Monday, August 17, 2015

Any Word from God? The Republican Debates, Bill Maher, and Atheism

by Catherine Giordano

Republican Debate Lineup
The Republican Debate Lineup
On Thursday, August 6, 2015, the nation got to witness the first debate presenting the candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination for president.  A record 24 million people watched it. In comparison, only 3.2 watched the first debate for the 2012 Republican nomination.

The huge ratings were because Donald Trump, the clear frontrunner for the nomination at this time, was going to be on stage. We all tuned in because Donald Trump is so entertaining.

The last question for the Republican candidates lucky enough to make it to the prime-time debate on Fox News was a question submitted by a viewer and selected by the moderators:

 "I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first."

The premise of the question stunned me. God is talking to the candidates about what they should do when they become president? The fact that a cable news station would actually ask that question also stunned me. It is like no one in that room had ever read the Constitution. 

Article VI Section 3
"No Religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Fox News isn’t about news, it is about Republican propaganda. And the principle of the separation of church and state, so clearly stated in the first amendment is routinely violated by politicians. You can read more about this in this essay: Is the United States a Christian Nation?

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was first up. He deftly avoided a hidden trap in this question. It wouldn’t look good to be seen saying that God has you on speed dial.

Ted Cruz said. “Well, I am blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures. And God speaks through the Bible.

Governor John Kasich of Ohio was next. It looked like he was going to evade the question entirely, but he finally got to it, being careful not to say that he was God’s chosen one, but kind of implying that he was the one who would do what God wanted.
John Kasich said: “… the lord is not picking us. But because of how we respect human rights, because that we are a good force in the world, he wants America to be strong. He wants America to succeed. And he wants America to lead.

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin was not afraid to get all holier-than-thou. He concluded his answer by implying that union-busting is God’s will. (Walker brings up union-busting every chance he gets.)

Scott Walker said: “It's only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I've been redeemed from my sins. So I know that God doesn't call me to do a specific thing, God hasn't given me a list, a Ten Commandments, if you will, of things to act on the first day. What God calls us to do is follow His will. … . living my life in a way that would be a testimony to Him and our faith.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida wanted us to know that he is blessed by God. He said blessed about a dozen times in the space of 30 seconds like he had a verbal tic. It’s pretty clear that Rubio wants us to think that he is so God-blessed that he should be president.

Marco Rubio said: “I think God has blessed us. He has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. And I believe God has blessed our country. This country has been extraordinarily blessed. And we have honored that blessing. And that's why God has continued to bless us.”

Dr. Ben Carson was the next candidate to answer the question, Ms. Kelly threw in a secondary question about race relations. That’s right, the only person asked to speak about race was the only black guy on the stage. Carson loves to talk about God, but the race question clearly annoyed him, so much so that he even quoted Obama’s famous 2004 speech at the Democratic national convention.

Dr. Ben Carson said: I'm a neurosurgeon... when I take someone to the operating room, I'm actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn't make them who they are. The hair doesn't make them who they are. …our strength as a nation comes in our unity. We are the United States of America, not the divided states.

After that, the debate moved to closing statements. The remaining five candidates were did not get a chance to tell us how blessed they are, and how much scripture they read, and how well they know what God’s will is.  

Four of the other candidates--Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Jeb Bush—would probably have given us more of the same so perhaps we were mercifully spared more of this religious drivel.. However, I really wanted to hear what Donald Trump had to say.

Donald Trump is not a particularly religious person; maybe the only one on that stage not dripping religious clichés. I really would have liked to see how he would have answered the question. Would have stayed true to his political incorrectness or would he have bowed to the pressure to sound pious.

On his Friday night show, Bill Maher on Real Time with Bill Maher (#259, aired on August 7, 2015) said that he timed his return so as to be able to comment on the Republican debates. He asked the audience, “Did you ever take ecstasy? He followed up with, “This was the opposite of that. It was a tsunami of stupid.” “It was like a Comedy Central roast of the Constitution.”

Maher asked the panel if they thought it was appropriate for the moderators to ask the candidates about what God was telling them to do. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome CA, D) said it was a “cringe-worthy” moment.

The conversation veered away from the debate into a discussion of atheism. Maher said that atheists and agnostics are the same thing. I’m glad he said that because that is what I have been saying and getting a lot of pushback from some in the non-believer community who prefer to split semantic hairs. He pointed out that 38 million people in the U.S. are “Nones”, the second largest group surpassed only by evangelical Christians.

[Maher was referring to the 2014 Pew Poll. I wrote about it in Polls Show Christianity Declining, Nones Rising ]

Mary Matalin, Republican operative, would have been right at home on that debate stage. Earlier she hissed at Maher imitating a snake, and said, "I have never seen someone work so hard to deny the existence of something." She was referring to what Maher called her "imaginary friend." Now she again showed her ignorance by saying “Atheism is a belief.” Maher explained, “No it’s not. It’s an absence of belief. Saying atheism is a belief is like saying abstinence is a sex position.”

Matalin responded by shouting, “But it is! It is! It is!” [Maybe abstinence is her favorite sex position—she was very insistent-- and maybe that is why both she and her husband, James Carville, always seem so emotionally anorexic.]

Maher said that Dana Perino, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, once said “If they [atheists] don’t like it, they don’t have to live here.” Matalin tried to deny that Perino said it, but when forced to back down, she sanctimoniously replied, “I believe in tolerance—it is the essence of my faith.”

Maher pointed out that the debate had time for questions about religion but no time for the really important issues like global warming and other real problems. He said that the candidates apparently think ISIS and Iran are the same thing, when in fact they are bitter enemies.  

Steve Schmidt (former Republican campaign manager for McCain Palin), said, “They [the moderators] should have asked if they knew the difference between Shia, Sunni, and a kangaroo.” This gave Maher the opportunity to say, “Once again you say these people are utter idiots and they are my people.” [It appears that Schmidt sometimes forgets what team he plays for and gets as exasperated with the tsunami of stupidity as the rest of us.]

I like to think that if God existed he’d be on the side of intelligence and not stupidity. Or maybe to paraphrase a common saying, “God must love stupid people, he made so many of them.”  

I hope, going forward, we can at least try to keep God out of politics. [Ha! Fat chance!]

An excellent book about religion and politics is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Author Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who doesn’t take sides as to who is right or wrong, shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong. (Click the link to see this book and many others on the topic of religion and politics.)

See the full review and recap of Real Time with Bill Maher episode 359, 8/7/2015: Tsunami of Stupid

In the December 15 debate, Carly Fiorina one-upped all the Republican candidates with her big Christian cross necklace. I bet the male candidates were furious. 

Bill Maher’s Guests:  August 7, 2015
Michael Mann: Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, co-founder of, co-author of Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change

Caitlin Flanagan: Journalist, national correspondent for The Atlantic, former staff writer for The New Yorker The September issue of The Atlantic will feature Flanagan’s new article, “That’s Not Funny: Today’s College Students Can’t Seem to Take a Joke.” She is also the author of To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife and Girl Land

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA): Former Mayor of San Francisco, candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2018. He is the author of Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government

Mary Matalin: Political analyst, television and radio host, former Assistant to President George W. Bush, and Counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. She is author of several books--the most recent is Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home (with James Carville)
Steve Schmidt: MSNBC analyst, Vice Chair of Public Affairs at Edelman Public Relations, former Senior Advisor to the McCain-Palin presidential campaign