Editor’s note: Chris Stedman is the author of "Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious" and the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDStedman.
By Chris Stedman, Special to CNN
(CNN)—This year, Congress welcomed the first Buddhist senator and first Hindu elected to either chamber of Congress, and the Pew Forum noted that this “gradual increase in religious diversity … mirrors trends in the country as a whole.”
But Pew also noted one glaring deficiency: Religious “nones” were largely left outside the halls of Congress, despite one in five Americans now saying they don’t affiliate with a religion.
There is, however, one newly elected “none” — but she seems to think "atheist" is a dirty word.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, was sworn in a few days ago without a Bible, and she is the first member of Congress to openly describe her religious affiliation as “none.” Although 10 other members don’t specify a religious affiliation — up from six members in the previous Congress — Sinema is the only to officially declare “none.”
This has gotten Sinema a fair amount of attention from the media. Many identified her as an atheist during her congressional campaign, and after she won, sources touted her as a nontheist. Even this past weekend, Politico declared in a headline: “Non-believers on rise in Congress.”
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But there’s a slight issue: Sinema doesn’t actually appears to be a nonbeliever. In response to news stories identifying her as an atheist, her campaign released this statement shortly after her victory: “(Rep. Sinema) believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”
As a nontheist, atheist and nonbeliever (take your pick), I find this statement deeply problematic.
It is perfectly fine, of course, if Sinema isn’t a nontheist, and it is understandable that she would want to clarify misinformation about her personal beliefs. But to say that these terms are “not befitting of her life’s work or personal character” is offensive because it implies there is something unbefitting about the lives and characters of atheists or nonbelievers.
Christmas exposes atheist divide on dealing with religion
Try substituting a religious group of your choice in place of atheist if you don’t agree: “[Rep. Sinema] believes the term Muslim is not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.” Does that sound right? It shouldn’t.
Of course, many do view Muslims as unfit for political office. In that respect, political opponents have regularly misidentified President Obama as a Muslim. Many have defended the president from such attacks by noting that Obama is a Christian.
But former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell rightly pointed out the pernicious underlying message such a defense sends:
The correct answer is: He is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?’ The answer is ‘No, that’s not America.’ Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?
Just as Muslim is used as a political smear, politicians seem to avoid "atheist."
This is probably because the American electorate views both Muslims and atheists more unfavorably than they do other groups: According to a Gallup poll released in June, only 58% of Americans would vote for a “generally well-qualified” Muslim candidate, and only 54% would vote for an atheist. (This is the first time that number has been above 50% for an atheist candidate.) By contrast, 91% would vote for a Jewish candidate, 94% for a Catholic and 80% for a Mormon.
There seems to be a greater general tolerance for, or blindness to, comments that marginalize or diminish atheists than those aimed at other groups.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
Prominent individuals like Powell rightfully decry anti-Muslim fear-mongering in politics, but few speak out against those who wield accusations of atheism as a political weapon.
Whether people don’t see it or simply aren’t bothered isn’t clear, but it remains a problem.
I respect Sinema’s right to self-identify as she chooses, and I don’t wish to speculate about her religious beliefs. But while I celebrate that she is comfortable enough to openly identify as bisexual, I find her response to being labeled an atheist troubling.
Why not instead say that she’s not an atheist, but so what if she was?
The 113th Congress is rich with diversity. As an interfaith activist, I am glad to see the religious composition of Congress more closely reflect the diversity of America. As a queer person, I’m glad that LGBT Americans are seeing greater representation in Washington.
But as a proud atheist and humanist, I’m disheartened that the only member of Congress who openly identifies as nonreligious has forcefully distanced herself from atheism in a way that puts down those of us who do not believe in God.
We are Americans of good character, too.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chris Stedman.
I've heard that Ellen is the new Jesus, on the other hand, I also know people who believe that Chaz Bono is the son of God.
If you're gay and atheist, does that mean you go to hell twice?
Just joking btw.
I am atheist and I am proud!
I am so sorry.
