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.
I didn't even read this article I just wanted to come read the ridiculousness that I knew would be in the comments.
And you instantly became what you mocked.
Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Left the church 5 years ago. Free at last and never looked back.
yup... me too. You can only take so much before the bullsh1t alarm goes off..
Exactly why is this a lead story? This says more about CNN itself than anything having to do with the 'news' article. You'd think they enjoy watching us all beat each other up over this topic.
Want to know a secret? Atheists really do believe in God! Because he lacks a ton of evidence, believing in God requires a lot of faith. And since faith is a virtue, God would be a meanie to not reward that much faith by not existing; therefore God exists. Its so obvious! Atheists have to know it but they want to sin so bad that they have given up on heaven. They pretend not to believe in God so that other people don't have an excuse to call them hypocrites. They are so bitter that God won't let them sin that they use their precious facts and logic to lead poor christian folks out of their faith. They long to see as many of God's creatures burning in hell as possible. But no worries. God will be vindicated by kicking their butts in the hottest parts of hell. And the Christians will live happily ever after!
More proof that home schooling is a flop.
A really good laughter. Thanks buddy.
"believing in God requires a lot of faith." <<- says it all.
You religious people don't even get it.
I am a Christian and completely understand why someone wouldn't want to believe in God after reading this. Try to be more respectful my friend. Telling people they are going to burn in hell is not a fantastic idea. I personally God doesn't want anyone to go to hell but all to put their faith in him.
I am a Christian and completely understand why someone wouldn't want to believe in God after reading this post. Try to be more respectful my friend. Telling people they are going to burn in hell is not a fantastic idea. I personally believe that God doesn't want anyone to go to hell.
j hale....LOLWUT I just read?
Atheism is not a dirty word. I do not begrudge anyone their right to decide to follow what religion they choose, or to follow none at all. What is dirty is how atheist treat those who are religious. I have had atheist friends before, and many of them are good people, but, though many are good, there are still those who feel the need to mock those of faith and belittle them. It baffles me as most atheists are also liberal. If they are liberal, then why are they willing to accept everyone and everyone's differences, except for those who are religious? It saddens me, because I am accepting of all people. As a Christian that is my duty.
I completely agree! except change the work "Atheist" to "Christian."
xians work overtime to secularize their theological ideals. they push hard and spend money to have ID taught in school science courses. xians work hard, justified by their theological ideals, to nullify equality for a group of americans that they feel are immoral.
looking at all the harm religious thinking has done to mankind – why is it difficult to understand that all the ire is earned and well deserved?
If religion wasn't so damaging it would be hilarious to watch everyone walk around proclaiming their religion. Everyone walking around with their own random beliefs and each one convinced they're correct. No wonder this world is such a mess!
All you have to do to make a Christian apoplectic is put the word "atheist" in a ti<b.tle. The wires start shorting and sizzling, their eyes cross, and presto-zippo, it's a moron-a-thon here.
Ultimately Theists and Atheists alike deal with the same body of evidence and arrive at different conclusion. Atheism points to the logical order in the universe and Theism believes that logic is a created category. Both can stake their argument on the natural or created order. In essence, the end of the matter really lies in what someone believes about our very existence. Ultimately both sides are subject to logical and supra-logical categories. Where did these categories come from. Thoughts?
No. There is absolutely no evidence supporting the existence of any deity or anything supernatural. None. Not a shred. Nada. Zip. Bubkis. That is the bottom line: there is no evidence for religion.
Fippy ... That's YOUR opinion. Nit a fact.
Actually, it IS a fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever anywhere in the known universe supporting the existence of any deity. Fact. You don't like it, but it's fact.
You're response proves what I'm saying doesn't it? When we say God does or doesn't exist we are still dealing with a body of evidence to prove our point. When you look to the natural and societal order you claim there is no God. However, many look at that very same order and claim there is. Where is the disconnect? Why do some see God's work and others do not?
Hopey Changey is actually Hinduism.
If church and state are supposed to be separate, what does it matter what religions are included in Congress?
And SCOTUS is supposed to have a brain.
so wait all I care about is, do I get money for believing in jesus or do I have to do something shady on some paperwork to get some free work boots to support my family of 4?
The Big O is most generous with waivers. Yeahh!!! Waiver Mania!!!!!!!!
The stock market is WAY UP since Bush left. We aren't losing well over a half million jobs each month like Bush left us with. President Obama didn't start any $1,000,000,000,000 wars for false reasons like Bush and the Republicans did. Things are improving.
The interest rates that we have now at almost 0% is falsly inflating the stock market. The fed has kept them low to bolster the stock market. That is what Obama has done to help the rich people of this country. If the interest rate was the same as what it was when Bush was in office (4.5%) the market would not be so high, They are going to keep it that high for a while. When the Fed starts raising interest rates the markets will adjust downward.
