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Conventions leave atheists asking: What political party represents me?
A voice vote to change the DNC party platform turned to chaos Wednesday night.
September 6th, 2012
03:24 PM ET

Conventions leave atheists asking: What political party represents me?

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – This convention season has not been good for atheists.

The word "God" was reinserted in the Democratic platform after it had been removed. A plan to raise atheist billboards in the convention cities was stymied by opponents. And though there were preachers and rabbis and other religious leaders opening and closing each day of each convention, there wasn’t an avowed atheist talking up unbelief on either convention’s speaking list.

The political lockout has left many nonbelievers asking, “What political party represents me?”

“We are deeply saddened by the exclusion of a large number of Americans by both parties,” said Teresa MacBain, a spokeswoman for the group American Atheists, in an interview on Thursday. “It amazes me that in modern-day America, so much prejudice still exists.”

After word spread Wednesday that Democrats left God out of their platform, atheists rejoiced. “Truly amazing news,” wrote Loren Miller on Atheist Nexus, a popular atheist blog. “The Republicans remain in the firm grasp of right-wing Christian religiosity, and I really don't know what it's going to take to free them from it.”

But the convention committee immediately received huge pressure get God back in the platform. Even President Obama, according to CNN reporting, said, “Why on earth would that have been taken out?” when he first heard of the omission.

In an awkward session that required three voice votes on the convention floor, the Democrats opted to add “God” back to the platform.

For atheists, the Democrats were seen to be taking away a hard-fought victory. “We had 24 hours of joy as we felt (that) finally our government values all people,” said MacBain. “But that was short-lived. The vote last night angered many atheists and left them feeling excluded once again.”

Online, atheist websites and Facebook pages went from upbeat to downcast as news spread of the platform revision.

“Obama was the first president to acknowledge non believers,” Mark Musante wrote on the American Atheists’ Facebook page. “I wish he would stick to his guns.”

Musante was referring to Obama’s 2009 inauguration speech, when the president said, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.”

Beverly Sitherwood, on the Friendly Atheist blog Facebook page, accused the Democrats of “Pandering for power.”

Some atheist leaders used the platform defeat as a rallying call.

“I guess a tiny step was too much to ask for,” David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, told CNN. “This was a clear message to the 16% of the voting population we don’t count. Well, guess what, Dems we do. And we vote.”

Silverman says that 16% of the voting public identify as nonbelievers. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 12% of the electorate in 2008 was made up of people with no religious affiliation, though experts say the number of avowed atheists is much smaller.

While acknowledging atheists, Obama has given platforms to high-profile religious leaders, including Rick Warren, a megachurch pastor who prayed at his inauguration, and Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is giving the final prayer of the convention on Thursday night.

American Atheists’ plans to raise billboards ridiculing the presidential candidates’ faith ended in failure. After the group put up billboards in Charlotte, North Carolina, the site of the Democratic National Convention, last month, it quickly removed them due to “physical threats to not only our staff, but the billboard company as well.”

American Atheists had also planned on a billboard in Tampa, Florida, to coincide with the Republican National Convention there. But American Atheists said that all the billboard companies in Tampa rejected a sign taking aim at GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.

Perhaps because of the Republican Party’s ties to conservative Christianity, atheists tend to be Democrats. According to a 2012 Pew study, 71% of Americans who identified as atheist were Democrats.

“The Republicans who spoke at the RNC seemed more like televangelists than politicians,” MacBain said. “The message was clear from the RNC: Get God, or get out.”

The Republican’s 2012 platform mentions God 12 times, many of which describe the “God-given” rights that the Republican Party says are inherent to the American idea.

Though most atheist groups claim that there are closeted atheists serving as representatives and senators, only one has come out as such.

In September 2007, Rep. Pete Stark, Democrat of California, affirmed his atheism in a speech at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Atheism • God • Politics

soundoff (3,922 Responses)
  1. HM8432

    If they 'get with the program' then they wouldn't be left out! Even Obama recognizes that there is something greater than himself.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Hobbes

      Actually, the "program" in America is Liberty and equality and equal rights and all those other things that the Founding Fathers put into the Constitution. You notice how there is no mention anywhere that Christianity (or even religion of any sort) is "the program", and that the First Amendment specifically rejects that there is any religious program at all?

