Anne Davies in The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) has an article called, “A non-believer – say it isn’t so.”
It opens with a (slightly erroneous) story about Pete Stark:
Pete Stark found himself in a unique and slightly uncomfortable position earlier this year. The longtime Democrat congressman for the Oakland district near San Francisco had responded to a survey from the Secular Coalition for America which offered a $1000 prize to the person who could identify the “highest-level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of ‘nontheist’ currently holding elected public office in the United States”.
To his surprise, that was him. Stark was the only one of 535 federal politicians prepared to admit he had no religion. For a few brief weeks he was the poster-boy for the humanists in a nation where, according to Pew Foundation research, eight out of 10 people say they have “no doubt God exists” and that “prayer is an important part of their daily lives”.
In the immediate aftermath, Stark’s staff worried about the backlash. Would his office be targeted by fire-and-brimstone Christians, prophesying his imminent damnation? One or two callers promised to pray for Stark’s soul, but for the most part, the callers felt Stark was championing a position held by a significant but silent minority.
Fortunately, at 75, Stark is not planning to seek higher office. If he had been, he had just committed political suicide.
That makes it sound like Stark nominated himself. He didn’t. He was separately nominated by two people and one of them won the contest (via a coin toss).
The rest of the article discusses how being an atheist hinders you from getting elected to higher office in America and why religion has flourished in that area.
Being an atheist is the biggest handicap a person could have to being elected US president – worse than being gay or a woman, according to a Gallup poll in February.
More than 53 per cent of people surveyed said they would not vote for an atheist. They would prefer a homosexual president – 43 per cent said they would not vote for a homosexual – or a woman president (11 per cent said they would not vote for a woman).
And it seems that these days being black or Catholic or Jewish is hardly a barrier at all, with each of these factors being named as a bar by fewer than 7 per cent of voters.
To Australians, the idea of asking a politician about their religious beliefs and practices would seem impertinent, at best irrelevant. Being a non-believer is certainly not a bar to high office as Bob Hawke proved. In 1980, during a interview on ABC television, Hawke admitted: “Until I get some evidence one way or the other which is compelling to me, I’m going to have to remain an agnostic …” He was prime minister three years later.
A leader demanding evidence before acting on a whim? Amazing.
It seems that Americans want a Christian president, but they are not sure that he or she should let their religious supporters have open access to the Oval Office.
It’s been said before, but I don’t think most atheists mind if a Christian gets elected. As long as Christianity isn’t used as the sole basis for the person’s decisions. Let it guide you, if it must, but you better have secular reasons for supporting or vetoing legislation as well.
[tags]atheist, atheism, Anne Davies, The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia, Pete Stark, Secular Coalition for America, Pew Foundation, God, prayer, Christian, Bob Hawke, agnostic[/tags]