28 Members of Congress Don’t Believe in God

Paul Harris at The Guardian (UK) has an article about how the rise of atheism in recent years is putting the ‘religious right on the defensive’… and he got this quotation from Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America:

So far just one member of Congress, Californian Democrat Pete Stark, has admitted that he does not believe in God.

“Privately, we know that there are 27 other members of Congress that have no belief in God. But we don’t ‘out’ people,” said Silverman.

I’ve heard a paraphrased version of this statement, but never an exact number… If accurate, it would mean that just over 5% of Congress (535 members altogether) is non-religious. For reference, here’s the religious makeup of the 112th Congress (as of January, 2011, anyway):

Point of interest: according to the list, there are 0 “unaffiliated” members of Congress. But what about Pete Stark? He’s officially a “Unitarian,” even though he doesn’t believe in a higher power.

The SCA won’t “out” anyone, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some educated guesses as to who the non-religious might be. Any theories? (Any Republicans?!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

    I’d have to guess the members from Vermont and New Hampshire. Off the top of my head.

    • Nicole Glynn

      Vermont maybe, but I’m from NH, and I very much doubt any of our reps are non-believers.

      • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

        I guess you didn’t see the map with NH having 29% of the pop. claiming “no religion.”

        https://twitter.com/#!/UltraVerified/media/slideshow?url=pic.twitter.com%2FvJPVODwJ

        • Dan

          Why in the world would you guess all the Congress members from NH are secret atheist just because 29% of the state has no religion? Guinta claims to be a Catholic and favors banning abortions in all cases, even for the health of the mother. Ayotte claims to be a Catholic, praised the Christian Coalition voter guide,  and is even against gay people being allowed to adopt. I’d be shocked if either of them was a secret atheist, as you assume.

  • Erp

    I think the current president of the Unitarian Universalist Association doesn’t believe in a God*; it is not a requirement for being a UU.    For that matter belief in a God is not a requirement for Buddhists (3) or Jews (39) and 6 people refused to answer.  Barnie Frank and Bernie Sanders both Jewish would be high on my list as likely non-theists.

    *’Higher power’ is a bit tricky, the laws of physics can’t be broken so in that sense are a higher power.

    • usclat

      True about the laws of physics (and a nice point), but those laws CAN be proven. Religious, spiritual (whatever the means), faith-based beliefs can not. And they will never be proven. Please!

      • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

        Nice use of “proven” in it original sense of tested (as opposed to “proved”). See, there is literacy in the internet

  • Ronlawhouston

    I believe that 27 is just the tip of the iceberg.  If you look at the number of “cultural” religious  people, I’ll bet there are a lot more than 27 that have at least agnostic views about a deity.

  • Anonymous

    I’d look at the Jewish members of Congress for a good chunk of those. It’s not uncommon to identify as “Jewish” while not having theological beliefs. Also the 6 “don’t know refused,” and 3 Buddhists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1198150213 Joe Murray

    Definitely wouldn’t be any members from Virginia…

    • Anonymous

      Who knows? Maybe Moran or Connolly is secretly an Atheist.

  • Anonymous

    Rush Holt is the Quaker on that list. Liberal branches of the Friends don’t require a belief in God, and Holt’s about as liberal as they come, so I’d put him on the probable list.

    He’s also a research physicist, three time Jeopardy winner, and has a bumper sticker saying “My Congressman IS a rocket scientist”.  

  • http://twitter.com/latinone_usa The LatiNone

    You have to understand the nature of believing and belonging. A lot may not believe, but they cannot get rid of their denominational label, maybe out of habit, respect or tradition. You can’t expect them to call themselves atheists. However, we need people who call themselves atheists to start running for office, the new generation of Nones is the one that’s gonna get represented descriptively

    • usclat

      Hear hear! We need atheists to run for office – and win. Slowly but surely skeptics  are going public. Blogs like this and others are the metaphorical tools and conduits people of reason can use to create the environment for rational thought and discussion in the physical world (as distinguished from the digital world). 

    • M Vanroy

      Why the hell not?  The average person may face obstacles for coming out, but Congress is not supposed to be made up of average people.  They have a higher obligation to the truth then the typical ex-religionist.  You are giving politicians safe cover to keep on lying.

  • biker penguin

    I want to be a Pietist.  They get lots of pie, right?

