Hi! In this inaugural episode, I introduce myself and explain what I’m doing with this podcast. To summarize, I’m a non-religious liberal who loves America. Or the idea of it, anyway. I explain more in the show, so give it a listen. Welcome!
Hi, I’m Jaime Escuder and welcome to this inaugural episode of None Sense.
What is a “none”?
(I’m actually not that kind of nun that you’re thinking about. Quite the opposite.)
None, N-O-N-E, is someone who is secular or unaffiliated with any religious denomination.
I’m not only a none I’m also a lawyer, a liberal a father, a husband, other important and meaningful things, but I wanna focus on my none-ness, because I think it’s very important to be open about being that type of person in America at this time. And there’s a couple of reasons [for that].
First, there’s a lot of us. In “The New York Times” I was reading an article that said one third of all millenials actually identify as a none, and as many as 23% [of all Americans], so nearly a quarter of the entire population of the United States is unaffiliated religiously. And when I say that, I’m not talking about that we’re all atheists, or agnostics. [We’re] just people who don’t for whatever reason subscribe to religion.
And it’s important for those people to have, I think, people like me out there being open about this, because America, and I really feel like frankly, the world, the way we’re going, needs more people who are willing to be upfront about their lack of belief, because the way we view the world makes us behave, and I know this probably is gonna offend a lot of people who are religious, but I just feel like it makes us behave in a much more responsible way towards the earth and towards each other. And here’s the reason: we don’t believe in heaven. We imagine that there was no heaven, and what that does, is it places incredible importance upon now. Now both in terms of time and here in terms of place.
If we don’t believe in heaven that means that if we’re ever going to experience ecstasy or happiness or joy, it’s gotta happen here on this planet, and it also means that we have to be responsible stewards of this planet, because it’s all we have; we’re not going anywhere else.
I believe that if you believe in an after-life, you believe that something is gonna get better later on, then it’s okay to abuse the people around you now and the place where you live now because it’s just gonna get better. So it’s okay to pollute, it’s okay…you know, I actually know religious people who are okay with and even in some kind of a warped way, look forward to the apocalypse. They want the world to end because once that happens they’re gonna go to a better place.
Well, if you are someone like me, and you don’t think there’s anything after life, other than just nothingness, oblivion, well then you don’t really want the apocalypse to happen because it means it’s all come to an end, and there’s many wonderful things about being alive and being on earth that are not something that I want to end. I have to enjoy it. I enjoy being alive and I’d like to stick around and I wanna enjoy my life and I wanna enjoy the biodiversity of this planet, and I like, you know, I like things like drinking a clean glass of water or breathing in fresh air. Those are good things. And I would like those things to continue and I don’t want to diminish those things or cheapen those things by pretending that there’s something better waiting, when really it’s hard for me to conceive of a more beautiful planet that’s possible of creating more vibrant, wonderful, rich experiences than this one.
So I don’t wanna diminish the now and the earth by talk of some future, and that’s part of the reason why I think being a none and practicing a way of life that is kind of an areligious, “there is no god” way of conducting oneself on earth is actually a very responsible and a good way to live.
And I have some stories about…a couple of stories I’d like to tell about what it’s like for me, as an atheist born in the United States and raised in the United States, to live in this country that actually makes me feel unwelcome and an alien.
(An alien in the sense of…not in the sort of immigration sense that we use as a way to disparage people from other countries who come here because I think that’s a disgusting thing that we do with how we just…many Americans can’t stand immigrants. Alien in the sense of just unfamiliar to the people who would consider themselves the rightful owners of this country. And I hate that because I’m not an alien to this country, I’m as American as anyone else and yet these are the things that happen to me.)
So, last November I ran for office as a Democrat in a swing district in Texas. I say it’s a swing district because this district traditionally goes blue. I’m a Democrat and I’m in a district that traditionally goes Democratic, but last November I ran for District Attorney in my district as a Democrat, and the entire district went straight red, not just for District Attorney but literally for everything on the ballot: for President, for County Commissioner. The entire ballot was Republican.
Now, I ran for District Attorney on…this was my platform, literally: I’m against the death penalty, and I’m against the war on drugs. And I believed, and I believe still, that this was a sensible, responsible and humane platform, and yet I lost miserably, and why? Because I’m an atheist. That was it. In fact, I’ll tell you a story.
I was actually knocking on a door of a potential voter and this was a woman who should have traditionally been a Democratic voter. She was a Mexican-American woman, an older woman who I know has family members in Mexico and the Republican, let’s face it, the Republican policy or slate or leadership is very anti-immigrant and frankly, I think the Republican party is a racist party that’s against Mexicans, and there’s absolutely no way that this woman should have been not a Democratic voter. And yet, I knocked on her door and when I tell you the look of terror on her face when she realized who it was that was knocking on her door … it was like a Tuesday at 3 in the afternoon. And I said “Hey I’m Jaime, I’d like to introduce myself, I’m running for DA,” and she just kind of raises her hands, not like in a way to stop me but almost like in a fearful like trying to cast out demons kind of way. And she says, “I know who you are. I’m not voting for you. In fact, I’m going to church right now,” and then she slammed the door on me.
