The Raving Theist

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March 14, 2009 | 19 Comments

UPDATE: Paul Fidalgo responds in the comments (Comment No. 1).

Revisiting Elizabeth Dole’s use of the Godless ad against Kay Hagan in last year’s North Carolina Senatorial contest, Paul Fidalgo of the DC Secularism Examiner bemoans how atheists became “mere chum in the water” for both sides. Dole’s campaign attacked Hagan for attending a fundraiser by The Godless Americans PAC, implying “that mere association with nonbelievers was sufficient to disqualify a person from holding public office.” Hagan responded by reaffirming her (alleged) Christian faith and declaring “I certainly don’t support anything they [the PAC] stand for.” Fidalgo is particularly incensed at Dole campaign manager Marty Ryall’s recently-expressed defense of the tactic. Instead of apologizing for “the demonization of a law-abiding, already-marginalized group of Americans” or “hanging one’s political career on hate toward a minority group,” Ryall expressed regret that the ad backfired. Specifically, he was upset that people thought the Dole campaign was trying to confuse them into thinking that the voice at the end of the ad which declared “There is no God” belonged to Hagan, when in fact it was the PAC’s leader (and former American Atheists President) Ellen Johnson.

Fidalgo’s attempt to play the victim card doesn’t work well in this case. Dole was attacking Hagan’s association not with atheists generally, but with a specific atheist advocacy organization composed of the sort of nonbelievers who have made a career of equating religion with stupidity, delusion, brainwashing and child abuse. Johnson herself had had recently compared religion to cancer and pollution. With this context, Fidalgo’s suggestion that Hagan should have simply replied that “there is nothing wrong with having friends and supporters who do not share her religious beliefs” is disingenuous. Hagan was taking money from people who were openly contemptuous of her (alleged) Christianity, and whose agenda was to demonize and marginalize it.


19 Responses to “Chum”

  1. Paul Fidalgo
    March 14th, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

    Thanks for discussing my column. I appreciate the discourse.

    Even if I were to grant the unflattering portrait you paint of the folks Hagan with whom Hagan was mingling (I don’t necessarily, with some reservations for many atheists’ unfortunate mean streak), that is not the meat of Dole’s attack, and I’m sure you know that to be true. I have little doubt that you know very well that the intent of the attack was to tie Hagan to atheists themselves. Yes, a Dole ad included some of the less popular legislative and legal efforts of some atheist groups, but that was merely dressing to get people even more angry than they already were. The real point was to tie Hagan to atheists in general, more than implying that atheists, yes, were unfit for association. Surely, even if you do not share their lack of theology, do not believe atheists do not deserve to be treated as de facto noncitizens or criminals.

  2. Geoffrey
    March 15th, 2009 @ 10:31 am

    Oh, so Kay Hagan is this kind of politician?

    Gotcha. Okay dokay. Makes sense now.

    By the way, when are you going to begin explaining your conversion to Christianity? Even I’m starting to think you’re evading. After all, is it not your responsibility to give a reason for the hope that is in you?

    Don’t get me wrong. I dig the humor and snarkiness of your posts. But it’s getting old. You need to come clean and start confessing a more objective, reasoned, structured defense of your newfound beliefs.

  3. Richard Norris
    March 15th, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

    I can’t even tell you how many pro-life protestant organizations there are that work hand in hand with Catholics and their Church to craft anti-choice legislation but then go to their churches and prayer meetings and denounce the Roman Catholic Church as the whore of Babylon. How often do we see religious groups involved in this sort of political expediency? All of the time.

  4. lily
    March 15th, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

    The chances that you have “seen” such a thing outside of a Hollywood movie are remote, indeed. That is so 1950s of you. very few Protestant churches express themselves that way, though they do have theological differences with us, as we all recognize. That sort of language is rarely heard except among sects that feature such noted theologians as Jack Chick or Fred Phelps.

    So, with that aside, what exactly is “politically expedient” about people with like interests banding together in a joint cause? And what does it have to do with RT’s post?

  5. Richard Norris
    March 15th, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

    really, lily? its so 1950’s of me to mention protestants downgrading the catholics they are forced to work with? I seem to recall John McCain being forced to reject the endorsement of John Hagee after his anti-catholic comments came to light

  6. Lily
    March 15th, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

    Hagee is the leader of a non-denominational sect that is charismatic and loosely Pentecostal. His language, while intemperate (and foolish), is that of the 1950s– he is, after all, nearly 70 and a child of that time. Moreover, he has abjectly apologized for all his anti-catholicism, so it is really not much of a story anymore.

