The growing diversity in religious and non-religious belief in American society is finally starting to have at least a small influence on the makeup of Congress. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a report about the religious views of the newly elected Congress and the news is mostly good.
The newly elected, 113th Congress includes the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu to serve in either chamber and the first member of Congress to describe her religion as “none,” continuing a gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors trends in the country as a whole. While Congress remains majority Protestant, the institution is far less so today than it was 50 years ago, when nearly three-quarters of the members belonged to Protestant denominations…
Perhaps the greatest disparity, however, is between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who do not identify with any particular religion. About one-in-five U.S. adults describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – a group sometimes collectively called the “nones.” But only one member of the new Congress, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), is religiously unaffiliated, according to information gathered by CQ Roll Call. Sinema is the first member of Congress to publicly describe her religion as “none,” though 10 other members of the 113th Congress (about 2%) do not specify a religious affiliation, up from six members (about 1%) of the previous Congress. This is about the same as the percentage of U.S. adults in Pew Research Center surveys who say that they don’t know, or refuse to specify, their faith (about 2%).
But her spokesman, Justin Unga, said in a postelection statement to the Religion News Service that she does not identify herself as an atheist.
“Krysten believes the terms nontheist, atheist or nonbeliever are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character,” Mr. Unga said. “She does not identify as any of the above.”
First of all, the word “atheist” is not meant to describe your “life’s work or personal character.” It just means you don’t believe in God. But that isn’t what this is about. It’s about a politician trying to avoid a term that has strong negative connotations to much of the American public.
But still, this is all good news and a step, however small, in the right direction. Perhaps one day we’ll live in a country where the mere fact of not believing in God doesn’t cause people to think that you’re an evil person, but we aren’t anywhere near that yet. More diversity in Congress, though, is a positive development, and hopefully one that constitutes a trend.