Democrats show carelessness with resolution on ‘religiously unaffiliated’

With a hastily passed resolution, the Democratic National Committee exaggerated the numbers and the importance of its “secular” wing. (iStock/AlexLMX)With a hastily passed resolution, the Democratic National Committee exaggerated the numbers and the importance of its “secular” wing. (iStock/AlexLMX)

On Aug. 24, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution recognizing the “value” of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans and describing them as “largest religious group in the Democratic Party.” Democrats should reach out to everyone, including those who are not religious, but this resolution does more than that. It is bad politics, and it is also utter nonsense on its own merits.

The resolution was promoted not by an organization representing the religiously unaffiliated but by secularist groups like the Secular Coalition for America and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. These groups do not represent all the religiously unaffiliated, many of whom believe in God and are anything but “secular.” To inflate their standing, these groups use the category “religiously unaffiliated” as a kind of cover for their own ends. They speak for a group they do not represent.

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The resolution describing the “religiously unaffiliated” as “largest religious group in the Democratic Party” is bad politics, and it is also utter nonsense on its own merits.

In addition, the resolution claims that the “religiously unaffiliated group represents the largest religious group within the Democratic Party.” This is a ridiculous claim that groups together atheists, agnostics and those who do not belong to a specific faith tradition—while splitting Catholics from Protestants; Hispanic Protestants from black Protestants from white Protestants; and Methodists from Presbyterians from Baptists. This claim might advance the interests of the groups that wrote the resolution, but why should it be ratified by the D.N.C.?

The resolution also includes an incoherent, dog-whistle-ridden passage that is an aspersion on religious people who do not have the right kind of politics. I have some guesses about exactly what it is referring to, but I could not tell you with any real confidence. (And I work on these issues for a living!) Here it is:

WHEREAS, those most loudly claiming that morals, values, and patriotism must be defined by their particular religious views have used those religious views, with misplaced claims of “religious liberty,” to justify public policy that has threatened the civil rights and liberties of many Americans, including but not limited to the LGBT community, women, and ethnic and religious/nonreligious minorities….

It is odd to include a statement on religious freedom in a resolution about those who are not religious. Yes, religious freedom has applications for the non-religious—for instance, the state should not coerce belief—but that is not quite the context this resolution seems to invoke. And it is hypocritical to attack those “most loudly claiming that morals, values, and patriotism must be defined by their particular religious views” in a resolution that later asserts the “value, ethical soundness, and importance of the religiously unaffiliated demographic.”

The religiously unaffiliated are not a coherent voting bloc. They are defined by what they are not, rather than by an affirmative characteristic. The problem with lifting up the religiously unaffiliated for praise is that, by the very nature of the category, the only thing you are praising is that they are not religious. Is that a virtue in and of itself?

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The resolution concludes that “religiously unaffiliated Americans are a group that, as much as any other, advocates for rational public policy based on sound science and universal humanistic values and should be represented.”

“As much as any other” is one of those phrases used to allow for plausible deniability while still communicating what you really want to say. The message in this proclamation suggests that it is the religiously unaffiliated who are “rational” and grounded in “science” and “universal” values. Hemant Mehta, who blogs as the Friendly Atheist, wrote that the D.N.C. resolution must only be the “beginning of a longer relationship,” adding, “the eventual [Democratic] presidential nominee must openly court non-religious Americans by talking about the importance of church/state separation, science, and reason-based policymaking.”

By implication, religious folks are irrational and anti-science. (But notice how much so-called universal humanistic values amounts to secularized, unmoored restatements of ideas that grew out of religious teachings.) The good, or at least neutral, kind of religious people, one gathers, are those who affiliate with a religion but do not really believe it.

Playing into Trump’s hands?

