I wonder which would be the more patronizing (mean, small-minded, whatever) response: for atheists to react to such religious activity by political figures as if it actually meant
something, or if we just shrugged and said, "Awww, that's cute--like the thing where we pretend the military tracks Santa on Christmas Eve!"
One could make the argument that Tom Flynn was overreacting, because politicians make blandishments about religion all the time and none of that amounts to Congress making a law establishing a religion. However, that rests on the premise that whether religious beliefs are true or not isn't actually important
. That religion is just something people do, like ballet or crocheting, and it's not really worth opposing
when it's promoted by political figures. Whatever one might say about Tom Flynn's response, he does grant religions enough respect as proposed models of how reality actually works to object to political officials promoting them instead of...well, something that actually works. Lisa Miller seems to view religion as something akin to square dancing; a quaint, charming slice of Americana that no one could object to without being some kind of uptight prick.
Is Tom Flynn's response really more offensive to religion than the comment that sparked it?
“I get on my knees every day,” he said, “and I’m saying an extra prayer right now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance, I would do it.”
So, Vilsack’s devout prayers to Jesus as a member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church are pretty much the same as whatever random pagan rain dance anyone might care to teach him? "Well, heck, I'd kiss Xenu's alien ass if I thought it'd do any good!" Surely the Saints and Martyrs must be shaking their heads in disappointment, right? Right? Actually, I think it would be awesome if somebody would teach Vilsack a Native American rain dance or a Wiccan spell for rain or whatever and invite him to perform it in front of the cameras.
If the argument over religion these days goes like this:
ATHEIST: "Government officials publicly advocating prayer like this is an outrage! It doesn't work! Religion is just plain false! How about our USDA chief do something useful, like point out that this is what climate change looks like, and isn't it about time we did something about it?"
FAITHEIST: "Oh, come on, don't be ridiculous. You know this is all just lip service, right? Nobody actually believes
that crap anymore! It doesn't mean
anything! It's a custom, like the President throwing the first pitch in baseball."
...then we're winning, aren't we?
As an aside, I get a kick out of how Miller waxes nostalgic about the glory days of atheism, when Hitch and Harris were in the game, and "atheists were brave, fierce warriors bent on battling conventional wisdom and easy piety." I'd bet dollars to donuts that back then (if she was writing comment pieces at the time) Miller was saying that Hitch and Harris were mean and small-minded.