Last week, Sally Quinn of the Washington Post made a statement so mind-boggling, I couldn’t believe a mainstream journalist could say it:
This is a religious country. Part of claiming your citizenship is claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian. We’ve got the Creator in our Declaration of Independence. We’ve got “In God We Trust” on our coins. We’ve got “one nation under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance. And we say prayers in the Senate and the House of Representatives to God.
Like I said before, if she was implying that mentioning God could help a candidate get more votes because our country is still made up of mostly Christian people, I would’ve been fine with it — because she would be right.
But that’s not how I read her passage. She seemed to be suggesting that those things were true and should be that way, not just a rhetorical device suggesting that America only seems that way sometimes.
Yesterday, she responded to the backlash from the piece:
I ended [that controversial passage] by saying. “An atheist could never get elected dogcatcher much less President.”
To represent my true beliefs, I should have begun that last paragraph with the word, unfortunately. I do not believe that religion should play any role in politics. But that is not the world we live in.
So far, I’m in total agreement. An atheist would have a hard time running for higher office in America. That’s unfortunate, but that’s reality. Had she written that, I would’ve sighed to myself, then nodded in agreement.
I thought that by saying that the Republicans were trying to hijack God I made that clear. “The Republicans,” I wrote, “have claimed God as their own in this campaign, each candidate trying to out-Christian the other. Even Obama, though 17 percent of registered voters think he is a Muslim, has talked about being a Christian as often as he can.”
To me, my position was clear.It was obviously not to certain readers.
I believe, sadly, that religion plays a huge [role] in political campaigns. Republicans use the dog whistle of God every chance they get… But depressing and un-American as it may be, one’s faith continues to make a big difference in how people view candidates.
Again, she’s right. Obama would be doing himself a favor by pandering to the religious. Sucks, but it’s true.
Finally, Quinn talked about the kind of responses she received to that last column from non-religious people. It’s not pretty:
The response I received from atheists, agnostics and humanists rivaled some of the most hateful, vicious and ad hominem mail I receive when Christians are inflamed by my comments. They don’t just say they disagree with me. They say they hope I burn in hell. One of the more imaginative ones said he hoped my car turned over, the gas tank exploded and I would burn up and go to hell.But atheists! Agnostics! Humanists! Where did all this rage come from? They’ve taken a page from the Christians.
My favorite e-mail after the column about the debate was this: “You disgust me! This is about the most un-American thing I have ever seen written. I hope you burn in the “hell” that you believe in. [Blank] you!”
That’s awful. I certainly don’t condone that behavior and I wish I knew what the hell was wrong with people who make those kinds of threats (even imaginary ones). I’m sorry that she had to go through that.
Here’s my problem with all of this.
Based on the headline of the article — “The God vote meets the rage of atheists, agnostics, and humanists” — you get the feeling that Quinn just wanted to find some way to deflect the focus off of her and onto the “evil atheists.” Yes, the people who said nasty things to her are abominable. But they in no way represent how most atheists think or act. To suggest that “atheists, agnostics, and humanists” are all full of rage is completely misguided.
The whole piece can be paraphrased as this: “Look! Everything I wrote was totally clear to everyone else, but the atheists misinterpreted me! Then they sent me hatemail and threats!”
But that’s not what happened.
Quinn wrote a confusing article which, if taken at face value, said that atheists had no claim to American citizenship (symbolically, anyway). When we pointed out how wrong that was, Quinn took a few admittedly awful messages from her inbox and heralded them as representative of all of us.
Take a look at that passage from her post again, this time highlighting who she’s referring to. It’s not some atheists. It’s all of us:
The response I received from atheists, agnostics and humanists rivaled some of the most hateful, vicious and ad hominem mail I receive when Christians are inflamed by my comments. They don’t just say they disagree with me. They say they hope I burn in hell. One of the more imaginative ones said he hoped my car turned over, the gas tank exploded and I would burn up and go to hell.
But atheists! Agnostics! Humanists! Where did all this rage come from? They’ve taken a page from the Christians.
“They” implies all of us and not just the work of a few despicable individuals.
If I said Christians were jerks because they hold “God Hates Fags” signs outside funerals, I’d be criticized harshly — and rightfully so. It’s completely unfair to malign an entire group of people for something that only a vocal few of them ever do.
This whole issue could have been avoided if Quinn had just taken enough precaution in her original article to clarify that her comments about America as a Christian nation were only how things seem to be, not how they ought to be.