Can an Atheist Run for President?

Simone Pathe, a student at Bates College, has a nice article about being an atheist that starts off with a hurtful truth:

By publishing this article on the internet I am probably eliminating any shot I ever had at being elected President of the United States. I’m not too concerned because living in the White House has never been my biggest goal. But, after having motivational mantras drummed into my head for 12 years of public school, and even after three years here at Bates, it’s disheartening to realize, that no, I can’t always “be all I can be.” Sadly, sometimes achievement has more do with who you are than what your human potential is.

… If I’m ever running for any elected office or nominated for any federal position, some Fox News reporter or conservative senator will find the above printed words and use them to shoot me down.

With that out of the way, you can write just about anything :) Simone talks about how atheism has made her a better, more compassionate person.

I’m fully convinced that if more people came out as atheists, the negative perception of us would start to disappear. Then, some of the college students and recent graduates will be able to imagine a country where we can run for higher office without our rationality becoming a liability.

  • http://xbowvsbuddha.blogspot.com Dr Rotwang!

    Not to trivialize the issue, but that’s how I feel about, and go about, being a (funny-dice) gamer: I’m “out”, it’s me, people like me, and they think, “Gee, he plays D&D but he’s not a bad guy.”

    Same with atheism.

  • Cheryl

    Anyone can “be all you can be”. It’s just a matter of defining your all. Just don’t let someone else define it for you.

  • Matt

    I beat my head against the desk everytime Obama comes on the radio to declare how much of a Christian he is. It does the opposite of helping to garner my vote. I might actually consider an atheist candidate as a positive, or at the very least, one that doesn’t yammer on and on about his faith.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com holytape

    It’s a lot like how homosexuals were perceived. In the 70, the idea of an openly gay man or woman being elected was absurd. But today, in a lot of areas in the country, being gay is no longer the kiss of death to a political, it once was.

    I say in ten or fifteen years, being an atheist won’t matter in most parts of the country. But then again, there will always be Alabama.

  • Curious Atheist

    I’m fully convinced that if more people came out as atheists, the negative perception of us would start to disappear.

    That sounds like an honest confession of faith.

    But what ‘fully convinced’ you? Was it how prized homosexuals are these days in our society? Or just mutual reinforcement of belief through groupthink?

    Are homosexuals really valued in our society, or just ‘tolerated’? A person can tolerate a wart without valuing it. When talking about a co-worker, it ain’t exactly flattering to say, ‘Yeah, I know Ed, but I can tolerate him twice a week.’

    Then, some of the college students and recent graduates will be able to imagine a country where we can run for higher office without our rationality becoming a liability.

    The key word here is ‘imagine’. We can all daydream. But then my rationality kicks in and I understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

    I’m not sure that public visibility really helps any group become more accepted. It just keeps the Jew-baiters and racists talking amongst themselves or under their breath. But keeping them quiet doesn’t win hearts and minds. The Anti-Defamation League and NAACP are good at peer pressuring people to say the opposite of what they really think (offering such friendly advice as ‘apologize or lose your job’), but that does not change what racists think. In fact being manhandled like that might actually only harden their hearts even more.

    So if you ask me, the only way for us to become more accepted is for society to accept us more on their own, independently of any directive from us. And the best way to get that to happen is to get more people to become atheists by educating them on how factually flawed religious beliefs are.

    If the percentage of atheists stays small, nothing will ever change – because most people don’t give a shit about what happens to people in groups that they are not in themselves, especially small groups. Christopher Reeves never gave a shit about people with spinal cord injuries until he became a person with spinal cord injuries himself, for example.

  • Hitch

    It’s with any stigmatized group. The more the majority personally knows someone belonging to a stigmatized group the less likely they agree to the negative stereotypes.

  • Neon Genesis

    If you admit you’re an atheist on the Internet, that ruins your chance of being president, but if a Christian says they were a practicing witch who worshiped the devil, they can win an election.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    I’d like to see more atheists test the waters on this. It seems a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy that an atheist can’t win public office. I say run but don’t make an issue of your (lack of) beliefs. If your opponent makes an issue of it, hammer them repeatedly for trying to avoid real issues, them hammer them with those real issues. Don’t cower and act like you have something to be ashamed of. Don’t try to pander to the religious. Roar. Yes, you’ll lose some votes just because you aren’t religious. But if you’re a Democrat, you’d lose most of those people’s votes anyway. If you’re a Republican, how the hell did you get nominated? And if you’re an Independent, give ‘em hell.

