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January 8th, 2013
07:00 AM ET

My take: 'Atheist' isn’t a dirty word, congresswoman

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.”

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • My Take • Politics

soundoff (3,637 Responses)
  1. Ravi Zacharias

    Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    I'm sorry. That quote was meant for everyone but you. I should have been more clear.

    Relax. :) Breath. :) OHHHHHMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!

    January 8, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  2. lol??

    Fingerprints of the triune Creator in man:body, soul, spirit. Everybody gets to experience the two parts cut off.

    January 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  3. sport99

    As an agnositc, I see a problem with both religious persons and athiests alike. For example, I could tell you that unicorns exist, but you could tell me they do not. I have no way of proving to you that they exist, and you have no way of proving to me they don't. An argument could be made that something created this world, for example some form of intelligent design that we cannot comprehend. If I was to tell you, "can you see which one of the miilions of stars out there I'm looking at, what is the chance you would guess correctly. If there is a God, if that's what you want to call your creator, the possibility that anyone one relidion has it quite right is being naive and dillusional. I for one am OK with not knowing everything. It is harder to accept this fact, than to believe in something that was created out of human illusions. Beliving in a God is so easy because it gives us comfort. Accepting that you don't have all the answers is much harder.

    January 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Saraswati

      It's very hard to accept uncertainty. That is, unfortunately, why many who reject religion and up as sure of themselves as the adherents they left behind. Humans like certainty.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      If I were to try to be an Agnostic, and say, “I just don’t know if there is a god,” I would feel just as silly as saying “I just don’t know if there is a Tooth Fairy.” It’s not so much that we Atheists have ‘faith’ in the lack of gods, but we do have faith that theists accept fallacies as proof, most likely out of fear. This may be the same reason Agnostics will not profess true Atheism (the fear of being wrong). In the literal sense of trusting in evidence, I’m okay with being a faithful Atheist, but my faith is nowhere near the amount of unjustifiable faith required to believe in magical spirits helping us with daily activities.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • rh

      I don't understand why me, my spouse, and my children have to have a view on it at all. Religion or lack of it is a non-issue to me. I participate in family or cultural activities with religious overtones like I let my 5 year old have a security blanket – it make them feel better and it doesn't bother me. Now if my 5 year old insisted that I start carrying around a security blanket too, that's different.

      I call myself an atheist because there is nothing there – there is no god I believe in. If I felt there was some kind of higher power, I would be an agnostic. But I do not believe that there is a higher power. I do believe in human beings having the ability to make good choices without having some kind of carrot or stick waiting for us. I was raised in the rigmarole, and found that things like not allowing women to be priests (but hey ladies, be anything you want to be, right?) and arbitrary things like not eating meat on a certain day, or fasting on another day, were ludicrous.

      Religion is like a Snuggie – it never existed before humans invented it, and it's really not needed, because there are a lot of other things that are more useful (love, faith in one's fellow man, respect, honor, honesty) and cut out the bullcrap.

      January 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • Lester

      You could produce a unicorn.

      January 9, 2013 at 1:13 am |
    • agnostickim

      A fellow agnostic! Hail! Totally agree with you.

      March 27, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Skeptic

      Most atheists are also agnostics! Atheism is the rejection of theistic beliefs. Agnosticism had to do with knowledge. They aren't mutually exclusive.

      May 6, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  4. Salero21

    Atheism is another term for sophisticated stupidity.

    January 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Observer

      Salero21,

      Speaking of stupidity, please tell us all about talking serpents and unicorns.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • == o ==

      Aww, look – it's the disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. writer "wannabe".

      January 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Salero21

      observer,

      Even a monkey if he could understand will understand before you could, that if you can talk, God can make a mule talk.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Salero21

      == o ==

      Must be the descendant of some sort of amoeba like creature. If a Gorilla could understand, he would understand before the descendants of the amoeba like creature that there is a God.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Observer

      Salero21,

      Great rebuttal to stupidity.

      lol.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • == o ==

      Wow – I need to shut up – you are doing fine all by yourself. LMAO.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • JP