It's easier to support and elect leaders who believe in something beyond the finite and mortal. Our republic chooses officials that reflect its electorate. This op-ed makes it sound like that's a bad thing... I don't get it.
I personally don't just believe in God, so much as I can't HELP but believe in God. Check out the cellular respiration of our most basic cells... And somehow there are people who suggest that over the course of time these cells just kind of.. decided to randomly divide and procreate until thinking, feeling, reasoning people like us were born who rely on the "decision" of millions of these things to replicate, duplicate, tediously discard dying cells and populate more in their absence. Possible? Kind of.. maybe. But that's like saying if you blow up printing press after printing press eventually at one location sheets of randomly organized paper with random words printed on them will fall one perfectly on top of the other to produce a perfectly organized unbound dictionary of the English language.
Stedson is hung up on 1 out of 5 Americans not "affiliated with a religion" not being duly represented in Congress. Food for thought: More than 1 in 5 Americans has delinquent credit debt. Should more than 20% of Congress be regularly overdue on paying their bills? (Ignoring that collectively 100% of them are re: Nat'l Deficit– SHOULD is the operative word).
Being an atheist doesn't mean you have to believe in evolution. There is only one definition of atheist and it has nothing to do with evolution.
In your world working = divine design, complex system = god.
Your example is is wrong because your concept of randomness with regards to chemical bonds is wrong.
You believe in a magical creature because you choose to ignore the mountains of evidence all around you. Why do you believe in the specific god you believe in ... because your peer / family group does. You feel threatened by atheists because the thought that they are right means that a life long investment in money, emotion, time, guilt, social network, family network, may have been for nothing, may have been done for a false reason, and you may loose connections with people you love. But those things are not true. You don't have to fear loss because you realize the truth. People who would abandon you if you became an atheist never really loved you. Seek the truth. Not subjective arguments by con artists. Seek the truth and real love, and real belonging of humanity is waiting. You don't need the promise of a love from a fantasy. Over 7 billion human beings are right here. I hope you find the peace that comes with knowing the truth and the exhilaration of realizing that this brief life is meant to be lived to the fullest because this is it. Seek the truth, make a difference to others, connect. Take care of yourself my fellow human being.
You said, "Our republic chooses officials that reflect its electorate."
Not really. The make-up of virtually every elected body in the US has a over-representation of the dominant religious groups.
If she wants to keep her weltanschauung private, I don't see a problem with that.
Just as we now understand and are able to prove concepts in science and medicine that we couldn't even 100 yrs ago, so will these facts prove to be true.
Let us know when we prove that circles with a diameter of 10 can have a circ-umference of 30 like the Bible says.
I will never understand how a smart person can harbor such small minded thinking as to believe that some omnipotent being created everything.
I can never understand how someone can to be of superior intelligence simply based on the fact that they don't. Humans are completely incapable of grasping all knowledge of the universe. We are not the pinnacle of intelligence by any measure.
That's funny. I cannot understand how anyone looks at the complexity of a single human cell and believes it was created by random chance. An understanding of the required mathematical probability for tens of thousands of perfectly timed chemical events all happening at one moment in time to create a living cell makes macro evolution impossible without a creator. This fact is why many of today's scientists believe life was brought to earth by aliens.
@ Doug Lynn: and how, pray tell, did aliens come into being? Another god, I suppose?
labeling oneself an atheist or an agnostic is really quite limiting and just sad.
Believing in talking serpents and unicorns is pretty sad, too.
Really? And how sad is limiting yourself to Christianity or Judaism, or Islam? Brain check please.
Still believing in imaginary friends after the age of 7 is pretty sad.
Believing in fairy tales is the sad thing.
Why is it identifying oneself an agnostic limiting? It is identifying oneself with a religion that is limiting. You are limited to the book that are asked to believe by faith, not reasoning. The trouble is, almost anything can be told on a faith basis. Being an agnostic requires you to constantly think in different ways about both the possibility and not of God existing, in various manners. That is not liming, that opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
Please explain how something, anything, came from nothing. All atheists believe that in the great void something just appeared. The reality is their is a force beyond our knowledge or understanding from which the "universe" evolved or was created.
