Iowa and the Future of Secular Politics

Many Iowans (on the Democratic side) felt the Bern, leading the former Independent-turned-Democrat Senator from Vermont to virtually tie Hillary Clinton in the caucuses there on Monday.

While Sanders’s lefty populism has been the catalyst fueling his surprising rise, I think his support also tell us a lot about the future of secularism and its relationship to US politics. In my opinion, Sanders is also benefiting from a more secular Democratic electorate. His message, in other words, is resonating with the rising secular left that is mostly comprised of young people with no religious affiliation.

The entrance polls confirm that Sanders’s base is among young people. The CNN results show that Sanders’s support was concentrated among those under the age of 40. Indeed, more than 8-in-10 Democrats under 30 claimed to support Sanders.

The poll did not show results by religious affiliation. But as a proxy we can use the American Values Atlas, a project of the Public Religion Research Institute. PRRI’s analysis of Iowa religious demographics show that the fastest growth has been among young secular people. Moreover, secular people are largest religious cohort in the Democratic coalition in the state. Still, Iowa is not a very secular place. The size of its secular population is similar to the U.S. percentage, and the secular proportion of its Democratic coalition is similar to the proportion of the Democratic Party nationally.

The next stage is New Hampshire, which is terrain favorable to Sanders because is his turf (New England) and is above-average in its secular composition. The question is whether Sanders’s secular economic populist message can fare better once it moves away from New Hampshire and into more religious states. A friend once argued that candidates like Howard Dean (also from Vermont) had a problem reaching out to more traditional Democratic (religious) constituencies such as Catholics and African American Protestants. If Bernie, with a largely secular message can give Hillary a run for her money without major religious outreach, goes far in this race he will show that secular politics are possible the Democratic Party, even if he falls short in the end.



The Quest for Social Justice in Secular America is a Real Thing

That is a real thing. I just returned from an amazing meeting of the minds at the Secular Social Justice Conference at Rice University in Houston, TX. The event was organized by the Black Skeptics of Los Angeles, the Houston Black Non-Believers, and the Humanists of Houston. It was led by Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, with the support of Dr. Anthony Pinn at Rice.

The conference was a great vehicle to connect secular people of color and allies who have been in the trenches of social change. The participant’s roll is a who’s who of secular leaders of color. In addition to Drs. Hutchinson and Pinn I was able to reconnect with the AHA’s Maggie Ardiente, CFI’s Debbie Goddard; finally met in person American Atheists’ Sincere Kirabo and Houston Black Non-Believers’ Ashton P. Woods, whom I knew from Facebook. In addition, I was able to meet in person two of my favorite bloggers: FreeThoughtBlogs’ Greta Christina and Stephanie Zvan.

I participated in the panel “What’s Race Got To Do With It? Racial Politics and Intersectionality In the Atheist Movement” with Frank Anderson, Georgina Capetillo, Alix Jules, Sincere Kirabo, Jimmie Luthuli, and Vic Wang. The panel was moderated by Daniel Myatt. We discussed many issues ranging from coalitions with religious people, our role as atheists of color in the secular movement, the state of intersectionality politics in the United States. Interestingly, the conversation ended with a discussion about the pros, cons, and possibilities (and a bit of definition) of revolution.

In addition to this panel, there were other 4 panels:

  • Feminism(s) of Color and the Secular Movement
  • Humanism and Hip-Hop
  • Finding Justice in an Economic System that Proclaims Financial Opportunity for All
  • LGBTQ Queer Atheists of Color and Social Justice

I attended the 1st and 3rd on the list since 1 &2 and 3 & 4 were held simultaneously. I ended in those panels after a coin toss, it was very hard to decide. Following the conversation in Twitter (#SSJCON) I realized that those panels I missed were as interesting as the ones I attended.

Over the next few days I will unpack a bit more of my experience in the conference and also try to flesh out what I said in the politics panel a bit more.