Q&A with ‘Nonbeliever Nation’ author David Niose

David Niose is president of the American Humanist Association and vice president of the Secular Coalition for America, a group … Continued

David Niose is president of the American Humanist Association and vice president of the Secular Coalition for America, a group that lobbies on behalf of nontheist and secular Americans. In his new book, “Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans,” he charts the development and growth of the religious right and what he sees as the increasingly organized response from Americans who are committed to the separation of church and state.

Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You write about the 1912 presidential election as one in which all four candidates were sympathetic to evolution, science and religious skepticism. Today, a presidential candidate favors evolution at his or her peril. What’s changed?

A: What has changed is the environment of politics, particularly the level of political discourse. Thanks to the rise of the religious right, many candidates today actually emphasize their anti-intellectualism as a selling point to voters. Conservative Christians have always been part of the voter pool, of course, but only in recent decades have they been organizing and flexing their muscle as a voting bloc. Many candidates get mileage by pandering to conservative religion, by openly rejecting science and emphasizing their biblical literalist views.

Q: You write the election of President George W. Bush in 2000 was “the best thing that ever happened for organized secularism in America.” Can you explain that?

A: Up to that point, many seculars thought that the religious right was just a passing phase, that surely fundamentalist Christianity would not remain a potent political force for very long. When Bush entered the White House, however, millions of Americans were shocked to see a proud anti-intellectual leading the free world and holding regular policy meetings with fundamentalist leaders.

At that point, many good Americans who happened to be personally secular — atheists, agnostics, humanists, or just plain nonreligious — started seeing their secularity as something that distinguished them from the anti-intellectual forces that had risen to power. As a result, organized secular groups began seeing an influx of new members and an increase in activity.

Q: You describe the “War on Christmas” as manufactured by the religious right to illustrate their belief that Christianity is “under attack.” Yet many people feel the annual Christmas complaints from nontheists are similarly manufactured to show a sense of persecution. Can you make an argument that the annual battles over public religious expressions during the December holidays is “good” for the secular community?

A: First of all, I think “persecuted” is a very strong word, and I don’t know many seculars who describe themselves that way. Marginalized, ignored, and perhaps misunderstood, but not persecuted.

That point aside, if atheists and humanists make legitimate complaints about church-state violations, it seems rather cynical to suggest that those legitimate complaints are “manufactured.” Government should not be in the business of promoting religion — period. Also, keep in mind that the so-called “War on Christmas” often involves no actions at all from the secular community. The religious right will complain if a store says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” It’s hard to blame the secular community for such silliness.

Q: The Secular Coalition for America puts out an annual report card grading politicians in terms of how friendly they are to secularism. What grade would you give President Obama? What grade would you give Gov. Romney?

A: Obama has many faults, and it is especially noteworthy that he has not only continued funding faith-based charities, but he’s even broken his 2008 campaign promise to stop employment discrimination by religious groups receiving federal money. That said, it is noteworthy that he has on several occasions publicly acknowledged nonbelievers, and this validation, together with his administration conducting the first-ever policy briefing with secular groups in 2010, has won him points with many seculars.

Romney is a bit of a mystery. On one hand, he doesn’t exactly wrap himself in religion, but he is certainly willing to pander to the Christian fundamentalists who exert so much power in his party. His 2007 speech about his faith, for example, was filled with rhetoric that can be seen as a capitulation to the religious right. One can only speculate about the degree to which his policies and his judicial picks might reflect an attempt to appease religious fundamentalists.

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

  • Joseph Jeanes

    I was purged from Americas public and private record for believing in Jesus Christ. The American Cross was paid to watch. It has no will in God. The Church of America is rented to any nation – they take principle, they have none. They are men forgiving men. There is no God of Jesus in America that a person in Hell could not buy. Any one in Hell can be an American, there is no justice but fall on time. The US is a God hating nation and it does it with a church.

  • larryclyons

    As Sinclair Lewis said,

    When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.

    Sounds like the current Republican party to me.

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    I found Niose’s book to be incredibly informative and I am very happy to have him be a voice for secularists. Although he is a humanist he understands that a secular nation is neutral on religion. The religious-right want a Christian nation, and we cannot allow them to change the 1st Amendment. Freedom of expression means all voices are heard.

Read More Articles

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.