Friday, June 26, 2009

Where are our future atheist politicians?

It's pretty well known (at least among heathen circles) that atheist are fairly underrepresented minority in the US Congress. Pete Stark is the only out non-theist, and there are five people who chose not to answer the religious affiliation question - which of course doesn't mean they're necessarily unbelievers. There certainly may be closeted atheists in Congress, but one reason we want out atheists is so we know there will be at least some people in our government promoting a secular viewpoint.

A lot of atheists tell us not to despair; that as atheism spreads and becomes more and more accepted, we'll start seeing more and more atheist politicians. But as of right now, coming out as an atheist is a gamble that you'd be committing political suicide.

So what's the problem? you ask. Yeah, right now it's bad, but in the future it'll be better. Well, the problem is our future politicians are growing up in the present, where they see being religious as a requirement for getting into public office. I was talking to my friend who's one of those wishy-washy deists (mentioned in my post "Wanting to Believe") who is starting law school with the hopes of becoming involved in politics. He was raised Christian, lost his faith, but then desperately tried to regain it (settling at deism, I suppose) because you "Have to believe in something to be a politician." So not only is he lying about his faith with the hopes of being elected 15 or 20 years from now (he still tells people he's the Christian his parents raised him as), but he basically convinced himself to actually have more religious beliefs. He jokes that if in the future it comes out that he had something going on (said the relationship was complicated) with an atheist activist chick, there would be a scandal. The sad thing is, I can't tell if he's really joking or if there's a hint of worry there.

Now, this is just my own experience with one person out of the many current and future law school students in the United States. But it does make me worry a bit. Is it going to take longer than we thought to see out atheists elected? Should I not care if they're closeted or not? Maybe it would be best that they sneak in this way - even though young people are becoming less religious and more accepting as atheists, we'll still have to deal with the old peoples' vote. I guess my personal code of conduct wouldn't allow me to lie about such a big part of my life, and we know politicians never lie or manipulate...

So what do you guys think? When are we going to see out atheists elected? Does it even matter if we do?


  1. I don't think it matters if they are "out" or not, because either way they are likely to vote the same. I would like to see more politicians, and public figures in general, admit to being atheist if in fact that's what they are. It would help the rest of us come out of the closet as well =)

  2. A lot of it is probably geographic. It's hard to imagine an atheist getting elected from Mississippi (or, for that matter, Orange County) any time soon, but San Francisco? Portland? NYC? Possibly a good heuristic: if they'll elect a Jew they'll elect an atheist.

    (When I say "atheist," of course, I mean "out atheist," because it's just bizarre to pretend to be religious. But maybe that's me -- I've long had the urge to run a dark horse campaign for something with the platform "if you don't like gays or stem cells because some magic fairy wrote some stupid book you should lose the franchise.")

  3. It doesn't matter that much to me.

    Most of the issues Congress deals with aren't religious, and I don't see any theoretical reason why an atheist would take a different position on, say, bailing out automobile companies than a theist would.

    I'd like to see more prominent "out" atheists in general, but my personal bias is that I'd rather they did something constructive.

  4. I'm an atheist city councilman.

  5. They will come, and it will matter.

    While I am extremely involved politically, I could could never, ever be a politician. I am to honest to be one(no offence Danny). I say what is on my mind no matter what the political considerations. I would alienate too many people.

    I also do not fit into a party. Without a party, there is no chance of getting elected.

    Not to mention, I cannot compromise. It is my way or the highway.

    I would a horrid politician.

  6. I Think it matters A LOT.
    I do think we will see an increase in out atheists in office but it really is taking a while. I just moved to the bay area and have been considering the possibility of running for office on a platform that inculdes atheism. the other main issue would be that I cannot be bought off by anyone. I can finance my own campaign. Although I wouldn't want to put in all the effort for anyhting less than congress.
    Any input as to what my chances are here in northern California?