  24. Alan (#21) and Hiram (#19), others

    Good post, Hiram. Nice to e-meet you.

    …the teaching of philosophy to all students from grammar school so that all kids…

    I don’t think philosophy (or religion) should be taught formally to children, although children should be encouraged to philosophize. (A subtle distinction.) “A child will come to view the world and gather experience through the medium of those ready-made ideas, rather than let his ideas be formed for him out of his own experience of life, as they ought to be.” –Schopenhauer

    However, a survey of philosophy, from Aristotle onwards, should definitely be taught in college (and public colleges should be free, as Sanders and Hillary and various people on this thread have said). I would be a staunch advocate of making this course a requirement – if I were in Congress. Most people are not interested in philosophy; but no one (!) will ever develop an interest without exposure to it. After this initial, basic introduction, a student should know if he or she has any interest or aptitude in this area; if she does, she can pursue it – in in academic environment, or better yet, on one’s own.

    US “universities” fudge philosophy and theology together.

    This is actually very hard to do unless you make a conscious effort to do this. In that case the teacher would be either incompetent, sinister, or deranged. The new thinkers commented on the old (and sometimes the new thinkers defended the old and rejected the new; newer does not mean better!) But philosophy has been, among other things, a continuous discussion, a continuous process of criticism and counter-criticism; and many of the dogmatic assertions and presuppositions of antecedent thinkers were subsequently critiqued and repudiated. And this process is repeated over and over again.

    One learns, from studying the history of ideas (and history in general), of its retrogressive aspect, as I said before (“newer does not mean better.”); but one gains an appreciation of the continual process of the pursuit of the refinement of ideas and theories: an invaluable and enduring lesson in critical thinking.

    I think critical thinking would be better included in a science course.

    Science and critical thinking go hand in hand, for sure. But let me just say this: in my case and in the case of many others philosophy has engendered a healthy, deep disgust and contempt for dogma and lies; moreover, philosophy (the science of thought, the love of truth) has engendered a passion for, and appreciation of, precision, a veritable mania for precise distinctions, and for mental freedom, i.e, freedom from dogma and presupposition.

    When I listen to someone like Deepak Chopra or William Lane Craig, my training, my background, in philosophy, comes to my aid; and I always think: these poor souls needed to read more philosophy; they are forever conflating, misusing, and distorting concepts.—One learns, by studying philosophy, along with the history of philosophy, that ideas, unlike species, do not always evolve, as I said (twice) before.

  25. Dan #27
    Jan 14, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    some US “universities” fudge philosophy and theology together.

    This is actually very hard to do unless you make a conscious effort to do this.

    Not really!
    They only need a bit of delusional self deception, and employment in some theological departments, presenting theology courses on which they have stuck a “philosophy badge” as a proselytising marketing strategy!

    In that case the teacher would be either incompetent, sinister, or deranged.

    You probably have a valid point there!

    When I listen to someone like Deepak Chopra or William Lane Craig, my training, my background, in philosophy, comes to my aid; and I always think: these poor souls needed to read more philosophy; they are forever conflating, misusing, and distorting concepts.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Lane_Craig

    William Lane Craig; (born August 23, 1949)
    is an American analytic philosopher, Christian theologian, and Christian apologist.
    He holds faculty positions at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and Houston Baptist University.

    I would guess that Lame Craig’s student’s background, in his “philosophy courses”, does not come to their aid in developing rational critical thinking at all!

  26. 1) ensuring religious institutions pay their fair share of tax, 2) requiring religious institutions to disclose their finances in order to maintain charitable status, and 3) requiring churches to maintain neutrality on political matters.

  27. I would introduce a bill named “Religious liberty Act” which mentions that any government position that allows for any kind of religious symbols (ex. hijab) to also allow all and any religious symbol. So a Satanist cop can wear horns or a bowl of spaghetti on his head.
    Moreover, the bill should also mention that if any government position/law that allows for or calls for religious accommodations, should be applied equally to all religions.

    Make them choose. Do they actually believe in religious freedom and accommodations or they just want special privileges for their own religion ?

  28. Alan4discussion #28

    Jan 14, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    They only need a bit of delusional self deception, and employment in some theological departments, presenting theology courses on which they have stuck a “philosophy badge” as a proselytising marketing strategy!

    A good philosophy professor hired to teach a course in philosophy (which might include some theology) would not be inclined to proselytize. But a religious nutter (a nice British term) hired to teach theology would be; and a blurring of the distinction between philosophy and theology would be likely to occur. In a religious school I can easily imagine the same teacher being hired to teach both courses, and one course would be indistinguishable from the other.

    So I see your point, Alan.—And that is all the more reason why the appointment of DeVos as education secretary will be a disaster (among a multitude of disasters). Under a voucher program there would be far less oversight. Moreover…

    “School vouchers are often just an underhanded way for the government to fund religious education. Voucher programs provide credit for parents to send their children to private schools. The problem is that the majority of these private schools are religious in nature. More that 80% of the approved private schools in the Milwaukee voucher program for example, are religious schools.” (Penn Wharton website, Public Policy Initiative)

    (The fact that Lane Craig is considered a philosopher as well as a theologian only proves one thing: that studying philosophy, teaching it, or having a degree in it, is no guarantee of anything. And one can spend years studying and even teaching evolution and still remain a creationist.— That’s just the way people are.)

