Left, U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo. Right, U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, R-IN. (Charlie Riedel, Darron Cummings/AP)

Now that we’re past anxiously wondering who the next president will be, we can ask: What does this election say about the state of American values?

There were a host of hot-button ethical issues on ballots across the country, from marijuana to gay marriage to death with dignity. But the signature values moment of 2012 was the decisive defeat of Republican senatorial candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock in Missouri and Indiana respectively.

The nonreligious are now one of the largest demographic groups in the U.S., and numerous polls and studies have shown that a majority of young Americans are moving away from conservative religious values.

Akin and Mourdock, both saddled by their refusal to allow women to choose abortion even in the case of rape, represent an historic and quite possibly permanent shift in religious values in U.S. politics. These extreme views will now cost a candidate an election, even in America’s heartland.

Future candidates, take note: If you’re a religiously motivated politician, that’s fine, but wear religious blinders at your electoral peril. The nonreligious are now one of the largest demographic groups in the U.S., and numerous polls and studies have shown that a majority of young Americans are moving away from conservative religious values.

“The broad trend of last night’s election is generational,” wrote Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “The older generation’s social conservatism on drugs, race, gender, and marriage equality are losing their hold.”

Or, as the interfaith leader Frankie Fredericks tweeted to me last night, “[The way Christians are] voting is changing. I’m an evangelical and I would vote for a humanist if they reflected my views and values.”

Am I overstating the case? Were Akin and Mourdock’s words simply misinterpreted as they have claimed?

The truth is they expressed positions that many others have in the past. But this time, under the glare of a multi-billion dollar national campaign, we saw how much those views cost them politically and how the tide has turned away from the beliefs that Akin and Mourdock earnestly hold.

So, what’s next for American values? If two bright red states can so forcefully reject this strict theology, it may not be long before our first openly gay senator is joined by an openly atheist or humanist victor in a big election. Might our electorate finally be ready to consider a non-religious candidate?

There’s no question we’ve got our work cut out for us.

As he ticked through his usual list of crucial American constituencies—“black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight”– in his victory speech last night, President Obama made no mention of nonbelievers, as he did during his inaugural address in 2008. It may be time to give him a little tough love — to resume our lobbying efforts to get back on that list, holding him accountable until we are.

In this Sept. 9, 2010 photo, a billboard erected by atheists in Oklahoma City reads ” Don’t believe in God? Join the club.” (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

But let’s also look inward and recognize the best way to make America more accepting is not by berating our religious neighbors. We humanists need to build up our own community, and expand our recent efforts to show that the secular community can help make America a better place.

As this election proves, community is more important than ideology — and unity is more important than wedge politics. If humanists and the nonreligious take this to heart, we may advance our values in the years ahead.


Tags: Election 2012, Religion

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  • R14MA

    It seems like this is just another fight againt Americans that the GOP will need to drop if they ever want to be taken seriously again.

  • CADE

    Note, Joe Walsh was dropped too…for being just as uneducated. ;)

    • CADE

      And I agree, community is more important than ideology. It should never be about your personal religious beliefs, but your actions (they speak louder than words after all) and voting records.

  • Reason2Tango

    I have always been uncomfortable with the role of organized religion in politics. Especially when those religions are intolerant of non-believers who otherwise lead exemplary lives. I worry though that we may forget the role that religions have played over the centuries in shaping values and behaviors that societies have found useful. I suspect that many people who consider themselves humanists (as I do) were raised in families that went to church and to church related schools (as I did). My concern for the future is what (other than good strong positive parenting) takes the place of organized religion in shaping the morals of our citizenry in a positive way.

  • Jack

    Joe Donnolly, who beat Mourdock, is also pro-life. He was enthusiastically supported by groups like Democrats for Life of America. There are plenty of progessive pro-life athiests out there, including myself, and I gladly sent money from Boston to pro-life Democrats across the country.

    • lip

      Being pro-life is one thing, but being it to the point of when rape, incest, etc is involved is quite another. Unless i’m wrong i dont think donnelly opposes abortion in those cases. Not too mention the things those clowns said were just so far off the map of reality so thats what i’m sure turned most voters off (ie womens bodies can prevent pregnancy f its a “real” rape)

      • Charles Brown

        It is true that Democrat Joe Donnelly, a personally devout Roman Catholic who opposes abortion, allows for abortion in cases of rape or incest. Personally, I do not understand Donnelly’s postion in that regard. I am not a pro-life ideologue myself, but I also don’t understand how Donnelly threads the ethical needle (some abortions okay but not others) in a way that his church would not accept.
        But all of this misses the point. Of course it is fair to talk about Joe Donnelly. And of course, the fine points of abortion policy will be item number 6,789 on the Senate’s to-do list this term.
        The real story is the way that the liberal media used the Mourdock story; to demonize Mourdock as a kook (he is not, his abortion position is intellectually more consistent that Donnelly’s) and to extend the story to the presidential race, making it appear that Mitt Romney, whose own position on abortion was functionally the same as Democrat Donnelly’s, came from a Republican party filled with crazy extremists.
        This commentary came to grips with none of the media meta-story, and thereby missed the largest point of all.

