Jimmy Carter: I Think An Atheist Could Be Elected President

Jimmy Carter appeared on The Joy Behar Show Wednesday night and she spoke with him about religion (at the 5:58 mark):

Behar: Yes. Let me ask you about religion for a second because when you were president, I know that you were a very, very religious person, a good Christian, et cetera. You never really wore your religion on your sleeve and I always admired that about you.

Nowadays it seems that people are putting their religion — I was watching an interview the other night with Sharron Angle from Nevada, and the reporter asked her about God in her life, and then Christine O`Donnell, that one from Delaware, same thing. What is it about the religious right that they feel the need to parade their religion before the American people?

Carter: Well, I guess that was a comedy show. I don`t really know, you know.

Behar: That is a comedy show, you`re right.

Carter: I believed then and now in a complete separation of church and state. I never permitted, for instance, religious services to be held in the White House as all of my predecessors had done, both Democrats and Republicans had brought in, say, Billy Graham to conduct services on Sunday morning.

Behar: That`s right.

Carter: I never did do things like that. But nowadays, it`s true. I think one thing that has happened — it began, by the way, when I was in the White House — was the rise of the so-called moral majority and emerging of the very conservative religious activists on the one hand with very conservative members of the Republican Party. So now there`s kind of a marriage between those religious groups and one political party. And I didn`t have that problem to address either.

Behar: Do you think an atheist could ever be president in this country?

Carter: Well, I think so. It depends on what —

Behar: Really?

Carter: — how they dealt with the issues. If they would have laid the campaign premise out of scorning other people`s religion, no, but if they said they`re a deep thinker, they believe in human rights and things like that, there`s a chance. But it would be very difficult.

Behar: It would be very difficult. I have to respectfully disagree with you there. I don`t think it could ever happen. But you know, maybe you know more than I do. I think you do.

I wish I had Carter’s optimism.

I think he’s right on one point, though — the only way I can see an atheist getting elected to higher office is if his/her beliefs were only an afterthought, something the candidate rarely (if ever) brought up.

How wonderful would it be to hear a candidate say, “Yes, I am an atheist, and there’s nothing wrong with that”?

We got a long way to go.

(Thanks to Steven for the link)

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  • Zac

    We have an atheist, female prime minister here in Aus. Beat that for open-mindedness!

  • GentleGiant

    Even though her Wikipedia page describes her as agnostic, I think, from the line of her questioning in the end, that she leans heavily towards the atheist side.
    Always great to have more “famous” people speaking out about it, since people do tend to listen to them (for better or worse).

  • http://andrewfinden.com/findothinks/ Andrew

    Always great to have more “famous” people speaking out about it, since people do tend to listen to them (for better or worse).

    That seems a rather… er.. ‘Christian-easque’ approach..?

  • Ann

    I don’t think there would ever be an openly atheist US president in my lifetime.

    Similarly to what Carter and you think, if there were to be one (in my lifetime), I think this person would first have to do/be something crazy amazing (like find a cure for cancer, become a nation hero) so people can overlook the atheist part and focus on how much they contributed to the world/nation.

  • Kaylya

    “Ever” is a long time. I very much doubt that the next president will be an atheist, or the one after that (Excluding perhaps someone very deep in the closet); but it will probably happen eventually.

  • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

    “I have to respectfully disagree with you there. I don`t think it could ever happen.”

    Just a few years ago, that’s what I thought about the possibility of a black president being elected. But now that we’ve elected Barack Obama, that possibility seems more likely.

  • Stephen P

    Major social changes seem to need something like 40 years, presumably because the people who weren’t born when it started need to become a majority to make it reality. I reckon an atheist US president becomes a possibility from about 2040 onwards.

    Unless, that is, someone like Sarah Palin gets her hands on the US nuclear arsenal, in which case human civilisation may no longer exist by then.

  • Peter

    Right now, I’m worried. In the UK, my home, we have a religious PM (although his so called Lib. Dem. deputy PM is an Atheist) who wants to get Religious leaders involved in his ‘Big Society’.

    The ‘Big Society’ is where he wants to get policy ideas suggested by all and sundry. Cameron has no ideas of his own any different from the last Government led by Labour. His cut’s in the budget pretty much mirror what Labour would have done.

    Now, we all know how scientists with real evidence have recommended things like how drugs should be classified and dealt with.

    But he, and Brown before him, will just ignore such advice, and plow on with their own ideas. And if your led by your religion you will go against reason and fact.

    Right now you can get homeopathic medicine on the NHS. Yes that’s tax payers money being spent on sugar tablets with no scientific evidence that they have any other benefit than the placebo effect.

