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Is Atheism The Last Taboo of politics?

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  • Is Atheism The Last Taboo of politics?

    The Last Taboo
    It’s harder in America to come out as an atheist politician than a gay one. Why?

    By JENNIFER MICHAEL HECHT December 09, 2013
    On Real Time with Bill Maher last August, Maher asked his guest, newly retired Rep. Barney Frank, if he felt liberated now that he was a private citizen. Frank said he did, since he no longer gets phone calls saying someone screwed something up and he has to “unscrew it.” Maher pressed on, saying, “You were in a fairly safe district. You were not one of those congresspeople who have to worry about every little thing. You could come on this show and sit next to a pot-smoking atheist, and it wouldn’t bother you.” Frank shot back: “Which pot-smoking atheist were you talking about?” Then he pointed back and forth to Maher and himself.

    The audience loved it. Maher doubled over in laughter and delight. But while few seemed to care about Frank’s pot-smoking admission, atheists across the country—myself included—were disappointed that he hadn’t acknowledged his lack of religious belief sooner, when it could have made a real difference. We were left wondering why a man who served 16 terms in Congress and who bravely came out as gay all the way back in 1987 felt the need to hide his atheism until he was out of office. Was it really harder to come out as an atheist politician in 2013 than as a gay one 25 years ago?

    Incredibly, the answer might be yes. For starters, consider that there is not a single self-described atheist in Congress today. Not one. It wasn’t until 2007 that Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from Northern California, became the first member of Congress and the highest-ranking public official ever to admit to being an atheist. (And even he framed it in terms of religious affiliation, calling himself “a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.”) Stark was elected twice after this, but when the 20-term congressman lost his seat last year, it was to a 31-year-old primary challenger who attacked him as irreligious, citing, among other things, Stark’s vote against our national motto: “In God We Trust.”

    Indeed, the same year that Stark came out, the Secular Coalition of America was able to identify only five atheist public officials in the entire United States. After Stark and a Nebraska state senator, the third-highest ranking atheist was a school-board president from Berkeley, Calif.—this despite the fact that, according to a 2012 Pew report, 6 percent of Americans say they don’t believe in a higher power. That leaves at least 15 million Americans without any elected officials to represent their point of view. Basically, atheism is still as close as it gets to political poison in American electoral politics: A recent Gallup poll found (once again) that atheists are the least electable among several underrepresented groups. Sixty-eight percent of Americans would vote for a well-qualified gay or lesbian candidate, for example, but only 54 percent would vote for a well-qualified atheist. Seven state constitutions even still include provisions prohibiting atheists from holding office (though they are not enforced). One of those is liberal Maryland, which also has a clause that says, essentially, that non-believers can be disqualified from serving as jurors or witnesses.
    “Any sufficiently advanced capitalism is indistinguishable from rent seeking.” ~ =j

  • #2
    I'll be interested to see whether anyone here would be willing to vote for an atheist or someone who is simply not religious in any way.

    I tend to agree with Frank's take on the word "atheist" itself. It is harsh, because the people most likely to self-describe that way tend to be more militant about their (lack of) beliefs. I'm not particularly religious but I don't think I could vote for a militant atheist because I'd be scared they'd try to over compensate for overt Christian manipulation in law. Someone who's more of a "meh, I don't give a damn one way or the other because it doesn't matter in politics" would be someone much more likely to get my vote.
    “Any sufficiently advanced capitalism is indistinguishable from rent seeking.” ~ =j

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Tom Servo View Post
      I'll be interested to see whether anyone here would be willing to vote for an atheist or someone who is simply not religious in any way.

