U. humanist group examines country’s politics
“Nonbeliever Nation” author David Niose discussed how America’s political system should be more secular at Monday’s meeting of the University’s Humanist Chaplaincy at the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus.
Niose, president of the American Humanist Association, suggested that secular humanists, agnostics and atheists collaborate to become a political movement to stifle religious right-wing politicians’ voices.
“What’s happened to America in recent years is not normal. The tentacles of the religious right reach everywhere,” Niose said. “Rick Perry held a prayer rally as part of his campaign. Thirty years ago that would have been toxic to do.”
The humanist movement is not one that attacks religion, but only wants to establish a community for non-believers and a presence in American politics, said Barry Klassel, the founding humanist chaplain of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers University.
“We don’t believe, we won’t leave. Get used to it,” Klassel told the group. “We want a place at the table.”
During the meeting, Niose highlighted two different types of opposition — the traditional opposition and the new opposition, the humanists.
Niose said in the current election season, liberals have responded to the religious right by showing they too can be religious, which he said is futile.
“If you’re going to have a battle over who is more religious, you’ll lose to the right,” Niose said. “These people wear it on their sleeves. They know what Jesus wants.”
He used former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum as an example. Santorum wants to regulate birth control, which is something Niose said should not be a dialogue in this century.
The author also spoke about a trend of anti-intellectualism that exists among some conservatives in the country.
Concerns were raised about the evolution debate. Niose cited the example of a school in Massachusetts whose teachers were prohibited from using the word evolution.
When America went to war with Iraq after the Sept. 11 attacks, Niose said uninformed people in the country thought Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center. He said these people wrote to former President George W. Bush to go to war.
“Public policy should not be crafted in this way,” Niose said. “This is not healthy.”
Because the religious right has been so successful in policy movements, Niose said everyone else should voice their opposition.
“We’re not that religious,” Niose said. “We have to stop talking like that. For some reason, when you enter the realm of politics, all [of a] sudden we are a religious country.”
The non-believers in the country makes up a larger population than any single group of believers — a reason to flex more muscle and become more open in order to have a voice in politics, he said.
“We are not successful until we are electing nonbelievers into government,” Niose said.
Marriage equality on the state level is one area where some success has been achieved over the religious right, he said. The humanist movement should learn from this success, Niose said.
The group promoted some other groups on campus and identified with organizations outside of campus such as the University Secular Humanists, the Atheist Student Alliance and the New Jersey Humanist Network.
Lisa Ridge, a representative from the New Jersey Humanist Network, said she had similar concerns to those addressed in the meeting.
“We have to [be] more forward without making fun of other people’s beliefs,” she said.
Some non-members in attendance were excited by the talk and the idea of the club.
“I saw the sign for this meeting at orientation,” said Erin Burns, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “I thought that I would really like to go to something like this and that I would get a lot out of it.”