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.
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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.
Man I wish Colin Powell would have run for President.
What happened to separation of church (all religion)and state?
Oh well, like Dubbya said.. 'It's only a gawd dammed piece of paper.
Mr. Paul was correct by saying 'The republicans have lost thier way. He was half right.
The Congress has moved to a whole new zip code.
I understand 'belief' might be 'healthy' for us since we need that extra boost when we are troubled, I really do understand the 'need', however I don't understand why it is seen as something to be extremely proud of.....
People like belonging and feeling they are part of a group that is somehow special.
There is no negative connotation with the word 'befit'. If Representative Sinema doesn't want to be called non-theist, atheist or non-believer, then that's her call.
We have freedom of religion. Our practice of that is our own personal and private business and not for the front page of newspapers or in so-called belief blogs pandering to those who are all hypocrites according to the Sermon on the Mount.
Leave the public posturing to the gutter trash like Fred Phelps and kin. Reply to all who ask: My beliefs are not for public display other than my belief in the rule of law.
Ignoring the religious lunatics on here talking all sorts of crap...
This woman should literally be disgusted with herself, for giving up her morals for a position in office.
She's a disgrace to herself and our country, Christian, Athiest or otherwise.
Proud atheist here. Technically an agnostic, because I can't know there is no god, but I've heard all the arguments and for all practical purposes I'm an atheist.
I call myself agnostic cause atheist sounds as troubled as saying there certainly is God.
They are essentially the same thing...
Only for the new members of this blog:
From the topic commentary-
"Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?’ The answer is ‘No,....."
Actually, there is something very wrong with being a Muslim anywhere. And why is that?
What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers, Flight 93 and the Pentagon?
And what drives today's 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror?
The koran, mohammed's book of death for all infidels and muslim domination of the world by any means.
Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed.
Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein.
Until then, no muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere..................................
See p. 9 for added details.
The First Amendment contains two clauses about the Freedom of Religion. The first part is known as the Establishment Clause, and the second as the Free Exercise Clause.
The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from passing laws that will establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another. The courts have interpreted the establishment clause to accomplish the separation of church and state.
The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government from interfering with a person’s practice of his or her religion. However, religious actions and rituals can be limited by civil and federal laws.
Religious freedom is an absolute right, and includes the right to practice any religion of one’s choice, or no religion at all, and to do this without government control.
Atheists believe in nothing; and that nothing exists.... hence the atheist does not exist.
Christians believe in NOTHING. That's where God came from and that's what he used to create the universe.
Atheists only believe that there is no higher power or god out there. Your ignorance is appalling.
wow. you must be a logical genius. i'm impressed.
So, according to you BelladonnaCove, Religion is everything??????? The definition of Atheism is :
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.
Atheism doesn't mean "don't believe in anything"!
No, atheists believe in evidence, in reality, in provable theories of how the world functions, not in ancient beliefs of how the world works. Atheists simply keep an open mind about how the world works; if creationists were to show us any proof that a deity created the world in 7 days, we will gladly accept that theory of the world.
How on earth, BelladonnaCove, did you allow your mind to drag you to such a conclusion, when there's no reason to believe it? Since when do athiests believe in "nothing"? They don't believe in god. They don't believe that nothing exists. You were just trying to be intellectually clever and cute, but it didn't work out.
I believe you have us mixed up with "Nihilists"
See: The Big Lebowski.
Dr Stephen Hawking theorizes that our universe(s) didn't need any matter to be created! So there goes theoretical physics and stuff some of us can't comprehend so we take the shortcut and say God created everything! Unless we are theoretical physicists. LOL
You're confused...look up the word.
Great article - the more educated and informed the general public becomes, the less religious they will be. The percentage of religious people in the top industrialized nations is steadily declining. The generation of young people growing up right now are the least religious generation thus far, and I applaud them for it. It is obvious that people are fed up with organized religion and the waste, hate and misinformation it spreads.