      I tend to agree with Frank's take on the word "atheist" itself. It is harsh, because the people most likely to self-describe that way tend to be more militant about their (lack of) beliefs. I'm not particularly religious but I don't think I could vote for a militant atheist because I'd be scared they'd try to over compensate for overt Christian manipulation in law. Someone who's more of a "meh, I don't give a damn one way or the other because it doesn't matter in politics" would be someone much more likely to get my vote.
      I tend to agree with you there. I do think that atheism is the last taboo of politics. We tend to believe that someone with a religious affiliation is more moral than those without. I have many friends that are agnostic, and only a few who are openly atheist.
      Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live...
      Robert Southwell, S.J.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Tom Servo View Post
        I'll be interested to see whether anyone here would be willing to vote for an atheist or someone who is simply not religious in any way.

        I tend to agree with Frank's take on the word "atheist" itself. It is harsh, because the people most likely to self-describe that way tend to be more militant about their (lack of) beliefs. I'm not particularly religious but I don't think I could vote for a militant atheist because I'd be scared they'd try to over compensate for overt Christian manipulation in law. Someone who's more of a "meh, I don't give a damn one way or the other because it doesn't matter in politics" would be someone much more likely to get my vote.
        I have no problem with atheists per se, but I agree with you about the more militant ones. None of the atheists I know that would have my vote are dumb enough to run for office.
        "Faith is nothing but a firm assent of the mind : which, if it be regulated, as is our duty, cannot be afforded to anything but upon good reason, and so cannot be opposite to it."

        -John Locke

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        • #5
          I've been subscribing to the ACLJ. It does keep me up to date on some of the bullcrap done to Christians such as Pastor Saeed. One thing I don't like about it though is how they make a big deal out of "militant atheists." One time, I read the article they had putting down "militant atheists" and didn't find one atheist in the article. I wrote them back and told them that too. Stuff like that is the problem. Yes, some atheists are militant. A lot of atheists are nice.

          If an atheist can convince me that they'll do a good job of balancing the budget and helping people in the community (or convince me they're the lesser evil), then I'll vote for him or her.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Lanie View Post
            I've been subscribing to the ACLJ. It does keep me up to date on some of the bullcrap done to Christians such as Pastor Saeed. One thing I don't like about it though is how they make a big deal out of "militant atheists." One time, I read the article they had putting down "militant atheists" and didn't find one atheist in the article. I wrote them back and told them that too. Stuff like that is the problem. Yes, some atheists are militant. A lot of atheists are nice.

            If an atheist can convince me that they'll do a good job of balancing the budget and helping people in the community (or convince me they're the lesser evil), then I'll vote for him or her.
            Even if that atheist is militant?
            Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live...
            Robert Southwell, S.J.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by phillygirl View Post
              Even if that atheist is militant?
              I'm assuming they wouldn't be militant.

              I guess it depends on what they're being militant about. If they're all about taking tax exempt status away from churches, making abortion legal up to the ninth month with "no apology," forcing bakers to bake cakes against their religious beliefs, saying the FCA shouldn't exist in a public school, then no I won't vote for that person.

              However, most of what I just mentioned is more of a militant liberal thing than a militant atheist thing. Most politicians try to hide their dark side during the election.

              I was just remembering Jesse Ventura. He said that God was a crutch. That was a militant belief, but I never read about him trying to put those beliefs into policy. His offensiveness wouldn't have been enough to get me to vote against him. However, he was a Libertarian. Depending on how Libertarian he was, I probably wouldn't have voted for him for that reason.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Lanie View Post
                I'm assuming they wouldn't be militant.

                I guess it depends on what they're being militant about. If they're all about taking tax exempt status away from churches, making abortion legal up to the ninth month with "no apology," forcing bakers to bake cakes against their religious beliefs, saying the FCA shouldn't exist in a public school, then no I won't vote for that person.

                However, most of what I just mentioned is more of a militant liberal thing than a militant atheist thing. Most politicians try to hide their dark side during the election.

