It is fascinating to see how cautiously the candidates are approaching this issue in the run-up to November’s election. Everybody apparently thinks — probably rightly — that this is a race to be lost by a single fatal misstep, not won by a bold stroke. So nobody is going to come out in favor of secular values or visions, and secularists, like me, are not so foolish as to try to goad any candidate into acknowledging their sympathy for a secular world view if that could cost them the election. Of course, this tradition of mealy-mouthed lip service is something we should try to discredit and dismantle as soon as possible. But not sooner!
We are stuck, for the time being, with what I have called an engine of hypocrisy. Only when people who are not running for office and hence have nothing to lose in this regard have spoken candidly, and for some time, about the preposterousness of the avowals that are now obligatory for all candidates for higher office, can we hope to see candidates dare to follow suit. Those of us who can afford to do so should risk offending all for whom taking offense is a habit and a fine defense against having to think. Bearing this in mind, we secular humanists should speak out early and often, not angrily but matter-of-factly, making it clear that we aren’t in the least bit impressed by the avowals of devotion on the part of ANY candidate, but we recognize their need to make those avowals.
The times will change. We can look forward to seeing candidates elected to high public office in the United States — as they already are in every civilized nation of Europe and many others as well — without having to mouth any religious formulae at all. The fact is that Americans have already become disillusioned by a President who says God tells him what to do, and would gladly trade him in for somebody who listens carefully to earthly advisers who are well-informed and rational.
Like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” our temporary and gingerly acquiescence in obligatory mouthings is NOT a policy with long-term stability, but we should try to live through it patiently to get to a better world. I don’t want my candidates to lie, but I also don’t want them to lose.
Image via Vox Efx.