Politicians Afraid to be Atheist

The religious beliefs of politicians in the United States is a touchy subject and seems to come up in all levels of government. Whether a candidate chooses to publicly identify as Catholic, Muslim, atheist or any other affiliation can often determine whether or not they will gain support, get elected and be generally well-liked by the public. Their specific affiliation can also influence the decisions they make, as it is difficult for an openly religious or non-religious politician to keep their personal beliefs from bleeding into their policies. With some form of Christianity being the dominant belief system for much of American history, it does not come as a surprise that a seemingly overwhelming majority of its citizens call for leaders who share the same ideology. Whether this is really representative of the American population, or it is just these groups that shout the loudest can be debated but what cannot be denied is that a true democratic government can’t function without the support of the public.

According to the American Humanist Association, this is intimidating for a lot of politicians who in private, would call themselves non-believers but are wary of publicly declaring it. Unfortunately, these fears have been confirmed in the past, with Stark, a member of Congress for 35 years being ousted from his position after coming out as an atheist in 2012. Starks exit marked the number of openly atheist Members of Congress dropping back down to zero and this leaves the numerous others on even shakier ground.

As Professor Linda Woodhead says in the article, Christianity is treated as a sort of civil religion in the United States and as a result, to reject Christianity is to reject the basis of your own country. It is considered unpatriotic. This, along with the fact that religion is so closely tied to morality for many Americans keeps the mouths of atheist politicians shut. Once you are considered amoral or un-American by any section of the public, you lose your support. Coming out as non-Christian can and has been career ending for some. Another problem is that the agenda of the more radical Christian groups has very harmful outcomes, particularly with regards to abortion, birth control, same-sex marriage and other hot button issues. Because such a large number of politicians are representing these staunch Christian ideologies, bills continue to be swayed in their direction, leaving the growing number of humanist, atheist and otherwise affiliated Americans without much of a say in political decisions that affect their daily lives.

What the American Humanist Association is trying to do is allow for a more open discussion of religion in politics and create an environment where non-Christian politicians feel comfortable openly sharing their ideologies. This is in the hopes of creating a much more diverse and representative government for the increasingly diverse population.





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