If You’re an Atheist Politician, Don’t Call Yourself an Atheist. It Freaks Religious People Out. – Barney Frank
As religiosity plays a major role in American society, Barney Frank advises other atheist politicians not to draw too much attention to the word "atheist" because it is too often perceived as a repudiation of religion (and, therefore, American values).
Barney Frank served as a Massachusetts congressman for 32 years before retiring in 2013. While in Washington, Frank served as Chairman of the Financial Services Committee and was a major leader in the Democratic Party. In 1987 he became the first member of Congress to voluntarily come out as gay. Frank has also served as a Massachusetts State Representative and an assistant to the Mayor of Boston. He has taught at several Boston area universities.
Barney Frank: Well, the problem with atheism politically starts with the phrase. I have advised people who are themselves non-believers, not to use the word atheist; it has a harshness to it. It is a repudiation, not necessarily literally, but it comes across as a repudiation of religion and religion is very important to many people. It's a source of good feelings for many of them. It is not always, unfortunately, a motive for good behavior. I have noted that in the international situations religion is sadly more often a cause for people to shoot each other than to help each other. When you get splits within two countries or even within countries where it's Catholics versus Protestants, Jews versus Muslims, Buddhists versus Muslims as it has been in Myanmar, Hindus versus Muslims, there's a very sad extent of that. But religion is important to people. It has a history of being seen as a source of good behavior. America's history has given religiosity a greater role than some other places.
And from the politician's standpoint the question is why pick a fight that doesn't have to be waged? I never expressed the fact that I was not a believer in any theistic approach because it was never relevant. I did fight very hard throughout my 40 years in elected office to prevent rules and laws that put nonbelievers at a disadvantage. I've fought very hard against the establishment of religion, against people being forced to subscribe to religious views to get certain benefits, et cetera. But beyond that it didn't come up. In my own case there was another reason why I didn't talk about it; I'm Jewish. Obviously there's a strong terrible history of persecution of Jews. Judaism is a religion, but it is also an ethnicity. And for many of us who are Jewish in America today it is the ethnicity more than or even to the exclusion of religion that identifies us. But for me to have, when I was a public official I was the first Jewish person to be elected to the Congress in the United States since 1884. It would've looked as, or to some people it could have been distorted to be a kind of I'm separating myself from the Jews and I wouldn't want to do that. Even today, as secular as I am, when the high holy days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah come up, I am not going to be seen in public doing things that other Jews won't do for religious reasons. I don't observe them myself in a religious way, but I would not want my behavior to be used to embarrass or discomfort anybody who does religiously follow them.
As religiosity plays a major role in American society, Barney Frank advises other atheist politicians not to draw too much attention to the word "atheist" because it is too often perceived as a repudiation of religion (and, therefore, of American values). Frank's reasoning for this course of action stems from a simple guiding principle? Why pick a fight you don't need to wage? Nothing's stopping a non-believing politician from legislating in a way that protects the rights and interests of non-believers. But in this current state of society, there are few benefits for coming out and being overt about one's atheism.
Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?
- Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
- The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
- If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
They didn't know it, but the rituals of Iron Age Scandinavians turned their iron into steel.
- Iron Age Scandinavians only had access to poor quality iron, which put them at a tactical disadvantage against their neighbors.
- To strengthen their swords, smiths used the bones of their dead ancestors and animals, hoping to transfer the spirit into their blades.
- They couldn't have known that in so doing, they actually were forging a rudimentary form of steel.
Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's CEO, believes we're entering the age of smart medicine.
- The United States health care system has much room for improvement, and big tech may be laying the foundation for those improvements.
- Technological progress in medicine is coming from two fronts: medical technology and information technology.
- As information technology develops, patients will become active participants in their health care, and value-based care may become a reality.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.