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.
IS THIS WHAT THESE CLOWNS ARE ELECTED FOR?GAYS AND LESBIANS ARE ATHEIST BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW IT ISN'T kosher .LOL
You are full of crap
You forgot to turn off your caps lock key
joey....still dreaming of svcking off the savior for eternity?
oh the arrogance that comes with christardation
I thought Jesus did away with the need to be kosher.
Perhaps you should read the 'Jesus is a Dirty God" piece from Sunday.
Must be nice to fit the entire universe in one little catch phrase.
evolved obviously multitudinous
Barry Bonds is God.
I don't need to prove it. I know it.
So, I am not an athiest, because God is Barry Bonds. He is the only God though. Sorry, no Allah. No Buddha, No Jesus. Only Barry.
Barry Bonds? No. Barry White maybe, but Bonds?
'Barry Bonds? No. Barry White maybe, but Bonds?'
uh oh, already splitting into different Barry factions. I see a holy war starting.
Eric wants to start his own Barry White religion because he wants to seduce the ladies, but Pope Sly will excommunicate him for it.....oh have we learnt nothing from history!
I agree...Barry White is God!
No no no you are all wrong. Barry Gibb is the one an only true god.
But if Barry Gibb is god, then his brothers Maurice and Robin are gods as well. Oh Christ now I am confused!
'But if Barry Gibb is god, then his brothers Maurice and Robin are gods as well.'
no no, its ok, remember....the triumvirate god.....barry, maurice and robin.
i think you are all wrong. barry sanders is god
Cedar Rapid: Hey man, thanks for clearing that up for me. Now it all makes sense. And I guess that explains the lyric, "I started a joke, which started the whole world laughing."
I don't like the buzzword "atheist". I don't like people calling themselves atheists and I don't like people calling others atheists. Let me explain why.
I don't believe in god but I don't call myself atheist simply because my values and beliefs are just not centered around god and my non-belief in him. That gives god an importance that he just doesn't have in my life.
People calling themselves atheists seem have an ax to grind with religion. People who call others atheists seem to have an ax to grind with non-believers. Using the word atheist is inflammatory. Would a Muslim call himself a non-Christian? No because a Muslim's beliefs are well defined by Islam, no Christianity needed! Nobody's values should be defined by what they don't believe in. Let's keep it positive.
I for myself call myself secular humanist or scientific naturalist. That's what I believe in. There are many many things I don't believe in among them god.
And the congresswoman's beliefs should be defined as well by what she does in fact believe in not what she doesn't. Asking her to publicly state she doesn't believe in god is like asking a Christian congressman to declare he is not Muslim. That is negative, inflammatory and unnecessary.
Let's all get along and coexist!
PC, considering it came from Athena's vision of destruction.
sorry but atheist is the definition for someone that does not believe in god. You can call yourself whatever you like but it wont change the fact that it makes you an atheist by definition.
A nice sentiment, but I think you're just caving in to that tactic the right always uses: to demonize truthful progressive terms and make people afraid to use them for themselves. Just like how feminists don't like to call themselves feminists and liberals don't like to call themselves liberals. We on the left can sure be a bunch of wusses, trying not to offend anybody – and then those on the right tell us that we're destroying America anyway.
jrose, you can't beat the power of the mob at times, when they work their courage up into a frenzy.
I agree that labels only restrict us.
When I have to fill out some form and they ask me to check a box as to race, I make my own box and name it "human being", then check that.
But atheist is short and simple.
I guess I don't see the word as meaning anything other then a non belief in god(s).
I am not in any war on religion or with religious people. It is their time to waste if that is how they choose to spend it.
However, I do have a serious issue with any religion, or any ideology that tries to put itself out there as fact and then goes out and tries to force others to follow it.
We atheists don't force anyone to not believe in god.
What we ask for is proof of the god(s) you are claiming to exist.
If you can't back up your hypothesis with proven facts, then it is meaningless to us.
We see nothing shamefull in saying "We don't know" when it comes to things that don't have obvious facts to support their existence.
Your god(s) could exist, but they also could not exist.
And until there is proof of their existence, then they don't.
THAT is what an atheist believes in, and nothing more.
Every label that accurately applies to you does not necessarily be such that your lift "centers around" it. If you don't believe in god, you are an atheist, whether your life centers around it or not. I play a little bit of golf, so 'golfer' would be a fine label for me, though my life certainly does not revolve around golf or has any kind of important role in it.
It is important to freely use the label atheist for yourself and others, and hide from it, for the sake of people like you and me. Many religious people would like to use 'atheist' almost as a swear word, as something very negative. Atheists running from the atheist label reinforces that rather than combat that.
