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.
For atheists or those who are curious about atheism or have questions: There is an atheist community on Google+ (if you have a gmail account, simply click on You+ and search communities for 'atheism') where like minded people can hang out and talk.
Post on every page.
Perfect place for the blind to lead the blind..
So a barrel full of monkeys or a troop of baboons, a pack of rabid wolves etc, have a better chance to understand Faith than would a pack of rabid atheists. No wonder Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd!
... to exploit his sheep?
Hey Salero21 you might want to study your bible more you seemed to have missed these scriptures.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
Are you so pathetic that you need to troll here with the same nonsense everyday?
You're very, very confused to say the least.
To love is not the same as to being an accomplice to wrong. And yes I would like others to find me out if I'm lost and in the wrong, correct me and lead in the right path. That is not to say that TRUTH is Not absolute.
atheist,excrement, cancer, maggots, death, lies and deceptions. It seems to belong among those words.
Wow, way to continue to affirm why I'm an Atheist...keep it up.
"excrement, cancer, maggots, death, lies and deceptions"
Funny how all those things can be found in your bible.
Obvious troll ass hole is obvious.
You may want to see a professional about your word associations. You sound depressed. Or maybe just emo. Read Twilight again and everything will be ok.
you poor thing...
It's your God, they're your rules, you go to hell.....you stupid troll.
It is also our congress not yours so go f yourself and screw up your own country some more you ain't needed or wanted here. There's your sign
Those are all words used to describe atheists. I only listed a few of the nicer ones.
Keep up the good work of showing what is so wrong with your religion.
We can then safely conclude that atheism is sophisticated stupidity.
Now someone tried to argue that it follows then, that belief is unsophisticated stupidity that was a very fallacious argument.
Belief by the sake of belief alone or by itself alone, like that of Idolaters and pagans is also stupidity.
Faith in God, our Creator and Father however is far above and beyond that of mere belief. Faith the Scriptures say is also a Gift from God, it is not of us or of our own ingenuity.
"Faith in God, our Creator and Father however is far above and beyond that of mere belief. Faith the Scriptures say is also a Gift from God, it is not of us or of our own ingenuity."
Christianity has bred more greed, gluttony and intolerance in this country. No thanks, don't want to be part of your group.
Is it that you have short term memory loss, or do you simply not realize you're posting the same thing over and over? Here's a third option: are you really just trying to convince yourself?
LMAO! Your further attempts at logic are only further exposing your illogical thought process!
She is cute
Atheists are like gays...perverts
You should seek professional help for your low self esteem issues.
What a lovely Christian atti tude, ug. You do Jesus proud.
Believers are like children....easily manipulated.
I am a closeted atheist/agnostic. I grew up in churches since infancy. Everyone in my family is a christian/evangelical type. I questioned from the time I was 7. One day, just as a simple chilhood observation, I told my mom that the Jesus story sounded a lot like a fairy tail. She lost her mind. At 11, I was "exsorcised" of the demons that made me rebellious by a preacher who later molested me. I could write a book of the prejudiced teachings, hateful judgements and hypocrisy I witnessed growing up.
As a criminal free, working mother who teaches my kids to treat others as you wish to be treated, I am insulted and hurt by the comments from the religious who think that I'm a threat to them and society and have no morals. You are clearly wrong and delusional. Every single time I have tried to engage in a peaceful discussion about biblical discrepancies, fact checking or any gray area question, I am admonished or told that only those with faith understand. If being religious gets you through the day, go for it. I only ask that you keep your beliefs separate from our laws. Giving respect will get respect. Dont harm me, and I won't harm you. It's rather simple actually.
Best wishes. There is an atheist community on Google+ (if you have a gmail account, simply click on You+ and search communities) where like minded people can hang out and talk.
You've found THE PLACE to get even.
Thanks Waterman. I am on google+, I'll look around.
The word "befitting" doesn't mean what the author thinks it means.
Interesting how religious people so often feel the need to vilify those people who believe only in science, logic, and factual things.