      Think about all the religions that humans have invented over time. How do you feel about Thor? Vishnu? The moon goddess? Over our history many people have believed in many supernatural beings with just as much fervor and willingness to dismiss those who disagree with them as you. The only difference between an atheist and a Christian is that atheists are able to see that Christianity is no different than the thousands of religions that came before it. It is made up to make people feel that they have an understanding of their world and to mitigate the fear of death. I dismiss your god in the very same way you dismiss the various incarnations of the "thunder god" over the eons.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Salero21

      In other words, if atheists in their sophisticated form of stupidity can talk, why do they act surprise that a mule could talk. But a mule is/was not a unicorn.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Salero21

      So it looks like observer was unable ot observe the difference between a mule a real Created creature and a unicorn an imagined "creature". There is no other way to say it, atheism is nothing more than sophisticated stupidity.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • JP

      Name calling does not make your point. It does make you look rather childish though.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Observer

      Salero21

      Still speaking of stupidity, it is the BIBLE that claims that "a unicorn an imagined creature" is real.

      Why not read the Bible sometime so you won't look so foolish?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'Salero21

      In other words, if atheists in their sophisticated form of stupidity can talk, why do they act surprise that a mule could talk'

      talking of stupidity, that counts as some kind of logic in your world does it?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • HM8432

      Unicorns in the Bible? Where? Show us the verse that it's supposedly specifically mentioned. It's probably in the same place that explicitly states the universe is only 6,000 years old, and that we co-existed with dinosaurs (meaning it's NOT in the Bible as atheists like to incorrectly claim).

      January 8, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • cm

      here, here

      January 8, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • kwk

      HM8432

      Try Job 39:9-12 and Psalm 29:6 and Isaiah 34:7

      January 8, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • albie

      I almost always use how religious a person is to determine their intelligence – works most of the time (and it is an inverse relationship)

      January 8, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • Scott

      most bibles utilize the word "ox" instead of unicorn...but I am glad that you could find a website that provided you such meaningless information...sorry, but words take on different meaning throughout time....It does not appear to me that the bible is referring to unicorns as flying rainbow horses...but that would actually take some knowledge of the bible to know...

      For me its simple, as much as atheists can't imagine a god existing, I can't imagine a god not existing.

      January 9, 2013 at 12:55 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      If by "Atheism" you mean 'Salero21' then I expect you are right. ...well, without the sophisticated part.

      January 28, 2013 at 5:07 am |
  5. peninsula p

    I grew up in a very religious society. I saw horrendous, revolting immorality and injustice in a large number of the most devout people around me, and this still is apparent two generations later – in fact the examples are getting more egregious. The people that I know who are atheist appear to be much more moral, thoughtful, just and humane. I don't know why that is so, as I am not a psychologist or anthropologist. I trust the judgment of a person who makes decisions about behavior based on observed results, someone who studies human motives and human patterns and looks for the increase in the common good while living.

    January 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • zamboni

      Thank you for this post – this is what I have found though out my life as well.

      January 8, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • balenn

      The reason why religious people seem to hav a lower moral standard than athiests is because their religion teaches that we are all sinners. To prove that statement correct you must display some form of being a sinner otherwise that statement is wrong. And of course the church cant be wrong

      January 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • Raven37

      I grew up in a fundamentast Christian town and had to go to church there for much of my childhood. While most Christians I knew were more or less decent people, I noticed a major trend: the worst, most absolute sadistic and cruelest people I had the misfortune to encounter were in-your-face devout Christians. I'm talking about people that never let you forget how Christian they were with there bumper stickers, Jesus checks and everything else. I came to realize over time that one of the largest reasons this trend existed was in part because of the Baptist (the most popular denomination in the area) of forgiveness. These extremely cruel people told me and others that they "were not perfect, just forgiven". It was a doctrine that I heard espoused over, over, and over again in Sunday School. No matter what utterly horrible sins you committed, say a few words to Jesus, and all is forgiven. For the absolute worst in that society, the doctrine of forgiveness was a moral get-out-of-jail-free card.

      January 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  6. waterman

    Good article. Sinema's statement shows that atheists have a ways to go, to overcome the prejudice spread by religious people that atheism equals immorality. In reality, of course, most atheism are more moral than most religious people. Moral behavior out of fear of punishment or hell is no morality, it is self-protection. It is like paying the mafia to protect you. Atheists are moral because it is right thing to do as a human, not to gain favors or avoid punishment. This is true altruistic morality.