    Oh, and regardless of party affiliation, be loyal to your spouse, good to your kids and parents, and pay your damn taxes. Because we don’t need that baggage. =)

  • Isuru

    The greatest of our presidents never adhered to any religion and if not for the time and discoveries they would have been athiests

  • flatlander100

    Of course an atheist can run for president. Nearly anyone can. Movie stars. Serial divorcers. Anyone.

    The question is, can an atheist win anytime in the forseeable future?

    The answer to that of course is “no.”

  • Hitch

    It used to be questionable if a catholic can get elected. It is still questionable if a woman can get elected (but it’s appears to get closer). It is questionable if, say, a muslim, or an openly gay person could get elected.

    Elections are run on hyper-emotionality, not on the merit of arguments. That is one of the biggest obstacle to getting atheists and other stigmatized minorities elected. The way campaigns and PR is organized, it doesn’t really matter how good an argument they have if they can be demagogued.

  • Neon Genesis

    “Of course an atheist can run for president. Nearly anyone can. Movie stars. Serial divorcers. Anyone.”

    Unless you’re in Tennessee where it’s illegal to run for office if you’re an atheist.

  • Bob

    “I’m fully convinced that if more people came out as atheists, the negative perception of us would start to disappear.”

    Except when the people doing the perceiving have a problem with rectal-cranial alignment AND continue to define the standards by which conduct is judged.

  • Don Rose

    I’ve got no other problem with Obama, but when he starts announcing that he’s a christian…. and throws “god bless” in his speeches…. he might as well be wearing an aluminum foil hat (to block the aliens from reading his thoughts). Basically, he took a perfectly good speech, and added “by the way, I’m a little bit batshit crazy”.

    Yeah, I would vote for an atheist.

    A lot of people never thought we would have a black president, but they were wrong about that. We’re making progress at an impressive rate.

  • JD

    Unless you’re in Tennessee where it’s illegal to run for office if you’re an atheist.

    It’s a dead-letter law though, I don’t think it’s actually going to prevent anyone from running. Some prosecutor might try to use it, but I think it’s the kind of case that would get fast tracked and struck down. And it would score big with certain crowds, which is all it will really do, other than waste a lot of money on lawyers.

  • ASD

    The idealist in me wants to go ‘b-but people will listen to logic and reason! People LIKE logic and reason, right? Right?’

    And the cynic in me is going ‘pfff, don’t waste your time.’

    America needs a female President and a homosexual President first. Once they’re over those hang-ups, the voters might be able to take on the idea of an atheist in office.

    (In Australia? Go for it. I’m willing to be that at least 3/4 of our previous PMs were atheists or agnostic, even if they wouldn’t admit it.)

  • http://happyatheists.com SlickNinja

    Considering the way Obama had to talk about his “faith” last night, I got the message, “Anything but Christian is not okay”

  • http://fredjs73.blogspot.com Freddy

    I know as a Canadian I’m not qualified to have the facts on the reality since I don’t live in the good ol’ U.S. of A. but it seems to me that it’s going to take a generation or two at the least alongside continued growth in the nonreligious community before the very idea of a non-Christian being elected to the White House can be considered. At present, it seems to me close to impossible to think that an open atheist would be backed by either Dems or Repubs.

  • Chris

    I think Hemant has a reason to be convinced. If you look at the gay movement, as more folks came out and got involved, public perception changed. Granted, it still has a long way to go, especially in certain parts of the country, but it’s not a bad template to follow. And we can course correct for where we think they might have done better in certain areas.

    In my opinion, the more folks continue to hide the more it validates theism. I’m proud to be a non-believer. I’ve done the research and can defend my position. I help out in the community. I try and set and example. I don’t see a reason to back down from that.

  • http://littlelioness.net Fiona

    Probalem is getting past the major parties in such a two party race. They’d be too scared to try.

