Can atheists be elected?

Oct 7, 2014

Photo credit: Matt York, AP

By Tom Krattenmaker

Guess how many of the major-party candidates in next month’s congressional elections are openly atheist. Hint: You can count them on one finger.

It tells you something that in a time when “no religion” is the category of roughly 20% of Americans, virtually none of the hundreds of Democrats and Republicans vying for congressional seats identify as a religious “none.”

Whether it’s because some consider their atheism, agnosticism or indifference a deal-breaker and don’t even try for office, or whether it’s because some non-religious candidates fudge the truth for political viability, this much seems clear: Candidates have to at least feign some religiosity to qualify for prominent political office, despite our Constitution forbidding religion tests of this sort. And atheism and related forms of non-belief are about the worst thing a candidate can be associated with.

This situation should not, and will not, hold for long.


 

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25 comments on “Can atheists be elected?

  • 1
    Miserablegit says:

    Of course we are now back to a previous post about how the religious claim to be the only ones with morals and therefore by extension non believers must be immoral. We all know who are the most effective at peddling lies and misinformation, especially when it comes to atheists.



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  • Explaining the need for the campaign, Carolyn Becker, spokesperson for Openly Secular, points to polling data showing that 53% of Americans think it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral. Other survey data show that being an atheist is more injurious to one’s shot at political office than being an adulterer.

    Wow, 53% of Americans really don’t have a clue when it comes to religion and ethics.

    These trends would likely bend if more Americans got to know people who were openly non-religious and saw them working hard, taking care of their kids and neighborhoods, and being generally kind and honest in their dealings with other people.

    In other words, seeing them do what most everyone does, whatever our ideas about God. (It’s useful to remind ourselves, too, that the ranks of rogues and miscreants include plenty of people who tout their religious bona fides.)

    I agree. I suspect a large part of the problem is that many quarters of America are so steeped and dominated by religion that the people there not only don’t encounter many, if any, atheists themselves – which should ordinarily quickly disillusion them of most of their prejudices – but can’t even imagine any other decent way of living other than as an upstanding Christian.

    Get this: Even some conservatives don’t believe in God. The prominent columnist George Will, for instance, recently revealed that he is an atheist — albeit an “amiable, low-voltage” one, as Will put it. Low voltage or high, Will has come out.

    Yes, but if his comments are anything to go by, he’s one of the atheists that sees no problem with faith. That still leaves the impression that atheism is OK so long as atheists coddle religion, and so it leaves the more critical atheists out in the cold. I won’t consider it a full and encouraging reform until publicly anti-faith atheists receive respect, which in the current relativistic “every person has their own faith” climate, is a remote contingency.

    Decades ago, President Eisenhower articulated a principle that still holds sway today. “Our form of government,” the World War II hero and 34th president declared, makes “no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

    Our new, more secular century calls for an update to Eisenhower’s idea: Our democracy cannot function well unless its participants have deeply felt ethical commitments that get them beyond their own self-interest. And I don’t care where they get them.

    Unfortunately, that’s like saying “So long as you get 1/4 from 16/64, I don’t care if you divide nom and denom by sixteen to maintain the ratio, or simply cross out the 6s. The point is that you still get the right answer.”

    Don’t get me wrong: I won’t object to an increasing comity between religious and atheistic people. I don’t want to make prejudices against religious people’s reasoning powers either, as there is such a thing as compartmentalization. But these are mostly pragmatic concerns. I have my eye on the bigger picture, which is the removal of faith-based thinking in general, especially when it infects morality and our attitudes towards other people, and more broadly modes of thinking that distort intellectual inquiry (including moral questions). In that bigger picture, atheists and religious people getting along is a means, not an end.



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  • Yep! Give you that one. Just like to get one in for DB when I can. A christian trying to use muslims and others to back his agenda.



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  • It’s time. Atheists should run for office. I wish that a few prominent scientists, both atheist and not, would also at least take a shot at running for political office.



