What Exactly IS Congressman Stark?

There are a lot of guessing games going on as to what “nontheist” actually means.

In Congressman Pete Stark‘s case, here’s what happened:

When the Secular Coalition for America wrote to him, he filled in the choice that read:

“I am a nontheist* and describe myself as: _________________. I also agree to allow the Secular Coalition for America to release this information to the general public.”

In the blank, he filled in “Unitarian.”

The footnote from the * asterisk read:

“*the term nontheist includes atheists, humanists, agnostics and
other freethinkers who do not believe in the existence of a supreme
being or beings.”

Don’t think that this is some strange ambiguous wording. Congressman Stark and his staff were fully aware of what this meant.

However you want to describe that, the fact is Congressman Stark is a Unitarian, but he does not believe in a God. He would not use the words atheist, Humanist, etc. to describe himself.


[tags]atheist, atheism, nontheist, Congressman, Pete Stark, Secular Coalition for America, Unitarian, humanist, agnostic, freethinker[/tags]

  • http://blog.infeasible.net/ Godless Geek

    What are the chances that he belongs to a Unitarian congregation for the benefit of his political career? It allows him to say that he goes to church and it allows him to avoid the “atheist” word that is such political suicide.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    There are plenty of atheists here without political carreers who nevertheless attend UU church.

    TXatheist springs to mind. We have an upcoming post by another unitarian planned for later this week on the ebay atheist blog.

  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com Chris Hallquist

    None of this should surprise anyone. I’ve got a friend who’s your standard young atheist, reads Skeptical Inquirer, praises Richard Dawkins’ writings, even talked about starting up an atheist group on campus freshmen year (the group I run started up shortly afterwards without him). Yet he goes to the UU church on Sundays, in part, he admits, because he wants a chance at becoming governor of his home state some day.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    I didn’t think Unitarians existed anymore since the merger with the Universalists. Is he UU or not?

  • http://blog.infeasible.net/ Godless Geek

    There are plenty of atheists here without political carreers who nevertheless attend UU church.

    That’s actually my point. UU doesn’t discriminate against non-believers. I have no reason to doubt Congressman Stark is a non-believer, and if he’s openly saying so, he probably been one for many years. No doubt atheist or agnostic would best describe his overall belief structure, so why avoid the label if not for the sake of politics? It definitely seems, based on Brian Flemmings research, that he is avoiding the label.

  • Peter Tibbles

    I have been following the saga of trying to find the highest non-theist elected official in your country for some time now. Watching this from my vantage point (Australia, a very secular country indeed) I can’t help being simultaneously amused and appalled with this. After all, we have had at least two self-acknowledged atheists as Prime Minister (the highest elected official) as well as others who were probably at least agnostics. Not to mention any number of State Premiers (roughly equivalent to your State Governors) who similarly profess non-belief.

    Unfortunately, the current incumbent and the opposition leader both call themselves christian. This will pass.

    Peter Tibbles
    Melbourne, Australia

  • http://blog.dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    Unfortunately, the current incumbent and the opposition leader both call themselves christian. This will pass.

    I hope so, but in the immediate future it’s probably going to get worse. If things go the way they are now, Rudd will win, Howard will retire, and Costello will become opposition leader, with his brother Tim whispering in his ear.

    But I totally agree, we’re in a much better position than the States.

  • Robert Tapp

    The phrase “is a Unitarian, but he does not believe in a God” makes little sense. Many Unitarian Universalists (including me) are nontheist. Why the “but”??

  • http://blog.dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    Robert,

    The original meaning of “Unitarian” was believing that there’s strictly one god (as opposed to Trinitarian, which is one-god-but-sort-of-three). So a nontheist Unitarian would be someone who believes in both one and zero gods.

    I think Hemant was just trying to distinguish it from the modern usage, which is much more liberal.

  • http://blog.dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    …by “distinguish it from the modern usage”, of course, I meant that he was using the more modern usage.

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  • Ray Smith

    In the United States, historically, the Humanist movement derived part of its roots from within Unitarianism. While Unitarianism started as a form of monotheism centuries ago, by the 1950′s, many congregations were dominated by Humanists. Many leading Unitarian clergy have been atheists or agnostics. The merger of the national Unitarian organization with Universalists in 1961 did not mark the end of Unitarianism, as each congregation is self-governing. There are still “Unitarian” congregations out there, usually with strong Humanistic traditions.

  • Irishman

    Robert Tapp said,
    > The phrase “is a Unitarian, but he does not believe in a God” makes little sense. Many Unitarian Universalists (including me) are nontheist. Why the “but”??

    Unitarian Universalism is a church. For most people, that raises an interesting paradox – an atheist who goes to church. I think the answer is as simple as that. He goes to a Unitarian church and self-identifies as a “Unitarian”, but does not believe in a supreme being. “But” is fully justified for contrast value.

  • Ray Westergard

    I’m a Unitarian and an atheist, and I think that all this analysis misses the point: An elected official in the United States had the courage to state that he was a nontheist. Let’s send Rep. Stark messages of appreciation in the hope that other public officials will exhibit the same courage.

  • Mriana

    I think it’s wonderful he’s come out and said he is a non-theist. A word that has many meanings. Bishop John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop, calls himself a non-theist too. So, it doesn’t matter if you are in the UU or the Episcopal church- which has Christian Humanists.

    In his article on Beliefnet called “The Theistic God is Dead- A Casualty of Terrorism” he said,
    “Life has taught us that theism is dead. There is no supernatural God directing the affairs of history. Atheism, however, is not the only other viable conclusion. Supernatural theism is nothing but a human definition of God.”

    Well, my answer was Humanism (long before I read his article), but some people stay with their churches for various reasons or go to the UU. Spong has been accused of being an Atheist, but the problem with that is, he believes in “a Ground of All Being” (which I could give more details if anyone is interested). So, he’s not exactly an Atheist, but he doesn’t believe in a Theistic god either. However, he too calls himself a non-theist, so the definition vary greatly.

    I glad Stark came out and said he is a non-theist. We need more in office and more who will admit it too. We can only hope that people will start seeing non-theists, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, Freethinkers, Brights, Rationalist, etc in a different light by the end of the next decade. Stark, Hemant, and others are leading the way. If enough of us follow, maybe others who think less of us, will start to view us differently. We can only hope at least.

  • Bill Young

    Unitarian and Universalist siince the ’50s. Nontheist, Agnostic, Atheist. Like Ingersoll said, They all mean the same thing. More significant is the realization that many of us have that all beliefs about “God”, gods, and other things supernatural are constructs of the human minds that believe them. It might be good if we could stop worrying about theological and non-theological terminology, learn how to live tactfully with those who have “god ideas” in their minds and just get on with our own naturalistic lives.

  • ninung

    actually, i rather feel confuse about “what unitarian universalist is, actually?”
    so, is it a religion or just a faith? some of their member said that they believe in god, but others believe in no god. so? i really feel that i can’t catch the idea…i’m a moslem, instead…

  • Brett

    For most people, that raises an interesting paradox – an atheist who goes to church.

    That almost sounds like a good idea for a book.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    More significant is the realization that many of us have that all beliefs about “God”, gods, and other things supernatural are constructs of the human minds that believe them.

    I suppose that statement is true of pretty much any belief…

  • http://starseyer.blogspot.com Mikel

    I’m a godless Unitarian Universalist myself, and I was quite excited to hear Congressman Stark come out as such :)

  • Mriana

    I was too. I just hope it doesn’t affect his career.