With midterm elections less than a week away, here's a religious/political question: Why are so many Americans reluctant to elect atheists to public office?
That's exactly the question raised in this article from The Conversation.
"There appear to be two primary reasons atheism remains the kiss of death for aspiring politicians in the U.S.," writes Phil Zuckerman, who teaches sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, " -- one is rooted in a reaction to historical and political events, while the other is rooted in baseless bigotry."
For the first explanation, Zuckerman notes this: "Some of the most murderous dictatorships of the 20th century – including Stalin’s Soviet Union and Pol Pot’s Cambodia – were explicitly atheistic. Bulldozing human rights and persecuting religious believers were fundamental to their oppressive agendas. Talk about a branding problem for atheists."
And for the second, this: "The second reason atheists find it hard to get elected in America, however, is the result of an irrational linkage in many people’s minds between atheism and immorality. Some assume that because atheists don’t believe in a deity watching and judging their every move, they must be more likely to murder, steal, lie and cheat." However, he also adds this obvious truth: "Such bigoted associations between atheism and immorality do not align with reality. There is simply no empirical evidence that most people who lack a belief in God are immoral."
What we know, of course, is that all people -- religious or not -- act immorally at some point (or many points) in their lives.
I suspect another reason for voters' lack of enthusiasm for electing non-believers is that many people still think of the U.S. as a religious nation -- and, comparatively, it is. In fact, as I've written more than once, today's virulent Christian nationalism invents a false history about the nation's founding and then seeks to extend that alleged story into the present and future.
Let's also remember that there is not to be any religious test for holding public office. Which means that one of the few legitimate questions about religion to ask any candidate is this: How will your religious beliefs affect the shape of the public policies that you will advocate?
As Zuckerman is right to note, the religious landscape of the U.S. has been changing in recent years to the point that now more than a quarter of American adults identify as religiously unaffiliated.
Given that, he writes, "it shouldn’t be a surprise if one day a self-identified atheist makes it to the White House. Will that day come sooner rather than later? God only knows. Or rather, only time will tell." Well, unless you believe time is a hoax perpetuated on humanity by greedy clockmakers.
The document here shows the willingness of various groups, over time, to vote for a party's "well-qualified" candidate for president who identifies as Black, Catholic, atheist and so on:
|1958 Sep 10-15||1983 Apr 29-May 2||2007 Feb 9-11||2015 Jun 2-7||2020 Jan 16-29|
(This chart came from here.)
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THE FALWELL COLLAPSE IN LURID DETAIL
If you're not disgusted enough with some types of religious leaders, a new Hulu documentary about Jerry Falwell Jr. may finally satisfy your appetite for religious horror stories. As the Guardian piece to which I've linked you reports, the details shown in the documentary, God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty are simply appalling. No wonder people leave institutional religion that overlooks rank immorality and that sucks up to twisted politics.
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P.S.: I thought you might enjoy a piece about what Halloween looked like to my friend from India, Markandey Katju, who is visiting his daughter in California and saw this ghoulish holiday through Indian eyes. You can read his essay here.
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ANOTHER P.S.: My blog-hosting company was down for several days earlier this week, which prevented me from adding to my weekend post a link to my latest Flatland column. The column, which is here, is about how and why public libraries spend tax dollars on books about religion and spirituality.
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AND A FINAL P.S.: Some hateful vandals recently trashed the offices of the Dialogue Institute in KCK, painting swastikas and other horrid things on the walls. Here is a story about that, with video, from The Kansas City Star. The institute has Turkish and Muslim roots and does a lot of good interfaith work in the KC area. To read the institute's statement about what happened, see this pdf: Download Hate Crime News Release updated