Why pay dues to a club that wouldn’t have you as a member?

If you’re not a white, straight, theologically conservative Protestant, voting Republican means voting to empower people whose view of people like you is “tolerant” – at best.

So the conservative Republican (is there any other kind in Texas?) who is the current Speaker of the Texas House happens to be Jewish. And he’s being challenged by people who think the job ought to be held by a Christian conservative. Don’t worry, they’re not bigoted: after all, they love Jesus, and Jesus was Jewish. (No, really: I am not making this up.)

In my view, anyone who votes to put a member of today’s Palinized, tea-partied, Club-for-Growth-ruled, Chamber-of-Commerce-owned Republican party in the U.S. Senate or House is a brick shy of a load in either the brains department or the morals department. But anyone who isn’t a straight, white, theologically conservative Christian and still votes Republican has to be deficient in self-respect as well.

Groucho Marx famously remarked that he wouldn’t want to join any club that would have him as a member. If he’d found a club that wouldn’t have him as a member and paid his dues anyway, that would have prepared him for being a gay or black or brown or Jewish or Muslim or atheist – or even maintstream Protestant – Republican voter. Bigotry is in the party’s bones.

Footnote A generation ago, I would have included Catholics on the list of sucker-Republicans, but that’s no longer the case. The Republicans of 1960 were as happy to traffic in anti-Catholicism as today’s Republicans are to traffic in racism, but they’ve mostly put that particular brand of bigotry behind them. (Of course, the Golden Rule might still counsel against joining the Party of Bigotry merely because your particular group has now been deemed “real Americans,” but I’d call that a deficiency in morals rather than a lack of self-respect.)

It’s among the ironies of history that His (genuine) Holiness, Pop John XXIII, made today’s right-wing Christian political coalition possible by relaxing the traditional Catholic position that Protestantism was simply heresy and all Protestants bound for Hellfire. Doing so made Catholicism less scary to Protestants (and others). That made it possible for the political leadership of fundamentalist Protestantism to largely – though not yet completely – abandon the traditional fundamentalist Protestant view that the Church of Rome is the Whore of Babylon and that Catholics aren’t really Christians, any more than Mormons or Unitarians are.

(In this case, by “traditional” I really mean traditional. Both sides of the Reformation struggle regarded their differences as basic, and their opponents as something other than true Christians. The Wars of Religion seem incomprehensible today because we see Catholicism and Protestantism as different flavors of the same religion. That wasn’t the view of Martin Luther or John Calvin, or of the Council of Trent or Ignatius Loyola.)

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

33 thoughts on “Why pay dues to a club that wouldn’t have you as a member?”

  1. Ok, you've effectively established that Republican religious bigots aren't a null set. (Though as religious bigots go, this dude is pretty weak stuff…) Thanks for proving something nobody in their right mind doubts of any political party with more than a dozen members…

    Now maybe you can tackle the difference between a "party", and one member of a party.

  2. On the coasts, it may seem like anti-Catholic bigotry is a relic of the past, but here in the Midwest, it is alive and well. I have been told in so many words that I have to choose between being a Catholic and being a Christian by Republicans. In this year's election, one of the candidates for the state legislature, who had been a member of my parish, joined a local "big box" bible church so that he could run as as Christian in the Republican primary.

  3. I have to say that I grew up in Michigan, and while an atheist, I was fairly quiet about it, (Generally good advice for atheists in this culture.) and my family were Catholics. Can't say I ever noticed the least bit of bigotry against us. Maybe it was just the fish not noticing the water, but I don't think so.

  4. Brett, that is one of the benefits of being an atheist – you don't have any wacky rituals or buildings to enshrine your beliefs. But just try running for office!

  5. Brent,

    In this case the person being quoted isn't some random Republican voter encountered in the parking lot of the Dairy Barn in Wichita Falls, but in fact a prominent leader of the state Republican Party.

    As to the broader point, I have no particular love for so-called Christian conservatives, but in this case it's as much a political marker as a religious test. It's not that they'll support only conservative evangelicals for political office; it's just that they want candidates who'll think and act and especially vote the way conservative evangelicals want them to. I'm not a close student of Texas politics, but Straus is a well-known moderate (by Texas standards) who was elected speaker two years ago by the Democrats plus a handful of GOP defectors from the previous speaker. In essence, that makes him the Democrats' choice for speaker even though it's an overwhelmingly Republican body.