  • Jim

    It seems almost surreal that such a large percentage of the population in an enlightened, liberal democracy could be so prejudiced. But survey after poll shows that Americans really don’t want an unbeliever in the White House. I think the kind the attitude represented in this article is fairly typical of how most voters feel.

    http://townhall.com/columnists/MichaelMedved/2008/04/09/americans_are_right_to_resist_an_atheist_as_president

    That piece, by the way, is so ridiculous as to be beyond parody. I think even the author realizes how indefensible his position is, but it doesn’t matter to him since he knows most people will be on his side. No one taking the controversial or courageous point of view would dare make such intellectually sloppy arguments, but decrying atheists is hardly courageous and is also, unfortunately, far from controversial.

  • L. Foster

    Maine represent!

  • Curious Atheist

    The more the majority personally knows someone belonging to a stigmatized group the less likely they agree to the negative stereotypes.

    Unless, of course, the person they know actually happens to fit the stereotype.

    Atheists who fit the stereotypes – keep your atheism to yourself :)

    Atheists with healing powers – make it look like all atheists are like you.

  • SecularLez

    A lot of people tell me I should run for office but I have a lot counting against me: I’m female, I’m black, I’m an atheist, and I’m a lesbian. Yep, that about covers it.

  • VXbinaca

    I’m female, I’m black, I’m an atheist, and I’m a lesbian.

    Welcome. It’s great to have you.

    The more the majority personally knows someone belonging to a stigmatized group the less likely they agree to the negative stereotypes.

    Pretty much.

  • Tom Coward

    I am an elected official in a town not far from Bates College (Google my name if you are interested in finding out where and what). I am an “out” atheist in the sense that i do not hide my lack of religious belief. It caused a minor stir when I asked a Humanist to give the invocation when I was inaugurated.

    Few voters in this part of New England know or care about a candidate’s religious beliefs, as far as local officials are concerned. Of course I would not pretend that this would be the case for federal offices or even for statewide positions, but it has not been an issue locally. I do not make an issue of religion but if anybody asks I tell them where I stand.

  • SpencerDub

    While we’re on the topic of disqualifying people from office, can I just say that we need as a culture to get past the stigmatization of sex amongst our leaders? If it turned out that a candidate for office had taken and shared naked pictures of him- or herself, for instance, I’m certain that would become a bona fide Big Deal. I can see no reason why that should be, though; government officials are people just like everyone else, and to expect them to conform to specific sexual behaviors– or nonbehaviors– is just silly to me.

    But maybe I’ve just been wearing my progressive hat too long.

  • http://toughquestionsblog.com AZSuperman01

    I wish the unbelievers who try to avoid the word “atheist” because of it’s “negative connotations” would wake up.

    Does anyone think Fox News would be more understanding to a Presidential candidate who called himself a “bright?”

    The negative connotation associated with “atheism” is primarily due to atheists allowing religion to define what an “atheist” is.

    The only way to counteract that false perception is to come out and let others know that you are an atheist, then let them judge you by your own merits – instead of by the definition their pastor gave to the title.

    Each person brave enough to come out as an atheist makes it easier for someone else to stop living a lie.

    If people get to know atheists – as people, not a label without a face – then the spiteful words of their pastors will fall on deaf ears.

  • keddaw

    Not that the UK is especially enlightened but the leaders of the three main parties have all declared that they do not believe in god(s).

    btw. We should always put the ‘S’ after god, otherwise we allow the monotheists to think that they are somehow special in their silly beliefs.

  • gsw

    Well I for one hoped for Obama in the white house BECAUSE I thought he was an atheist. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear to have the backbone to actually come out as anything but a wishy-washy christian (perhaps he is really CofE?).

    Good News America: Once you pass the 30% mark, you are in. Muslims may vote but islamists are forbidden by sharia.
    Meanwhile, atheists are pretty conscientious – so I reckon with a full 30% in the voting office and the incentive of an Atheist President (maybe a women for a change?) there is hope for the USofA!

  • AxeGrrl

    Cheryl wrote:

    Anyone can “be all you can be”. It’s just a matter of defining your all. Just don’t let someone else define it for you.