My question is why are atheist so presistent in pretending that atheism is a religion. They have websites devoted to them, support groups, and more. They carry on and defend "athemism as it were a religion and spout off almost just as much as other religious groups do. Only many I've met are are so pious and self-absorbed that they walk around with their nose in the air, smug in their belief that not believing in a religious must make them more intelligent than those whose religious beliefs differ, in fact as much as I can tell many atheists (not all) find the appeal in atheism in that their belief in "science" (as if it was inherently an atheist realm) gives them the opportunity to treat others as if they are not intelligent, instead of respecting other's religious views, you get what you see in these comment sections. Atheist insulting anyone whose views are not their own, congratulations you're proving your "intelligence".
Just calling it as it is.
You need to get out more... No atheist will tell you that atheism is a religion because that's a impossibility.
You apparently hang with the wrong people. I am a nonbeliever, and none of what you wrote fits me.
you ever heard of the saying ... your so different you start to belong to another group. People are groupies they need to belong. People that hate freedom, people that are too dum to understand it. people that go to church. people that watch football on sunday and think they are super special for saying the antheum before the game but really all they do is worship steroid gladiators trying to hurt themselves every week in the name of god. What a joke your sorry lives are. Get together to do something good for the world. Foot ball and creepy molester larry the robbed priest isn't exactly productive TIME. Not my problem your the one giving too much attention to the next landzas. the pope and landza have the same eyes. CREEPS.
It is immaterial whether Athiest is a dirty word or not. What is relevant is that atheists and their satanist beliefs are not allowed or encouraged in my country. We are a Christian country and will remain so. That is what our founding fathers intended. Anyone not agreeing to this leave my country. NOW.
Trolling should never be this boring.
Lol.......I want want some of whatever your smoking.
Sounds like you know you're losing the battle, GO_GOP. Tough.
You're from Texas, right?
Um, atheists do not believe in Satan, either, and you don't get to make the call on who is allowed in a country that has no official religion, troll. Fvck off.
Poe's Law applies here...
AMEN! I'll come pack your suitcase!
I don't ever want to travel to your country, don't worry. I'm an American.
Lucky me. I have freedom here. Plus there's an entire beautiful world.
Whatever heIIish country you're in, stay there.
I know GO_GOP just like to irritate me. But that's OK, I'm always ready to go.
Around the time of our founding our very moderate and Deistic key framers of the Constitution were up to their ears with feuding fundamentalist Christian sects as well. The following shows some of their views on religious troubles and the newly established government. I feel these are more important than the more general proclamations made during that time that were celebratory, or intended as political appeals to the more fundamentalist constituency.
Listen to James Madison, POTUS #4, and the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights that would become several of the Amendments, including the 1st:
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.
(A Memorial and Remonstrance – delivered to the Virginia General Assembly in 1785.)
Listen to John Adams, POTUS #2:
I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history. "
(in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, 09/03/1816)
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.
Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.
(from A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America [1787-1788])
Listen to Ben Franklin:
Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of the sermons which had been preached at Boyle’s Lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them. For the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to be much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.
(from his Autobiography)
Thomas Paine was very Deistic. He witness Quakers being hung in Massachusetts by other Christians:
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
Thomas Jefferson had his own Deistic version of the Bible.
Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.
(from Notes on the State of Virginia)
Of course Deism holds to the belief of God as the creator of the universe. But many Deists also believed that God did not interfere with the lives of his creation. And many Deists disbelieved in all of the "magic" in the Bible – some of them refuting the Bible and Christianity completely.
Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Paine, Mason & Madison all witnessed the violent persecution between Christian sects in their home states around the time the government was being established. So it is of no surprise that they needed a secular government and they knew the only way to enforce freedom of religion was to keep religion out of the government as much as possible.
Listen to James Madison speak about the need for the need to keep religion out of government (Jefferson wasn't the only one to explicitly speak of the separation of church and state):
Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.
The Civil Govt, tho' bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success, Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.
(from letters to Edward Livingston and Robert Walsh)
Madison as president vetoed two bills that he believed would violate the separation of church and state. He also came to oppose the long-established practice of employing chaplains at public expense in the House of Representatives and Senate on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state and the principles of religious freedom. (Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.)
Our most recent constitutional Amendment, number 27, adopted in 1992, was first introduced by James Madison in 1789.
President John Adams and the U.S. Senate on behalf of the U.S.
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;
(from Article 11 of the U.S. treaty ratified with Tripoli in 1797)
He sent is son to die for our sins. You ignore him at your own risk. What will you do when you stand before him with your heads bowed? Judgement day is coming. Be afraid, very afraid. Hell is not a good place to be in.
This is not your Country, so why don't you shut it?