Sorry people...you all remain quite sad and limiting.
So did God come from NOTHING and then create the universe from NOTHING?
Alan blurted: "All atheists believe that in the great void something just appeared. "
Not true, of course. Atheists just do not accept the existence of any gods. Just like YOU, except they add one more god (yours) to the thousands in which others believe.
Other than that, atheists can be found in any walk of life, just like religious people, except that they do not carry the burden of false fairy-tale beliefs that were handed down in their cultural environment.
BTW a fairly recent study (google it) showed that atheists are more likely to know the details of the various religions better than the so-called believers. Why? Because they have read he magic books, asked questions, and formed independent opinions based on facts. Because they are more critical than the sheep that swallow the tripe that is handed to them.
GK Chesterton: "If there were no god there would be no atheists."
If there were no unicorns, there would be no a-unicornists. Does that make sense? Does that prove the existence of unicorns?
I always find it amusing when polls find that something like 95% of physicists don't believe in God. After all, we pretty much dedicate our lives to understanding this stuff, bringing the light of reason and logic to bear on the universe. Our work has given birth to most of mathematics, particularly calculus. Our achievements created the modern age from the 1700's onward. This is very much our civilization.
And yet for some reason, the people who live in the world we created continue to live with a mindset from 2000 years ago. It's frankly pretty bizarre when you think about it.
"Stupid is as stupid does." -Forrest Gump
The human ability to rationalize things seems to be endless.
For example: Once something is created it doesn't need the creator to pull its strings to function. I drive my car quite well without the manufacturer following it around. That doesn't mean that there wasn't something that created it. Similarly, if someone finds it and tries to dissect it to find the creator; they'll create methods to measure it and explain it, but that's about it.
Well, to continue your analogy Faith-Isn't-a-Preacher: It won't be long before we know how to build the car ourselves. And no, that's not an extreme, unfounded statement. It's what physics is all about at this point, and given the rate of our progress, I'd be surprised if we didn't have a complete understanding by 2050 at the latest.
CNN's continued attack on Chrstians
Christian has a bad case of the Christian Persecution Complex. Only they can self-identify.
You said, "CNN's continued attack on Chrstians"
While this article, of course, wasn't, there is nothing wrong with attacking christianity. After all, wouldn't you want to rid the world of cancer, if you could?
Why do I have to have the label of Athiast. I do not believe. I'm not a relligious person. You seem to need to be a part of a group - a Christian, a Muslin, a Jew - I simply do not believe. I never have. My parents never did. And I'm quit comfortable with it. Athiast seems to have a stigma with it – like the anti-Christ. I'm not anti anything. I respect your right to believe – why can't you respect my right not to.
It's part o the hyphenated culture intent upon dividing or classifying us.
It is a word that accurately describes your position, nothing more. Do not be afraid of it, the zealots have done an exquisite job of making it a "dirty word".
At least you could learn to spell it if you're going to deny it.
Bald people are bald. Do you not understand how definitions work?
If you do not believe, by definition you are an atheist. The stigma is the bullying of religious people. I prefer to stand up for what I think and believe, but if you want to go low pro, you can say you are not religious if asked. They will still hate you, of course, just like they hate other religions and factions. You see, it's about conforming everyone to their narrow delusion, so anything you say that implies you don't believe will make you a target.
But do as you wish.
"Atheist" is no more a group than bald is a hair color.
If you do not believe, then you are an atheist. That's the very definition of the term: "without belief".
you are so dumb. First of all, Atheist is a definition, not a label. the very definition of not believing in something is called atheism. just because you choose not to be called an atheist, doesnt mean you are not. That would be like saying you refuse to be called a mammal because you dont like the sound of it. You just are and that is a fact. just embrace it already and stop caving into this peer pressure nonsense.