                I was just remembering Jesse Ventura. He said that God was a crutch. That was a militant belief, but I never read about him trying to put those beliefs into policy. His offensiveness wouldn't have been enough to get me to vote against him. However, he was a Libertarian. Depending on how Libertarian he was, I probably wouldn't have voted for him for that reason.
                Then so far it's unanimous...nobody would vote for a militant atheist.
                Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live...
                Robert Southwell, S.J.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by phillygirl View Post
                  Then so far it's unanimous...nobody would vote for a militant atheist.
                  I don't care much for a militant Christian either. Thing is being an atheist doesn't make one militant. It's just assumed.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Lanie View Post
                    I don't care much for a militant Christian either. Thing is being an atheist doesn't make one militant. It's just assumed.
                    Assumed by whom? Nobody in this thread. We've all been very clear on that. You're arguing even when we agree with you.
                    Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live...
                    Robert Southwell, S.J.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by phillygirl View Post
                      Assumed by whom? Nobody in this thread. We've all been very clear on that. You're arguing even when we agree with you.
                      I totally need to stop that. It's like a useless exercise to me. I'm a bit tired. You all have fun. Later.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I wouldn't vote for a militant atheist just because they are assholes. Same goes for a militant Christian, though I tend to see fewer of those. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of Christians out there who wear their religion on their sleeve, but relatively few of them go out of their way to try to belittle others for their beliefs or lack thereof. Emphasis on "relatively."

                        Ayn Rand was rather famously atheist, though I don't think I would say that she was actually militant about it; vocal and unashamed, yes, but not militant in the sense of intentionally trying to shove it into people's faces. From a purely policy standpoint, I probably could have voted for her. Other atheists as well. When I'm voting, I'm interested in someone's policy positions and their plans to control/rein-in government; I'm not particularly concerned about when, where, how, or if they go to church.

                        It's just the high percentage of atheists who have convinced themselves of their own self-superiority that gives the other atheists a bad name.
                        It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
                        In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
                        Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
                        Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Adam View Post
                          I wouldn't vote for a militant atheist just because they are assholes. Same goes for a militant Christian, though I tend to see fewer of those. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of Christians out there who wear their religion on their sleeve, but relatively few of them go out of their way to try to belittle others for their beliefs or lack thereof. Emphasis on "relatively."

                          Ayn Rand was rather famously atheist, though I don't think I would say that she was actually militant about it; vocal and unashamed, yes, but not militant in the sense of intentionally trying to shove it into people's faces. From a purely policy standpoint, I probably could have voted for her. Other atheists as well. When I'm voting, I'm interested in someone's policy positions and their plans to control/rein-in government; I'm not particularly concerned about when, where, how, or if they go to church.

                          It's just the high percentage of atheists who have convinced themselves of their own self-superiority that gives the other atheists a bad name.
                          It's the age old issue with atheists. There are many that are perfectly content to let others practice their religions and exercise their freedom of religion...in fact, I would say that of those I've had personal contact with, the majority are in that camp. Then there are those for whom freedom of religion is a calling. They are the ones I would be uncomfortable with from a policy standpoint.
                          Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live...
                          Robert Southwell, S.J.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Okay, so putting a ten commandments monument on public property is free exercise of religion and perfectly okay. And putting a Flying Spaghetti Monster monument on public property is what? Free exercise of religion? Or militant in-your-face antagonism?
                            Enjoy.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Norm dePlume View Post
                              Okay, so putting a ten commandments monument on public property is free exercise of religion and perfectly okay. And putting a Flying Spaghetti Monster monument on public property is what? Free exercise of religion? Or militant in-your-face antagonism?
                              Depends upon the property. If it's a town courthouse, then AFAIC, they can put up whatever the locals want to put up, or nothing at all. If it's the National Mall, then I don't think any actual religious display is appropriate, particularly if it's taxpayer-funded. If, say, some church group wants to erect a Nativity on the National Mall, I'm OK with that so long as Jews get to erect a Menorah for an equal amount of time and Muslims can put up whatever they would put up, I guess a monument to the Q'uran during Eid or whatever. FSM adherents, then, would also have such an opportunity, AFAIC.
                              It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
                              In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
                              Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
                              Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

                              Comment

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