Except many of our founding fathers were not Christian
Rillykewl: I am a proud American from the great state of Texas.
Mama K: Our founding fathers were all Christians and wanted the USA to be a Christian nation. Making up "facts" does not change that.
Making up "facts" does not change that.
====== And the religious people still can't understand their very own words.
Men like Thomas Jefferson were NOT Christians. Do some research next time.
Most of them were Christian. But many of the key framers were also highly Deistic. And they were fed up with feuding fundamental sects that were fighting in their home states. Go look it up. I encourage anyone to research the quotes I provided fully and see if you don't think they thought it best to keep religion out of government as much as possible.
Great site that might answer some questions for some of you Athiests who say the Bible is not true:
God loves you. He wants you to listen.
He is the beginning & the END. Where will you be at the END?
In the fall of 2008, Focus of the Family made 32 predictions about what would happen under President Obama... Exactly ZERO of them came true... FOTF has no credibility whatsoever...
The Bible cannot be completely true because of the errors, contradictions, hypocrisy and nonsense it contains along with some good morals.
They same place you'll be – in the ground decomposing.
Eeeeeeeeew!! Fof is worse brainwashing than regular religions are.
If you believe them, I've got a bridge to sell you!
Umm...maybe the good representative is not an atheist; maybe she simply doesn't affiliate with ANY religious organization. That's how I am. I believe I was created in some way but I don't affiliate with any religion with which I have been introduced. Or maybe...possibly, the good representative just doesn't want to be associated with the generally accepted view of atheists...you know, the one where you have some angry, despondent piece of crap who always goes on chat sites and tries to tear down the people who do believe. Now that I think about it, I don't blame her.
Atheism is funny, just as funny as believing in the tooth ferry, St Nic, or Jesus Christ coming down through the clouds. Atheism propounds that they somehow know there is no 'god.' Religions say they know, or believe there is one 'god' or another. Agnostics say they just don't know. Some agnostics are spiritual, and may believe in some sort of god. Being that I have not met any gods nor have visited any hells or heavens, at least none that are not of this earth and life here, I go with the agnostic point of view. I want to believe in St. Nic but just cannot part from critical thinking.
"ferry"? Isn't that a boat?
No.. Atheism is the BELIEF that there is no god, not a certainty.
Argggggh! We be sailin' with the tide to capture a treasure of teeth! Arrrrrrrgggggghhhhh!!!!!!!
the passionate feisty atheists are irritating and interesting at the same time, there is something going in their hearts and minds, that even they can't explain... they are like a living paradox
In my interpretation atheist simply say they don't BELIEVE in god, because there is absolutely no sign or proof of one. I personally believe in science. And every scientific experiment done proves that there are rules to how the universe works. And the belief in god is a belief that there is something that has the ability to break these rules. But unless I see an experiment in which anyone or thing is ever able to break a scientific principle, I will not belief it is possible. Therefore, I will not believe in the existence of anything that is claimed to be able to do this.
Aye Captain! the Sails are at full sail and the Masta' Tooth Ferry is flying along the waves at a brisk 20 knots. Shall I prepare your quarters sir!?!
Any guy wearing a pair of gay earings like his has zero credibility.
A guy wearing earrings has far more credibility that a guy wearing a cross...
Bigots have no credibility. Their logic processes fail.
All evangelists are annoying. Atheists included.
that's so true, I feel like going out and bullying an atheist nerd
Thank you sir, your comment delivers maximum effect in the fewest possible words. Equal parts elegance and brilliance.
You are a gentleman and a scholar.
Except that atheists don't evangelize or bother anybody else, or try to impose their "morality" into other people's bodies + lives.
Other than that, sure, same thing.
Joseph Stalin was an atheist that bothered a lot of people. As leader iof the USSR he had over one hundred thousand preists killed because he believed that people would be happier without religion.
What do atheists get out of believing in nothing? Nothing?
This world is hardly nothing. Open your eyes + look.
Reality is not nothing. It's actually everything. What we don't have is the Super InvisiBuddy of oour imagination. Because that is nothing but delusion.
the two nothings make a something, whatever
They get to file lawsuits against christmas trees.
We get more time to spend doing what matters to us than placating a deity.
The problem is that you equate morality and religion. They are not the same thing. You can be non religious and still be a good person just like you can be fervently religious and still be a bad person. I don't need a 2000 year old book to tell me what is right and wrong.
so atheism is a license to selfishness?
It's gotta be more than that
Religious people love to spam the same crappy comments.
So once again – this is the SourCream's comment
1) "these atheists have no meaning"
–Try again you tools.
Reading these comments from "proud Atheist" and it's easy to find the answer as to why she doesn't want to identify herself as part of this group. And I thought Christians were supposed to be the self righteous, arrogant ones.
don't forget that she's a politician, it's complicated
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.