I have the same sentiments, but for the 'nonbeliever' label. I am an atheist, but not a nonbeliever. I believe in many things.
I think Atheism is as much a religion as Christianity, Islam or Judaism. To say with utmost certainty, with no evidence to bolster that belief, that there is no God is as much a declaration of faith as it is to say there is a God.
Chemack56: So I guess you think that there are unicorns since there is no evidence that they don't exist? You arguement makes no sense what so ever. Belief is believing that something exists without real evidence to prove it, like believing in ghots, or aliens on earth or bigfoot. Its not that i don't "believe" in any of those things, I simply know that they don't exist. Beside, you cannot prove a negative, you simply cannot prove that something does not exist, That doesn't mean you have to believe that it does.
chemack: i think you will find that most atheists do not claim they are certain there is no god. rather, we see no reason to believe there is a god
C'mon, let's call Kyrsten Sinema what she REALLY is: The hottest member of Congress.
How about people who have manners about the subject and do not discuss it?
Philosophers have debated the subjest for millenium. Why do you think it is rude to discuss the possibilities of existance? The first amendment assures us we can discuss anything under the sun, including that which you think is rude.
Agreed...then I shouldn't ever have to hear the words "God Bless" or "Thank God" or "that's a sin" or "you're gonna burn in Hell for that" in normal conversation or media. Bad manners come from both sides.
Religion is absolutely inescapeable in day to day life for non-believers. Our voices are a tiny squeak in a maelstrom by comparrison.
A&A's finally have their own story. This should be the most commented article EVER at CNN's blogs.
yet another religious wind up bot spitting out another theological bumper sticker....care to back up that statement
@Salero21; Calling someone stupid simply because they don't believe the same way as you is, well....stupid.
In their sophisticated stupidity atheists are trying to re-write History. That’s why we've seen so far allegations here about how good an atheistic system like the already long gone USSR, supposedly was.
Now, there is no other way, there are no other words to call that nonsense but sophisticated stupidity.
Atheism is sophisticated stupidity plain and simple. There is absolutely no need to enter into long extensive argumentations and examinations.
again, i dont think those words mean what you think they mean.
trollin' trollin' trollin', keep them dawgies trollin'
"That’s why we've seen so far allegations here about how good an atheistic system like the already long gone USSR, supposedly was."
When was this allegation (assertion?) made, exactly?
lol. He said argumentations.
Cry and shake your rattle, Li'l Baby Wah-Wah, religion is dying and you are surrounded by atheists.
Speaking of atrocities, the Bible says that God TORTUROUSLY killed EVERY pregnant woman, child, baby, and fetus on the face of the earth.
How many Atheists do you know that you are aware of? Studies prove that there are many non-believers who sit in the pews every Sunday due to personal reasons for not leaving the church (in a number of cases it is due to the risk of family and friends being lost...not very moral of anyone to do and it certainly is not a winning factor on christianities side).
It's strictly your ignorance.
I can easily picture Salero in a small, dark room, crazy bug-eyes lit with the unholy glow of a monitor, typing so hard out of rage against atheists that it rattles the multitude of crucifixes on the walls and startles all 70 of her cats.
You can run, but you cannot hide. Your post is as pointless as the last time you posted it. Give it up, nitwit.
Atheist's are the one people I wouldn't trust with the dirt on the bottom of my shoe.
Atheist's are the most untrustworthy people out there, and usually are the most arrogant and opinionated.
well that was an arrogant and opinionated comment.
was it meant to be sarcastic?
Why goonies? What makes you feel that way?
That's just your untrustworthy arrogant opinion.
same troll, new name
GOONIES=LOONIES (TIME FOR THE HUGGY JACKET)
I'm sure your sunday school teacher would be proud!
(ps keep your dirt to yourself anyway).
How are you able to tell someone's religious affiliation or non-affiliation by looking at them? I'm just curious, because I have yet to determine what identifier marks an atheist. I know it's not the headgear, but perhaps you are aware of something I am not. FYI – I am not an atheist – I'm a pagan. I celebrate the solstices and living things. Where, exactly, do I fit in your graph of trustiworthiness?
No apostrophe for plurals, goonies.
That being said, go fvck yourself
Unfortunately for the decent atheists out there, the word atheist has been tainted by the vocal minority of hateful, insulting, and condescending atheists who for some reason have made it their life mission to antagonize pretty much everyone else.
Some previous posts indicate being antichrist is their mission.
oh they have a 'mission' now huh?
Everyone has a cross to bear.
same could be said about christians, sancho
Default for those claiming ignorance:............"Jhn 10:34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?"