    Beautifully said. You’re a wise woman, Cheryl :)

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    In the UK the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, is an atheist. Our PM, David Cameron, said his faith “grows hotter and colder by moments” which is politically expedient of him. The Australian PM, Julia Gillard, is an atheist. I would say that your hope for political recognition for atheists is reasonable and only a matter of time.

  • muggle

    You’re both right and wrong.

    I do not expect to see a homosexual president in my lifetime. I may see a woman. (Hopefully, not Hilary.) My daughter may live to see a gay or lesbian. Transgendered is going to be way after a gay or lesbian. This is according to my best educated guess just from observation of the prejudices around me.

    My grandson, eh, may or may not see an Atheist or any religious nomination other Christian (me or my daughter may see a Jew, possibly given how close one who sounded more like a rabid Christian right wing nut came to the vice presidency but lump Muslim, Wiccan, Hindu, Bhuddist, etc., etc., etc. in with Atheists; frankly, we’ll see an Atheist before the others). The only way he will will be by Atheists doing as you say and coming out and as someone else above said actually calling themself Atheist rather than some quibble such as unbeliever or, yes, Agnostic. (And Agnostic will probably, if the perception of Atheist doesn’t change, be there before Atheist since they are perceived as allowing there might be a gawd.)

    However, it’s easy for you to say in Chicago, Hemant, and me in upstate New York. A lot tougher for folks in the Bible Belt and other conservative places. Even in New York, I was a bit self-conscious of wearing my “I’m an out Atheist” baseball cap to the grandson’s bus stop this morning and when my daughter got kicked to the hall for the Scopes monkey child section of her history class in junior high because I complained about teaching bible stories in said class, I gave them hell but declined to sue because I had no means of protecting us physically from any violent fallout any media coverage might have raised.

    So, yes, in a perfect world, we’d all be out Atheists. Just as, in a perfect world, no one would be a closeted homosexual. It’s not a perfect world and those who are out have got to live with the real world consequences of being so. So, Catch 22 that it is, that’s really a choice that each individual has to make for themselves. And while we may not like any other Atheists staying in the closet, we have to understand and empathasize that they have their reasons for doing so. There are places in the good ole US of A where it’d mean not even being able to hold a job and pay the bills. Are you willing to let your kids starve on the street just to be out and proud?

  • http://mysistersfarmhouse.com Rechelle

    I don’t think politicians ever actually say anything truthful about themselves. It’s all posturing. The reality is that a truly honest person will never be president.

  • Heidi

    It seems almost surreal that such a large percentage of the population in an enlightened, liberal democracy could be so prejudiced.

    We weren’t talking about a place like that. We were talking about here in America. /sad irony

    Tom Coward Says:

    I am an elected official in a town not far from Bates College (Google my name if you are interested in finding out where and what).

    No need, sir. We know you around here, and we’re proud of you. :-)

  • Pingback: Why Does Atheism Disqualify Me From Public Service? « Mainlining Life

  • Curious Atheist

    I don’t think politicians ever actually say anything truthful about themselves. It’s all posturing. The reality is that a truly honest person will never be president.

    It’s great to hear some recognition of reality among the so-called reality-based community, Rechelle.

    There are places in the good ole US of A where it’d mean not even being able to hold a job and pay the bills. Are you willing to let your kids starve on the street just to be out and proud?

    Hear, hear, muggle! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Meanwhile, the pointless harm caused by prejudiced people is alive and well:

    Harassment pushes gay teens to suicide

    If the headline read ‘Atheist suicides up due to successful out campaign’ should we be celebrating our pride? I don’t think so!

    I know, I know – there’s a difference between self-outing and being outed by another. But that difference is irrelevant. A dead kid who outs himself is no less dead than a dead kid who is outed by others.

    That’s why I support the In Campaign.

  • muggle

    Curious, I always did hate the involunatary outing of others in the campaign for gay rights. I understood it but thought it wrong, for obvious reasons. I hope the Atheist campaign for rights never goes quite that far.

    What happened to Troy is truly despicable and the two students that did that should go to jail for as long as possible but we all know they probably won’t see even one day behind bars.


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