New Thread: What are “Secular Humanist Politics”?

“..a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them free to otherwise to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.  This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”

Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801


There’s no debate about what “religious politics” looks like.  We know that all over the world, religion insinuates itself into the political process, to the greatest extent possible.  It takes over entire societies.  9/11 happened because Osama loathed the Saudi regime and the infidels it allowed on their stupid holy soil, i.e., Americans.

Unbeliever’s politics

But what of unbelievers?  We are 1/6 of the population, surely a significant voting bloc – if we agreed on what politics we would support.   But I don’t know of any such agreement.

I would think that any combination of religion and politics is possible, since both decisions are emotionally made and later rationalized. But given all that, let’s speculate on what political system we would want as skeptics/atheists/secular humanists.

Secular Humanists favor total separation of church and state. 

But what else do they have in common politically? 

Jew = liberal

It’s hard, for instance, for me to believe that some left-liberals are overt atheists (they may keep their atheism quiet, just to blend in and get ahead). 

Among Jews, the mainstream in America are indeed liberal on everything but Israel.  They go along with religion, some making only an ostentatious appearance at the High Holidays, and they go along with conventional politics-as-is.  Some, like Detroit philanthropist Max Fisher, are even Republican.  But they are all go-along, unquestioning, establishmentarian types.

Political philosophy for atheists

The political philosophy that would most appeal to secular humanists would be that which fulfills humanistic goals and values.   That disqualifies both conservatives and liberals, both of whom want to use government (for whatever reason – carrying on wars, doling out farm subsidies) to make your life better.

Ha, ha, just kidding,  They want to use government to enrich themselves  and their fellow cronies and campaign contributors and indulge their “will to power” (Nietzsche).  That’s the kind of busybody, control-freak temperament that politics attracts.

Politics and humanist values

As for humanist values: what system of government best advances human freedom, dignity, and well-being?

Well, folks, believe it or not, it’s the one we were supposed to have, right here in the US of A, as described in the US Constitution.  Not a government that solves every problem and wastes trillions on foreign wars.  A government that does a few things well, as enumerated in the Constitution, and that’s it.  For dire needs, there is the amendment process.

Not deifying the Constitution

Please don’t accuse me of deifying the Constitution.  It has its flaws.  It didn’t give women equal rights.  It allowed slavery to continue.

It has other problems that bedevil us to this day, notably the 2nd Amendment, which, properly interpreted here in New Hampshire, makes firearm ownership a basic right of humanity, right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  But the wording is disturbingly vague, and the Amendment was crafted in a time when the government had the same armaments as the populace, which is most certainly not the case today. 

Yes, as I have heard many times, we might and could rewrite the Constitution,.  But why bother?  We haven’t really tried the one we have.

Infinite number of Constitutions

Any Constitution must and should still be an enumeration of the government’s powers, nothing more.  We actually have one of an infinite number of Constitutions which would accomplish the same thing: limited government, enumerated powers, protection of life and liberty, checks and balances.

So yeah, let’s just go with the plan we have.  It was a brilliant stroke: after millennia of despotism by kings, dukes, Popes, czars, pharaohs, and every manner of was the radical presupposition that people could choose their own leaders, that government existed by the consent of the governed.

That’s right: don’t dismantle the Constitution until you TRY the one we actually have. 

Return to Constitutional government

A return to Constitutional government means eliminating all unconstitutional functions of government, either by phasing out (farm subsidies) or privatizing (National Weather Service).  And it could be done with minimal pain, e.g., with generous buyouts for government workers no longer needed.

A government that protects the citizens’ rights, doesn’t wreck the economy with war and debt, and does a few other things well is what was envisioned by the Founders. 

And no, I don’t deify them, either.  Jefferson, to take just one example, was far from perfect, though brilliant.  (Yes, I know about Sally Hemmings and the Louisiana Purchase.) 

Low expectations

My greatness bar isn’t excessively high: most people are such screwups (including rulers) that I require only that my heroes get SOMETHING important right.

So to me, secular humanism translates into a libertarian political system, of the kind described by the Constitution.

There actually is a political party, the Libertarian Party, which any atheist should check out – if you agree with my contention that the kind of government that is most compatible with humanistic values is the libertarian one.

Too much freedom?

Maybe the Founders and today’s libertarians aim too high.  Maybe, as a sharp lawyer friend once pointed out during one of our many political discussions, Americans don’t want the amount of freedom the Constitution allows. They want to be taken care of by the government.  They just want to be one big happy Sweden. 

Never gonna happen.

We’re broke already. Just take a look at the National Debt Clock website, and watch the numbers fly – up.  But the lawyer may be right, as evidenced by the growth of government in the last 75 years.

Minimal government doesn’t necessarily mean unfettered free markets.  That probably is more freedom than people can handle.  Unfortunately, we need close regulation here, because as Madison said, men are not angels, and there’s too much room for manipulation by smart people.

But please check out the Libertarian Party and see if it doesn’t represent the values you agree with as a secular humanist. As I said, it’s hard for me to imagine how atheists can be hard-core liberals or conservatives, but I’m sure there are examples out there, and I may hear from them.

A third President Johnson?

This year’s Libertarian candidate is the best ever: former N.M. Governor Gary Johnson.  Yes!  Nice WASP name, Presidential candidate’s good looks.  And, unlike many former Libertarian candidates,  he has actually held a position from which people often run for President: State Governor.  

I don’t know what kind of crisis – maybe government bankruptcy -- it’s going to take before the Libertarian position starts making sense.  Many of the country’s problems, most especially its skyrocketing debt, are the result of too much government. 

Mind you, I’m not an anarchist: we need some government, just not nearly as much as we have.

I will do what I can to get Gov. Johnson elected.  The media will ignore him, which just shows what government brown-nosers they are.  How can they ignore a State Governor?

Simple proposition

My position as a libertarian is grounded on a simple proposition: If I don’t trust God, whom I don‘t see, how can I trust politicians, whom I CAN see? 





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Comment by James Yount on August 19, 2012 at 7:36pm

I was a religious conservative.  Then I became an atheist and had to reexamine everything.  Now I'm a mixed bag.  I still want small government, something the right always promises but never delivers.  I love equality, ie I'm for gay marriage and all that, but I think political correctness has gone overboard.  I wish a lot of good attributes from the 50's would come back, including the respect for authority and elders.  I despise abortion but don't think I have a right to legislate morality.  I want religion as far away from schools and government as possible.  I have a serious problem with illegal immigration and think that needs to be addressed.  I agreed with Hitchens on Iraq and Afghanistan because I believe that Islamists should be fought. I think we need to put A LOT more money into developing technology and space programs.  I can't stress enough that I can't stand a robin hood state.  I'm not entitled to a portion of someone else's success.



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