The “religiously unaffiliated” resolution was passed with little thought by people entrusted with the health of the Democratic Party. Someone who was present for the vote told me it was voted on after a multi-hour debate on the climate presidential primary debate, and folks were ready for the day to be over. The resolution was viewed to be “non-operational,” meaning that it was viewed as just words on a page rather than any actual commitment from the party (it is not on the D.N.C. website), and so it was passed without much thought or care. I read a section of the resolution to someone who voted on it, and they responded: “That’s really in there? That’s not right.”

Even if many of those actually voting on the resolution did not find it important, I can guarantee that the Trump campaign and the Republican Party took note. A resolution promising that the Democratic Party will intentionally build the political power of atheists is not exactly countering religious right fear-mongering and Mr. Trump’s “we’re starting to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again” nonsense.

A resolution promising that the Democratic Party will intentionally build the political power of atheists is not exactly countering religious right fear-mongering.

We know the Trump campaign is going to try to depress turnout among Democrats (about two-thirds of whom are Christian). Imagine ads on gospel radio stations that publicize a D.N.C. resolution—without a whole lot of spin—as affirming the religiously unaffiliated (who are overwhelmingly white) and demeaning those who “loudly claim that morals, values...must be defined by their particular religious views.” What might be the reaction of the strongly Democratic “devout and diverse,” a voting bloc defined by the Pew Research Center?

This resolution is just a glimpse of the tensions in the Democratic Party that had been transcended by Barack Obama and are now being suppressed by the party-unifying disdain for Donald Trump but that will show up more as Democrats approach political success. For instance, I believe there will be significant pushback from a large faction of the party should the next Democratic president choose to swear their oath of office with their hand placed on a religious text.

Many Democrats believe that the unpopularity of the Trump administration offers the opportunity to win big by concentrating on broadly shared values and policies and running truly inclusive campaigns. But others believe that Mr. Trump is so offensive that he provides an opportunity to move the Overton Window and gain a hearing for ideas that previously had little traction in American politics. They do not necessarily believe that Democrats will win if they say certain things and support certain policies but that for the first time they have a chance of winning on these ideas.

Some Democrats in the latter category believe that these previously out-of-bounds ideas could gain mass appeal, but others are simply willing to risk losing to Mr. Trump for the chance to promote their ideological preferences. This attitude can be seen most prominently among Democratic Socialists of America members, but it was also present in 2016, when a senior strategist for the Hillary Clinton campaign reportedly bragged that they would run the first “post-Christian” campaign.

This “religiously unaffiliated” resolution certainly gave voice to some valid claims and legitimate frustrations with the religious right’s attempt to monopolize the discussion of “values.” But in its carelessness, it is just the kind of thing that helps Republicans hold on to political power.

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Andrew Strada
1 month 1 week ago

"He led religious outreach for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 20102. " Anybody from that far in the future must really know what he is talking about.

Robert Sullivan
1 month 1 week ago

Thanks, that typo has been corrected.

J. Calpezzo
1 month 1 week ago

Because they are better for the poor and downtrodden than the politicians with religion?

John Mack
1 month 1 week ago

The religiously affiliated should certainly be welcomed. The only editorial comment added to the welcome should run along these lines: 'We welcome the religiously affiliated and the religiously unaffilated who are committed to helping us build an economy, an environment and a civic society that is fair to all and makes it possible for all families and individuals to live with economic, environmental and cultural security." The resolution as passed is stupid, but not surprising.

John Mack
1 month 1 week ago

The DNC is a corrupt, graceless group.

Bill Courson
1 month 1 week ago

Because they are better educated, have more serious lasting political commitments, and are more compassionate toward the poor and oppressed. And they offer an alternative to the pharisaic Evangelicalism that passes for religion in public life here in America.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 month 1 week ago

Mr Courson
After you see Luke 18:9- The Pharisee and tax collector in the Temple......you tell me who is the Pharisee is your comment !