    January 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  7. aurelius

    I am an atheist and proud of it. As far as I know, no atheist ever started a war in the history of mankind. Can any religion make the same claim?

    January 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • NOPE

      A lot of wars are started over property disputes. Do I blame property owners for all wars? No.

      Of course atheists have started wars.

      I was robbed at gun point by an atheist.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Jon

      The USSR and associate communist governments all enforced athiesm at the state level, they never started a war?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Salero21

      The USSR and other atheistic form of Governments started mass genocides. In the USSR, in Cambodia and other places.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Salero21", but your assertions regarding atheists are unfounded. For instance, "Salero21", saying that leaders of communist regimes committed atrocities in the name of atheism is the same as saying Hitler committed atrocities in the name of Christianity. It is not useful to associate any particular ruler in history with belief systems. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your repeated assertions may represent truths is: "CHRONIC TOTAL FAIL".

      January 8, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Seriously, could everyone who hasn't actually read Marx just get out of the conversation. I'm home with the flu and you guys are hurting my head with this misinformation.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  8. ME II

    @Chris Stedman,
    If one take "befitting" to mean simply 'not correct' or 'not a suitable label for her beliefs', then it isn't that big a deal.

    "While Sinema's campaign was initially unavailable for comment after Tuesday's election, spokesman Justin Unga said Friday that Sinema does not consider herself a nonbeliever, adding that she prefers a 'secular approach.'" (http://archives.religionnews.com/politics/election/arizona-democrat-to-replace-defeated-pete-stark-as-sole-atheist-in-congress)

    Whether atheist or not, I think a 'secular approach' is great and hope that more in Congress, religious and non-religious alike, adopt such an approach to their governmental duties.

    January 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Agreed. I hope that politics will be increasingly secular, regardless of what people choose to believe in private life.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  9. epluribus

    What no bone in the nose?

    January 8, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • Huh?

      Any joke you have to explain...

      January 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I thought all atheists wore bones in their nose

      January 8, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  10. Hillcrester

    ALL religion is about belief/faith, not about knowledge. Zacharias' comment is incorrect. Atheism (or, better, "nonbelief" in deity) reflects a belief/nonbelief decision just as much as believing in christianity, judiasm, etc. does.

    January 8, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  11. Sly

    It is simply amazing that humans believe in mythological creatures that live in the clouds.

    Sorry folks – there are no Centaurs. There are no Ghosts. There is no Santa Claus. There are no Trolls. Or Elves. Or Unicorns.

    Amazing that people actually believe in these things. This is 2013 folks!

    Scientists are not all a bunch of liars who secretly get together to deceive all human beings. I am willing to bet that most scientists in, say, Russia, have not met all scientists in say, Brazil.

    As I like to say, Barry Bonds in God, and there isn't a single person on this blog who can prove me wrong. Enough on this subject – we have real issues in the real world to address, and spending time chasing hobbits and other fantasy creatures like your gods is a waste of time.

    January 8, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • lol??

      Sly takes responsibility for the world's mess and sayz, ".....Sorry ......"

      January 8, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Check

      God exists.

      Science is the study of God's creation. I like science. We pray for scientific advances in my church. They are helpful. Just last Sunday we were talking about super novas, black holes and God.

      I don't have to prove you right or wrong about God. I know.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Read an interesting statement by Bonhoeffer last night from the "Cost of Discipleship". "God always becomes the God you believe in." By which I mean you are ridiculing God as you interpret him, not as others do.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • frank

      Check – "I don't have to prove you right or wrong about God"

      Of course you don't – because you can't. How conveeenient.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Check

      Right back at you, Frank.

      Nobody has shaken my faith in God in here today. I still know God exists.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • ME II

      @Check,
      Your knowing is of no use whatsoever to anyone else. Why state it unless for self-reassurance or self-promotion?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Check

      It is not useful to you. Fine. I'm not sure I'm going to trust your statement "Your knowing is of no use whatsoever to anyone else". There are people that have found my relationship with God useful.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • ME II

      @Check,
      Sorry if I wasn't clear.
      Your assertion that you "know" God exists contains no useful information. Without any understanding of how you "know" what you claim to "know".

