A year ago, I wrote about some of the stupidly negative portrayals of atheists in the news media. In case you were wondering, it hasn’t stopped. Week after week, month after month, people in positions of power — including journalists — continue to write about atheism as if it’s the root cause of all society’s ills.
This time it was Ivy Taylor, mayor of one of the largest cities in the United States. The 46-year-old Democrat, notably the first African-American woman to serve as mayor of a U.S. city with more than a million people, is a graduate of Yale University and worked in several poverty-alleviating positions before running for mayor in 2015.
Now up for reelection, Taylor was asked: “What do you see as the deepest, systemic causes of generational poverty in San Antonio?” She answered, incredibly stupidly for a person of her educational attainment: “I’ll go ahead and put it out there. To me, it’s broken people… people not being in a relationship with their Creator, and therefore not being in a good relationship with their families and their communities… and not being productive members of society. I think that’s the ultimate answer.”
No, she didn’t explicitly say “atheism”, as several clickbait headlines claimed (example). I think what she actually said was even worse:
• Poor people have only themselves to blame (“not being productive members of society”).
• Anyone who doesn’t believe as she does is the “ultimate” cause of poverty.
This includes atheists, but also rounds up members of other religions, agnostics, deists, and even members of her own church who might not be meeting the church’s expectations. Oh, and you’re all “broken people” — something on which she doubled down when she “clarified” on Facebook. She said it stems from her belief in “original sin”, a core doctrine of most Christian denominations. In other words, Adam and Eve eating the fruit in the Garden of Eden is why we have poverty today.
But she clearly also said that a cause was “people not being in a relationship with their Creator”. So not only original sin, but current people continuing to “sin” by not worshiping as she believes they should.
As an educated adult, Taylor should know better.
Not only does the Texas Constitution frown on such pronouncements:
…and not only does the U.S. Constitution agree, but the causes of poverty are well-known and understood today.
Ms. Taylor might be interested to learn that the poorest nations in the world are the most religious. More relevantly, she should know that the U.S. states with the highest level of poverty are almost identical to the U.S. states that are the most religious. (And, conversely, the states where religion is seen as the least important also have the lowest levels of poverty.)
If anything, it is people who do have a “relationship with their Creator” at the root of all this.
But they’re not, of course, because poverty isn’t caused by being religious, nor is it caused by being non-religious. Belief in God and lack of belief in God are equally ineffective at causing or eradicating poverty.
I must add one caveat to the above paragraph. In some cases, being religious could make a person poorer, depending on which precepts they hold close. For example, in the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly told people to “sell everything you have” and give it away. Other religions as well have varying levels of poverty-idolization.
But poverty has multiple, intertwined causes.
One of them is history. Nations once under colonial rule of European powers are much more likely to be poor. (There are exceptions, like the U.S. and Canada, of course.) Colonial powers extracted riches, and set up the conditions that led to extreme poverty. Another is war and political instability — often caused by those same former colonial powers.
Then there are international monetary policies, enforced by the IMF and World Bank, which typically force smaller, poorer nations to allow outside competitors from richer nations to move in. This amounts to financial colonialism.
On the individual level, the greatest predictors of poverty are where you were born and to whom you were born. If you are born to poor parents in a poor country, you will be poor. Period. It doesn’t matter what your religion is. If you were born to wealthy parents in a wealthy country, you will be wealthy. Period.
A lot of us were born somewhere in the middle: our parents were neither poor nor wealthy. For us, there are other predictors of poverty. Education is a huge one, because it can very well mean the difference between a good job and a shitty job. The job market is another indicator. Local and federal government policies come into play as well. Is there a social safety net? Are there job training programs? Housing programs? Is education subsidized? Is healthcare provided? People who are physically or mentally disabled are high risk for poverty.
We also know that low wages keep working people poor. Ineffectual health insurance (or in the cases of every job I’ve ever held, zero insurance) can quickly cause poverty in health emergencies. And we know that low wages are often paid by corporations with ridiculously high payouts to stockholders and CEOs — Walmart being a prime example; Sam Walton’s heirs are the single richest family in the U.S. and continue to profit off of the poverty wages they pay most employees. In many small or medium-sized towns, Walmart is the largest employer. So at least in some cases, greedy rich people are the cause of poverty.
None of these relate to personal choices or religious affiliation. Not one of them.
And keep in mind, this wasn’t a radical Christian blogger or a megachurch pastor. This was the mayor of the seventh-largest city in the United States (second-largest in Texas) spouting this nonsense.
Conclusion: We as a country desperately need to stop voting for people so deluded by religion that they can’t interact with real life in any meaningful way.