Political Animal


July 19, 2012 1:17 PM Praying For Rain

By Ed Kilgore

Here’s a news item you don’t see every day:

The Council for Secular Humanism is attacking the Obama administration for Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack saying he prays for rain to end the nationwide drought.
“I get on my knees every day,” Vilsack said at the White House press briefing on Wednesday. “And I’m saying an extra prayer now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.”
In a statement, Tom Flynn, the executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, said Vilsack’s mention of prayer “sends the wrong message to distraught farmers.”

Look, I realize there’s a serious issue here, though Vilsack is hardly the kind of guy who is relying entirely on divine intervention when it comes to helping farmers. Federal farm programs aside, I recall from his brief 2008 presidential campaign that the former Iowa governor was pretty loud and explicit about the need to deal with global climate change.

Still, it reminds me a bit of a joke column (lost forever, I fear) I wrote years ago about an imaginary consulting firm called “The Devil You Know” that would enable candidates to “go negative on themselves” by arranging for attacks by unpopular groups and individuals. I’m sure there is more than one red-state Democrat who’d give almost anything to get scorched by the Council for Secular Humanism for excessive public piety.

But I really brought this up as an excuse to post this video of a song the Georgia State University college alt-rock station used to play before and after summer weather reports:

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Peter C on July 19, 2012 2:17 PM:

    I'm a secular humanist and I've never heard of the Council for Secular Humanism. Are you sure they are real and not a straw organization created to look ridiculous?

    Only a very silly secular humanist would think that there are no well-intentioned religious people in the world. Personally, I don't think there is anything Tom Vilsack can do to make it rain, but praying for rain certainly won't make things worse and it shows a refreshing and commendable recognition of a probem.

  • Adam Robert Ryan on July 19, 2012 2:33 PM:

    Big Agriculture has the money and the political muscle to counter Big Oil/Coal's climate change denial con, and they can't be too happy about what's going on this summer. Here's hoping they decide to so someting about it.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 19, 2012 2:35 PM:

    Did they attack Rick Perry for his stadium mega-prayer get together to pray for rain (and economic salvation)?

    Just how dumb can this country get?

  • SecularAnimist on July 19, 2012 2:40 PM:

    Perhaps Vilsack could pray that Obama will stop pushing the "clean coal" fraud and expanding the extraction of coal, oil and gas from public lands.

  • boatboy_srq on July 19, 2012 2:51 PM:

    Big Agriculture has the money and the political muscle to counter Big Oil/Coal's climate change denial con

    Big Ag, sorry to say, is hooked on GM crops and RoundUp, and on hormones and antibiotics. They're too far in bed with industrial petrochemicals to do anything but hope that technology will automagically make ACG go away without their having to change a thing besides their pesticides and fertilizers. Just look at how Monsanto goes after growers whose fields get inadvertently cross-pollinated with their neighbors' GM crops and you'll get the picture.

  • RaflW on July 19, 2012 3:02 PM:

    This is one of those moments where I face-palm over being a liberal.

    Really, Tom Flynn, STFU. I actually suspect that most farmers would be comforted by what Vilsack says.

    Only a moron or someone being intentionally obtuse thinks the Secretary of Agriculture is "relying on divine intervention." Gimme a break.

    Most of farm country is also church country. It is a comfort to many to know that someone in leadership is connecting with them on something as key as an active prayer life.

    Its no wonder that liberals are nearly always viewed with extreme suspicion by church folk. Boneheaded bulshit like this snarking over Vilsack's humble prayer life is a mirror for you folks: learn from it.

    And yes, you can pray and believe that climate change is real and that humans have to fix it. Its insulting to even insinuate that you can't.

  • SecularAnimist on July 19, 2012 3:27 PM:

    RaflW wrote: "This is one of those moments where I face-palm over being a liberal ... Its no wonder that liberals are nearly always viewed with extreme suspicion by church folk"

    RaflW, what makes you think that the Council for Secular Humanism is a "liberal" organization?

    According to their website, they are basically an anti-religion group:

    "The mission of the Council for Secular Humanism is to advocate and defend a nonreligious lifestance rooted in science, naturalistic philosophy, and humanist ethics and to serve and support adherents of that lifestance ... the Council supports a wide range of activities to meet the needs of people who find meaning and value in life without looking to a religion ... Secular humanists reject supernatural and authoritarian beliefs."

    As far as I can tell, they don't use the word "liberal" at all to describe their views.

    While their values and agenda may or may not overlap with whatever you mean by "liberal", they are very clearly focused on their opposition to religion, so their complaint about Vilsack is entirely consistent with their mission, regardless of whether it is politically convenient for "liberals".