      January 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Check

      It is not useful to you.

      But it is useful to other people. It really is.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • ME II

      @Check,
      I disagree. Your explanation of why you think you "know", or what that supposed "knowing" means to you may make a difference to others.
      I, however, propose that stating "I know God exists" contains no useful information, because without some basis for understanding how you know, it is like saying "I know there is a teapot orbiting Alpha Centari", i.e.it has no bearing on anything even if true.

      That being said, however, I won't belabor the point any further.
      Peace.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • Check

      I know God exists. I know other people that know God exists. When we get together we understand this. In fact we can just say something like "I believe despite my terminal disease, God loves me."

      So it can be helpful to proclaim God exists. And know it.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • frank

      LOL. Well give us a little evidence of this "knowledge", Check. Convince us.

      January 8, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Check

      Frank,

      Go to a quiet spot. Someplace where you can be alone. Get on your knees. Ask God to reveal himself to you.

      January 8, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • ME II

      @Check,
      "Go to a quiet spot. Someplace where you can be alone. Get on your knees. Ask God to reveal himself to you."
      Seriously? This does not work and, yes, I have tried, in an attempt to be thorough.
      What kind of self-reinforcing test is it that only works for those who think they already "know" the answer?

      January 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Check

      Sorry. That is the best I can do. Good luck on your search.

      January 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • Raven37

      I always wonder why many Christians firmly believe that there are no leprechauns, kirin, phoenixes, or unicorns, but an invisible anthropomorphic being I am supposed to believe automatically.

      For all we know God could be a unicorn. Or an ant or queen bee.

      January 8, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • Andrew

      @check

      Why would you want scientific advances in your church? Aren't they easier to come by in the field or in labs? I understand that this may be a new age of discovery, but I hardly imagined that churches would become the very places in which scientific discoveries were made.

      January 9, 2013 at 1:01 am |
    • Skeptic

      @chuck You claim God exists, yet you shy away when it comes to proving it. And no, that is not the definition of science. In fact, science assumes that the supernatural does not exist.

      May 6, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  12. Blatant Atheist

    Ravi, amazing the garbage the human mind can come up with.
    "I have infinit knowledge that theree IS a being in existence with infinite knowledge" <– that you, moron?

    January 8, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Ravi Zacharias

      I believe that there is a being with infinite knowledge and understanding of how this world works. Because it designed the universe. I do not believe I am that being. But I do believe that being will grant me knowledge and understanding for my life.
      Peace of God to you.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Blatant Atheist

      Ok, sorry for calling you a moron. But come on man.... No HUMAN can express inifinite knowledge, and therefore, awareness of something infinite won't be coming from the finite mind of man who loves to make-believe and try to stave off death for as long as possible. You are also using poor logic when making the statement you did.

      As an argument of the absurdity of your statement, follow this:
      I believe in a pink easter bunny the size of planet earth that exists at the edge of the universe in another dimension.
      I have faith in it.
      Can you disprove it? No.
      Can I prove it? No.
      Therein lies the absurdity of God.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Ravi Zacharias

      That is not what I'm saying.

      I have a God that surpasses my understanding. And this is actually a very good thing, since I am a being with limited power and understanding. I have a God with unlimited power and understanding.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Blatant Atheist

      If it surpasses your understanding, how can it even be your God?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Blatant Atheist

      Correction: if it surpasses your understanding, how can it be YOUR God?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Ravi Zacharias

      How can it not be?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • S-3B Viking

      Hi, Ravi....

      "How can it not be?" doesn't answer the question and I'd genuinely like to hear a responsible answer....most mystics describe God as you do but I'd like to hear how you can comprehend that which, by definition, is incomprehensible by the human mind...is it revelation? A feeling? A knowing....what?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Ravi Zacharias

      True wisdom realizes we cannot fully “figure out” God.” Instead we need to trust that despite what our eyes see, our maker does have our best interest in mind.

      Some people can not trust him. They are such unfortunates.

      And I can't do this in a message board. But I can suggest you try to be open-minded. Pray to God and ask him to reveal himself to you.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • S-3B Viking

      Hi, Ravi...thank you for the response...

      I was a Christian for 20 years....

      And it's unfortunate that you can't take the time...I would have liked to have had an in depth answer.