God delivers perfect justice. It's in His character.
@ LOL: God delivers perfect justice? Okay, now, I'm not sure how YOU define "perfect" justice. Take the fable of Noah's Ark. Your God supposedly drowned EVERYONE on the Earth, except Noah and his family. Think about that. Everyone in Europe and Asia. Everyone in North and South America. Everyone in Africa and Australia. Probably no one in Australia – well, except all of the penguins. So, take a five year old child in South America – they die. along with everyone else in their immediate family, extended family, and, well, then entire continent.
So, could you please, LOL, explain how THAT is an example of you term "perfect" justice. Because, no matter how hard I try, I simply can't put the terms "ma-ss, world-wide genocide" and "perfect justice" on the same page.
Nice earings dork
any thoughts on the article? .... no? so kick an insult out there... good plan...
After reading the numerous ignorant, egotistical and hate-mongering posts of many avowed atheists on these boards, I don't really like the idea of associating myself with them via the label either.
Good. We don't want you.
Atheists aren't really that bad. It is just the ones that post on here.
WE appreciate that. We'd prefer not to have to associate with people so closed minded.
@Truth... The feeling's mutual, hence the original post.
After reading the numerous ignorant, egotistical and hate-mongering posts of many avowed Christians on these boards, no-one should associate with them.
Would you prefer "...the numerous ignorant, egotistical and hate-mongering posts of many avowed..." believers, because there are many of those too.
@Me II... No argument. But in light of the article, I'm simply stating that given how many atheists are abandoning logic, reason and civility to become vehement zealots, I get where the congresswoman wouldn't want to associate herself with the label.
Well, Sigh, you came in with a preconceived notion and I highly doubt you would/could see past it regardless of what was in the comments.
I understand where you're coming from and don't disagree with the sentiment, necessarily.
However, I think, this makes the same, possibly erroneous, assumption that the author makes, that the congresswoman is, in fact a non-believer. I think her official position was a religious affiliation of 'none', which still allows for belief of some sort.
"I'm simply stating that given how many atheists are abandoning logic, reason and civility to become vehement zealots..."
A natural response to centuries of religious tyranny and persecution will do that....especially when believers of today would seemingly love nothing more than to return to those days.
My question is why you choose to distance yourself from those standing up to the bully and instead choose to ally yourself with the bully?
And, you have to know this, saying that Atheists abandon logic and reason while not inherently making that very claim of religious people in general, displays a certain disregard for rational thought in and of itself.
I don't know for sure.
Punishment? I would hope not. I believe God has a plan of salvation for his whole creation. That is the good news of Jesus. He is a God that is truly worthy of worship. He is the God of us all. Not just a few somebodies who happen to believe correctly.
Jesus first followers didn't accept his claims as truth. They had no idea what was going on with his death.
Worship? Why the hell do we need to worship something? Groveling on my knees to some god (even if he really existed) is not something I would ever do. What kind of decent god would need or want to be worshipped? Count me out on this one.
Ok athy, take a hike. Just kidding, with this article today is your day.
He doesn’t need it, you do. You would have to humble yourself to ever know he really exists. In effect, you are your own god, otherwise.
Athy, Robert's trying to be helpful be reminding you that you need the secret handshake in order to understand the whole thing.
@ Robert Brown Humble yourself? For the community that believes god created the universe with them in mind, above all other animals, then loved his creation so much that he sent himself down to earth so he could die for the original sin he created you with in the first place? Please point to the humble part in that?
The humility part comes in when you realize that God is the creator you speak of, you know, the same one who created this universe with innumerable planets and stars, the same one who made the laws you have broken, the same one who will forgive you for breaking them, if you will only humble yourself and surrender your will to his.
"if you will only humble yourself and surrender your will to his."
You've always been following your own will because there is no god.
Humble yourself to remember that a god sent himself to sacrifice himself to himself to absolve humanity based on rules he created. Yowza!
I think this whole article is misdirected.
