Are atheists taking over the debate?
In the past weeks, Pope Francis gave an interview to an atheist journalist in Rome saying people should follow their consciences in terms of their beliefs. Two of the world’s best-known atheists, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker, met with receptive Capitol Hill staffers to discuss science education, evolution and creationism. And the Secular Coalition released the 2013 Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate Scorecard for next month’s general election.
Republican Ken Cuccinelli received an F, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe received an A.
Or put it this way: Since atheists have a hard time getting elected dogcatcher in this country, this should be bad news for McAuliffe — not Cuccinelli.
“Pretty proud of that F,” e-mailed Anna Nix from Cuccinelli’s office.
Not much reaction from McAuliffe’s staff. “It’s not something we really . . . ,” trailed off Josh Schwerin from McAuliffe’s office. He later e-mailed, “Declining to comment.”
Here are the questions the coalition used to come to its conclusions:
1. What role would religion play in the candidate’s decision making in his or her role as Governor of Virginia? Does the candidate support a mutual separation between religion and government?
According to the coalition, Cuccinelli supports churches that encourage their congregations to be more politically active over topics that may include same-sex marriage and abortion. Though a Catholic, McAuliffe keeps his religious views to himself.
2. Does the candidate
support a science-based curriculum in public schools and reject the use of public funding of religious schools or religiously based curriculums?
Cuccinelli has spoken out in favor of abstinence-only education and is a supporter of school vouchers. McAuliffe does not support school vouchers. He says he supports age-appropriate sex education.
3. Does the candidate support social policies that do not discriminate based on religion, such as marriage equality?
Cuccinelli has argued in support of anti-sodomy laws, not for consenting adults, but to protect the underage from predators. He has said that “same-sex acts are against nature and harmful to society.” McAuliffe supports same-sex marriage and has spoken out for reducing discrimination based on religion.
4. Does the candidate support scientific-based regulations including science surrounding reproduction, stem-cell research, climate change and other issues?
The coalition says that Cuccinelli wants to defund stem-cell research; does not want reproductive clinics to remain open in Virginia; is antiabortion, even the “morning after pill”; and does not support climate-change science. McAuliffe, according to the scorecard, supports reproductive rights and stem-cell research.
That’s a pretty clear choice, except in Virginia, which is really two states — the more liberal urban and suburban areas, including Northern Virginia, and the more conservative rural areas.
Meanwhile, before the government shutdown, Dawkins said in an interview: “There are 535 members of Congress, and all but one are devoutly religious. Does anyone really believe that?”
“They feel,” says Dawkins, “that they have to be religious” to get elected.
Dawkins hopes there will be a “tipping point” where politicians don’t have to proclaim their religious beliefs to get elected, and he thinks we are heading in that direction. He says that if people were honest about their beliefs, “politicians will get the message” and it “will be a better world.”
Far from American politics, but the pope was very clear in his interview with the Italian atheist about his views. “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us,” he said, “with the blood of Christ. All of us. Not just the Catholics. Everyone!”
“Father, the atheists?” his interviewer asked.
“Even the atheists,” said the pope.
On the coalition scorecard, McAuliffe goes to painstaking lengths to point out that he is a serious Catholic who goes to Mass regularly and attended Catholic University and Georgetown Law School.
Will that be enough in Virginia?