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Conventions leave atheists asking: What political party represents me?
A voice vote to change the DNC party platform turned to chaos Wednesday night.
September 6th, 2012
03:24 PM ET

Conventions leave atheists asking: What political party represents me?

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – This convention season has not been good for atheists.

The word "God" was reinserted in the Democratic platform after it had been removed. A plan to raise atheist billboards in the convention cities was stymied by opponents. And though there were preachers and rabbis and other religious leaders opening and closing each day of each convention, there wasn’t an avowed atheist talking up unbelief on either convention’s speaking list.

The political lockout has left many nonbelievers asking, “What political party represents me?”

“We are deeply saddened by the exclusion of a large number of Americans by both parties,” said Teresa MacBain, a spokeswoman for the group American Atheists, in an interview on Thursday. “It amazes me that in modern-day America, so much prejudice still exists.”

After word spread Wednesday that Democrats left God out of their platform, atheists rejoiced. “Truly amazing news,” wrote Loren Miller on Atheist Nexus, a popular atheist blog. “The Republicans remain in the firm grasp of right-wing Christian religiosity, and I really don't know what it's going to take to free them from it.”

But the convention committee immediately received huge pressure get God back in the platform. Even President Obama, according to CNN reporting, said, “Why on earth would that have been taken out?” when he first heard of the omission.

In an awkward session that required three voice votes on the convention floor, the Democrats opted to add “God” back to the platform.

For atheists, the Democrats were seen to be taking away a hard-fought victory. “We had 24 hours of joy as we felt (that) finally our government values all people,” said MacBain. “But that was short-lived. The vote last night angered many atheists and left them feeling excluded once again.”

Online, atheist websites and Facebook pages went from upbeat to downcast as news spread of the platform revision.

“Obama was the first president to acknowledge non believers,” Mark Musante wrote on the American Atheists’ Facebook page. “I wish he would stick to his guns.”

Musante was referring to Obama’s 2009 inauguration speech, when the president said, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.”

Beverly Sitherwood, on the Friendly Atheist blog Facebook page, accused the Democrats of “Pandering for power.”

Some atheist leaders used the platform defeat as a rallying call.

“I guess a tiny step was too much to ask for,” David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, told CNN. “This was a clear message to the 16% of the voting population - we don’t count. Well, guess what, Dems - we do. And we vote.”

Silverman says that 16% of the voting public identify as nonbelievers. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 12% of the electorate in 2008 was made up of people with no religious affiliation, though experts say the number of avowed atheists is much smaller.

While acknowledging atheists, Obama has given platforms to high-profile religious leaders, including Rick Warren, a megachurch pastor who prayed at his inauguration, and Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is giving the final prayer of the convention on Thursday night.

American Atheists’ plans to raise billboards ridiculing the presidential candidates’ faith ended in failure. After the group put up billboards in Charlotte, North Carolina, the site of the Democratic National Convention, last month, it quickly removed them due to “physical threats to not only our staff, but the billboard company as well.”

American Atheists had also planned on a billboard in Tampa, Florida, to coincide with the Republican National Convention there. But American Atheists said that all the billboard companies in Tampa rejected a sign taking aim at GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.

Perhaps because of the Republican Party’s ties to conservative Christianity, atheists tend to be Democrats. According to a 2012 Pew study, 71% of Americans who identified as atheist were Democrats.

“The Republicans who spoke at the RNC seemed more like televangelists than politicians,” MacBain said. “The message was clear from the RNC: Get God, or get out.”

The Republican’s 2012 platform mentions God 12 times, many of which describe the “God-given” rights that the Republican Party says are inherent to the American idea.

Though most atheist groups claim that there are closeted atheists serving as representatives and senators, only one has come out as such.

In September 2007, Rep. Pete Stark, Democrat of California, affirmed his atheism in a speech at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Atheism • God • Politics

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  6. steve

    Athiests make up approximately 1.6 percent of the population. They have to coalesce with groups of believers in order to wield political power relative to a two party convention system. Just the way it is, not sure why it's news.