There is no need for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona to be the 'standard bearer' for non-belief.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, need to represent the legislative needs of her const!tuents in her Arizona congressional district and by extension, all of us. That's why they sent her to congress.
Moreover, I wonder if she isn't just 'spiritual, but not religious', i.e. not an Atheist/agnostic/non-believer at all.
And are they gonnnna be surprised.
she may well be SBNR. It's none of our business. "No religious test" etc.
@...not a GOPer...,
Religion is a form of mental illness. It is the need for illusion by people who cannot accept reality.
Religious beliefs are the end result of brainwashing....so I'm okay with Atheist being a dirty word – keep your brains dirty, as it were.
Atheist IS a dirty word... You may not want people to know that you really believe in GOD but when you a#s is about to become dead you will call on the name of GOD to save you, believe me....
Does it make you feel all pious to sprew condescending idiocy like that?
You're giving people false hope.
interesting claim. care to cite a source?
No I won't.
And I am proud to not believe in god.
I will remain an atheist until you theists can bring some factual proof of your sky fairy.
more lying xtians, how typical.
Nope...not a chance. Especially if heaven is likely to be populated with sanctimonious fucks like you.
Religious arrogance is not only irrational and self-righteous, but mean too!
Good job driving more people away from your beliefs....but that's probably a good thing, from what I can see.
It's only a 'dirty' word because paranoid believers with a persecution complex have made it so.
joldham: You've personally died to know?
It makes me sad that you believe out of fear.
Yes, it's very common for many animals to do normally irrational things when they are faced with impending death. Like a fox chewing it's own leg off to escape a trap. Or a person calling out to a non-existent invisible magical man in the sky.
"W. C. Fields, a lifetime agnostic, was discovered reading a Bible on his deathbed. “I’m looking for a loop-hole,” he explained.
Read more: http://www.joe-ks.com/archives_jun2004/Fields_Groaners.htm#ixzz2HPh03IYw "
people seem to be saved by circ.umstances... there is ALWAYS an explanantion. diseases depend on genetic make up and frequency of human contact....accidents = lots of variables....wars – the Christians and their foxhole theory, you pray to live....but what if the guy on the opposing team prayed harder and gave more money to god's earthly agents for God to help them crush their enemies? .... ...?
joldham: f you and your empty proxy threats
What? I really believe in "god?" Wow that's news to me. Amazing that you, someone who has never even met me, could decide for me what I do or don't believe.
When I'm dead...I'll be dead. That's it...no cares or worries, no thoughts, nothing....
Does your religion not teach tolerance? I really don't care what religion someone is or isn't, as long as they don't use it to hurt others, and don't try to push it on me or others who do not wish to be preached to. It would be lovely if you could find it within yourself to be more tolerant.
when the hammer hits the thumb Maybe !!
"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."
Hysterical......atheists are offended....LMAO
interesting, why do you think atheists would not get offended at all? not that i am much by it but your response is a strange one so want to know why that was your reaction.
How about if he had changed "atheist" to "Christian" or "Jewish?"
BTW. Why is it that Mr. Stedman looks affeminate? I mean he is wearing earrings as it is the fashion now among so many men. However that is a pagan practice.
Having fun trolling?
Why shouldn't he rip off a look from another group of people?
Most of the babble is ripped off from earlier religions from that region.
affeminate?? Learn to spell, dummy.
Is that the opposite of "ffeminate"?
Decorating a tree at the end of the year is a Pagan practice too, right?
Ever thought about where Christmas comes from? That's a pagan tradition borrowed and adapted by the christians to fit their story.
Atheism is an illusion, there is no such thing. Faith is the profession that you "know" that God exists without really being able to validate many of those beliefs. That's why it's "faith" and not "knowledge". Atheism is the other extreme of faith. It professes to "know" that God doesn't exist, without really being able to validate many of those beliefs. The most any person could ever be is Agnostic, believing that to know if God exists is impossible. Atheism professes that God DOESN'T exist, just as religion professes that he DOES. But both cannot validate or prove their stance and so atheism is just as invalid as religion. Only the acceptance of ignorance regarding the true nature of God is rational.
atheism is simply an acknowledgement of the myriad of deities invented by man over history. unless otherwise proven, all gods are equally invalid.
atheism is about non-belief (the absence of faith if you like) and is not about knowledge the way you insist it is.