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  • I don’t think its possible in the current religious climate because we seem to be heading back to the dark ages thanks to fools like Tony “dark ages” Abbott (Australian PM)



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  • The sad commentary from this article is that in 19 of the 20 G20 countries, this doesn’t apply. It is only in America, which is stuck in some 1950’s time warp that this still persists.

    Seriously. America needs to resets it’s zero’s and catch up with modern civilization. It’s why I find more parallels with theocracies around the world and America, than with secular rational nations. Wake up America. We need the Good Ole US of A back in the first Eleven. (Alan will know what this means.)



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  • It is indeed time. Who would be good for this do you think? maybe a science populariser like de Grasse Tyson?

    I also believe there should be some atheist actors following in Swarzenegger’s miserable footsteps. Jodie Foster? Or comedians? I think Sarah Silverman could get serious real quick. This is the US so I guess these people need to be independently wealthy…



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  • His name is spelt Burrowes…Full name David John Barrington – and yes he’s a conservative mildly (By USA standards) fundamental Christian…..He may lose his seat in the next election hopefully…..I certainly wouldn’t vote for the toffee-nosed tory tosseur….
    And he has SIX children – so no social/planetary responsibility either!!



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  • Yes. Thanks for the correction. Written enough letters to him and should have realised my typo. He offered to take us on a tour of the commons at a function the other night. I politely refused. I thought I would follow the slime trail later…………



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  • 15
    bonnie says:

    Bill Nye.

    Can atheists be elected?

    Yes, if as someone suggested elsewhere, we cast our ballots on issues only. Yard signs and mailers for upcoming local elections prominently feature the candidate’s mug. Blind voting, so to speak, would even the playing field for all the other (numerous) parties who want to throw their hat in the ring.



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  • Agree. The problem as I see it is that those that sincerely WANT office will not advertise their lack of belief because of a perceived negative effect. The answer is for as many atheists as possible to stand for election openly declaring their atheism in the expectation of not getting elected but in familiarising the voters with their existence.
    As a Brit I am used to seeing candidates on the ballot outside of the main parties. Is there a situation in the US that only Democrats or Republicans can get elected and that not just atheists but anyone else expressing a non- D or R label also has no chance?



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  • According to the laws of the state in which I was born, I’m not allowed to hold any civil office. Article IX, Section 2 of the Constitution Of The State Of Tennessee disqualifies me.. unless we can consider the rule of law to be “a future state of rewards and punishments”

    “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.”

    🙁



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  • Kyle Oct 9, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.”

    That would appear to be, “A state of constitutional illiteracy”!



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  • “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards
    and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this
    state.”

    That would seem to apply to a lot of Catholic’s some of whom are very strong on the idea that God can (and will) forgive everybody. So no punishments.



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  • 21
    Claudia Odile says:

    Haven’t thought about it before, but the idea of a prominent atheist person running for office isn’t the worst idea for America, they should really think about it, maybe it’s worth a try, they’ve already voted for (republican) actors, so why not an (hopefully democratic) atheist? Of course one of the more serious sort of person with a real chance…Just day-dreaming…



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  • A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents
    and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents
    eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

    ~ Max Planck 1858-04-23 1947-10-04



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  • Fortunately in Australia we don’t have as large a problem with the religious right. Our first female Prime Minister was an atheist and I’m certain that among those who profess belief publicly there are numerous who don’t go to church and don’t really believe.

    When our next census occurs, I understand that instead of asking people which religion they associate with, it will ask something like, “Do you follow a religion?” and if so, there will be a box to tick the fantasy of choice. This will give a much clearer picture of the true state of non-belief in Australia.



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  • 25
    Light Wave says:

    If it wasn’t so serious id laugh and say this sounds like one of my 5 year olds questions……”muuuuuum…..can afiests be elected” ? Oh of course they can darling…..but only if they have squillions of tainted or borrowed money



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