I have no problem with Atheism, but I have a big problem with Atheists. Usually people who define themselves as such are basically standing in contradiction to whatever is. They are rebellious for the sake of rebellion. Atheists are not taking a position, they are on the attack. Rarely are Atheists just that – they are more often than not ego seeking, and all to commonly just bigots.
The same thing could be said about most theists I know.
I'm not taking up a cause – I'm not attacking you - I have a right not to believe in what you believe in. Just don't label me!@
Interesting. The same could be said of most Christians. Perhaps we're on to something :)
your dumb comment is the reason atheists treat you like they do. dont you theists say something like "do unto others...?" try being nice to them first because you have been attacking them all throughout history (McCarthy, anyone?)
And don't capitalize atheist, James. It makes you appear even stupider than you actually are.
You said, "Usually people who define themselves as such are basically standing in contradiction to whatever is."
No, they tend to stand against bullshit, like the crap that you wrote.
You said, "They are rebellious for the sake of rebellion."
Again, bullshit. The ones that are, tend to be rebellious against the intrusion of religion in their lives. They tend to be rebellious against the infantile beliefs being forced on them. they rebel against bigotry.
You said, "Atheists are not taking a position, they are on the attack."
Sometimes it is hard to tell what is an attack and what is defense. I can almost guarantee that if the dimwitted believers would keep their arcane beliefs, rituals and immorality out of public life, you wouldn't have any atheists arguing.
You said, "Rarely are Atheists just that – they are more often than not ego seeking, and all to commonly just bigots."
Bigotry is forcing your beliefs on others. I don't see any atheist trying to force you to give up your belief or your religion. You are free to believe and worship as you see fit. Stupidity isn't illegal, after all. If you want to remain blissfully ignorant, be my guest. What you don't get to do is expect anyone who is not delusional, accept the nonsense.
There are plenty of religions and organizations created by Atheist to control the population.
Don't like religion? Well, stop creating them.
I would like to thank CNN for making light of the ever growing population of atheists/agnostics.
Since agnostics and those listing none to religious affiliation are not atheists why do atheists try to include them in their pitifully small group?
Atheism and agnosticism are essentially the same thing.
Obvious troll is obvious.
Obama, like the majority of Americans, professes to be a Christian. He is not. He is an opportunist, a Marxist, and a secular humanist. There is nothing Christian in his worldview or his behavior.
And who appointed you the arbiter of christianness?
First of all, I should say that I did not vote for him. But I am wondering how you would know whether or not he is a Christian? And to say, "there is nothing Christian in his worldview or his behavior" seems quite wrong. Just one example that I find in line with your assumed Christian beliefs is the fact that Mr. Obama would like to see ALL people in this country have access to affordable health care. Surely if you're the Christian that you come off as being, given your post, you must agree that all of God's children deserve to have access to health care. Well either that, or you're a Christian who doesn't care about treating all of Gods children well and only those like you who agree with your personal political beliefs. Some Christian you are.
Why do you care?
Yeah, yeah, yeah..... and he wasn't really born in Hawaii either. His birth certificate is a fraud... blah, blah, blah....
Yaaaaaayyyyyyy for someone that is in congress that is a 'none.' Welcome aboard, Rep Sinema – I am on your side, as are 20% of Americans. Stay the course and pay no attention to the men behind the curtain! You go, girl!!
I am a bit disappointed that she would shy away from using the word "atheist", baby steps I guess...
The woman is a member of congress, is it possible she knows what she is. If she felt she was an atheist I suppose she'd be bright enough to say so. She didn't claim to be an atheist, I guess none really does not fall in the idiot atheist column.
"There seems to be a greater general tolerance for, or blindness to, comments that marginalize or diminish atheists than those aimed at other groups." As a Christian I totally disagree with this statement. Just watch the CNN comments sections after a belief blog is posted about Christianity! It lights up with comments that marginalize or diminish Chritians. Maybe Athiests ought to grow thicker skin, or stop dishing it out if they can't take it!