THE BLOGS GRAND DELUSIONIST :-)
An atheist is a person who needs to accept Christ as Savior.
Oh?? Why would that be??? Should we be worried about something we flatly deny believing in due to lack of evidence???
Wouldn't Muslims and Jews also fit that description?
No one 'needs' that, actually.
as if anyone needs to be saved from false threats of the people who created your bible and your god.
So, no one else needs Christ as a savior? Interesting.
You said, "An atheist is a person who needs to accept Christ as Savior."
Like a fish needs a bicycle.
In your opinion, perhaps. Some of us don't believe in your purported saviour, but that doesn't necessarily make us atheists. It makes some of us pantheists, some of us deists, some of us pagans and some of us heathens. How would you characterize a Hindu? Certainly not an atheist.
Hey Robert..... you wanna be my friend, worship and honor me for life? No, you don't? Well then for your rejection, I sentence you to the pits of Hades to burn for eternity.
Now think about (serious here), how sick and morally bankrupt is that.
Robert: Free people do not need saviors, only slaves do. Got your kneepads on?
Why would that be Robert? Because you think so? Because you believe the word of a few unknown men that lived a couple of thousand years ago? Who do you think you are? Talk about arrogant.
At this point in time I would much rather be called an atheist than a senator or congress man. As an atheist I might be considered an honest person, as a senator or congressman there is no way anyone would consider me honest in any form.
The difference being that bicycles actually exist.
I can't get past the author's earrings. Why would someone do that to themselves on purpose?
Because when one needs to show one is different, or a badass, or whatever, the demonstrations of such which preceded no longer bear fruit. The world demands, "Citius, altius, fortius!" (faster, higher, stronger)
The excessive marking and disfiguration will continue to grow because many younger folks don't see it as excessive. I wrote a short story published in Satire magazine @15 years ago basically pointing to a "new, cool" trend that teens would begin cutting off their own limbs striving for the same goals as this author. This was before the time of the now common "stretched ear lobes." Looks like it could come true!
There is a Quizno's nearby with a worker who apparently is not allowed to wear his earlobe stretching jewelry. It was really creepy and gross to stand there and watch him make my sandwich with his distorted, wrinkly earlobes hanging down onto his shoulder.
Note to plastic surgeons: study up now on ear reconstruction surgery, open a practice focused on it and make a mint!
Yeah, imagine that....putting wintergreen lifesavers in one's own ears.
People coming out of some gold or silver plated Hell hole usually end up claiming to be atheists. However atheism is nothing more and nothing less than a very sophisticated form of stupidity. In other words atheism is sophisticated stupidity.
What do you mean "in other words?" You used the same words.
salero, i really dont think those words mean what you think they mean, and repeating it over and over isnt exactly helping your case.
Come on Salero21, you can do better than that. That's why they canned your ass at the
Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co..
and out of interest, what is a 'gold or silver plated hell hole'?
Talking about stupidity, read the Bible about unicorns.
Your opinion, sir (or madame) is idiotic.
Everyone is an atheist to the god(s) they don't believe in. Christians are atheists to Hindu gods, Muslims are atheists to Greek gods, etc.. Self-proclaimed atheists just go (at least) one god further and believe in none. Usually on the grounds of insufficient evidence. How is that stupid?
and believing that there is an all-knowing, eternal, all-powerful being who controls the entire universe down to the last subatomic particle is merely "plain old stupidity."
Gold or silver plated hell hole...hmm. I don't even have a guess on this one. Who'd you borrow that from? It's not working out very well for you, whatever it was you were aiming for.
OMG, OMG, the GRAMMAR GESTAPO OF THE INTERNET is here again. The GRAMMAR GESTAPO is the Legal Enforcement Branch of atheism. The only purpose for their existence is to search, find and knit pick on any and all minor misspellings and mistyping of the believers and people of Faith. Then proceed to in a merciless way to club them with toothpicks till they die.
He Salero21...and avoiding answering the questions raised by going on some unrelated and unsubstatiated rant is what? You fall into that category of people who are so hopelessly clueless that they don't have the first clue how clueless they are nor do they have the first clue how foolish they sound. I think its time for you to go back to your padded room and take a rest.
OMG, OMG maybe I should rethink the above to: "The GRAMMAR GESTAPO OF THE INTERNET is here again. The GRAMMAR GESTAPO is the Legal Enforcement Branch of atheism. The only purpose for their existence is to search, find and knit-pick on any and all minor misspellings and mistyping of the believers and people of Faith. Then proceed to club them merciless with toothpicks till they die." :-D :-D
"knit pick"? That's a CLASSIC. And you keep talking about STUPIDITY!!!