Ellen B
1 month 1 week ago

The person who says there's a "War on Christmas" perhaps? The person who claims their "religion" blocks them from working with anyone of the opposite sex, when their religion says nothing of the sort? The person who claims "religion" as a reason to pass laws forcing doctors to lie to their patients? Just a few true examples off the top of my head.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 month 1 week ago

Ellen
Or perhaps it is those who engage in continuous virtue signaling. Perhaps Beto ORourke who demands that all manner of social justice programs be created and funded by tax payer dollars while he himself donates to charity the munificent sum of $1166 in 2017! Or perhaps Joe Biden who advocates numerous similar programs funded by tax payers when in the ten years prior to his 2008 run made charitable contributions of about $350 per year!

E.Patrick Mosman
1 month 1 week ago

"We know the Trump campaign is going to try to depress turnout among Democrats (about two-thirds of whom are Christian)."
Who are the "We" that "know" what the GOP plans and what exactly do they know and how did they learn the GOP "plans"?

John Hess
1 month ago

The "We" could be those who follow current events.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 month 1 week ago

"But in its carelessness, it is just the kind of thing that helps Republicans hold on to political power." Thank Almighty God!

Jeffrey More
1 month 1 week ago

Amen!

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
1 month 1 week ago

Ditto!

James M.
1 month 1 week ago

“On Aug. 24, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution recognizing the “value” of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans and describing them as “largest religious group in the Democratic Party.””

Maybe they should try “embracing” those Americans who have absolutely no connection with America. Or those Orthodox Jews who are Christians. Or Southern Baptist Muslims.

It is senseless to say that people who have no religion, have a religion. A non-member of a set cannot be defined as a member of it. Why is that so hard for some people to understand ?

Atheism is an existential position, as are agnosticism and theism. Neither atheism nor agnosticism, in all their variety, are religions. They are, however, existential positions, as are the various theisms. Some existential positions are theistic. Others are not theistic. It is muddled thinking to suppose that because some existential positions are theistic, all are. Having an existential commitment, is not at all identical with being a theist, or having a religion.

As for the question: why should a US political party not “embrace” “those with no religion” ? How can it be objectionable to “embrace” them ? They are not second-class citizens, and it is far from clear what justification there can be for treating them as though they were.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
1 month 1 week ago

James M.: Very well said! I hadn't thought of the last point, that by passing the resolution the DNC solidified a second-class position of the religiously un-affiliated. Another point that occurs to me is that Mr. Wear may not understand that spirituality (in a very simplistic form, a belief in something or someone greater than ourselves) and religion are not the same thing. Atheists and Agnostics have a spirituality; not a religion.

Laura Gonzalez
1 month 1 week ago

This is one of the most ridiculous editorials I’ve read in awhile. Just the headline makes one shake his/her head in disbelief.

“Why are the Democrats embracing those with religion?”

“Why are the Democrats embracing those with extra melatonin?”

“Why are the Democrats embracing those with no penises?”

“Why are the Democrats embracing those with non-heterosexual inclinations?”

See?

Yes, the DNC resolution is rather ridiculous as well, but it’s hardly a reason to get one’s knickers in a knot and whip out the smelling salts for the forthcoming fainting spells.

And the paragraph calling out the hypocritical religious right is spot on. The same group that shouts loudly about abortion but could care less about immigrant kids in cages, dead immigrant kids, poor children, etc. The same people who want to deny civil marriage to gays as if Jesus himself spoke on the matter, but say nothing about second or third marriages, things Jesus DID address. The same people who care nothing about our environment and have no problem with deregulation, which will lead to more environmental degradation. The same people who post pictures of bibles with guns on them. The same people who claim to not know “sex with children” was wrong or illegal. The people who claim to be marginalized and yet in actuality wield too much power.

In the western world, I believe it is only the USA where you have to prove you love God and Jesus in order to be elected to higher office.

And yes, the GOP will milk it for everything, playing upon their base’s ignorance and prejudice. “They’re going to make church illegal! They’re going to make it a crime to be a Christian! They’ll put us in cages with illegal kids!”