You said, "Just watch the CNN comments sections after a belief blog is posted about Christianity! It lights up with comments that marginalize or diminish Chritians."
Consider it a public service. Would you not tell an otherwise reasonable adult who still believes in the Easter Bunny that it really doesn't exist?
You said, "Maybe Athiests ought to grow thicker skin, or stop dishing it out if they can't take it!"
Don't you worry your pretty little head about whether atheists have thick enough skin. They've had centuries to grow it. Most are used to going against the established delusion. Atheists that can't stand the criticism, or don't want to argue, can always pretend to be a believer. It is after all far easier for a sane person to act insane, than the other way around.
Not that many people read these comments with an open mind, but:
If you have no religion, you are your own god. If you are your own god then you have no morality. Anything you choose now becomes morally just. If this is the case there is no justice.
People who think religion is being forced upon them by the sheer fact of the above statements are in denial of the obvious. This is to say that their guilt is caused by not being moral. Again those who disagree can feel angry that I'm making them feel guilty if they disagree, but it just furthers the point, doesn't it?
Let's get down to the basics. How do we know what is right or wrong without religion? The laws we have are based on the morality passed down through time from religion! Again if we all become Atheists, what will the law look like in 500 years?
We have been taking religion (read: morals) out of our society for a few decades now, and we are having an ever increasing number of horrific events (school shootings, etc.) and then we dare wonder why our society has birthed such filth.
But go ahead and be your own god, so you don't have to feel guilty; that's what's really important, you, you, you.
So you can't choose you're own morals? They have to come from crazy people that lived roughly 2000 years ago?
Atheists and agnostics can practice the concept of the Golden Rule without having to be bribed (heaven) or threatened (hell). Christians don't claim that.
Bravo. Well put. And..... you are right.
That is probably the most ridiculous argument I have ever read. The atrocities from religious beliefs are far too numerous to list.
When I read comments like these, I have to wonder how many arguments against your position you've ever bothered to read. Humans have survived as a species far longer without this supposed moral code you're discussing. I assume you're referencing one of the holy texts, but who knows which one, since none have been proven to be divine or correct or even factual. You make the assumption that because it takes the god concept for YOU to behave, that it must be required of ALL of us. Well I gave up that silly notion half a life ago, and I've been a better person for it.
And since I'm not one to be swayed by personal testimonies either, just look at the crime statistics for our "Christian" nation versus those whose majority follow no major faith. Then explain again to me your argument for religion and morality.
You have to be told what is right or wrong? You don't trust yourself enough to determine those on your own?
I'm an Athiest, but I don't believe everything is about me at all. Donations to charities, participation in fundraisers and the things I do to put my family before myself are just a few examples where it isn't about "me, me, me".
I'm an Athiest because I believe in Science. Actual research to learn about our world and us, as humans. Unfortunately, spending time each week praising an imaginary being won't solve the problems of the people... but maybe it will make "you, you, you" feel better when you go to bed each night.
Anon, you better audit a basic logic course.
Despite what my t-shirt says, I am actually not a god.
However someone who defines what's moral and immoral based on whatever someone else (aka "god") tells them really isn't a very moral person, if they can't figure out for themselves what is good and what is bad and needs some third party to tell them so. God may say that slavery is ok, and someone may agree with it because god says so, so then it must be, but I would still call slavery immoral. Which is why I can call myself a generally moral atheist.
I fail to see how religion is to blame for evil people.
Yeah, well, if we used morals and morality based on religious views from hundreds and thousands of years ago, we'd have a lot more folks in prison. One can't stone their wife or children to death for not obeying the husband or father. And I could go on and on and on and on. Much of the world is not religious and they are not out there being barbaric and performing what you and those like you, would likely consider a sin. However, we do have all sorts of folks, throughout the centuries, killing, raping and pillaging in the name of their deity.....bad, very bad.
Just because I am not a believer does not mean I'm not moral. I don't have to have an organized religion tell me right from wrong. If you do, you need more help than your God.