      Darn that Constitution!

      September 7, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  2. Emigdio Alvarez

    Liberals believing in Christ? is everyone feeling ok?

    September 7, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  3. dearest

    I'm basically an Atheist, okay probably an Agnostic. I don't feel left out. I don't need to feel "special" because that is the whole reason I don't believe in "personal" savior or god. I'm not special or a miracle. That doesn't make my life worthless, I am because I breathe. To my fellow Atheists and Agnostics, please rise above your own intolerance and allow the majority of Americans their ridiculous beliefs!

    September 7, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  4. CF

    Just because atheists make a lot of noise on the internet doesn't mean they represent a large swath of the country; as such, you shouldn't be surprised when you feel excluded, because you are in fact a tiny, tiny minority of the American populace.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Long Live The Originals!

      The Constitution was specifically structured so that the majority would not tyrannize the minority. That is where Liberty really liives, not in the conformities of the mainstream.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Reality

      "Key Findings and Statistics on Religion in America

      More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

      The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

      And globally:

      http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

      Religion………………………… Adherents

      Christianity ……………………..2.1 billion

      Islam…………………………… 1.5 billion

      Irreligious/agnostic/atheism…… 1.1 billion

      Hinduism 900 million
      Chinese traditional religion 394 million
      Buddhism 376 million
      Animist religions 300 million
      African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million
      Sikhism 23 million
      Juche 19 million
      Spiritism 15 million

      Judaism…………………………………….. 14 million

      Baha'i 7 million
      Jainism 4.2 million
      Shinto 4 million
      Cao Dai 4 million
      Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
      Tenrikyo 2 million
      Neo-Paganism 1 million
      Unitarian Universalism 800,000
      Rastafari Movement 600,000

      September 7, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  5. Reality

    From an agnostic:

    The question has an easy answer, Obama. Why is that so?

    Obama "mouths" that he is Christian i.e. believes in gay Gabriel and war-mongering Michael the Archangel and Satan. BO's support of abortion/choice however vitiates has Christianity as he is the leader of the Immoral Majority who are now the largest voting bloc in the country. Immoral Majority you ask??

    The 78 million voting "mothers and fathers" of aborted womb babies !!! (2012 -1973 Rowe vs. Wade = 39.

    39 x 2 million = 78 million. Abortion rate in the USA as per the CDC is on average, one million/yr.

    And the presidential popular vote in 2008? 69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM. The population of the Immoral Majority in 2008? ~ 70 million !!!!!!

    September 7, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  6. du7575

    What important message exactly do atheists have that's left out? "I want people to know that I think that there is no God. There are no beliefs that come with this other than I don't think there's a God, and I don't think the government should think there's a God. Thank you and good night."

    September 7, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Reality

      The Apostles'/Agnostics'/Atheists' Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen
      (references used are available upon request)

      September 7, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • du7575

      In other words, exactly what I said.

      September 7, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  7. Thomas Murray

    Atheists bring zero redeeming qualities to politics. They oppose the spiritual fulfillment and moral codes of the traditions that built human civilization. Until they come to the table with something more than the binary argument that God=Bad, they will remain on the outside looking in. They must really like being lonely.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Reality

      The wishful thinking done by five scribes approximately 2000 years ago continued the embellishment and fiction tradition of the Jewish scribes. The locals paid for a good story of myth and imminent second coming. There was no money in the truth but now we know the truth and it boils down to two simple statements, Do No Harm and Love Thy Neighbor as yourself.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • Paul

      Again...ignorance of what it means to be an atheist. I don't oppose the spiritual fulfillment of individuals and I don't believe that 'God=Bad.' I believe that there is no evidence for God in the same way that there is no evidence for Santa Claus, Zeus or Apollo. Thus, I believe that God does not exist. It's none of my business if you want to achieve spiritual fulfillment by following the questionable moral code of an imaginary being....just don't bring it into politics and try to legislate it for everyone else.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  8. 2357