      I wish you well.

      January 8, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Andrew

      @Ravi

      I am speaking as a Christian here, but one who rather insists on sound argumentation when presenting to others (I don't try justify my faith to others). You suggest that S3B be "open-minded" regarding (your) God. Are you willing to put as much open-mindedness forward in considering the fallacies inherent in many of the religious texts you hold sacred?

      Let's move on to the next most important part here. You discuss this God that you have as yours. Does this mean not only that you know more than anyone who has no God AND anyone who believes in a different God (or even a pantheon)? If you are, say, Christian, are Jews and Muslims and Zoroastrians all somehow just as terribly set for the afterlife because their faiths—every bit as certain as yours—are not aligned with yours? How do you know, and I mean really KNOW, that your particular God is a) better than any other God or b) not the same as every other God (or at least some of them)?

      January 9, 2013 at 1:10 am |
  13. lol??

    Corrupted by gubmint money and laws..."Whereas, through the good hand of God, many well devoted persons have been, and daily are moved, and stirred up, to give and bestow, sundry gifts, legacies, lands, and revenues for the advancement of all good literature, arts, and sciences in Harvard College, in Cambridge in the County of Middles ex,...." charter

    January 8, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  14. Live4Him

    @Doc Vestibule: Separating light from darkness is not the same as creating time.

    What separates day from night? Hours (i.e. time).

    January 8, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • cedar rapids

      time doesnt separate it at all. time is just a way of recording when things happen, it doesnt cause things to happen.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • rh

      Time is a construct. We see time as a byproduct of the chemical reactions taking place in our bodies. If we were different creatures, a flea or a Galapogos turtle, time would be different to us.

      January 8, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Joey Too Tall

      No what separates light from dark is the rotation of the Earth.

      January 10, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  15. Seyedibar

    There are over 3000 gods. A true theist should discount none of them. To say that Zeus or Thor or Ishtar or Quetzalcoatl do not exist is to be atheistic, so most christians should understand what it is like to be an atheist. Of course, if they applied that same logic to their own belief system, it would cripple them.

    January 8, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Live4Him

      This is as logical as saying "There are over 3000 theories and a true scientist should never discard any of them."

      January 8, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • sam stone

      Live4Him: Scientific theories can be tested. How does one test for a god?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Blatant Atheist

      A wafer?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @sam stone:

      Scientific theories is a misnomer. Science is a process, rather than a conclusion. A scientific theory is a theory that follows the scientific process – regardless of the subject being studied. This topic could be a theory on a chemical reaction or it could be on God. So, if one wanted to test the validity of a Biblical God, one would conduct a scientific test on the Bible – i.e.

      1) Is it historically accurate
      2) Does it conform to that which is known today compared to when it was written
      3) Could this omnipotent God exist? What's the evidence?
      4) Could this omniscient God exist? What's the evidence?

      Posit the topic and then follow the scientific principles.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Sam, according to some people, you pick up your cross and follow Jesus. It requires immersion of the observer into the experiment.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  16. The Truth

    If there were no Atheists, there would only be a few people reading and posting on the CNN God Blog.

    January 8, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  17. Larry

    The atheists and the religious will never see eye to eye. A religious person, already believing in something based upon absolutely no evidence, is not beholden to data, facts or scientific knowledge to defend their beliefs. So there is no argument that an atheist can put forward that can't be explained away through some other made up story. The big difference is that atheists are content to live their own lives and not feel the need to push their ideals on others as all of the religions seem inclined to do. I only hope that this trend toward atheism persists and we will someday live our lives freely without pressure from religious organizations. And I would vote for an atheist in a second if he/she were qualified. At least they would make decisions based in fact and not pure fantasy.

    January 8, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Blatant Atheist

      I couldn't agree more, in particular with your final sentence.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Jeff from Columbus

      "The big difference is that atheists are content to live their own lives and not feel the need to push their ideals on others as all"

      This is categorically false. Just look at the boards here on CNN. Just as many Atheists try to push their Atheism on others as religious people push their religion on others.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • S-3B Viking

      Many have said "Apologetics only convince the believer..."

