Protzmann is a sophomore philosophy major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
During the most recent Republican Presidential debate, a question was posed on the matter of religious faith and its relation to holding the highest political office in this country. When former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was given time to speak on the issue, one of his comments was “how can you have judgment if you don’t have faith, and how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?”
Sorry to burst your bubble, Gingrich, but political leadership without theism is what founded this country.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote in a letter to Peter Carr: “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.”
Jefferson was a consummate deist and opposed notions of prayer and fearful veneration of a cosmic sky wizard. Benjamin Franklin, too, wrote in the “Poor Richard’s Almanac” that “the way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason: The Morning Daylight appears plainer when you put out your Candle.”
As the greatest minds of their time responsible for founding our republic, these men did not stand by and let faith soil the gift of reason. Despite this, people like Gingrich insist on using faith as if it were the only legitimate method to govern a society. The Founding Fathers did not want to raise a nation of sheep but a nation of free individuals who used their natural gift of reason to the best of their abilities.
Not only does such theistic talk disregard our history, but it advocates the stance that atheists, agnostics and non-religious people should be barred from holding political office; it is a direct violation of Article VI of the United States Constitution: “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
For all its talk of protecting the Constitution, the right wing’s appeal to the religious population has grown out of hand.
There is a deeper challenge that Gingrich makes, however, and that is the notion that we somehow need faith and prayer to be a successful species. This is a notion that ignores reality. The world we live in today is not the product of a deity intervening to help us because we telepathically begged for help. The world is a product of the blood, sweat and tears of countless generations of human beings who have devoted themselves to building a better world through their own hands. When you see a skyscraper, an artistic masterpiece, a great monument, a paved road or a smile on someone’s face, you are not looking at the work of a god but the work of humanity. All happiness and suffering, all progress and failure, are products of our own doing.
When you ask how we can trust the judgment of someone without faith, you are asking if being resolved to act in the here and now is more beneficial than simply waiting for a god to save you. Knowing that all joy and sorrow and all contentment and poverty are products of human action does more to motivate one to act morally toward others than attributing such things to divine sources. The capacity for empathy, compassion and reason in our judgments is at its peak when we are fully aware of our true position in the universe and the power of good and evil that we, as mere human beings, have over each other. Good in this world will never happen of its own accord, but only when humanity, and humanity alone, sets out to create it.
Perhaps if our politicians did not believe in an afterlife, they would be more cautious about sending American soldiers to die in foreign lands. Maybe if our leaders did not believe that earth will be transformed into a paradise because a 2,000-year-old Hebrew came back to life, they might consider doing more to bring about paradise with their own actions. If you doubt the ability of those without faith, I would contend that it is those with the strongest faith that should be doubted. There is a reason why the greatest progress of human civilization has coincided with the decline in such types of faith. Appealing to dying modes of thought will only keep humanity anchored in the past, and it is highly irresponsible for political leaders in the 21st century to be the loudest individuals making those appeals.