Mitch Daniels’ anti-atheist comments

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels is getting some favorable attention from libertarians, perhaps with some justification given his reading habits. However he has nothing kind to say about the atheists among us:

People who reject the idea of a God -who think that we’re just accidental protoplasm- have always been with us. What bothers me is the implications -which not all such folks have thought through- because really, if we are just accidental, if this life is all there is, if there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, then all that matters is power.

And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists -Stalin and Hitler and Mao and so forth- because it flows very naturally from an idea that there is no judgment and there is nothing other than the brief time we spend on this Earth.

Everyone’s certainly entitled in our country to equal treatment regardless of their opinion. But yes, I think that folks who believe they’ve come to that opinion ought to think very carefully, first of all, about how different it is from the American tradition; how it leads to a very different set of outcomes in the real world.

I was going to write a longer post about this until I realized the quote is from a December interview. That’s remarkable in itself, given that I just recently came across it. An American governor saying that any religion “leads to brutality” would surely have made bigger headlines, but disparage atheists and hardly anyone takes notice until months later.

Atheists have polled as the least trusted group in the US and a majority of respondents say they would not vote for an atheist candidate. Statements from politicians like Daniels are part of the reason. Since atheists are an invisible minority we have the option of letting such comments slide. As I’ve written before, I think this is a mistake:

Respondents to the survey call atheists elitist and in one sense they are right. Academia and the sciences are wide open to us. Educated Americans on the coasts are more tolerant of atheism. Unless we’re running for public office, no ceiling blocks our ambitions. Unlike other minorities, we have the luxury of not caring what other people think. And so we don’t.

So maybe we ought to be speaking up more. I don’t mean by forming advocacy groups or adopting pretentious new words like “brights,” but by being forthright when people inquire about our religious beliefs. I’m as guilty as anyone of equivocating by saying I’m “not religious” when asked rather than matter of factly admitting to atheism. This polite ambiguity prevents some awkwardness, but keeps atheism outside the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable and, ultimately, shows a lack of respect for ourselves and the people we interact with. Enough of that. We’ve got catching up to do.

To their credit, the Center for Inquiry Indiana has taken Daniels to task for his comments, and Jonathan Turley was on it immediately.