      And qualifications should be the only qualification...but I do appreciate your statement about an atheist's judgement.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • Saraswati

      While I agree that I would rather elect an atheist than a believer, for roughly the reasons you state, you only have to look around to see that atheists can be every bit as happy to push their agenda on others. The simple fact is that what others believe DOES matter. This is a democracy, and people who believe like you will vote like you, so of course people want others to believe like they do. Expecting otherwise is naive. But there's a very important matter of how one pushes ones beliefs and whether one recognizes that the beliefs that work for one person or group may not work for another.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Not true.
      We are hear challenging your view..not trying to impose ours. That's what religious proselytizing invokes. You make claims that by our standard isn't supported. You may question our right to apply such standards except that you yourself do exactly that in every other aspect of your life that isn't religious. Quite simply what you're trying to sell doesn't pas the smell test. The same cannot be said of our beliefs which are supported by empirical evidence or we admit that we don't know. Making stuff up ior believing without justification just sn't an option for us.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • Blatant Atheist

      Not true, Jeff. We discuss and argue about what we think about our Atheism. But we don't go around preaching it and creating churches and expecting people to attend "Atheist Sundays" every week.

      Now, you can find historical accounts of secular governments guilty of stepping on religion and killing civilians. But I think you will find that the common atheist is simply trying to bring some logic to the table for his religious friends (and foes), and harbors no such ill-will.

      A better place for us to all get to is Humanism. Some of us just adhere to the secular side of it because it seems a more logical approach to morality.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • jen

      Absolutley!!! excellent way to explain it

      January 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Jeff from Columbus

      @Blatant Atheist: Sorry but my statement is accurate. Atheists are just as oppressive about their lack of religious beliefs as some Religious zealots are about their religious beliefs.

      Like I said, just look at the boards here on CNN. Look at some of the comments on this story. You see PLENTY of atheists who bully, insult, and shout down anyone who dares to believe in God.

      Are ALL Atheists this way? No, of course not. Just like not ALL Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc are that way.

      But, its simply false to state that ONLY religious people force their views on others. Atheists are equally guilty of this.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Blatant Atheist

      Well, I stated the one account that is true. Secular governments have been guilty of this. But they didn't build their secularism on a foundation of Humanism. We are trying to look for the betterment of mankind. Will I try to convert you? Well, we don't really believe anything, so I'm not sure that statement makes sense. Would we rather you come to your senses? Of course, we want you to say that God is a myth, and you like the stories is all. But I believe you have the right to believe whatever you want. I believe we can disagree. And I believe we both can be for the betterment of mankind without my having to convert you over to the "worm-food side".

      January 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      @Jeff

      I'm not sure if the point is clear. Yes some atheists are abrasive toward theists on this board. I try to keep the conversation civil until somebody attacks me first. But the premise you are going by is that atheism is a "thing" to promote. It's not. Theism is a "thing" with rules, codes of conduct, a claim for the very basis of almost everything, creation, humanity, morality, destiny etc. Atheism has none of that. Secular humanism does define the worldview for many atheists, but that says nothing whatsoever about a deity. All my atheism says is that I don't believe a god exists. None of the other philosophical or ethical questions apply. Those to us are entirely separate categories. It's not our fault if you can't separate your god from your humanity. If your deity didn't encompass your entire worldview we wouldn't have reason to argue at all. Of course for the religious separating those things is impossible

      January 8, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • Kevin H

      Atheist Steve – I disagree that "None of the other philosophical or ethical questions apply. Those to us are entirely separate categories." Your worldview and your perspective as an antheist don't exist in seperate vacuums from each other. Same as for a theist. Your views and personal answers to the big philosophical questions are unique...just as they are for people who believe in God. Both having derived their beliefs from personal experience. This is where I think the big problem exists between the 2 groups. The way they both try so desperately to differentiate themselves from each other...largely in what appears to be an ego driven desire by each side to prove they have the superior understanding of existence. That provides the actual conflict because they are actually both so alike. If atheists actually were different from theists and reacted indifferently towards them, there would be no conflict....and this message board would be empty. But, atheists (at least the ones I know) are out there expressing their views and getting in the faces of believers. They may not be passing out tracts or holding services, but evangelizing takes many forms. Theists just have better infrastructure built...right now anyways....who knows what the future holds?