    It will be a story if the Presbyterians or Methodists or Lutherans roll out the “whore of Babylon” talk. That would really be something. Do let me know, when that happens.

  7. Richard Norris
    March 15th, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

    I don’t recall saying the words “mainline protestant” anywhere in my post, Lily. As the mainline protestants have become more liberal I doubt I was referring to them when I spoke of protestant anti-choice groups. It is the breakaway protestants, evangelicals, and charismatics that for the last few decades have led the fight against choice, and John Hagee as a best-selling author and mega-church pastor has a large voice in that movement. As someone with such a wide-reaching voice, that “50’s” attitude of his has been heard and absorbed by many people. Even among people I know personally in the evangelical and splinter protestant groups have very negative opinions of the Roman Catholic Church, the sort of opinions that are passed on from the pulpit. And yet while they despise the Church they are willing to make common cause against their mutual foes.

    With that out of the way, did anyone notice that while the Dole ad did mention the PAC and their appearances on Fox News it never mentioned the terrible things that the PAC said about people of faith? It’s pretty clear that the ad was designed to instill fear of atheists, not revulsion at their inflamatory rhetoric. Good christians were supposed to get up in arms at the fact that those slick elitist atheists were trying to get rid of their precious empty declarations of faith in the pledge and on their currency. OOHH!!
    Be afraid of their bold and blatant honesty in the face of America’s cultural defenders! The whole ad stank of Joe McCarthy and his hunt for those slick elitist communists. Now that is very 1950’s.

  8. Daniel M
    March 16th, 2009 @ 9:35 am

    so, er, where do I get me some godless money? Is there a way I can tell what sort of god my money apparently worships? Can you tell if a dollar’s been circumsized?

    I bet this low life commie pinko godless money said “in – we trust” on it, right? that’s how you can tell it’s evil, because all godless people are pagans, heathens, cannibals, perverts, fornicators and murderers. And religious people never are.

    @6 is right, the ad was despicable, and just reeks of mccarthyism.

  9. Richard Norris
    March 16th, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    Paul for the win!!

  10. Catholic Cat
    March 16th, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I would disagree with you. I don’t think it was merely because of her association with atheists.
    If it were simply that then who would really care? I have personal associations with atheists. Anyone who cares about their religious convictions are probably well aware of where their friends/associates stand on the matter.
    If the ad merely said, “Hagan also mingles with atheists” I don’t think that would matter.
    But the fact is that she was mingling with a very specific segment of atheists. Those who are hostile towards religious beliefs.
    Why not call attention to it when the brunt of her supporters quite likely have a particular religious persuasion.

  11. Martin T.
    March 16th, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

    hmmm, if she were taking money from men with white hoods over their heads would that matter? I do appreciate knowing that she accepts money from rabel rousers.

    In any case I do agree the ad itself was a disgusting display of scare tactics, clearly beyond the question of politics and money the ad was meant to scare me not to inform me and let me decide if this is a problem or not. These types of ads are a scourge of the land. I wish they could be banned.

    My personal apologies to atheists for the offence given

  12. Catholic Cat
    March 16th, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

    Hi Martin,
    I think I agree with you on this; regarding the ad and the tactics used.
    Do you think that she shouldn’t have mentioned the association at all? Or just not in the manner in which she did?

  13. Lily
    March 16th, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

    I dunno. The ad would have passed muster, I think, were it not for the words at the end. It is hard for me to believe that they weren’t put there deliberately, so that people would think Hagen was speaking.

    Having said that, I watched a CNN clip that discussed the ad. The Republican (I suppose) made a comment along the lines of this ad was bad but it is not unfair to question the judgement of someone who would take money from a group like this one. It would be fair to run an ad that does that. That seems like a fair criticism to me. It was a lousy ad that could have been a much better (fairer) one.

    While I do not wish to tar anyone unfairly, skeptics and atheists who are content not to believe and do not actively work to remove religion from our schools, discourse, et al. are fine with me.

    I do not think I would ever vote for someone who supported the sorts of things this group or any group associated with Ellen Johnson and her like want. I do not want the public square stripped of religion. Sorry militant atheists. You are on the wrong side of history and reality!

  14. Martin T.
    March 16th, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

    Discussing who takes money from whom is perfectly legit. Making a “can you believe she takes money from them”? ad is fine. I get real annoyed when either side has those ad’s with the spooky music, sour faces and scare tactics. Just give me the facts and I will decide for myself whether to be scared or not.

    Again, I wonder. Let’s turn this on it’s head. An atheist is running for office with the implicit desires and idea’s of atheism on her lips. Suddenly we find she has accepted donations from a group of Christians who’s well known agenda is to keep God on the money, in the song and to get Him back in the classroom. Would I, the skeptical atheist, not be a bit skeptical about her truly supporting my agenda?