I teach at a midwestern university, and I cannot tell you how many students I've met who turned away from far-right religious radicalism once they received some education. For many young people, once they learn about what the world is really like–how different and beautiful truly people are–they tend to drift away from closed-minded, conservative principles of radical religion.
if we were truly created by God(s), they would be seen and known. this man made concoction has no place in my life. i love my wife and children, i love my great many friends, my job, the sunrise and sunsets, football, etc... proud of it. end of story. some of you might want to look into what really is true, and live a happy life.
Hitler was an atheist.
Stalin was an atheist.
Lenin was an atheist.
Pol Pot was an atheist
Mao Zedong was an atheist
Fidel Castro is an atheist.
Che Guvera was an atheist.
Kim Il Sung, Jong Il, and Jong Un were atheists
Every leader, higher up, or government official, or friends of them, who committed mass murders, were all atheists who suppressed religion. NO EXCEPTIONS
How far back are you going to go - please continue the list just a few years prior (and then hundreds of years before that) and if you include all the people killed by religious presidents ...
Really? The Pope is an atheist? You should look at papal history, it will educate you.
I'm atheist. I am an extremely compassionate, unselfish, philanthropic person. So what is your point?
I could list a lot of Christians I've known who were evil people, but I'm unprejudiced enough to know that not all Christians are evil just because a few are.
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the great philantropists, are both atheists or agnostics depending on which bio you read.
Nonsense. Read some history books. How about Constantine, for starters. Just work your way forward through the next thousand years, and you'll find some examples.
OOOPS. The Bible says that at one time God torturously killed EVERY pregnant woman, child, baby and fetus on the face of the earth.
Your history book only goes back a hundred years almost exclusively covers only communism? BTW, most of the atheists you describe were purveyors of secular religion, complete with iconography, with themselves installed as the object of worship. While the comparison to all other atheists is ridiculous on its face and a logical fallacy, it ignores massive amounts of histocal facts to the contrary.
Who do you think actually did most of the killing on Hitler's orders? Christian Germans. Your argument is meaningless
Sounds good to me.
Your logic reminds me of this old (for engineers) joke:
A mathematician, a physicist and an engineer are in a room. They're asked, "Are all odd numbers prime?"
The mathematcian says, "1, 3, 5, 7, 9. 9 is not prime. Obviously they are not."
The physicist says, "1, 3, 5, 7, 9. 9 is not prime. Umm, I need more data."
The engineer (chica) says, "1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15. Obviously *all* odd numbers are prime."
You neglected to mention the Popes, Cardinals , Bishops and priests of the Roman Catholic Church who for centuries oppressed, tortured and murdered countless people. You neglect to mention radical Islamists, who are certainly not atheists, who have committed massive atrocities.
People like chica either doesn't know how to read or do her research, or they refuse to read anything that would contradict they views. Just do casual search, you would find out majority of the people she is talking about are not atheist. Most of them believe one form of Christianity or another. Of course that is typical of people like her, believe something with out evidence.
Most scholars think Hitler was a diest, meaning he believed in a god, but didn't observe any particular dogma. At the time, athiesm was associated with communism, which Hitler wasn't a fan of, and he was openly critical of athiesm. He promoted the "German Christian" church as a means of uniting the people. I suggest you check out evilbible.com for further info.
Furthermore, to say that every mass murderer ever was an athiest is untrue. The catholic church murdered untold numbers of mostly innocent people during the inquisitions and crusades. Also, if you believe the bible to be totally factual, God personally murdered 371,186 people(men,women, and children) and ordered the murders of another 1,862,265 people(also men,women, and children).
This writer is the perfect example of the rise of "bad journalism" in todays media. The article has misspellings, bad grammar and worst of all its just one more opinion piece. The writer is a hack and is expressing the kind of venom that often insigates violence on his own kind...a discusting spray of words.
