Wednesday, August 17, 2016

An Atheist's Perspective on Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton preaching at Foundry UMC in September 2015. AP Molly Riley Photo
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Luke 11:1-4

On a Blog site called “About Religion,” Austin Cline wrote a short summary of Hillary Clinton’s beliefs and practices

He writes from the perspective of an atheist.

For the most part, his description is straightforward. 

“Hillary Clinton grew up in a Methodist household,” he writes, “She taught Methodist Sunday school like her mother, is a member of a Senate prayer group, and regularly attends the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington.”

Cline notes that in spite of her obviously sincere beliefs, she has been regularly portrayed by the Christian right as being “godless.” Conservative radio host Michael Savage described her as the “most godless woman in the senate,” and accused her of talking about her religious convictions only when it was politically expedient.

According to Cline, Jerry Falwell went further than Savage, “by declaring that she would energize the Republican ‘base’ of conservative evangelicals even more than if Lucifer were running as the Democratic candidate for president.” 

And he makes the important observation that by demonizing Hillary Clinton, Falwell and his followers can transfer the responsibility for the hatred “from the people who hate Hillary Clinton so much onto Hillary herself - if she's demonic, then people have no sane choice but to hate her. Furthermore, this ensures that there is no reason to hold back in attacks on her: you negotiate and compromise with political equals, not with demons.”

In contrast to Falwell and Savage, Austin Cline is convinced that Clinton is sincere in her beliefs. Of course, since he approaches this from an atheist perspective, that is at best a mixed blessing.

“There is no evidence,” he writes, “that Hillary Clinton's religiosity is superficial or an affectation; her behavior is consistent with her professed beliefs and she has explained more than once how important faith is for herself personally and her family. She has also said that prayer - trying to communicate with a god - is important in her life.”

I cannot be certain of how Hillary Clinton approaches prayer, but I think I can say with absolute certainty that she does not think of it as “trying to communicate with a god.”

Instead of the simple statement that Hillary Clinton “has also said that prayer is important in her life,” he inserts his definition of prayer as “trying to communicate with a god.”

It could be that Mr. Cline is just trying to have a little fun twitting the occasional Christian who might read “About Atheism.” It’s not “communicating,” it’s “trying to communicate.” And it’s not God, it’s “a god.” 


But maybe he is sincere.

And if he is sincere then that reveals a much bigger problem: we are not even talking the same language.

When atheists and literalists debate, they may talk right past each other, but they are at least talking the same language. For both atheists and literalists, religious language is meant to be taken literally. But for Austin Cline, and for many other atheists, the symbolic nature of religious language is lost. When atheists converse with mainline Christians, they are not even using the same language. In our increasingly secular age, this is no small thing.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

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