Sunday, August 1, 2010

Letter to Governor Daniels

Mitch Daniels Late last year, my Governor made some comments in an interview which I feel were way off base, and today I wrote to him about it. The email form would only contain about a paragraph, so he’s going to get a real-live printed letter in the mail! I don’t hate the guy (although many of my fellow Hoosiers do), but I needed to set the record straight on a few of his remarks.

Dear Governor Daniels,

First of all, I would like to thank you for your service to our great state of Indiana. I have found your governorship to be financially prudent and I applaud your efforts in bringing new technologies and businesses to our state. Despite my liberal leanings, I voted for you in the last election, and in a strange turn of events, have found myself in the position of defending your actions to more conservative family and friends! (Who knew that the time change would continue to be such a big deal to some?)

However, I feel compelled to write to you about certain statements you made in an interview in December of 2009 concerning your faith, and atheism.

It is not my place to question your faith or try to convince you to believe other than you do; the myth of the "aggressive atheist" persists, but it is unlikely that you will find an atheist knocking on your door trying to "convert" you. I do take exception to some of your comments, however.

"Our country was founded—this is just an historic fact; some people today may resist this notion but it is absolutely true—it was founded by people of faith. It was founded on principles of faith. The whole idea of equality of men and women [and] of the races all springs from the notion that we're all children of a just God. It is very important to at least my notion of what America's about and should be about and I hope it's reflected most of the time in the choices that we make personally."

That is not true. Thomas Jefferson and other framers of our nation were Deists. Although they believed in a higher power, they believed that humankind's future was in its own hands; they were far from devout and practicing Christians. In fact, George Washington stopped attending church when his minister took him to task for not taking communion. They took great pains to ensure that our Constitution was worded in such a way that there was a clear separation of church and state. They realized that just as religion needed to be protected from control by the government, our government needed to be protected from religion.

"People who reject the idea of a God—who think that we’re just accidental protoplasm—have always been with us. What bothers me is the implications—which not all such folks have thought through—because really, if we are just accidental, if this life is all there is, if there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, then all that matters is power."

I assure you that most of us do not believe that we are "accidental protoplasm." We are a beautiful and amazing product of nature, and I find that divine in itself. The fact that humans have achieved what we have after millennia of development is astounding and to be treasured! I can also assure you that most of us have thought this through quite thoroughly, and many of us have struggled with coming to terms with what we do and do not believe. At times, we have dealt with derision from family members and friends, or have experienced discrimination in the workplace. For most of us, it is not an easy pathway to take, and it has come only through years of introspection and doubt and struggle.

Your statement that if this life is all there is, there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, and all that matters is power. is completely contrary to how most of us feel. While this life may be all there is, it doesn't mean that there is no standard of right and wrong; it is simply the right thing to do morally for the good of all. My actions are not predicated on any sort of wish for power; I try to be a good person because I feel that it is good to help my fellow human beings. I choose to not commit crimes not because of the threat of eternal damnation, but because it would be harmful to humanity and to the greater good. Many of us are able to do good without the threat of hellfire and brimstone; many of us think it's just the right way to behave.

"And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists—Stalin and Hitler and Mao and so forth—because it flows very naturally from an idea that there is no judgment and there is nothing other than the brief time we spend on this Earth."

This is also completely false, in many ways. Hitler was raised as a Catholic, and the Nazi party was deeply based in religion. To call Hitler or the Nazis atheists is to be completely ignorant of that period of history. You will also find that religion has generated some of the most vile and bloody conflicts in history, whether the Inquisition, the Crusades, or the Salem witch trials. Atheism is the absence of worship of any deity, and there is no bloody agenda there designed to convert others. That is obviously not the case with religion; the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East bear that out. If you feel that the same doesn't hold true for Christianity, I would remind you of the conflicts in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants.

"Everyone’s certainly entitled in our country to equal treatment regardless of their opinion. But yes, I think that folks who believe they’ve come to that opinion ought to think very carefully, first of all, about how different it is from the American tradition; how it leads to a very different set of outcomes in the real world."

As I stated earlier, I and others have certainly thought very carefully. The American tradition as I see it states that we are all free to believe or not believe as we see fit. You state that we are all entitled to equal treatment regardless of our opinions; and yet you follow that with a "but." There is no "but." You caution that nonbelievers should think about the outcomes in the real world. I would caution you to look, honestly, at the results of religion in the world before condemning nonbelievers as the cause of all the ills and hatred in the world. You are not a stupid man; if you take the time to investigate beyond what your faith dictates to you, you might be surprised at what you find.