  • PS

    Not sure whether this generalization is completely accurate.

    There are numerous others that have pretty much the same view and are still getting elected. For instance, Paul Ryan holds the same view but he escaped unscathed. In fact, Paul Ryan co-sponsored a bill that talks about “forcible” rape. Michelle Bachmann has pretty much the same attitude.

    These two, Akin and Murdoch, lost because, for whatever reason, they bore the brunt of the wrath. And it might have nothing to do with how many religious binders they wear.

  • Jasoturner

    Unlike other “minorities”, I find atheists simply don’t get too worked up about the fact that they freak some religious believers out, so Obama’s omission meant nothing to me. If somebody can’t think about region deeply enough to reject it, well, that’s like not knowing how to appreciate art or music. You’re missing something profound, but you don’t know what you don’t know, and I’m not going to get mad or belligerent or argue with you about it.

    One thing that people can’t seem to wrap their heads around is that morality is not derived from religion or religious faith. And this seems to be the primary issue that religious believers cannot entertain. This is too bad, because they might find more common ground with atheists if they thought this through. Sure, you can still think I’m going to hell when I die, but at least you’ll understand why I don’t eat kittens for breakfast or run around murdering people in my godless haze…

  • Peter

    If it is not your body than it is not your choice. CON’s keep your ideology and your stupid god out of politics and maybe you’ll have a better chance of winning the next time around. Also, we should definitely tax the rich and tax the churches to hell.

  • RickRay

    Atheist Canadian here, eh ! I’m glad Obama won and so is 80% of Canada and the rest of the world. I trust in “reality” not the supernatural. Get over it, evolution is real and so is climate change. If I had a daughter who was raped I’d want her to get an abortion but if it was her boyfriend I’d give her the choice. After all, it’s her life, not anybody else’s. When does life start? Not when an imaginary skydaddy decides you get raped and should keep the child. Life is for the living, though it is very cruel to most. Any god who destroys a million children a year through disease, hunger and abuse should be forced to suffer those cruelties him/her/itself.

  • Ann Marie

    It’s not what they say or believe tht gets them in trouble but that they want to make these beliefs the law of the land. To your broader point, organized religion is not the only repository for those who sustain a spiritual life-more and more are doing so outside the walls of churches and synagogues.

    • MikeSchinkel

      @4c5b555cdf5ba4f6d1ff792c2f006e4d:disqus “but that they want to make these beliefs the law of the land.” EXACTLY. This cartoon sums it up perfectly:

      • Doubting_Thomas

        So does this one :P

        • MikeSchinkel

          Doubting_Thomas You represent that as an apparent retort assuming that I would disagree with it. But I don’t disagree with it. I have issue with any extremists; theists or atheists.

          However, that cartoon does not sum up the broader point which your retort ignores. There is no one in the US Congress that is atheist that I am aware of and therefore its not even possible for atheists to push through laws that restricting equity and freedom as many of the more religious lawmakers in Washington are constantly attempting to do. Even if there were atheists in Congress they wouldn’t be trying to get laws passed based on the interpretation of their holy book, because they don’t have one.

          While I respect other’s ability to have different beliefs than me what I don’t respect is others imposition of their beliefs which I do not hold on me and others, at the point of a gun. That is why sums it up perfectly and does not.

  • WatchOutAtheists

    Atheists, watch out for arrogance, believing that you know it all. Not everything that exists is measured, lab proven, or reasoned. Everything that falls into these categories, which some people think is all there is, is subject to human control and exploitation. Wear the atheism blinders at your own risk. Keep your heart and mind open to avoid getting a surprise in the end.

    Along with all modern inventions that are destroying our planet and health, atheism maybe counted as another unnatural item in the list.

    • Fade away

      Yes, yes yes. We’re all familiar with Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5. Pot, kettle. Kettle, pot. For years we have suffered the conceit and arrogance of the religious. At the very minimum science offers a system for asking questions of physical and natural processes….and learning. It claims nothing more. Your system has all of the answers…from 1st century goat-herders. Period. No change is possible. That’s why, ultimately, the current religions will wane with time.

      • MikeSchinkel

        @09c04c3401c35f23b0828cab0efc865e:disqus You mean the sun doesn’t rise and set with Helios riding his chariot across the sky?!? Who knew.

      • Doubting_Thomas

        And about 300 million people died during the last century, all at the hands of atheists.

        Try to understand- people will find ways to be ignorant about anything. And others will use any means they can to exploit that ignorance, in order to gain power for themselves. Religion doesn’t have much to do with it. Unquestioning and unwavering belief does.

        I’ve seen people ignore the fact that atheism requires belief in the null hypothesis about God, and claim it isn’t a faith of its own. Believe it if you want, but it’s as logically unscientific as any religion. It only bothers me or requires response when some sort of moral high ground is claimed.

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