Having A Placeholder Atheist Is Bittersweet


Wow, so I think I have an atheist senator now. Ted Kaufman has been appointed to take Biden’s senate seat, and get a load of this from the NYT:

What he calls his “humanistic” way of thinking he attributes largely to his Irish Catholic mother, a teacher, and his father, a secular Jew, a social worker and his hero.

“Humanist”, as we all know, is the pussy way of saying atheist and “secular Jew”? Well, there’s no pussy-footing about that. So did the Catholicism seep into him? Maybe, maybe not.

Of course he wasn’t elected, and perhaps this is the only way to get an atheist into a seat this high, appointment, but it’s a start. What sucks is the denial and use of “humanist”. Provided Mr. Kaufman doesn’t do anything really terrible, his term could be referenced as proof that an atheist can serve quite nicely in office. But then, because he’s not fully out, such a reference will have an asterisk.

Certainly there must be other atheists in Congress. So far only congressman Stark is openly so. The excuse is of course the prejudice in this country against electing an atheist and those in office now would like to stay in office and get re-elected, but Mr. Kaufman is a placeholder, a guy possibly just keeping the seat warm for Biden’s son to take it in 6 years. So why not openly come out? What’s there to lose? If you’re not going to seek another term, wtf?

I should note that the Catholicism I grew up with was not what most people think of today. Sure there were some nutters (a friend of mine was one of 13 kids because, well, Irish Catholic crazy parents), but for instance, no one I ever knew would threaten someone over a cracker. Belief was like life insurance, you figured it was there “just in case” but otherwise, you never gave it a thought. Morals? Forget that. Going to elementary school in South Philly, the Catholic school kids were like gangs, moving in packs starting fights, vandalism, you name it. Luckily in high school, the Catholic school girls were equally, um, “immoral”, but in the good way. Friends who were Catholic could always be counted on to do the craziest shit, be it partying, fighting, or other shit.

So I have mixed feeling about Catholics. Today I know of Donahue and cracker cooks and wild anti-abortion, anti-gay fanatics (oh yeah, and Mel Gibson), but what I grew up knowing was a Catholicism which wasn’t all that far from secular Jew, a thing that was more ritual than belief. I’ve always thought of Biden as one of those kind of Catholics, the pragmatic, go through the motions kind, so his god references have never been that stinging. Don’t get me wrong, I hate them, but it just never hit me with the force with which a “true believer” like W saying it would.

If Kaufman says he’s a “humanist”, I’d say chances are he’s a full blown atheist. If not, worst case is he’s the kind of Catholic I know, or perhaps something new, a secular Catholic. I guess what I’m saying is, I probably don’t have to worry about any crazy Christian legislation any time soon around here, but damn, it would be nice to know for a fact that my senator is an atheist. Now if we could only get one elected.

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18 Responses to “Having A Placeholder Atheist Is Bittersweet”

  1. I have many relatives who are nominally Catholic but don’t really believe the nonsense. They’re technically atheist in that they don’t believe in dog, but they still describe themselves as Catholic. (Yes, I’m the family atheist.)

    So I think that you’re right that for someone who grew up in a Catholic environment to call himself “humanist” indicates that he’s a full blown atheist. I have no idea, though, how having a secular Jew father affects my above reasoning.

  2. What’s next – “humanist Morman”? “Secular Pentacostal”?

    One can only hope…

  3. Well, in Canada there was a political party which called the “Progressive Conservatives” (my wife wondered what was next, the “Revolutionary Reactionaries”?)so I kind of wonder…

    Gore Vidal wrote that his grandfather, a senator during the depression, was an atheist. He said it was a very carefully guarded secret.

  4. In my younger days I sometimes acted as a “Shabbas Goy”, and for a while when I was a kid in Germany, some of us non – catholics got paid by the catholic boys to go to catechism in their place while they did sports. They paid us. It worked (literally)right up to the last moment and then SKUNION descended about our ears. Whoooole lot of upset, unamused people.

    But we got the Baltimore Catechism. That, coupled with Sunday school, taught me that the whole thing was stupidity on an unbelieveable scale.

    I tell you now, in later years I’ve come to think that the world would be uniformly catolic, no reformation would have taken place if they’d have had the Baltimore from, say, 1350 on.

