A Godless President?

Atheist Vote

Isaac Chotiner suspects that America is ready for an atheist candidate:

A Gallup poll from 2012 … showed that only 34 percent of Americans know Barack Obama’s religion. (Some people think he is Muslim; others are not sure.) If that’s the case—and there has been a lot of coverage of the president’s faith—isn’t it at least possible that an atheist could be elected? I agree that there will be challenges, and while it wouldn’t be smart to go after someone directly for their atheism, perhaps “values-based” attacks would have more currency. Moreover, I think this imaginary atheist politician would have to be someone well established—someone the American people felt comfortable with. But if, say, John McCain or Hillary Clinton announced that while they respected Christianity and faith, they no longer believed in God, well, I think they could still get elected. (Winning a Republican primary would be the problem for McCain.) And remember, despite my caveat about the politician having to be well-known and not at all mysterious, it was also assumed that the first black president would be someone “proven” like Colin Powell. Five years before his election, Barack Obama was virtually unknown.

Jennifer Michael Hecht, who provides the chart above, wants atheist politicians to speak up:

Melody Hensley, the chief executive of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Center for Inquiry, says she knows closeted atheists in Congress and believes it would help immensely for some of them to come out. We had a near miss with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) when she was elected a year ago, Hensley sighs. Although 10 other members of Congress declined to specify their religious affiliation, Sinema was the only one to list “none.” Atheist groups celebrated—prematurely, it turned out. Sinema’s office quickly issued a clarification: “Kyrsten believes the terms non-theist, atheist, or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

Hensley shared with me a Facebook exchange she had with Sinema shortly thereafter, in which Hensley told the congresswoman her statement seemed to denigrate atheism and that the statement seemed cowardly. Sinema replied that she would not use that language in the future but protested: “I am not a theist, nor am I a nontheist. I don’t like labels.”