Oh, the horror!

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
1 month 1 week ago

Laura Gonzalez: Well said! However, "In the western world, I believe it is only the USA where you have to prove you love God and Jesus in order to be elected to higher office." Last I heard from the Catholics, Jesus is God.

Robert Sullivan
1 month 1 week ago

A reminder that the author does not write the headline, for better or worse.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 month 1 week ago

Robert
Why not change that policy and avoid the “click bait” headlines and kill the editorial comment in the “Tweet This”. Boxes!

Nora Bolcon
1 month 1 week ago

I hear you Laura. I think the DNC is putting out a message that we are a party about human justice for all regardless of one's chosen religion. So of course the hyper sensitive who are affiliated to a particular religion are over reacting. Democrats are a political party that want to be a political party only, and they are stressing this because the GOP has stressed it's political stands are evangelical and Catholic based regardless if some people get left without just treatment, by that stand. Let's all have cow now!

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
1 month 1 week ago

Ms. Bolcon: Baloney! The Republican says none of that.

Nora Bolcon
1 month 1 week ago

Hi Thomas, I am assuming you mean Republicans, and they most certainly do state these things, and they are proud of it.

Pro-life would not exist as a political cause if it was not created and supported by primarily Catholic and evangelical conservative Christians, conservative Jewish, and conservative Islamic Religions. This is true despite the fact that the scriptures which are supposed to be the basis of these religions' teachings do not agree that abortion always equals murder or that conception is the start of human life. These religious bodies chose to believe and teach in their religions that abortion, at any stage of pregnancy, is the murder of a person, just the same as killing a one month old child and therefore it is acceptable to take over the rights of all female citizens to govern their own body organs' use in order to attempt to make certain women are punished and jailed if they do this act. This is a religious morality issue pure and simple, and not one all religions, even those of the same faith as these conservative religions agree with regarding what is morally correct. So this cause represents chosen religious moral beliefs turned into political beliefs and pushed often with a great deal of pressure from various religions upon our nation's secular society, and laws, despite its constitution to protect against religious laws being integrated within its civil and criminal laws. There is one party pushing this Pro-Life Cause - Republicans! and they tell you they are doing it because they are proud American Christians.

The same is true of same-sex marriage. There is absolutely no reason for our country to refuse legalized same-sex marriage unless they are making policies based purely on biblical anti-LGBT morality. Again, almost all of these people will claim to be good religious members of society demanding American laws support their moral religious designs.

So again Republican causes, not Democratic causes, generally equate to moral religious conservative points of view or stands (not Christian stands necessarily but Religious stands based on particular versions of conservative religious morals and doctrines.) This is instead of the more Democratic point of view that all citizens deserve same rights, basic opportunities to succeed, education, and overall treatment, and basic protections under the law, despite gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or identity. All citizens deserve the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
1 month 1 week ago

Ms. Bolcon: I do stand by what I said. As well, I assume you know that the first Pro-Life organization in America, The Right To Life League of Southern California, was founded by Catholics and people of diverse other faiths. Are you saying that the Democratic Party fails to embrace people of Pro-Life belief who profess divergent creeds? Your statement does say that you believe the Republicans are inclusive, which negates your incorrectly stated beliefs about the Republican Party excluding various groups.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
1 month 1 week ago

Why is it nonsense to say, "Merry Christmas?" You, of course, are aware that the people promoting the effort to de-Christianize society in this country, are frantically trying to take Christ out of Christmas. Apparently, the Democratic Party leadership without, as you note, much thought, has decided to take-up the mantle of anti-Christ. For the producer of the "Reclaiming Hope" newsletter to describe as nonsense the effort to put Christ back into Christmas by asking people to say, "Merry Christmas," smacks of someone who doesn't believe what he peddles.
Of course, for someone so literate and informed as you proclaim to be, you are aware that during the Obama administration, postal employees told us, their employers, that they were not allowed to say, "Merry Christmas," until the employer (the taxpayer) greeted them in those words.
Your article comes across as a fanatical, leftist, farce. America Media, and you, should be better than this.