Word had gotten around, clearly, that I was an atheist which has nothing to do with the job of being a District Attorney, but word spread in that community and that was it, that was their one issue. And I know this that was their one issue. It had nothing to do with trial experience or my experience as a lawyer, or about the fact, right, that all these people were religious. And many people in my District are Catholic. It didn’t have nothing to do with the fact that I was opposed on the record to the death penalty, and my opponent was not. And yet they would rather vote for, I guess, a Christian person who’s willing to put poor people to death than an atheist who’s not.
I lost the election and the day after I lost the election I went to a nearby town called Fort Stockton to pull out my signs, and it was an exhausting work. I remember that I was in shell shock, not because I lost my election, which is something that I’m actually at peace with, but because Donald Trump won his election which is something that I’m not at peace with and still in shock about and frankly still grieving about.
It was a cold day, it was rainy. It was just a miserable day. And I went to a diner and there in the diner was a group of sheriff’s deputies and they were talking about my election. Now, I had my signs all over the District with my face on them saying “Elect Jaime as your District Attorney,” and I was in the very room that these people were talking. And they had no idea who I was, and I could hear them saying, “We’re really glad Sandy Wilson won.” (Sandy Wilson was the lady who ran against me.) “Really glad that she won. I don’t know anything about that other guy but I know that he is an atheist, and what else do you need to know?”
Now, I will say there was a lawyer at that table who didn’t know I was in the room but who I know, who actually stood up for me somewhat and said, “Atheism has nothing to do with the job,” but he kind of got some snickers from the sheriff’s deputies like, “come on. Give us a break.”
But here’s the remarkable thing about that. The District Attorney’s job is to prosecute cases, which means that whoever the DA is has to work very closely with law enforcement. And here you have these sheriff’s deputies who are going to have to work with whoever the person the DA is, very closely. I mean, their job really kinda depends, and the success of how well they’re able to protect the people in their community, depends upon their relationship with the District Attorney. And so this is a very important election for them, and they had done absolutely no research into the candidates. Into me, other than to determine that I was an atheist.
I mean, so little research such that they didn’t know what I looked like, they didn’t know where I had gone to law school, they didn’t know what my background was at all. They had simply heard that I was an atheist and that was it; I was not going to get their vote. It didn’t matter if I was more qualified than my opponent, or if I had been practicing law longer, or if I’d tried more cases, or if I had any experience with, you know, DNA evidence or electronic evidence. None of that mattered. All the stuff that they would actually reasonably need me to do, or types of cases that they might need me to prove in their job.
So there is a huge bias against nones in this country, and that’s not okay, and that needs to change.
Because the fact is that the United States is a nation in crisis. I’ve never been through a civil war or a cultural war, I don’t think, but I think that’s kind of what’s happening. There’s that great line and I think it’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” or “Prisoner of Azkaban” where someone asks Sirius, you know, “is this what it felt like before? Is this the same…is this what revolution feels like?” and he says “well, it feels like it did before” (and by “before” he means like when the Death Eaters came. Well, I don’t know, but this feels like a very bad situation for the United States. The President of the United States, right now, at this very moment as I’m making this podcast is literally picking a fight with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Goldengate Warriors.
All right. We are a nation in denial about climate change despite the fact that we seem to be undergoing an epidemic of hurricanes.
We have white supremacists. (I guess we’ve always had white supremacists but the difference is, now we have white supremacists who are loud and proud about it, who are parading through our cities about it without any fear of even criticism.)
We have travel bans.
We have a society that mocks you if you’re educated, that if you say you wanna go to college or you are a college professor, you are met with scorn.
We are a country that is going backwards to the dark ages, and it’s a disaster, and in these times, we need strong, clear and sensible voices. And I’m making this podcast because I intend to be one of those voices.
As I end this first podcast, I wanna say that there are many people without religion out there: humanists, atheists, agnostics, just people who are maybe are still searching. Nones.
We are good people.
We care about justice.
We care about the environment.
We care about other people.
I’m not lying to you when I say to you that one of my heroes is Jesus Christ. And I mean that. Now, do I believe that he rose, was resurrected from the dead and lives at the right hand of the Father and, you know, it was a virgin birth and all that? No, no. That’s nonsense. Do I believe, however, that he was an extremely brave person who spoke truth to power, who knew he was gonna be punished for it but felt that he needed to say it anyway for the good of others and did say it? Yes.
I think Jesus Christ was a man of great integrity and super brave, and believe me when I tell you that I do hold him as a model for my own conduct. I often ask myself what would Jesus do, which is in fact why I oppose the death penalty, for example.
Another one of my heroes, is a guy named Thomas Paine. He is the man who said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He is the guy who wrote “Common Sense” which was the major force behind the United States declaring independence from Great Britain. He was a founding father. He was also an atheist. “My religion,” he said, “is to do good.”
My religion, and I believe the religion of many nones, is to do good. Some of you may not understand that, some of you may not know what that means. Follow this podcast and you will see.