    As for so-called Christian conservatives who are too thick in the head to understand how their words sound to anyone else and especially atheist Jews (like me, btw) — well, personally they usually turn out to be dandy people, politics notwithstanding. They're just really, really, really hung up on abortion.

  6. ah yes, tis the season. This is the time of year where we see especially clearly the thinly-veiled anti-Christian bigotry coming from the left (especially those of the so-called "new atheist" breed). Democrats will accept anyone (except of course those evil fundamentalist Christians) in their ranks, only to whore them out for a vote. So why pay dues to a club that wants to use you like a $20 hooker under the pretense that they actually give a crap about you?

    And Bruce, please explain to me again what an atheist Jew is? Do you believe in God or don't you? Are you Jewish by culture but atheist by believe in a deity? If the Jewish part is just cultural, can you really separate God from Jewish culture? This has always really really puzzled me. I just don't get it. If I was born into a Hindu tradition but became atheistic in my view of whether there is a god, I wouldn't call myself an atheist Hindu. At least I don't see many people going around calling themselves atheist Hindus or atheist Baptists or atheist Muslims or atheist Catholics. I fully accept that I may simply be ignorant on the history and explanation of this label of atheist Jew, so please educate me.

  7. Bux,

    Yours is a profound question, on which whole books have been written. But the short answer is yes — reared in the tribe, but not an adherent of the traditional theology.

    That said, this issue indeed involves some degree of (low-grade, IMHO) bigotry — but it sure as heck ain't coming from the people who complain when others say only adherents of the right religion should hold high office.

  8. Mark, we've established that,

    1. There's a widespread campaign to get rid of Straus.

    2. There are entirely secular reasons for Republican conservatives to want to be rid of Straus. Who is the Democrats' pick for speaker, though the chamber is majority Republican.

    3. That one, however pivotal, member of the group trying to get rid of Straus has religious motives in addition to secular motives for wanting to be rid of him.

    Now, how does the above indict even the entire movement to get rid of Straus, let along the entire party that movement is within?

  9. Bux,

    Allow me, as another atheist Jew, to add to Bruce's explanation. Being Jewish, unlike being Hindu, Baptist, Muslim, or Catholic, is an ethnic as well as a religious identity. If someone asks me my ethnic background, I don't say "Russian" or "Eastern European," even though that is from where my grandparents emigrated. I say "Jewish." But I have wholly rejected any identification with Judaism as a religion.

  10. On the other hand, if you're a Jewish Democrat, you're in a club that includes people who equate Zionism with Nazism. Politics makes strange bedfellows either way.

  11. Brett, the party faction in question, which is increasingly its dominant faction, doesn't or can't reliably distinguish what you call its "secular reasons" for wanting to unseat the Speaker from the fact that he isn't a "Christian." They question the whole distinction between secular and religious concerns. There's really no point in denying that, for the most part, this is way the base of the Texas Republican Party thinks.

  12. The rightmost faction of the Texas Republican party is indeed well outside of the mainstream of US politics. Just as the leftmost faction of the California Democratic party is well outside of the mainstream of US politcs. Given that now and for the near future the Republican and Democratic parties are the only viable choices for elected office in the US, neither fact tells us anything especially useful about who we should vote for.

  13. sr, sd (are those different, or a typo?), I'm sure that the Democratic party includes some truly reprehensible people. But please name some significant Democratic politicians who "equate Zionism with Naziism" or point out fringe California Democrats who have any influence in their advocacy for the inexcusable – or, if you cannot, please stop concocting such artificial balance. The example raised in this post isn't some lone loudmouth who pays their membership dues nor an isolated backbencher despised (when they're not ignored) even by their own party (think Cynthia McKinney as an example of the latter).

    Bux, your ignorance on matters Jewish and on matters Atheistic has been repeatedly demonstrated; your ignorance on their confluence could therefore be predicted.

  14. Warren Terra, give me one example of where I've demonstrated ignorance on matters atheistic? Follow your own advice in your paragraph right above and point me to something specific. Your problem is that you conflate not liking what I have to say with thinking that I lack information on what I have to say. I have already admitted that I am ignorant on the history of the atheist Jew label. I think I know a thing or two about each individually though. But instead of contributing anything meaningful to the discussion, you want to call me ignorant. Thanks for nothing. At least Bruce and Henry explained the label without resorting to the ad hominems.