Anthony Noble
1 month 1 week ago

I agree that the Democratic Party should be more openly inclusive of religious people, especially pro-life Americans. I agree with Pete Buttigieg that Democrats need to embrace religious values. Unfortunately, some Churches and religious groups use religion as a means to discriminate and/or promote morally reprehensible and ant-Gospel policies, such as being for the death penalty, anti-immigration, anti-Islamic, anti-gay, and viewing God as a means to financial prosperity. The Catholic Church has positive values on most of these issues except on gay issues such as same- sex marriage, which is a civil and not a religious issue, and firing gay employees, which goes against the Catholic Church's Catechism which is against discrimination, specifically against gay people. Unfortunately, the media and news focus on the problems and conflicts involving religions and mostly ignore the overwhelming good works and the value of a relationship with God that religions provide.

Nora Bolcon
1 month 1 week ago

Nope Pro-Life is anti-women and anti-sanity.

Criminalizing abortion causes greater amounts of abortion and maternal deaths everywhere in the world where these laws exist. The USA currently has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world which means keeping it legal, affordable, accessible and safe is the right and best answer.

Democrats are about being a party supporting all citizens being treated the same, not just men.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 month 1 week ago

Nora
Still peddling you claim that “criminalizing abortion ”causes” greater amounts of abortions... except you now add “maternal deaths” in the hopes the latter will provide refuge from your totally unsupportable claimed “causal relationship”.
You rely on Guttmacher statistics through out these comment pages , yet not even Guttmacher claims any such “causal relationship” nor even does Planned Parenthood do so! Both would love to do so but know the causal claim is utterly bogus!
The US may now have one of the lower abortion rates but after the US decriminalization of abortion the rate of abortion soared for 20 years to unforeseen levels. The exact opposite of what your causal thesis postulates would happen.

John Hess
1 month ago

I don't know the numerical relationship between criminalizing abortion and the number of women who make that choice. But criminalizing abortion wouldn't end the practice, but just take us back to the days of the coat hanger and cause greater suffering.

Richard Bell
1 month 1 week ago

Q: "This claim might advance the interests of the groups that wrote the resolution, but why should it be ratified by the D.N.C.?"
A: Ignorance.

Michael Bindner
1 month 1 week ago

Those who object to this resolution from the GOP side were likely not voting Democratic anyway. It is a shout out to constituencies already in the party and a rebuke against USCCB in covering birth control. Trump is gone this year. This resolution is about running against Pence.

Beth Nicol
1 month 1 week ago

Ah -- I see now. I followed the link in this editorial and found myself at Fox News. Now, I need to go get the whole story before I can make any sense out of this. Silly me, I thought that the link "passed a resolution" might take me to a place where I could actually read the text of the resolution!

Kenneth Michaels
1 month 1 week ago

The election results show that the majority of Catholics, especially the pro-life movement and religious liberty movement bishops, support racist, anti-immigrant, hateful policies over Christian, humane policies. In other words, the majority of Catholics, especially pro-life Catholics, are Republican stooges. Why would the Democrats look to them for support?

Nora Bolcon
1 month 1 week ago

I can't agree more. I firmly believe the Democratic Party has the most ethical party stand. I have no desire to see misogyny corrupt that platform.

Michael Bindner
1 month 1 week ago

Faith and partisanship are not the same thing. Belonging to a religion is a form of partisanship, not an act of faith. It is cheap grace, Catholic style.