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  17. SoundRiver

    Buddhism is an atheistic religion as it completely ignores any mention of a supreme Deity. Infact, in Buddhism God is superfluous, but it is a spiritual religion. It is not Atheism that turns people off, it is complete lack of any spiritualism. What goes for Atheism is actually a very materialistic and mechanistic conception of life which strips it of any and all meaning. That is what makes people uncomfortable, not the lack of belief in God.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Lilith

      Atheists do not have a "materialistic and mechanistic conception of life which strips it of any and all meaning". Where do you come up with this stuff. Atheism is simply NOT believing in God or Gods, nothing more & nothing less. You had me at Buddhism, that was an excellent point, but after that you went wacky. What scares people about atheism is that in the back of their "belief" they know it's correct.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • SoundRiver

      @Lilith Most Atheists subscribe to the belief that we are our bodies and nothing more. Our feelings, thoughts and our sense of self is all in our brain and the firing of our neurotransmitters. This is necessary since they have eliminated along with a supreme diety, any concept of a spiritual sense of our self. This is what I mean by materialistic and mechanistic conception of life. It is quite presumptuous to say that people are uncomfortable of Atheism since they know it is right. Quite laughable and condescending.

      I have no problems with Atheism. I think it is a perfectly valid way to view the world. But modern Atheist also for the most part do not believe we are anything more than our bodies and when we die that is the end of it. If you don't believe this, listen to the high priest of Atheism - Richard Dawkins. Reducing sentient beings to matter reduces them to disposable objects with no intrinsic meaning or value to them.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So SoundRiver, you think that atheism devalues life? I don't think atheists agree with you. I think that atheists treasure life more because we know that this one life is all we get.

      I think that believing in some form of afterlife, despite the utter lack of proof, is simply an emotional response to the fear of death. Much better, I think, to embrace the finite nature of our existence and treasure every moment, than to hide behind the fantasy of immortality like a child.

      September 18, 2012 at 2:24 am |
  18. fiftyfive55

    who cares WHAT atheists think,they've made the choice that the world's all wrong and they are right,sounds like what our teachers and parents said to us as kids.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      yes ... Like my parents used to say, "Just because everyone is jumping off a cliff, should you?"

      September 17, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Douglas

      You have a lot to learn about Atheism... and about religion, for that matter.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • KAS

      Who cares WHAT believers think, they've made the choice to perpetuate the mythological beliefs of a bunch of goatherders who praised slavery and treated women as cattle.

      The fact that both parties go out of their way to pander to such nonsensical beliefs shows how far removed from reality they are. Considering how many of both parties are found to be sleeping with someone who is not their spouse, or how many members of the clergy are out diddling young boys and girls, it makes you wonder why one would still follow these people.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • xirume

      Your parents and teachers told you lies even today you still choose to believe.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • sam stone

      fiftyfive: how is that any different than any other belief?

      September 17, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • edh

      You realize if you replace the word "atheists" with "Christians" you negate your own argument. Why do Christians, or any other religion assume their way is the only way, and the rest be damned? This historically is the source of many conflicts in our world.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  19. Kristoffer Wood

    Look, I'm posting with my real name, and think each side is wrong in caring. I wish people would stop buying in to this BS distraction tactic and pay more attention to the actual problems...I.E. HORRIBLY CORRUPT GOVERNMENT PRACTICES CURRENTLY SATURATING THE ENTIRE AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM. Letting everyone chomp at the bit over these petty, artifical differences is working so well to distract everyone from the fact that this so-called super democracy is slowly working its way to becoming a form of anonymous dictatorship for the richest bidder.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:56 am |
    • I don't use my real name

      Easy to use your real name when you ride the fence on religion. Try it with a strong opinion (right or wrong) & watch the crazies show up at your door with pitchforks and torches!!
      Everyone has a strong opinion on politics, so no one cares.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Kristoffer Wood

      My strong opinion on religion is everyone should shut the eff up about their beliefs...>.<

      September 18, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • Mark From Middle River

      Does this limiting the vocing of beliefs extend to other parts of society? Other defining issues such as Race, Gender, Academics, or any group that holds a view should also not voice their views. Or is it just those views that make us feel uncomfortable or that we disagree that should shut the "eff" up?

      September 18, 2012 at 2:44 am |
    • I don't use my real name

      Again Kristoffer Wood, your comment is riding the fence since it is addressed to "everyone" .. no risk there again! Try giving a scathing review of Islam and be sure to give your name, kids names, address and phone number this time.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  20. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    The secret plan is 'Affirmative Action' for the minor deities of atheism. It's a mistake, though, and the result will be a caste system. The fix will be reincarnation with much opposition, of course.......'Isa 41:23 Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye [are] gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold [it] together.'

    September 16, 2012 at 4:25 am |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.