  15. Mar wrote:

    "It’s among the ironies of history that His (genuine) Holiness, Pop John XXIII, made today’s right-wing Christian political coalition possible by relaxing the traditional Catholic position that Protestantism was simply heresy and all Protestants bound for Hellfire. Doing so made Catholicism less scary to Protestants (and others). That made it possible for the political leadership of fundamentalist Protestantism to largely – though not yet completely – abandon the traditional fundamentalist Protestant view that the Church of Rome is the Whore of Babylon and that Catholics aren’t really Christians, any more than Mormons or Unitarians are."

    Its remarkable how much ignorance this statement betrays of:

    1) The life, actions and theological beliefs of Pope John XXIII

    2) The life, actions and theological beliefs of Pope Paul VI (who was pope for most of the Second Vatican Council, and was much more instrumental in drafting the Council documents than Pope John XXIII, who passed away relatively early in the Council process)

    3) The teachings of the Catholic Church on the nature of Protestant bodies and the eternal fate of individual Protestants prior to the Second Vatican Council

    4) The teachings of the Catholic Church on the nature of Protestant bodies and the eternal fate of individual Protestants after the Second Vatican Council (hint – no different in substance from #3, but explained in different language which cleared up a number of points of confusion)

    5) The course of the 20th century ecumenical movement and the cultural factors that drove a tremendous thawing of relations between Catholics and Protestants worldwide but in the US especially (hint – much more about the experience of shared service and sacrifice in WWII than anyone's dense theological documents).

    Mark – almost every time you write about matters Catholic you reveal the fact that you don't know what the hell you are talking about. You seem to have a Newsweek level of insight in Catholicism, which is to say not much insight at all.

  16. Bux, you have repeatedly, and sometimes at great length, asserted that moral authority can only come from a deity, and therefore that Atheists are at best amoral, at worst immoral. I'm not inclined to go Googling for these exchanges; they've happened enough times that I hardly think you'd deny them.

  17. Woah, hold up Warren. I have indeed asserted that moral authority in the objective sense can only come from a supreme deity. I'm still waiting for a logical response to that assertion. But I have NEVER asserted that because objective moral authority has to come from a supreme being that this then means that atheists are amoral or immoral. You have demonstrated not only your ignorance of my worldview, but also a misreading of my previous comments, by confusing what I have asserted about moral authority. I don't believe that atheists are amoral. What I have said is that I believe atheists live on borrowed capital from a theistic worldview of morality. And as far as immorality, I believe we all (atheists, theists, or whatever) are at our core immoral beings. We are born bad. Ever heard of the concept of original sin, the stain of Adam and Eve that has permanently marred all of mankind without exception? Again, you are reflecting more or your ignorance in what I've asserted rather than demonstrating that I'm ignorant of the atheist worldview. Be very careful to reflect accurately what I assert if you're gonna go around calling me ignorant.

  18. It's true enough that the Church's thaw toward Protestants involved more than John XXIII's pontificate. (A decade earlier, Fr Leonard Feeney, one of the best-known American Catholic figures of his generation, was excommunicated in part for rebelling against liberalizing interpretations of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. A few decades earlier, he would've felt no need to rebel. In my lifetime, he still spent his Sundays in Boston Common yelling at Protestant passersby that they were going to Hell.) But it's perfectly ordinary to associate it with John XXII; his arch-traditionalist critics certainly do.

    sd, would you say Kleiman is culpably ignorant from the point of view of Church doctrine on his eternal prospects?

  19. I find it disingeuous of the Catholic church to say on the one hand in Vatican II that Protestants are simply "separated brethern" but on the other hand make no statement that would reverse the theological grounds for which the traditional interpretation of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus is based. So theologically, if I were a Catholic and I understood the official theological teachings of my church on salvation and I wanted to be consistent, I would have to still maintain that Protestants are hell-bound. Ironically, just today I had two visitors show up to my doorstep from the local Parish, looking to check in with my non-practicing Catholic wife. Being that my wife was under the weather, I played interference and talked briefly with the two gentlemen, who expressed their disappointment on finding out that I am a Protestant and also expresed their hopes that I would convert. My wife regularly gets mail from her church under her maiden name, since the Catholic church does not recognize our marriage. I'd rather have someone tell me I'm going to hell to my face than to couch it in politically correct jargon.

