During a town hall meeting at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Justin Scott, the Iowa State Director for American Atheists, asked 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer a very pointed question that, at its core, highlights perhaps the biggest difference between atheists and white evangelical Christians.
Specifically, Scott wanted to know how Steyer would deal with issues relating to climate change when, as president, he would have to work with Religious Right Republicans who don’t accept science and would challenge legislation meant to deal with the impending catastrophe.
SCOTT: I compliment your focus on climate change, because in the atheist world, we are very much focused on, protect that which is around you, and do it not because you’re motivated by some faith, but because we all have to live here, and we only have the evidence that we live one life. We are curious how candidates, if they become president, would take on the Religious Right in the sense that, even if we could get the government behind action on climate change, even if we could get companies behind it, you would have the Religious Right citing the Rapture or “My holy text says that the end of the world is coming, so what the hell’s the point of doing this?” So what would you say to that?
Steyer responded by noting there’s a specific reason why the Constitution separates church and state.
The big reason is: If you believe you’re talking directly to God, then there can be no compromise. And so, you can use your religion to inform your values; you just can’t ask anyone else to follow your rules.
Steyer cited the growing support for Donald Trump‘s impeachment — something the billionaire has advocated for more than a year now through nationwide commercials — as proof that he could help change the consensus. While it’s true the numbers have shifted, Steyer wasn’t necessarily the force for change, and changing the minds of Democrats toward impeachment is a far cry from convincing faith-based climate deniers they’re wrong.
Steyer went on to cite a man he met at a recent event in South Carolina who told him his in-laws believed Trump was “an imperfect vessel, sent by God, to prepare us for the end of days.”
… That’s such a deep statement that goes to so many deep things that it’s very hard to reach someone… So, in answer to your question, the problem with mixing the two is it’s so hard to have a conversation where you think there’s a possibility of actual exchange. And so that’s the problem of mixing church and state. People become so wedded to their belief that they feel like, if they change their belief, they’ll be rejecting God.
He’s right on that point, but it didn’t answer the question of how he would reach those who are so far gone. So Scott asked his question once again. Steyer took a more political approach this time around, simply saying he respected Republicans as people but disagreed with their choices.
What went unstated was that Steyer problem couldn’t reach anti-science Christians, so he would need Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate in order to enact any sort of meaningful agenda to address the climate crisis.
It’s hard to fault Steyer for the evasive answer when compromise isn’t on the table. When one party is hell-bent on rejecting reality, the only reasonable solution is to move forward without them while continuing to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it for those willing to listen.