Discusting? What's your native tongue? Alabaman?
"discusting"? You should probably check your own spelling there, genius.
pot calling kettle, mainscribe
"and worst of all it's just one more opinion piece"
In other words "if you dare to have an opinion on the subject that is different than mine, you are the incarnant of the devil and should be ignored."
Did you perhaps mean "instigates"? If you want to be the grammar police, you better have impeccable grammar yourself.
I take it you never took a basic english writing class.
"venom"? Did you even read it? Did you read your OWN words? If affirmantive on both then you are a dangerous individual suffering from toxic indoctrination. You are HIGHLY anti-American and a threat to all decent ppl everywhere.
I'm pretty sure Congresswoman Chu is not a Christian. She attends religious ceremonies of many religions equally and comes from a 3rd generation Cantonese family. I see nothing about Christianity in her biographies available online.
also, Hinduism and Buddhism are atheistic religions. So by my count, that's 4 atheists in congress at least
Hinduism has deities, and is a religion. Buddhism is a different story.
Atheism is NOT a religion...I think you were looking for the term poly theism...someone who believes in multiple gods as opposed to the christian mono theistic religion.
Hinduism is polytheistic. Buddhism is not affiliated with a specific god or set of gods, which makes it theistically ambiguous. Neither of them are atheist.
So anybody who believes in a different god than you is an atheist?
According to BuddhaNet, a major Buddhist website: "There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly Judgement Day. Buddhism is strictly not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being".
I see. You're using the daffy-nition of atheist. Dullard.
Freud cliamed there are two normal human psychosis, one being the fear of death and the other being female psychosis. Religion is the cure for the fear of death and Atheists are inherintly psychotic. Any Atheists here have trouble sleeping when a clock ticks? How about a dripping faucet?
What are you smoking over there? There is nothing to fear about death. You just rot away. What's the big deal? Why would you think differently?
What on earth are you talking about?
Er, Freud was pretty good for his day but not much he thought has any credence anymore.
I'm an atheist. I fear death because I'm humans and humans fear the unknown (blame evolution). That said, a fairy tale about what happens afterwards based on no credibility (an old book isn't credible) doesn't make me feel better. Besides, facing fear is seems more natural. Religion is great if you need it, some don't need that coping mechanism. I'm content with being nothing in the ground. Life before birth wasn't so bad was it?
Clearly you, along with many other people, have never been knocked out. You would know that the "mystical white light" you may see is simply blood being evactuated from the brain in order to maintain the other vital organs needed to sustain life.
John P. Tarver,
You finally learned how to spell "psychotic" and still got 50% of those two words wrong.
Thanks for playing. Game over. You lost AGAIN.
Finally a politician that will be able to reason.
There is a difference between choosing "none" as your religious affiliation and being an atheist. Perhaps she believes in a God but simply chooses not to follow any established religious group. There is no exclusivity between theism and religion, you know.
While it would be shameful for Ms. Simena to shy away from the perfectly acceptable term 'atheist' if she actually is one, it would be equally shameful for the Mr. Stedman to take her to task for failing to call herself one if she isn't.
Personally, I think anyone who is sure that there is or is not a god is nuts. We can't know. Granted, the atheists have logic and reason on their side, but to claim with certainty that "there is absolutely no god" or "there is absolutely a god" are equally unprovable statements and therefore equally worth dismissing. The only real answer is "I haven't a clue if there's a god… nor does it really matter."
That is not what the article is about. It is about her saying those words undermine her character. He is saying being an atheist is unrelated to character.
@Atheist, the term was "not befitting" her character. This is in agreement with the statement that atheism isn't about character. If you want a term that will define character, you need something else. The problem is in mixing ones ontological views regarding the existence of god and ones ethics up together in something called "religion". That may work if you're a Catholic, but atheism simply says nothing about ones ethics, and to use it as a label along side others who list religions (which come tied up with ethics) leaves the atheist looking like they have no ethics. If you want to define your ethics, you need to do that independent...for instance as a humanist.