    If you were a blasphemer or heretic, they’d just give you a refresher course. If that didn’t do the trick, simply make you go a third time and have the person giving the classes be not too familiar with the language the class was given in, and have a speech impedament.

    I can’t think of anyone who would risk such a thing twice. Shudder.

  5. Congratulations on getting a humanist senator. It’s a step in the right direction. Is Beau B. a humanist, or a secular Catholic?

  6. Canadians are just strange, but usually in amusing ways.

    I don’t fear having another Biden, let’s put it that way, especially when the Republican who ran this year was a Palin clone.

  7. My dad was sort of like that. He was a staunch Catholic, but I attribute it largely to him being raised to see it as an obligation. He went to church because it was something he was supposed to do. I never actually saw him reading a Bible, nor did he ever talk about his religion in anyway that was passionate. It was all rote and mechanistic.

    When I revealed my atheism to him, he obviously wasn’t happy about it, but he never even asked me why, nor did he make any kind of effort to change my mind. Then again, since I was the only one of his three sons who wasn’t a fuck up, he really didn’t have much cause for complaint.

  8. I’m guessing that more atheists are former Catholics than any other religion (except maybe Jewish apostates). Anyone know of a place with statistics on such?

  9. Hey man, Ia'm a Secular humanist and an atheist.

  10. Well, of course Canadians are only weird in good ways, but the rule still is that only Canadians get to say it.However, knowing your complete disregard for rules of any kind, I don't expect you to follow this one either. ;)

  11. Hey, hey, be careful with the “Canadians are strange” remarks! It may be true, but only Canadians are allowed to say so.

  12. My theory is that Catholicism is easier to just go through the motions with since it’s all about the motions. Have you been to a mass? Shit, there’s so much going on. When to sit, when to stand, when to kneel, when to genuflect, when to sign a cross, when to sign this other thing and mumble something or other, and you have to respond at certain times and the priest sings a bit and there’s a bell and the cracker walk, and the hand shaking. You get so caught up in what you’re supposed to be doing at any given time how could you possibly pay attention to what’s being said? Even if you tried, Catholic churches are loaded with stuff (fancy architecture, paintings, statues, etc) to distract you.

    Anyway, if you say you’re a humanist and an atheist, then you’re not being a pussy, are you? Oh and everybody knows Canadians are weird, but in good ways, so what’s the problem?

  13. but Mr. Kaufman is a placeholder, a guy possibly just keeping the seat warm for Biden’s son to take it in 6 years. So why not openly come out? What’s there to lose? If you’re not going to seek another term, wtf?

    Christians tend to like their guns, and they’re not noted for being long on tolerance toward atheists. Could be a safety measure, maybe.

    it would be nice to know for a fact that my senator is an atheist. Now if we could only get one elected.

    I wonder what state, if any, is more likely than the others to elect an out atheist into any kind of office.

    Massaschusetts, maybe? I wish I could say NY, but I doubt we’d be the first, though possibly in the first five.

  14. Delaware is quite a unique state. Up here in the northern end, I think an atheist could get elected. Hell, I think a monkey could get elected as long as it was a Democrat which is surprising because up here we have a healthy amount of money (Astra-Zeneca, DuPont, and EVERY bank which issues credit cards has their cc office in Wilmington) and money usually equal Republican.

    Now the southern half, well, that’s known as “lower, slower Delaware”. No atheist would get elected down there probably, but who knows? Are there redneck atheists? I guess it’s technically possible.

  15. I’d like to see if this guys has the balls to call himself an atheist (if he is one, of course). I sadly run into “atheists” often and when it comes down to admitting it they shy away, afraid to face reality. So, until this guy comes out, he is nothing to me.

    btw, Nevada might have a fighting chance for an elected atheist. Then again, that would require taking out all the corrupt Mormons from office. Short of the Mormon god, few other gods have power in this state…the home of legal prostitution.

  16. I’ve always thought it strange that Nevada is supposed to be conservative. I mean, you know, with the casinos and hookers and all. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying conservatives don’t gamble or fuck hookers, but not so openly.

  17. Thankfully, it is more “state’s rights/anti-government” conservative than “social, man-boy love, Christian” conservative. Even more surprising is the fact that the Gov, both Senators and pretty much the entire state government is Mormon.

  18. I can see that. I watch Big Love. :)

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