      January 8, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  18. Blatant Atheist

    I find it unbefitting that some weak-minded politician is up there cowering before religion in the public eye. Thanks a whole lot for backing up the rest of the Americans in this country who don't identify with a God... You basically dirtied a word that has no dirty connotations.

    January 8, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  19. Live4Him

    @Doc Vestibule: "what makes you so certain is was the God of Abraham ... FAITH – meaning, belief despite the lack of evidence?"

    First, as I pointed out earlier, only the Abrahamic religions and naturalism begin with the origins of matter, energy and time. Any belief system that doesn't explain the origins of these three elements is flawed.

    Second, only those lacking understanding believes that faith lacks evidence. Faith BEGINS with evidence, but bridges the gap between the evidence and the conclusion.

    January 8, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • S-3B Viking

      Interesting...many will argue differently..."faith in the absence of evidence." Or, faith is the bridge because there is no evidence and no need for evidence....at least initially. Jesus is purported to have said "...if you say to this mountain..." etc.

      I should guess that if the mountain then flew off into the see, you have your evidence.

      But I wonder, Live4Him...when I was a Christian, we used the "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith in the Earth" (Luke 18) as an argument against nonbelievers....but the fact that so many Christians are trying so hard to claim there is evidence for their beliefs makes me wonder if this verse isn't meant for Christians....relying on evidence instead of faith.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Larry

      I'm sorry but did you say faith is based upon evidence? Religion is nothing more than a primitive method to explain the unexplainable. Primitive people observed the world around them and in an attempt to understand it they created the concept of an all mighty god who created everything and anything unknown could be attributed to his "mysterious ways". Faith has absolutely no basis on evidence and ignores every scientific piece of evidence that disproves it. So many of the religious beliefs have been proven false by science. The earth is not 6,000 years old, evolution is real, the earth is not the center of the universe. How many other religious "facts" need to be disproven for people to wake up and accept this? By all means feel free to live your life believing in something that is clearly not real, but don't try to rationalize it.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Wow do you make a lot of unfounded, self-delusional claims.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "Faith" is pretending to know things you don't know.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Live4Him
      The dictionary definition of "faith" in a rleigious sense is "belief that is not based on proof".
      Faith is the willing cessation of rational inquiry so that one can accept dogmatic, rote answers.
      It is not a virtue.

      And once again – Genesis does NOT explain the origins of matter, energy and time in any way more or less credible than other Creation Myths.
      They are all essentially the same:
      In the beginning there was nothing but god. Then, *POOF* Goddidit.
      The primary variation is just the name of the God.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Live4Him

      @S-3B Viking

      Here are just two examples from the many given in the Bible that faith is based upon evidence.

      Matt 12:38 ... we want to see a sign from you
      John 2:11 ... This is the beginning of His signs

      January 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @Doc Vestibule: Genesis does NOT explain the origins of matter, energy and time

      Matter: 1 God created the heavens and the earth.
      Energy: 3 And God said, “Let there be light,”
      Time: 4 ...he separated the light from the darkness.

      If you cannot accept the facts that are contrary to your faith, then so be it. I find it astounding that you can believe in magic, but not God.

      POOF: Singularity created
      POOF: Life created

      Some of us believe in God and others believe in magic. Your faith in magic is strong.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • S-3B Viking

      Live4Him....

      Continue reading Jesus' response...and his apparent frustration at the need for signs and wonders....a circus sideshow that distracted from the substance of what Jesus was purportedly trying to say.

      "Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things unseen." How do you interpret this verse?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • frank

      Gee can't seem to move past self-reference to try to validate your beliefs. How surprising. How conveeenient, BeGullible4Him.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • S-3B Viking

      @ Live4Him....

      "Poof" Magic? Are you that ignorant of science that you would be so condescending? You obviously have no desire for a genuine conversation...

      A sad lack of integrity that is all too terribly common among believers...along with an absence of faith among believers there is very little humility...confirming, by your life, that your God does not exist.

      Sad, Live4Him....sad.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Andrew

      Before you condemn all of the non-Abrahamic religions to a failure of your test, you might wish to consider Zoroastrianism, which is far older than Judaism (the oldest in the Abrahamic tradition), meets your tests. I would think we could find a few more, too.