  20. Wadden Tedda, it's true that influential Democrats, possibly excluding the black caucus, as you point out, don't go around saying anything that inflammatory about Israel. On the other hand, lots of rank and file leftists do. What they lack in DNC connections, they make up in numbers. I can't name a Democratic politician of the caliber of this Texas Republican I've never heard of who draws the Zionazi connection, but I doubt you can find as many Republicans carrying signs that say Jews shouldn't have positions of power in the Republican Party as you can find pictures of liberals carrying Israel=Hitler signs here: http://www.adl.org/Israel/anti_israel/anti_israel

    Maybe 25-50% of those people are Palestinians or Arabs, but the rest appear to be white liberals (I wouldn't be surprised a few of them are even Jewish Chomskyites themselves). They sure as hell aren't Texas Republicans. Neither are the people at Harvard and Berkeley (among others) who are trying to get their institutions to disinvest in Israel. Maybe the people in these pictures are marginal or extremists, but you can look at a mainstream Democratic website and see that they're not too fond of Israel (example: here's a diary at Daily Kos calling for disinvestment in Apartheid Israel. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/3/18/133333/00… It received 44 "likes" and only 3 downvotes). This is hardly surprising, because supporting an apartheid ethnostate is extremely unprincipled from a liberal point of view, but conservatives don't really give a crap about the human rights of Palestinians.

    I still say Jews have strange bedfellows either way, even if not by the gerrymandered criteria you suggest.

  21. K said:

    "But it’s perfectly ordinary to associate it with John XXII; his arch-traditionalist critics certainly do."

    That's just bad logic. Its perfectly possible for extremely conservative and extremely liberal opinions on a matter to both be wrong because they both assume the same (mistaken) facts. John XXIII was certainly an important figure in the development of Catholic thinking and rhetoric in the 20th century, but Paul VI arguably had a far greater direct influence on the Council and the its implications, and a host of prominent Catholic thinkers (Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Karl Adam, Karl Rahner, et. al.) had been laying the groundwork for the Council for decades before it was opened.

    The Council didn't change Church teaching on Protestants one bit. It did couch that teaching in new language, and stressed different aspects of the dogma. And these differences in rhetoric and tone do indeed lead to different apporaches to ecumenical dialog. But the same opinions fall inside and outside of the boundaries of Church doctrine before and after the Council.

  22. No doubt John XXIII was not the sole mover in the movement I associate with his name. But the irony stands: by easing up on Protestants, theologically and politically liberal Catholics enabled a coalition between theologically and politically conservative Catholics and Protestants that would otherwise have been impossible.

    As to Bux's question, I'm with Bruce and Henry: a member of the tribe but not a worshipper of the tribal god. I can get more specific: not only am I a Jewish atheist, I'm an Orthodox Jewish atheist, since the schul my parents never went to, but to whose Hebrew school they sent me, was definitely an Orthodox schul. In that way, Judaism is like Hinduism: it's an ethnic identity and a set of religious practices. (Note that "Catholic" in the U.S. or the U.K, or "Protestant" in France, can also name an ethnicity.)

    But Judaism is more complex, in that it is a religion of practice rather than one of belief. One can be a perfectly observant Jew without "believing in God" in the Christian sense of that phrase. Since Judaism doesn't have a doctrine of justification or of an afterlife, the question of what is "necessary to salvation" simply doesn't arise.

    My disbelief and lack of interest in Jewish practice don't keep me from being an enthusiastic participant in the Jacob Hirshleifer UCLA faculty Tanakh study group, which shows that my parents' decision to send me to Hebrew school so I could disbelieve on the basis of some amount of knowledge wasn't completely ill-judged.

  23. I have indeed asserted that moral authority in the objective sense can only come from a supreme deity. I’m still waiting for a logical response to that assertion.

    OK. You claim moral authority can derive only from a supreme being, belief in whom is a completely arbitrary decision. Then why can't moral authority also derive from a completely arbitrary belief in certain moral principles? It can.

    You argue that:

    You have an arbitrary belief in proposition p.

    Proposition q follow logically from p.

    Therefore it is logical to believe q.

    But it makes just as much sense to have an arbitrary belief in q to begin with.

    In other words, an atheist who says, "I just think murder is wrong, for no logical reason," is logically on as firm a ground as a believer who says, "I think murder is wrong, because the supreme being I believe in, for no logical reason, says so.

  24. I am an atheist, and I think murder is wrong, and I have a logical reason for that belief. My reason is that sentient beings, including me, seek to remain alive, and remaining alive is a prerequisite for fulfilling all one's other desires. It is to my advantage, therefore, in ordinary circumstances, not to murder anyone, because, if murder becomes commonplace, then my life will less safe. (Apart from my self-interest, I think it wrong to kill people or animals without an overriding justification, but I will not argue that point here.) Now, you may see logical flaws in my reasoning, and, if you do, we can argue about it. But the point is that we can argue about morality on the basis of logical reasoning; we don't merely arbitrarily assert our conclusions.