The sooner we rid the earth of the insanity of religion the better. It will continue to rip us apart as human beings, and bring us to each other's throats as animals.
never going to happen but can always dream, no the stupid are here to stay because they will teach their children to be stupid and believe in make believe "gods" and outnumber the smart nonbelievers by alot
u stupid tree hugger
Oh, yes. Because human beings will suddenly become flawless, stop doing bad things to each other and the world will become Panacea once religion is gone. That's got to be the absolute dumbest mindset and flawed logic I've ever heard! Man's defects aren't the result of any religion. They are the result of being human.
Religion built civilization, and it's the only way we will move forward.
Only Islam is a permanent source of contention. Christians have not fought wars based on religion for 500 years, since the reformation.
It's bigots like you who assume that violence is rooted in religion.
The worst violence has been committed by secular ideals: nationalism, imperialism, facism – and the worst of all – Communism.
Perhaps the Atheists can move to Russia, circa 1970's, and help the Soviets burn Churches and rot away in their gulags.
Jesus walking on water? That is probably a myth. but Spirit and Faith? This is a Universal truth.
James, you need to read up on Northern Ireland. And check out the English Civil War...350 years ago. The whole abolitionist v slave holders conflict was a christian war with many casualties .
Interesting that you feel religion is the cause of so much strife when atheism has really been the cause for more wars than all religions combined.....
"atheists assert that religion causes war, but Day proves otherwise. He shows that over the past 232 years, 671,070 American soldiers have died in 17 wars, of which only one-half of one percent can reasonably be attributed to religion. This amounts to the deaths of 14 soldiers per year. Turning next to the Encyclopedia of Wars compiled by C. Phillips and A. Axelrod, Day examines 1,763 wars fought from 2325 B.C. to modern times. Of these wars, only 123 can reasonably be attributed to religion - 6.92 percent of those recorded. Since half of these religious wars were waged by Muslims, this means that, apart from Islam, the world's religions are responsible for only 3.35 percent of all wars. "The historical evidence is conclusive," Day concludes. "Religion is not a primary cause of war.".............. the Great Leap Forward and the Holocaust, both caused by atheists, resulted in 43 million and 6 million deaths respectively, whereas the Spanish Inquisition resulted in 3,230 deaths in three and a half centuries. And then, in the single year of 1936, Spanish atheists murdered 6,832 members of the Catholic clergy - "more than twice the number of the victims of 345 years of inquisition." Summing up, Day reveals that 52 atheist rulers in the 20th century, from 1917 to 2007, were responsible for a body count of around 148 million dead - "three times more than all the human beings killed by war, civil war and individual crime in the entire 20th century." And so it turns out that "the average atheist crime against humanity" is "18.3 million percent worse than the very worst depredation committed by Christians." To support these powerful refutations, Day offers footnotes on virtually every page.
The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. By Vox Day
I just wish that all of the blathering about religion, what people believe and what they don't believe, would just go away. Yes I know it's too much to ask for, but I can fantasize can't I?
Well George Marshall that would be nice but unfortunately the atheist's won't let this happen. They're the ones the intend on being a**holes about this subject. No one pushed them into a corner and began this argument.
Yeah, Christian...you're a victim here. Right.
George, do you want us to go away because we make you feel uncomfortable?
Exfcuse me – you the oh so holy Christian are calling me an A***Hole!
That's funny christian...since there are no atheists in Congress but hundreds of christians. Who is "pushed...into a corner"? How many atheist presidents can you name and how many atheist Supreme Court justices. Bet you can name plenty who were christian...or at least claimed to be out of fear.
Re – "No-one pushed (atheists)_ ina corner and made tgs happen".
Here is what -Dr. Madalyn Murray O'Hair said about that:
"'I'll tell you what you did with atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them teaching at the universities, or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, drove them into exile, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanized them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were women, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disemboweled them, hung them, burnt them alive. And you have nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you?""
Put that is your pipe and smoke it, bud.
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.