  • Steve Sittig on July 19, 2012 3:28 PM:

    On the other hand...this morning on NPR, Vilsack was asked outright if he would attribute the drought conditions to climate change, and he totally dodged it as only a politician can do. He had a nice opportunity to say: This is consistent with patterns that suggest our climate is changing.
    This kind of statement is still a bit weasily, but he could have tried.

  • Mitch on July 19, 2012 3:59 PM:

    People like the Council for Secular Humanism give Libs in general and non-believers specifically a bad name. Understand, I'm 100% atheist, and proud of it. I utterly despise anything that stinks of theocracy, or any attempts to mix politics and religion.

    But for crying out loud everyone has the right to believe what they want, and say what they want, as long as they are not trying to force others to follow suit. If this guy wants to pray for rain, then it's his right (and his wasted time IMHO) and nobody has the right to complain about it. Indeed, I would expect any religious person to pray under the same circumstances. Or any circumstance for that matter.

    Now, I would grumble if he were saying, "Climate change is not real, this drought is the will of God. Our only hope is to pray for deliverance."

    I personally would rather that our public figures speak of climate change as the real and scientifically measurable occurance that it is. But if someone wants to pray about it, then more power to them. Especially if they happen to be praying for people to open their eyes to the truth that WE are causing this, and only WE can help it.

    Climate change is a very real problem, and will be the Great Historical Legacy of the 20th & 21st Centuries more than even our technological and cultural advancements. After all, enough drought and disaster will put ALL of the gains of civilization at risk. Few things can destroy cultures faster than starving masses.

    So, sure, I would like for the Secretary of Agriculture to speak from a more reality-based stand point. I would like for him to focus more on the science than on what God may or may not do to fix things. But it is his right to believe and pray, and jumping his case about it doesn't help anything.

    If anything, it will enrage serious believers, and give authority to the "conservatives" who say that Dems are out to destroy religion. Believe me, they DO say that. I was raised in an environment where the majority of people feel that the Democratic Party is little more than a bastion of Godless Communism and Sin. If we're serious about working on repairing the climate, then it will take everyone. Not just scientifically minded atheists like me.

    Driving wedges between believers and non-believers is a vile waste of energy. And, from a historical perspective, rather dangerous. Religious folk have often tended to go to the opposite extreme of theocracy and disregard of personal freedom when they feel that their faith is threatened (see the entire freaking South for examples). Look at how crazy (and powerful) the Religious Right has become since Reagan. Does the Council for Secular Humanism REALLY thing antagonizing the "God and Country" folk is a good idea?

    While I STRONGLY disagree with any attempts to impose theocracy on America (or anywhere else), I must also disagree with my fellow non-believers who rage against the faithful in every forum. I'm all for the "evanglism" of science, and go out of my way to explain issues such as ACC and Evolutionary Biology and space exploration to people who don't know about it. And, if a believer has the will to talk to me, I will even discuss with them the obviously non-Divine flaws that are found throughout the Bible.

    But it's got to be in the spirit of understanding. They can believe their mythology if they want; I can believe in nothing but science if I want. And just as they have no right to force me to follow their faiths, I have to right to turn the tables. Period.

  • Mitch on July 19, 2012 4:14 PM:


    "... what makes you think that the Council for Secular Humanism is a "liberal" organization?"

    To our friends in the GOP and Bible Belt such groups are automatically considered a part of the Democratic Party. And I am willing to bet (not $10k like Romoney, I'm just a working slob, lol) that most members of the Council for Secular Humanism probably do vote D.

    As a secular humanist, myself, I could never vote R. The two philosophies are very much at odds.

    While I agree with the spirit of your posts, my friend, I can only say that - in the America of 2012 - EVERYTHING needs to be considered for "political convinience" due to the upcoming election.

    This year is too important for the long-term course of the nation for ANY progressive organization or individual to risk allowing the modern and insane GOP to gain the Oval Office and more power in Congress. So, even as an outspoken atheist I can only have the opinion that anything that risks pushing more people into the arms of the Plutocrats, Theocrats and Randians of the GOP is a bad, bad thing, and must be avoid.

    Right now the stakes are too high. I don't like the feeling of embracing the "lesser of two evils" any more than the next stubborn hillbilly. Right now I would vote for Nixon, if he were the only serious contender standing against the modern batshit insane GOP. Of course, compared to the modern GOP, Tricky Dick was a tree-hugging left winger.

