Thursday, January 4, 2007

More Diversity

Screenshot credit: Cujo359 (from CSPAN)

In what may become a metaphor for her task of running the 110th Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) managed to avoid being trampled while being escorted to the dais by a half-dozen Democratic Caucus bigwigs and much of the California Congressional delegation. Somehow, she managed to traverse the floor of the House with this group, and took the oath of office without injury.

After she arrived, she became the first female Speaker of the House in our history. I think John Boehner put it best today:

This is an historic day. In a few moments, I’ll have the high privilege of handing the gavel of the House of Representatives to a woman for the first time in American history. For more than 200 years, the leaders of our government have been democratically elected. And from their ranks, our elected leaders have always selected a man for the responsibility and honor of serving as Speaker of the House. Always, that is, until today.

It’s sometimes said the Founding Fathers would not recognize the government that exists in Washington today . . . But today marks an occasion I think the Founding Fathers would view approvingly.
Transcript of Rep. Boehner's Welcome to Speaker Pelosi

Indeed, Mr. Boehner, I think they would.

This is also the first Congress to seat a Muslim and a Buddhist. Actually, there are two of the latter, Mazie Hirono, D-HI and Hank Johnson D-GA. There are also six House members who claim to have no religious affiliations.

"Political culture is finally catching up with the diversity of our country," said Albert Menendez of Americans for Religious Liberty, who has counted the religious affiliations of members of Congress for more than three decades.

Faith may be factor in diverse Congress

Of course, most of us are aware of the little kerfuffle about Keith Ellison (D-MN) doing his ceremonial swearing in with a Koran. If there was ever a less important debate about House procedures than this one, I don't want to know the details. The "swearing in" ceremony was entirely ceremonial. All congresspeople are sworn in at once on the opening day of the session, with no holy books required. The question of what Buddhists would do, or nonbelievers, is explored in a NY Times blog article.

Besides, there is no book in Buddhism that’s equivalent to the Bible or the Koran, said Representative-elect Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat. She said she probably would not use any book, but that in the past, when she was sworn in as lieutenant governor, she used a friend’s family Bible.

A Congressman, a Muslim and a Buddhist Walk Into a Bar…

So what bloody difference does it make? That people would be upset about these people not using a Bible in this circumstance is absurd.

As an atheist, I especially welcome the idea that several non-affiliated congressmen have been elected. There is plenty of reason to wonder if the United States hasn't gone off the deep end concerning religion and its role in politics in this country. Every time I hear or read someone saying that this country was founded on "Christian principles", I want to scream. This country was founded on the principle that no church or religion should run the government. If you don't believe me, have a careful look at this document. Pay special attention to Article VI and Amendment I. They're the only place religion is mentioned. One of the unaffiliated, Neil Abercrombie, D-HI, made a good case for why:

"I differentiate organized, institutional religion from questions of the spirit, questions of moral determinism or my sense of self in the universe," Abercrombie said. "I don't think the record of organized institutional religion is too good on that score."

Faith may be factor in diverse Congress

Organized religions are too often political institutions themselves, in that they seem to spend far more time worrying about things like their religion's popularity and finances than to their spiritual beliefs. They don't strike me as any more interested in the good of the nation than oil companies or big pharma are. The more the people who run them are ignored, I think, the better off we'll be as a society. Having a diverse range of religious beliefs represented in Congress can go a long way toward making that happen.

In short, with its first female Speaker and more minority religious views represented, the Congress became more representative of the country today.

Update: Crooks and Liars has a video up of the announcement of Pelosi's victory.


op99 said...

Atheists "are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public," according to a study by Penny Edgell, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota. In a recent NEWSWEEK Poll, Americans said they believed in God by a margin of 92 to 6—only 2 percent answered "don't know"—and only 37 percent said they'd be willing to vote for an atheist for president. (That's down from 49 percent in a 1999 Gallup poll—which also found that more Americans would vote for a homosexual than an atheist.)

You and I would have a hard time getting elected dogcatcher, my fellow atheist. I suspect there are atheists in Congress not suicidal enough to identify as such because of the above stats.

op99 said...

Oh, I forgot the cite for the above:

Cujo359 said...

You're right, op99, but it's not just atheists. There are considerable numbers of people in this country who say they wouldn't vote for someone who's not Christian. But that's a post for another day.

Meanwhile, it's nice that something positive has happened.

Thanks for the link.

op99 said...

It's a start, Cujo, but I'm still scared to death of the Christian Right.