    God was relieved...until they flip flopped to just fake it all. I can just hear their rationale;
    "Why not use his name in vain, it's not like he's even there. We'll get Gaby to do the pledge, it'll be hilarious"
    Poll mongers, shameless poll mongers.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • GodFreeNow

      I dub thee, sir trolls-a-lot

      September 7, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  9. Johnny America

    Of course they are left out. Every fringe group of ldiots does not need a place in with the rest. I guess the Republicans could take them. They have the most wackos

    September 7, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • Hi IQ

      Scientists are not idiots and you are not a scientist.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  10. Low n slow

    So atheists have officially joined the winey disaffected class? How sad for them. Though I suppose all the hand wringing about Christmas trees and such foreshadowed this moment.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  11. ambrose

    Most of the time politics use religion and other soft subjects to sway voters, but here's the truth I don't vote I just listen both parties talk a lot and do little. Jesus(yashua) never liked politics and this is why.: they cause friction between people, not to say a little friction isnt good. I'm bias to the lord because at a young age before I was seven I just believed and I prosued him. I had never paid attention in church I always fell asleep, but every time I was alone thoughts and visions come to me and I write them down, things I didn't understand came to me clearer with time. We as people atheist or believers have to ask God questions for him to answer u. As for the paranormal every soul goes to the father there they wait on two sides of a very long river. On one side evil and on the other good.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  12. Low n slow

    Whether there is a god or not seems to me less important a debate for democrats to be having than whether Jerusalem is the Capitol of Israel. They seemed to be booing both.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  13. Dusty

    I believe all religions bring benefits (community, charity, validation, dignity, remembrance, acceptance, education and rituals that mark some of the most important and most emotional moments in life.)
    On the whole, I think religions benefits outweigh the faults, which, after all, are faults of humanity and exclusive to religion (non-critical thinking, magical thinking, automatic acceptance of stereotypes hates and blood feuds that three thousand year old smelly desert cave refugees had for their neighbors, the stubborn notion that ethics reached a high point two or three thousand years ago and can't improve, us vs them, anti-progress, anti-science, anti-medicine, anti-education.)

    September 7, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Jimbob

      If ALL religions bring those benefits, then those benefits are man-made, because they occur no matter who you claim is god. That means that as much good comes from Paganism as Christianity.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  14. wordsmith321

    Atheists don't get more respect because they don't have the numbers or the money to command it. Politicians will pander to whichever group gives them the most payoff. If worm farmers were rich and powerful then the DNC would have inserted references to fishing bait into their platform. It's really a Darwinian thing when you think about it. The biggest, strongest tribe gets the lion's share of the territory.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  15. Bob Miller

    Come on Folks. None of us can claim certain knowledge of our creation. I have never been able to prove there has always been a God, nor have I been able to prove that the basic properties for life have simply always been "there". I guess that is why I prefer to be labeled an Agnostic. But can't we get by without it? What counts in this election is that our President can govern without undo religious influence. I believe President Obama can do that.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • GodFreeNow

      To satisfy my curiosity by clarification, you are saying you believe in the existence of a god, but that that god is unknowable, correct?

      I agree with you that Obama has not let his religion govern for him. If he is an actual christian then the idea of ordering drone strikes would be morally compromising to him. However, I can understand the frustration atheists feel when looking for political leaders that are devoid of supersti.tions. It's hard to respect people's beliefs when they are submersed in fantasies.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  16. Chuck

    There's really no reason for the Dems to rock the boat on this issue. Atheists aren't going vote Republican just because the Democrats are pandering to the believers.

    September 6, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • martin

      correct, it's political reality right now. Blacks, gays, now come we Proud American Atheists

      September 7, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  17. martin

    One day "none" Americans will become more dominate. Gallup poll says we're 32% now. Disappointed in Obama putting the theism and Jerusalem nonsense in the platform.

    September 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  18. Brian

    Hmmm...let's see, you live and vote in a nation that was found under GOD. Your money has In GOD we trust printed on it. Many oaths of office conclude with "So help me GOD." This is a country founded with it's fundamentals based on the existence of GOD and the believe in GOD.