I also hope that you will remember the First Amendment and understand that you insulted a significant portion of your constituency; approximately 15% say that they identify with no religion. Those of us who choose no such affiliation are not necessarily amoral or "bad." It might surprise you to know that some of us are truly good for goodness's sake.


  1. "Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good." - Thomas Paine, The Rights Of Man.

  2. Nice letter Beth, here are some words from a reverend on the matter of church and state.
    "...when church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued." -Rev. Isaac Backus, 1773.

  3. It's a very nice letter. Too bad he won't read it. In fact, I'd lay odds he'll never even see it. His "people" will toss it right into the trash, never having showed it to him.

  4. Good letter Beth. Your governor does seem like an intelligent man. But to blame the world's evils on atheism is just as wrong as to blame the world's evils on religion. Evil often happens when people become so blind and deaf to reality by some religious or political theory that they believe in their hearts they are doing the right thing. You mention the Salem trials. Those people were absolutely convinced that witchcraft was alive in their community and was destroying them. They totally believed in what they were doing, that it was God's work. We should look around and see who is doing "God's work" today.

  5. Loved the letter, Beth. It was beautifully written. It would be great if the dude would actually read it.

  6. Atheists may be a little defensive after years of listening to the supernaturalists blabber and scream and try to mold legislature, but I'd hardly call us "aggressive". He'll know when we start getting aggressive.

  7. He just might read it. So few people send actual well-written and well-thought-out letters these days (as opposed to short emails) that he just might be impressed by the time and thought you put into the letter. I don't know if it will change his mind, but it ought to get him thinking. Excellent writing as usual, Beth.

  8. I think DB's comment expresses my views, so I'll just say a "me too" to that, and only add that for those who do read and believe the Bible, it is important that they remember that Christ said that his disciples would be known because they would have "love among themselves." (John 13:35) We see too much in-fighting within most of the world's religions for that to qualify them as true disciples of Christ. Also Jesus said that his Kingdom was "no part of this world" (John 18:36), and he actually reprimanded Peter for drawing a sword and cutting off the ear of one of the men who had come to seize him {Jesus}. Your points about the founding fathers and their own beliefs and religious views and affiliations, or lack thereof, is exactly right, and can be substantiated with a bit of research and study. Anyone -- atheist, religious, or agnostic -- should know the facts that will back up what they believe, or else what is the point of speaking up and offering you own opinion in the first place? I think your letter was very well thought out and well-written. You know that I am not trying to convert you or convince you or even "reason" with you, but I do *thank* you for allowing me (and others) to express my own opinion on religious beliefs when you write about yours. It says a lot for your intelligence, your tolerance, and your character. (And by the way, I am a Christian who does NOT believe in a burning hell. Just wanted to throw that out there, because I don't like to be lumped in with all the others who profess to be Christian who believe in one.) Thanks! :)

  9. Had to read the comments to this one, Beth. The unfortunate part to this is that you are reaching people who are already in line to by tickets. The odd rant 'n rave kind of stray cat won't be able to wrap their mind around the idea of what you have written.

    The frigthening thing about this necessary correction is how people have followed the Texas Board of Education lead and chosen to overlook inconvenient truths. I mean, Gov. Daniels HAD to be educated in similiar intellectual vein as you and I were, so when did our Founding Fathers become so Christian? I mean, religious freedom is one of the long standing myths as to why the Puritans set sail for America. That is what astonishes me about the whole thing, how easy it has become to manipulate and change how people think. It is as if 'thinkings hard' has become de rigeur and the dumber you are the more entitled (which is what it amounts to in my eyes) to be given what you want instead of actually earning and achieving in life.

    *sigh* It is sad, the lack of intellectual curiosity that goes on. We may not be entering a dark age, but it certainly is a dim age. Those darn new flourescent lights aren't worth the friggin' hassle!!

  10. I fear Paul is correct, he will most likely never see the letter.

  11. I'm an Atheist~ I'm with DB's comment.
    Had to go through the comments on this post.
    Very interesting ones indeed. ~Mary

  12. Well done indeed. And I'm with Laurel. Your 'real letter' is a stand-out move that might actually make it into the short pile on his desk, or at least get passed up a few rungs of the ladder.

    Keep at it!

  13. Beth, whether he gets the letter or not, it is a beautiful, well thought out piece. I'm so glad you sent it. Most of his suppositions come from surrounding himself with people who think just like he does and not having exposure to non-theists. It is easy to say those things about agnostics, atheists, and secular humanists when you don't regularly talk to any. If he met the two of us he'd be in for a shocking surprise, because we are nothing like he expects us to be.


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