Oooops. Better skip the "stupidity" talk while you keep demonstrating such stupidity.
I know your comprehension levels are minimal at best, but no one was commenting on your grammar...it's that you're making zero sense. Maybe get a friend to read your posts with you, a fellow asylum inmate or a nursing tech.
Oh and this just in from the Grammar Gestopo: its nit pick not knit pick and your assignment is to figure out where the phrase came from, you nitwit. (Or is it knitwit?)
Not to nitpick, but it is actually nitpick.
Some say the old testament God was just too mean and is not worthy of worship. Why would he create humans knowing they were going to rebel and then kill them wholesale? There are several examples in the bible, the most extreme is the flood.
Noah’s flood is not believed because we do not see evidence of a worldwide flood and if there was one, the God who did it could not be a good God worthy of worship. Not only that but the idea that humans and animals developed to some point then were all but eliminated from the earth just does not line up with what we think we know of the history of the earth, at least as far as timing.
There are in modern times examples of huge catastrophic floods. There is evidence from ancient times of floods. Could Noah’s flood have been a local or regional flood? Could one family have built a boat similar to the dimensions recorded in the bible? Would a boat of this size be adequate to hold a family, their livestock, a collection of local wild animals, and all the food and water the group would need to survive for a long time? If you can accept that all this is possible, then the story, parable, or allegory also seems to be a reasonable possibility.
Would a God who would destroy a bunch of extremely mean people and preserve some good ones still be unworthy of worship? If so, then what would be the lesson or message of such a parable?
It seems very simple to me, God is demonstrating his intention to create, allow people the opportunity to choose good or bad, allow the ones who have chosen evil to change their minds, and then eliminate evil and preserve good.
"Some say the old testament God was just too . . ."
And it's fairly obvious that Christians tweaked that fabled enti ty in many places in their "OT". They were the Mormons of their day.
Could you explain to me why God just doesn't reveal himself completely, visibly to everyone? Why the hiddneness and the need to destroy evil without full disclosure...I know what the Bible says, but I want to hear a reasoned, thoughtful response to the question.
Hi, that is a really good question. No, I can’t really explain it to you, because I don’t for sure myself. I do have some ideas. You said, you know what the bible says, so I won’t go into a great deal of detail.
I think part of the reason that he doesn’t reveal himself completely, visibly to everyone, is because of his experience with humans. He revealed himself to the children of Israel and they disobeyed, they repented and he revealed himself again, they rebelled, and so on, over and over again. At some point, his glory left the earth and you will notice the people started referring to him as the God of heaven.
Of course, then his son walked the earth and revealed himself to thousands of people. He made a way that we can all be reconciled to God and went back to heaven. Then he sent his holy spirit as a witness on the earth from that time till now.
Basically, regardless of what he did to reveal himself to people, some still rejected him. This may be part of the reason he doesn’t do as you asked. The cool thing is, if you seek him, he will reveal himself to you, spiritually, and you can know for yourself that he is real.
I really appreciate your response and honesty. This is one of the reasons I abandoned Christianity.
I have a hard time with what you have said because an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving God shouldn't be affected by human rejection or actions...he should know them clearly because of his nature...that is why I have to laugh when I see the OT God "offended" by anything his creation does, and the NT God so willing to send those who don't comply to an eternal suffering...not to mention how offended his believers get when their God or they are "insulted."
A God who created such an amazing and complex universe as the one we encounter shouldn't then be so petty and emotional about that which he created, in my view.
But if God the Father showed up physically (yes, I understand he is spirit and yes "sin can't be in his presence) to all in all of time, I'm certain everyone would feel quite differently...you and I have both read many atheists here who state that if there was evidence then they would believe...
I don't get it...but thanks for your thoughts.
I really appreciate your honesty, response, and civility. I can understand how you could reason your way away from Christianity based on your post. A God who created and sustains our universe could indeed be called all powerful and all present, for that alone. He could also be called all loving for providing a way for little ole humans to be reconciled to such an all powerful, ever present being.
He could be called holy or separated because as you said, he can’t look upon sin. I think the eternal suffering comes in because he is absolutely just. I can’t explain being all loving and perfectly just at the same time, either. The concept is not completely foreign to us. If someone is convicted of premeditated murder, the law in several states says they must be put to death. We still feel sorrow for the condemned.
The reason I can’t question myself away from God is because of my personal experiences with him. I have to believe that the same types of experiences are available to those whom he would cause to suffer for rejecting him. So, even if you can justify disbelief at this moment, who knows what may happen in the next.
I am rapidly trending "Apatheist."
>Blessed are the Cheesemakers
I am a Christian.
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.