    Some religious believers think that they may merely assert their conclusions, because they find a passage in scripture that supports their conclusions and then attribute their conclusions a supernatural being.

  25. Henry,

    I did not mean to suggest that atheists lack logical reasons for their moral beliefs. That is not my opinion.

    Rather, I was pointing out that even if such reasons were lacking, atheists' moral beliefs are no less logical than those of believers who derive their moral beliefs from faith in a supreme being or fear of punishment in some afterlife.

    Sorry I wasn't clear.

  26. Bernard, you couldn't be more wrong that my belief in a supreme being is a "completely arbitrary decision". In fact it is a rational assessment of the evidence and of the logical arguments for the existence of god that brings me to the conclusion that a supreme being does in fact exist. How do you even come to the conclusion that this is an arbitrary decision for me? But I think the real confusion comes from the key word in what I am asserting which is the word "objective". I am saying that morality in an objective sense has to come from something external to the natural order, and I see no other basis for that in an objective sense other than what people refer to as "god", however defined. I am saying that there has to be an objective reference point that starts with a god if we are going to talk about moral absolutes. Otherwise it comes down to subjectivity in the end. Every law requires a law-giver, no? Actually the proposition that I am giving is premise # 1 in the traditional moral argument for the existence of god, which states as follows:

    Premise 1: If god does not exist then objective moral values do not exist

    Premise 2: Objective moral values do exist

    Conclusion: Therefore god exists

    This is a perfectly logically sound argument, regardless of the evidence for the veracity of the premises. Remember, there are 3 conditions for a good argument: 1)it must be logically valid in that the conclusion logically falls from the premises (i.e., no logical fallacy, 2) it must have true premises, and 3) the premises must be more plausible than their negations (i.e., the premises must be plausibly true). So the moral argument for the existence of god certainly meets the first test in that it is logically valid. This brings us to a debate over the veracity over the two premises. While the premises cannot be strictly proven true (but then again very little can be "proven" in a strict mathematical sense; most everything comes down to assessments of probability), it seems to me that it is perfectly reasonable that these premises are more plausible than their negations. I simply have not heard any halfway plausible argument for how OBJECTIVE moral values exist outside of god. I understand how values exist outside of god, but not in an objective sense. Again, "objective" being the operant word. If morals are to be objective, they have to come from something outside of your or my interpretation as being the subjects of moral behavior. You may not want to call it god, but it has to start looking like god when you describe it.

  27. Bux,

    How do I come to the conclusion that your belief is arbitrary? Well, you provide neither evidence nor logic to support it. Certainly your syllogism is valid, as it would be if we substituted "purple unicorns" for "god." But you slip up a bit when you write "..it seems to me that it is perfectly reasonable that these premises are more plausible than their negations." This is as good as a confession that your belief is an arbitrary decision.

    Besides, for your argument to work, there must be agreement on the wishes and commands of this supreme being. Are you a Christian? Then presumably you have no moral objection to eating pork, as orthodox Jews and Muslims do. In your world, what should the individual seeking to follow objectively moral principles order in a Chinese restaurant if there is no way to tell what foods the supreme being proscribes? The examples multiply, of course, so not only must logic and evidence show the existence of a supreme being but must pick the right one, and further demonstrate the accuracy of human interpretation of divine will. That all this can be done in a sensible, non-arbitrary way is not remotely plausible to me. In fact, certainty about divine will strikes me as sacrilege.

    Maybe I don't understand what you mean by "objective," or by saying that objective morality must come from something "external to the natural order." Why can't it come from our brains? That is, why can't we figure it out, as we figure out many other problems. I'd argue that, from a moral perspective, we are required to do so. Surely that's a more sensible approach for the would-be moral individual than trying to puzzle out which of competing ancient texts, if any, is the truth.

  28. sd, I was raised Catholic and went to Mass weekly along with weekly CCD that lasted well beyond Confirmation. Mark is dead-on, as you'd know if you were at all educated regarding the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent, etc. Remember that Luther and Calvin were excommuncated–the Church essentially said that they weren't Christians anymore. For about 200 years after that, Protestants and Catholics engaged in holy wars against each other. The Virginia colonial charter banned "popish recusants." Catholic kings burned Protestants at the stake. These are reprehensible evils, but they happened, and it's dishonest to pretend relationships between Carholics and Protestants have always been as they are now.

    Rather than trying to whitewash history, we should be grateful that progress has been made.

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