Nora Bolcon
1 month 1 week ago

This is so true. How many Catholic beliefs are rebuked by Christ in the Gospels. The treatment of women completely opposite of how all bishops would like to be treated themselves and our rules continuing this discrimination in sacraments being the easiest to find but not the last example by any means. Faith and religion are not at all the same thing much of the time.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
1 month 1 week ago

Mr. Bindner and Ms. Bolcon: Why are you subscribing to an allegedly Catholic magazine? You are both so anti-Catholic.

Christopher Lochner
1 month 1 week ago

There is a HUGE difference between being anti-Catholic and anti-clerical, between belief in God and Jesus and pointing out the sins of the current scribes and Pharisees of the Church. If Jesus was physically here he would have His own office in the Vatican in order to, in a timely manner, rebuke Church leadership for their many errors and grave and disordered conduct and abuses. And they would probably renail Him to a cross for it!

Crystal Watson
1 month 1 week ago

Trump and his conservative Christian base have created the climate for this move by the Democrats with their efforts to create a Handmaid's Tale theocracy. The Dems are right to officially state their championing of all people in our pluralistic society, whatever their religion or lack thereof.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 month ago

Crystal
Predictable yet still amazing ....Never failing to blame anything and everything on Trump....including,no less, the affirmative statements by the DNC!

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

What's amazing is that any professed Christian would support Trump.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 month ago

Crystal
There is a world of difference between supporting Trump and supporting Trump’s policies which have benefited far more people than the policies in place before him. Your total inability to distinguish the difference between “the message and the messenger” is spotlighted by your comments.

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

Nope. His policies are just as horrible as Trump, the person, is. Tax cuts for the rich, roll backs of environmental protections, draconian immigration policies, trying to take away Obamacare from millions of people, making it harder to get Medicaid, trying to take LGBTQ people's rights away, kissing up to dictators and murderers like MBS and Pitin, his desire to make torture legal, stealing money from other government departments to build his insane wall, banning people from "sh*thole countries", his treatment of Puerto Rico, leaving the Paris Climate Agreement, etc, etc, etc.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 month ago

Crystal
You have a litany of Progressive shibboleths:
“Tax cuts for rich”: SEE NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE which is begrudgingly headlined: “ Face it You (probably) Got a Tax Cut”, April 14,2019......The You in the Article is not “the rich”
“Obamacare taken Away”: It’s still on the books in fact and it still does not work!
Individual penalty /mandate removed which benefited millions who could not afford Obamacare or the penalty

“Kiss up to Putin”: (a)Obama gave Ukraine support Against Putin Russian invasion of Ukraine consisting of ‘C rations’ and blankets/ Trump has provided all manner military defense equipment including anti tank missiles, and sanctioned some 20 Russians (friends of Putin) as individuals freezing their overseas bank Accts.
Obama did not object to Putin’s choke collar Russian gas line to Europe (Gaxpzorom Nord Stream2)/ Trump has threatened to cut back on support for Germany and more sanctions on Russia if they proceed since it would make Europe a Winter Heat Vassal Of Russia!!
Obama sucked up to China Dictator with no action against its seizure of offshore islands in China sea / Trump has confronted China on every front and is using the full economic might of the USA to contain China’s stated ambition to run the world in the next 20 years.

“Environmental retrenchment”: Obama entered into Paris Climate Agreement without Senate approval which effectively is/was a treaty which promised almost a trillion dollars to India and other 3rd world countries and deferred China compliance for 20 years and India’s for even longer.
Trump withdrew and yet the USA has cut its emissions: In 2017 alone the USA reduced its Co2 emissions by 40 million tons while the European Union increased its own Co2 emissions by 40 million tons; India up 90 million tons ; China up 120 million tons. Europe , China and India are still member of the Paris Climate Agreement ...you tell me who is living up to its purposes?
“Insane Wall” : Trump has not only proved The Wall works, he has convinced Mexico to provide almost 30,000 Mexican troops to cut the illegal influx from Central America; offer asylum In Mexico; and maintain asylum seekers at US border to stay in Mexico until their case is heard in the USA....no more “catch and release “

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