    September 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • zeyn2010

      So you think God only like the people that become US citizens? I'm sure our founding fathers meant well. They were also freemasons mostly, so maybe they had symbolism and secrets on everything too... like the all watching eye and the pyramid on our dollar bill.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Righteo

      This country was founded on Enlightenment principles, which implicitly reject religious dogma in favor of reason. The separation of church and state was mainly because of all the religious war and persecution that Europe had undergone for centuries before. The Founding Fathers were keenly aware that religion was extremelt corrosive of the liberty they cherished.

      Oh, and those happy Puritans? They overthrew the British Government not long after Plymouth Rock, and set up a putrid and oppressive theocracy under Oliver Cromwell, who still ranks at or near the top of "most hated Briton" in polls in the U.K.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Jimbob

      Witch-burning was one of those religioous principles. Good stuff, religion in America!

      September 7, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • tallulah13

      Brian:

      If you had actually studied true American history, you would know that the men who created the government of the United States were more influenced by principals of the Enlightenment (Science and Reason) than by any religion. You would know that "In god we trust" didn't go on paper money until 1957 (as a result of McCarthyism and his over-reaction to communism) and that "under god" wasn't put in the pledge of allegiance until 1954.

      If you actually studied true American History, you would see that religious people have been trying to reshape this country into a theocracy, in complete defiance of it's founders and it's Consti.tution, for a long time.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      And surely you have been told this before, but our founding fathers most certainly did not say "one nation under God" (that was added in 1950) or "In God We Trust" (that was added in 1864 to coins, 1957 to bills). One Nation Under God replaced E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) as our official motto in 1957. Further, the reason the Declaration of Independence says "endowed by their creator" rather than "endowed by God" was to avoid references to any god, and allowed each to submit to his own creator, whatever they may see that as being (the word "God" is crossed out in an earlier draft).

      So, if you actually had a clue about your own country you would realize that it was the communist-paranoid McCarthyists, and not at all our founding fathers, that made all those references to God.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Tallulah, nice post!

      September 7, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Mad Scientist

      Brian, you have shown all of us your ignorance. Rational arguments based upon false premises is the conorstone of conservative debate. Remember, atheists have more education than the average american, so putting forth an argument based upon false historical premises will not work here.

      September 7, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  19. Beth

    People in this country believe in god. Get over it people. I still think the democrats (especially Obama) are incredibly fair to people of all beliefs and backgrounds. There's no easy way for a speaker to acknowledge atheists since there is no sacred book to quote and nothing equivalent to the phrase "God Bless America"

    September 6, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Rob

      "People in this country believe in god"

      Some people...

      September 6, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Get over yourself, Beth. You don't speak for everyone. There is a growing number of people in this country that don't believe in your god, or in any god. We deserve representation, too.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Low n slow

      The vast majority.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Not Beth

      Actually, about 20% of Americans claim that religion is of little or no importance in their lives, and that is up from 8% fifteen years ago. Irreligion is the fastest growing demographic.

      60,000,000 (and growing) Americans and 1,100,000,000 (and growing) Earthlings live life without God.

      And did you know that 23% of people who attend weekly religious services do not believe in God? Surprising, isn't it?

      September 7, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  20. albie

    Bottom line is that there are a lot more atheists than Christians think, and growing every day (the crazier the christian right becomes) and they all vote, probably more consistently than the church goers - I will be voting for the lesser of two evils, the candidate that is less religious

    September 6, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • AL SANCHEZ

      ONE DOES NOT HAVE TO MOVE AWAY FROM GOD BECAUSE OF THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT! DON'T PAY ATTENTION TO IDIOTS LIKE THAT. JUST HAVE HIM IN YOUR HEART. DON'T BECOME AN ATHEIST BECAUSE YOU THINK ALL CHRISTIANS ARE LIKE THE RIGHT. TAKE A LOOK AGAIN . . .

      GO ROMNEY!!!!!!!

      September 7, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Gadflie

      Al, I have to say it, reading your first paragraph then the second one gave me a really good laugh.

      September 7, 2012 at 12:09 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.