      January 9, 2013 at 1:43 am |
    • Skeptic

      Saying "god did it" is not an explanation of matter, energy and time. Scientific theories such as the big bang is based on observed evidence. No "poof" there. The supernatural on the other hand is synonymous with magic. That's what you have, faith in magic.

      May 6, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  20. Saraswati

    The terms "atheist" and "Muslim" are not the same category and are erroneously compared in this story. The term Muslim, like any other religious term, denotes both metaphysics and an ethics. Atheist at most describes metaphysics (though more often just a negation of another metaphysics) and doesn't say anything about ones ethics. Someone who works in the public sphere would want her relationship to society to be defined by something more than a negative statement about one’s metaphysical beliefs. Whether she is a humanist or a utilitarian or has some other view from which her ethics arise is a much more interesting and informative statement than the rather trivial fact that she is an "atheist". What she would want people to know, and what we should care about, is what are her fundamental ethical principles and how do they guide her work?

    January 8, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • M.E.

      Right, because the pathetic creatures who kill girls for going to school and also happen to be Muslim (please note, most Muslims are just normal people and are not horrible excuses for human beings) are really such a shining standard for great ethics.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Isn't that central to atheism? I've heard many atheists state they have no belief in theism but seldom hear one say what foundational philosophy informs their ethics. They are always on the negative side of the argument. Science is ethically neutral so that doesn't answer. One atheist, discussing why it atheists might be under represented in charity work, claims "It's hard to get atheists organized". Is it possible that the underlying mental mechanism is simply a reluctance to align with any group thought process unless it is empirically compelling?

      January 8, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Saraswati

      @M.E., my point is not that any systems ethics are necessarily good or bad, but that religions imply an ethics, atheism does not. Most atheists do have an ethics, but it is up to them to make this system known or they have not relayed the same amount of information as one has who has named a religious label.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Pete

      Bill you obviously don't know too many atheists.

      January 8, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Bill, that's because the conversations you're talking about involve people who are focussed on the issue of atheism. If you go to a humanist or ethics desicussion board it's a completely different topic. The problem is that a lot of atheists are making this same error...focussing on the ontology which is only a part of religious systems. When you stand atheism up against Christianity or Hinduism it simply doesn't provide enough information. The religious groups and the atheists just aren't having the same conversation.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @Pete, who are you addressing?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Pete, I think I understood Sara correctly by the second post. When I say that atheist do not communicate their foundational philosophy, I do not mean they have no opinions or values. They are replete with thoughts on how the world would be better if only everyone were as smart as them. What I mean is that they have no underlying belief system which girds their thought. They are defined by what they don't believe in instead of what they do. And while I must admit I do not know many avowed atheist, I can think of one or two who I admire personally more than I do some lukewarm Christians which are on every street corner. That doesn't change my argument one way or the other about God. It merely tells me that there are folks of good will and bad on both sides.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Pete

      " They are defined by what they don't believe in instead of what they do. "

      ? You really don't know atheists to well. It might help if you stop making up lies about them to make you feel better about your choice to believe in a non-existent god.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @Bill
      "What I mean is that they have no underlying belief system which girds their thought. They are defined by what they don't believe in instead of what they do."

      I think this can only be said with regard to the position atheists take with regard to a god. Many atheists have deep beliefs both about the material world and about ethics. But those don't come up in the context of a belief blod which is mostly about god and religion. The other issue is that atheists who focus more on their positive belief (aka grownups) don't spend as much time trying to pick fights anonymously online. Similarly you can easily pick out the juvenile religious folk who also haven't really thought their positions through.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • scanboy

      "Religions imply an ethic" - really? Pick any and tell me what it implies that doesn't embrace the polar opposites of any ethic.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Sara, I see your point and I think it is sound. I also think Pete and scanboy make excellent examples. Pete continues to argue from the negative side of the issue and scan ignores your comment that existence of an ethical system does not impute value to that system.

      January 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • Michael

      @Bill Deacon – I will not lie, steal, cheat or be judgemental towards others. In other words, my honor code relies not on fear of punishment or eternal damnation but on doing what is right for mankind. Why have ten commandments, most of which address worshipping the unseen and unknowable when all I have to do is treat all with dignity and respect?

      January 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.