U no it is sometimes so hard 4 me 2 accept how fast the world has changed in the last 20 yrs(n sadly NOT 4 THE BETTA). I REMEMBER WEN I WAS JUS LIL GIRL N IT WAS NORMAL 2 BELIEV IN GOD OUR FATHER!!! IT TRULY BREAKS MY HEART WHEN I READ THINGS LIKE "I DON'T NO
IF THERE IS A GOD OR
NOT, IT DOESNT MATTER"! THE SAD THIN IS THAT I AM 29 YRS OLD....I
While it doesn't surprise me that you are 29 years old, and thus the ripe age for death as was custom in the old times, it seems that somebody who uses the terms "for the betta" would be better used as a sacrifice, as was the tradition, for somebody who would mangle the language in an attemp to be seen as the "weaker" or "less productive" member of society in order to cast doubt among any who would dare follow such a person, in a pathetic attempt to paint those as different enough from you to be worthy of sacrifice. go ahead, tell me I'm wrong.
Indifference, the same approach used for astrology, is needed for religion. In time, it will go away.
@ Drew – You do realize that atheists usually do not claim to know "there is absolutely no god", but that the probability of a "god" is extremely improbable. Inference based on the whole of current scientific knowledge overwhelmingly supports the atheistic view. What does "matter" is the faithful's embrace of ignorance, the absurd, and unending desire to spread it around. Your seeming indifference is troubling; however, your feigning of it is disturbing.
Rule #1 if an atheist says it it is a lie.
Do not be surprised what one atheist lies to all of them will swear to.
What? It sounds like you're assuming that all atheists must agree on everything, in order for them not to be liars.
But you couldn't mean that, it's too crazy.
it it ? dah
Atheism is a religion. So, stating none makes sense in this case
If you believe atheism is a religion, you are an id iot.
That is like saying that bald is a hair color.
All of you religious people are atheist as well...you don't likely believe in Zeus, Odin or Isis right? That makes you an atheist as well. Atheism is not a religion they just believe in one less god than you do. Most atheists believe that evidence and facts are important in discovering the truth about the world around us.
Religious people have no evidence for the existence of a deity...like Santa Claus and the Easter bunny...the fantasy behind the myth is charming perhaps but there is no proof whatsoever that a deity actually exists.
I personally choose to research and fact find...voting for a religious person in office is basically saying "I think a delusional person if fit to serve in a public office"...as a person who doesn't believe in fantasy gods I hope for they day when candidates use reason, logic and empathy as part of their platform...that is someone I would vote for...not a person who believes in bronze age myths with no evidence to support that belief.
Time to buy a dictionary.
Of course atheism is a religion. A devout atheist is far more annoying than a fundamentalist Christian. Atheists claim to "know" that any form of god does not exist. How they "know" this is an article of faith, as it is impossible for them to "know" this.
Theism is belief in God; atheism is no belief in any gods. Your statement is equivalent to saying that not smoking is a habit; it's not.
Your argument is from ignorance. Please go to college.
Since when does claiming you know something equal a religion? I know my dog's breath smells bad but that isn't a religion either.
Atheists don't know that there is no god; we simply choose not to believe that a god exists based upon the fact that there is no evidence to support such a nonsensical claim.
If the doctor tells you that you need surgery to remove a tumor in your brain, then are you going to believe him and let him perform the surgery without first demanding that the doctor provide you with the evidence to prove his claims? Of course you wouldn't.
Believers use reason and logic in every other aspect of life except for when it comes to religious beliefs. Why is that? Perhaps your ignorant of science and proper education.
Atheists usually do not claim to know "there is absolutely no god", but that the probability of a "god" is extremely improbable. Inference based on the whole of current scientific knowledge overwhelmingly supports the atheistic view. No existential faith is required.
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.