    Ha! There’s one! The skeptics want us to not be skeptical on a practical matter of who’s in bed with whom.

  15. Matthew in Fairfax
    March 17th, 2009 @ 6:01 am

    1. I agree with Martin T., the McCarthyite charges against Dole are completely off base. Dole’s ad did not accuse Hagan of “associating” with atheists, it accused Hagan of accepting money from fundraiser hosted by atheists. Political donations have been and should remain a legitimate topic of discussion in any campaign.
    Dole attempted to negate the fundraising advantage by questioning the aims of the donors. The donors are painted as a special interest with aims and goals that are adverse to the general interest of the constituents at large. Candidates do this commonly. For instance, at one point in the campaign Hagan criticized Dole for taking money from “Big Oil”. Was this a cynical attempt to disenfranchise all North Carolinians working on oil exploration, extraction, processing and delivery? Of course not. The idea was simply to suggest that the organizations funding Dole’s campaign were out of step with the interests of North Carolina.
    Monetary donations to a political campaign are always going to draw attention because voters are going to wonder who influences a candidate the most. It’s fair and legitimate and common in politics to depict the opponent’s donor’s interests as adverse to the typical voter’s.
    2. Paul Fidalgo has two major complaints about Dole’s campaign ad and the resulting fallout, but Richard Norris and Daniel M only seem to have taken notice of one of them since they criticize only Dole and not Hagan.
    (a) First is the Dole ad and the non-apology post-mortem issued by Dole’s campaign manager Marty Ryall. This is what started the latest uproar.
    (b) But second is the way Kay Hagan, the candidate that Fidalgo thought would stand up for atheists, threw them under the bus instead. How far under the bus did Hagan throw atheists? From a press conference:
    “I didn’t even know about the Godless PAC until Liddy Dole started talking about it,” Hagan said, “I’ve never heard of it. And I certainly don’t support anything they stand for.”
    Ouch. Fidalgo complains:
    “Hagan was falling all over herself to repudiate her supporters who happened to be nonbelievers. By Dole’s horrible ads (“If godless Americans threw a party in your honor, would you go?” the second ad asks) and Hagan’s cowardice in her refusal to defend the citizenship of her own supporters, the charge stood tragically unchallenged: Atheists were not acceptable for respectable Americans to associate with.”
    So it is not just Dole’s ad itself, but Hagan’s response that Fidalgo draws attention to.
    3. A clarification about monies received by the Hagan campaign in case anyone besides me was confused (or misled) by the reference to “godless money” in the Dole ad: according to website, Hagan did not receive contributions from either the Godless Americans Political Action Committee Of American Atheists or the Secular Coalition of America. The Charlotte Observer explains, “Hagan attended a fundraiser in Boston hosted by author Wendy Kaminer and her husband, Woody Kaplan. Both are leaders of the Secular Coalition of America…. Kaplan also sits on the advisory board of the Godless Americans political action committee….” Woody Kaplan is listed by the FEC as having made an individual contribution to Hagan’s campaign. It was not a PAC contribution.
    4. Let me disagree with RT and plug in a good word for Hagan here: there is nothing “alleged” about her faith. Hagan is a member and elder of the
    First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, and her family has been a member for 100 years. They “affirm Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.”
    Public officeholders have very diverse views on the extent to which their faith should influence their votes. This leads many of them to adopt the “personally opposed to…” stance when explaining their votes, which can be maddening at times, but we can complain about the actual votes without challenging the sincerity of their faith. But why even go there? In the case of Hagan, all she did was accept funding from people critical of Christians’ influence on public matters. This can hardly be considered a rejection of her personal faith.
    5. I’ll wrap up by disagreeing with Geoffrey when he insists that RT owes us an “objective, reasoned, structured defense” of his conversion. Again, why even go there? Whether or not Geoffrey is bored with this blog is no reason to challenge the sincerity of someone’s faith. RT said back in December that he will explain things in his own time.

  16. Richard Norris
    March 17th, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

    Taking a day off from being a pain in all theist’s necks and instead toasting everyone on the blog as i quaff Killian’s Irish Red. Cheers!!

  17. Matthew in Fairfax
    March 17th, 2009 @ 2:57 pm


  18. Chump : The Raving Theist
    March 17th, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

    […] 17, 2009 Paul Fidalgo of DC Secularism Examiner responds to my defense of Elizabeth Dole’s Godless campaign ads, arguing that their primary intent was to foster […]

  19. JoAnna
    March 17th, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

    I raise my Guinness to you, Richard! :)

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