    Now the placebo effect has it’s place in medicine, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the truth about homeopathy being false medicine and quackery.

    The same goes for Chiropractic Quackery.

    Rant over…

    Anyway, I’m pretty hopeful that there will be an Atheist PM soon, Hopefully in about 4-5 years time.

  • http://www.michaelwharton.co.uk Synonymous

    In a future when there’s an atheist president of America, will there still be an America to preside over?

    It might be divided into two, with the United States of Liberty and Education in the north and Jesusland in the south. (Anyone else seen that map?)

  • Jonas

    Historically speaking, JFK emphasized Church/State separation, and needed to as the first Catholic US President. — He needed to assure people he wouldn’t take orders from the Pope.

    Joe Lieberman was the first Jewish V.P. Candidate in 2000. — Though a Religious Jew. I suspect Theist. (My words: Speaking as a Secular Jew the Jewish View of G-D isn’t quite as black and white as the Christian view)

    Still I think Carter is right, an Openly Humanistic Jew, or Secular Jew, or Agnostic/Atheist with any cultural heritage couldn’t run on a platform of bashing religion as silly. — Instead stress humanistic values.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    In the current climate a gay president is more likely than a non-theistic one. But historically American politics have tended over time to become more inclusive, so anything is possible.

  • Luther

    It is generally agreed that we have had at least one Atheist President, U.S. Grant.

    Also I would question when Carter says:

    religious services to be held in the White House as all of my predecessors had done, both Democrats and Republicans had brought in, say, Billy Graham to conduct services on Sunday morning.

    Would not want this statement to be accepted without proof. I suspect that there were some exceptions, but maybe not in recent history.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/just_us_3_league_comic_cover_shirt-235911106263996519 The Godless Monster

    @Synonymous…great map, thanks for sharing. JesusLand needs to have its borders extended deep into Michigan, however. Maybe they’re planning an annexation soon? I can hear the distinct twang of distant banjos coming from the nearby forests at night…

  • http://www.meaningwithoutgodproject.blogspot.com Jeffrey A. Myers

    At this point I would be happy if we could get a few Congresspersons.

  • Daniel

    I certainly think an atheist could be elected president. But not anytime soon. I’ve seen several charts showing that support for gay marriage increases dramatically the lower the age cohort. I find this very a very positive trend and hope that by the time I am in the 65+ group, it will be a non-issue.

    I haven’t seen any sort of breakdown by age for acceptance of atheism in elected officials, but I’d hope that a similar trend could be found there. An if so, then when it becomes a non-issue to enough voters, then there can definitely be an Atheist President.

  • Heidi

    @Synonymous: Wait, we get Hawaii, right? We need it, because clearly we’ll have to relocate NASA. It’s not like Jesusland is going to fund it.

  • Kurt

    the Jewish View of G-D

    It’s OK, ’round these parts you can spell out the whole name. You can even put it in all-caps (or all lowercase, if you’re a Unix/Linux command line fanatic) and nobody will smite you (not even GOD).

    Where was I? Oh yeah… Lieberman in 2000 made no secret of his devout theistic Judaism and in fact celebrated his ability to be nominated for V.P. as a sign of America’s increasing religious tolerance. Those were the days, eh?

    I celebrated that too. Of course, that was before he went south and Tom Tomorrow drew him shrugging, “What can I say? I’m just an asshole.” Oh well.

  • GentleGiant

    Andrew wrote:

    Always great to have more “famous” people speaking out about it, since people do tend to listen to them (for better or worse).

    That seems a rather… er.. ‘Christian-easque’ approach..?

    Not at all, no less than making billboards is ‘Christian-easque’ – it’s all about visibility and acceptance in society.

  • muggle

    It’s inevitable at some point. Hell, religion’s death is inevitable. It just can’t hold up to our gaining knowledge of the way the world works. Knowledge is power.

    However, I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime. I also agree they need to take the emphasis off religion and on issues as Carter strived to do and, indeed, all candidates, including the religious ones should. (Of course, I could be wrong on this; look how Kennedy answered the fear of a Catholic president by directly addressing the concerns.)

    I do think we’ll see a gay president first and we’ll have a woman president (hopefully, not Hilary) before we have a gay one.

  • Suedomsa

    That woman has an annoying voice.

  • Brian Macker

    “You never really wore your religion on your sleeve and I always admired that about you.”

    Boy, she was buttering him up with a load of crap. I lived through his presidency and he was all about wearing his religion on his sleeve. “I have sinned in my heart, blah, blah” The guy was even criticized during his campaign for president about wearing his religion on his sleeve. Talk about rewriting history.