One can be (as many are) an agnostic atheist: one who does not believe in God but cannot prove non-existence.
Are there specific terms to describe people who believe in unicorns and those who do not? After all, we really cannot "know" it either way....
Unicorns are real though, just ask the North Koreans.
Not faith is a form of faith.
No pets is a form of dog ownership.
Nothingness is a form of fish.
bizarre logic and false to boot.
"Hsa 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee,..."
So, I guess you're an Agnostic when it comes to Santa Clause. He may exist or may not – how could we know? Chances of santa Clause existing or not are 50:50, right? Never mind that the fat old guy travels around the world in one night on a slade pulled by flying deers and visits every child on the world – we just can't prove that he doesn't exist. Maybe you could re-think your approach to logical thinking.
I don't think most Atheists would claim to know that god doesn't exist.
I think most would only say they don't believe god(s) exist(s), or lack a belief that one does.
Calling atheism a part of faith is like calling 'off' a television channel.
Claus, Claus, Claus, Claus, Claus, Claus, Claus, Claus, Claus.
And? The point isn't about the beliefs themselves, it's that some who hold certain beliefs self-righteously believe they are better than others who believe differently.
Do people even understand that Atheists don't care what others believe....it's what they do based upon those beliefs that we ever even have reason to say anything about our beliefs in the first place.
The point, is that the politician in this article referred to "Atheist" in a context that implied she found Atheists to be less than her. And that, overall, is the core of what religion brings to the world....the ability for the average person to convince themselves that they are somehow better than others simply because they believe something.
While there are those atheists that may say "there is no god" that is not what "atheism" means. It is simply being without a god belief, not necessarily an assertion that there is no god.
Besides that, your statement that there's no such thing as atheism is rather sillly, unless you're also going to say there's no such thing as christianity, judaism, islam, etc.
Thank you Santa. ESL, didn't bother to check, busy at work :)
It's likely been said here already, but the issue is that "atheist" is indeed a 'dirty word'. It shouldn't be, but the fear and paranoia of believers with a persecution complex have made it so.
The word "atheist" is layered with so many unintended and inaccurate meanings – with examples at the extreme end like 'Jesus hater' or the absurd conflation of "Godless" with despotic regimes or some sort of class of militant anarchists who want to create their own purely secular NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM where all religion is forbidden; through less pejorative but nonetheless extrapolated definitions like the positive belief in the non-existence of God.
It's time to strip it down to the unvarnished definition of non-belief and remove all the layers of nonsense piled on top of this word.
It is the simple statement: "I don't believe in God".
Non-belief is not destructive. It is not a belief – it is the absence of belief. It is not a religion. It is not about destroying the world. It is simply the recognition that one does not believe in the existence of some invisible universal spirit. No more need be implied or construed from the word and it is this that we need to make clear.
You have a very simple but naive thought process on this. Remeber one thing, if you don't believe or profess you don't believe in GOD, when your time comes to dies i feel you will be singing a very different tune.. I'll pray for you...
How is "I don't believe in God" naive?
I take your assertion of 'simple' as a compliment. The concept is simple and removing all the extrapolated layering of definitions is exactly the idea I want to express.
'Remeber one thing, if you don't believe or profess you don't believe in GOD, when your time comes to dies i feel you will be singing a very different tune'
and to which god will we be singing this tune? i will lay odds that you believe its the one you believe in right?
@joldham – what exactly were you hoping to accomplish with that?
joldham: you pray for us, we'll think for you.
jesus is waiting for the slily goodness of your mouth.
@joldham – faith is the ultimate naivete. How disappointed you will be in that final moment as darkness closes in and there is no host of angels to sing you into the hereafter. . .
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.