  • SecularAnimist on July 19, 2012 4:20 PM:

    Mitch wrote: "People like the Council for Secular Humanism give Libs in general and non-believers specifically a bad name."

    I don't see how the Council for Secular Humanism gives "Libs" a bad name, since the organization does not use the word "liberal" to describe itself or its mission.

    And as for "non-believers", note that the FAQ on their website makes a clear distinction between secular humanists on the one hand, and atheists and agnostics on the other.

    Mitch wrote: "Does the Council for Secular Humanism REALLY thing antagonizing the 'God and Country' folk is a good idea?"

    The Council for Secular Humanism is doing what it does: opposing religion. That's the whole point of the organization's existence. It is not their mission to advance the "liberal" (let alone Democratic Party) political agenda, or to do what "liberals" might find politically convenient in an election year.

  • Adam Robert Ryan on July 19, 2012 4:38 PM:

    boatboy_srq wrote Big Ag, sorry to say, is hooked on GM crops and RoundUp, and on hormones and antibiotics. . . Just look at how Monsanto goes after growers . . .

    They're evil. So what? They are powerful and climate change is costing them big time.

  • ComradeAnon on July 19, 2012 5:24 PM:

    The important thing here is mention of WRAS. for many years the best college radio station in the country. Hell, it was better than most commercial stations in the 70's. 100,000 watts. Album 88.

  • Mitch on July 19, 2012 5:27 PM:


    "I don't see how the Council for Secular Humanism gives "Libs" a bad name, since the organization does not use the word "liberal" to describe itself or its mission."

    Well, then you are sadly incapable of seeing things through the eyes of our theocratic friends in the GOP. Because they DO see it that way, they DO consider it liberal, they DO consider any pronouncements like this as directly connected to the Democratic Party.

    Yes, I am aware of the distinction (or lack thereof) between Humanism and any particular religious outlook on life. But it is not reasonable, informed individuals like you that I am thinking about when I decry such statements from Humanists.

    I'm thinking about people like my father, who said the other day that he (in Appalachia) was seriously considering voting for Obama this year because "at least he's trying to help the working man." My father (like my entire family) is extremely religious and hearing something like this could easily push him into voting R in November.

    Yes, reasonable and informed people know that the Council for Secular Humanism is not an arm of the Dems. But most people are neither reasonable nor informed.

    Please understand, that I strongly oppose religion too. If you've ever read my comments on here, you should realize that. But I will not, have not and will never pick on any religious person for saying that they are praying for an ill loved one or - in this case - an ill planet.

    If the Council wants to ride on any believers, then they need to be attacking those who are really trying to force their beliefs on others, or to impose theocratic legislation on their state/nation. Attacking some guy for saying that he's praying is kind of ridiculous.

    As far as being "politically convenient" please see my prior response. This year is too important, with the probably multiple Supreme Court openings coming up and the rabid insanity of the GOP.

    Organizations like this, if they really want to make a positive difference in the world, should weigh their statements against the knowledge that their words will be used by those who oppose humanism and free inquiry. The words will be used out of context, and they will be used to strike against those who do stand against Theocracy - including and especially the Democratic Party. Anyone should be able to understand how Secularism has been utterly equated to the progressive agenda and, thus, the Democratic Party by the Religious Right. If you don't understand that, and if the Council doesn't understand that, then - well - I can only shake my head in dismay.

    You must also not understand how motion pictures are accused of advancing the "Liberal Agenda" or how non-political scientific research is called a "Liberal Conspiracy" by millions on the Right. After all Hollywood and the world of academia are not actual parts of the Democratic Party are they? So how could anything they say or do EVER be used against "liberals", right?

    Now, I am the first to say that the Party exists to support the people, not the other way around. I, personally, have been driven to wits end by some of the decisions of the Democrats and Obama and by the lack of true Progressives in the Democratic Party. But there is unfortunately no other real option than voting D.

    The stakes are too high for prideful protest votes to be ethically justifiable to those who really want to improve the nation and world. If you stand for Reason, Science and Human Advancement - if you stand against Theocracy, Plutocracy and Ignorance - then the GOP is the enemy. And they must be stopped.

  • Joseph DuPont on July 19, 2012 7:05 PM:

    "I get on my knees every day and I'm saying an extra prayer right now," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters after briefing President Barack Obama. You believe that? No one in this White House prays to any God I know. The Obama Administration has insulted God and we know that Obama only prays to Allah.Sec. Vilsack should pray to God that he does not burn in hell for having any part in an administration that is trying to ruin the entire fabric our nation was created from!!! Vilsack has sold his soul to the evil Monsanto who continues to contaminate our food system!