    Investment in public education would be a top priority – if I were in Congress.

  29. Dan #31
    Jan 15, 2017 at 12:56 am

    And one can spend years studying and even teaching evolution and still remain a creationist.— That’s just the way people are.)

    Actually it is very hard to be competent in studying the science of evolution and remain anything but a token creationist.

    Only a tiny minority of previously deeply indoctrinated YECs who studied on evolution courses while in denial and ticked sufficient boxes to gain qualifications exist.

    The rest have to be duped by indoctrinated teachers letting them only study bits of it while being sold on the pseudo-science god-did-it- as-his-plan-for-humans, “theistic evolution”, which is of course the denial of the mechanism of random mutation and natural section.

    This only permits an understanding of evolution, which is severely limited and superficial, or requires cognitive dissonance.

    A proper understanding of biological evolution DOES debunk the creation myths – as does an understanding of cosmological evolution and planetary formation.

    That is why creationists are so determined to intrude on the science education which debunks their mythology and threatens their god-delusions!

    Some like YECs attack science education.
    Others like the RCC and CofE try to pervert it and pretend that “troooo” science supports their mythology.

  30. Frankly, I don’t believe that any openly atheist politician will have any measure of success in affecting any legislation that effects religion or religious liberty. As that would really be a non-starter, I think I would focus on planting seeds that have a better chance of bearing fruit.

    A more productive use of my time as a Congressman would be reforming the way universities are funded. While this will sound a bit counter intuitive, I would work on reducing the federal grants to universities by a minimum of 40% over the next decade. At the same time the money being siphoned from universities can be spent on trade schools. I have been appalled my entire adult life at how many people with useless degrees are flipping hamburgers and driving buses for a living.

    While I value education for it’s own sake, there are a ridiculous number of idiotic courses available that are a waste, not only of time and energy but of federal funds. Colleges that offer courses (these are real courses available around the country) in things like tree climbing, how to win a beauty pageant, and the philosophy of Kayne West or Miley Cyrus should be immediately de-funded. I am convinced that de-funding schools offering obviously worthless classes and/or degrees will make several very important things would happen rather quickly.

    The fight for government grants and funding at the college level would immediately cause schools to increase the size and scope of their existing science, engineering, medical, and mathematics departments.
    This would raise the bar of college applicants. Fewer barely literate graduates would not be granted degrees in courses like Floral Management or Bowling Industry studies. Instead, universities would produce more people with degrees and skills that are actually beneficial to society because it would simply be in their best interests. Within a few short years there would be a deluge of graduates with a beneficial and productive education rather than the current “everyone gets a trophy” range of degrees currently being handed out.
    I rather suspect that as a result of colleges and universities refocusing their resourced to educate future medical doctors, engineers, physicists, etc. in the course of about 10 years we will have a much larger population of educated people with the ability to actually do something about issues that plague mankind like climate change, curing diseases, creating new sources of food and energy to feed the ever growing population, and so on.

    As a result, I think having fewer highly educated people in the right fields will be of more benefit to the planet and the species than the current practice of graduating the highest number useless people with useless degrees. If people want to get degrees in how to write rap songs or “Puppet Arts”, then they should not receive money from the government that is best used elsewhere.

    So… Where would this leave those who hope to make good use of their Turfgrass Science degrees? It will place them exactly where they need to be, attending trade schools and getting practical on-the-job training instead of taking 4 year vacations in safe spaces. Right now, the American work force is so bloated with degrees in b.s. that pipe fitters, plumbers, electricians and those in similar trades are in high demand in cities around the country. If…. IF America can start focusing on educating the people who can figure out how to solve problems, and educate people who can create the physical technology we need to make those solutions work, then we are really going to need people with the know how to build and maintain it all.

  31. Alan,

    I agree with you. It’s unlikely (but not impossible) that a one can be both a YEC and a serious student of evolution.

    I was just making the point that philosophy is good for the mind, and enhances critical thinking. And while it does not follow that all serious students of philosophy (or even science) will become immune to the lure of religious indoctrination or religious delusions later in life, philosophy, unlike religion, is good for the mind, good for life, for people, can be highly enriching in different ways; I’d hate to see it disappear from the curriculum.

  32. Dan #34
    Jan 15, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    I was just making the point that philosophy is good for the mind, and enhances critical thinking.

    I agree with you, but maintain that the boundaries between philosophy and pseudo-philosophy/theosophy, are less clear cut, than the boundaries between science and pseudoscience where there is a clearly defined difference in methodology!

    The majority of the clear-thinking features of earlier philosophy, are now incorporated into science, while the refuted features persist in many forms of modern theology!

  33. What if you were the only atheist in Congress: What issue or piece of legislation would be your top priority?

    This week it would have to be science based psychological evaluation of presidential candidates and their cabinet nominees!

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