  • Anonymous

    Ayn Rand’s world view, despite its nuttiness and deficiencies, shows signs of becoming an alternative humanism for people on the right; so some Republican congressmen influenced by her could display a polite coolness towards the religiosity of more mainstream Republicans.

  • http://twitter.com/almightygod almightygod

    Bernie Sanders and several of the others who identify as Jewish. Michele Bachmann is a secret atheist who is just trolling America.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AUMGYFTVJZUW22VBOJWLK3UJ4Y Brandon B

      Bernie Sanders is JEWISH?? Huh!  

      He must be one of those “born into a Jewish family” Jews, like Jon Stewart and much of Hollywood, who technically are Jews but don’t really practice the faith.  I never really saw Sanders as the devout type, too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

      I was also going to say that simply playing the numbers, we would guess a disproportionate number would be the self-identified Jews.  Glad to see God Himself agrees with me!

    • http://twitter.com/PushBackNow Push Back Now

      She is NOT an Atheist, she is a born again believer Why are you lying?

  • Rich Wilson

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Earl Blumenauer and Lois Capps are non-believers.

    I worked in Atlanta for a year, and one day one of my co-workers said to me in private that he had trouble with all the miracles in any religion, and would probably be an atheist if it wasn’t for his wife and child.  He seemed kind of sad about it.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=503257844 Adam Evans

    Does the 28 include the Buddhists? 

  • Jennie

    I would not be shocked to find out that the Minnesota senators are atheists. Especially Al Franken.

    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

      Klobuchar is a Congregationalist. Franken could be:

      “AF: My wife is a fallen Roman Catholic…. We don’t belong to a shul,
      and my kids have really been raised with no formal religious education,
      but they definitely consider themselves culturally Jewish. Partly it is
      growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was quite the
      opposite of my experience. My wife—every year we have a Chanukah dinner and she makes the best latkes and … the best brisket on the Upper West Side. But my kids definitely consider themselves Jewish, have very Jewish
      senses of humor and went to a high school that was two-thirds Jewish.

      And the most important aspect of this—we did go to a Reform temple
      when I was a kid, and my parents were not particularly devout, but we
      were taught that there was a certain ethical base to our religion that
      was the essence of our Judaism, and I think my kids have grown up with
      that.”

      http://www.jewishjournal.com/bloggish/item/is_al_franken_jewish_are_you_kidding_20090630/

  • Dan W

    I suspect some of the Congressmembers who are listed as Jewish, Buddhist, or Don’t Know/Refused could be atheists. Perhaps some of them might label themselves as Christian (from the denomination they were raised in) for fear of losing the support of voters in their districts.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

      I’d be skeptical about the self-identified Buddhists.  Being an open Buddhist is not really that much less of an electoral liability than being an open atheist is — might as well go whole hog.  Or to look at it the other way, if you are going to lie about it in order to be more electable, might as well call yourself a progressive Christian.

  • Anonymous

    28 non-believers still means that 507 of them are nuttier than a fruit cake.

    • Rich Wilson

      Ya, fine for you to say Limey.  We Yanks are stuck with them!  We’ll take what we can get!

      • Anonymous

        ;)  It is easier over here.  The Lord’s Spiritual have titles and funny dresses so you can identify them easily.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, at least you Americans get to vote for your loony tunes.

          • Rich Wilson

            ya.

            Tweedle Dee vs. Tweedle Dum.

      • Anonymous

        And even the crazies like Tony Blair keep it to themselves mostly

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AUMGYFTVJZUW22VBOJWLK3UJ4Y Brandon B

    I suspect that Dennis Kucinich may be something of a nonbeliever.  I have a very hard time believing someone as liberal as he would be devout.  Then again, I guess stranger things have happened.   At most, he might be a Buddhist?  
    I suspect you’ll find at least ONE of the Congressmen from California (has 54, if I recall, total) to be a nonbeliever.  

    • Gus Snarp

      Kucinich is at least nominally Catholic. I highly doubt he’s a very devout Catholic, and I’m quite certain he’s at odd with the Church on at least a few significant social issues. He may be very like some of the liberal nuns I know, who at best ignore the Church on gay rights, ordination of women, and abortion  and simply focus on social justice, poverty, opposing war, and opposing the death penalty. But more likely he’s also some kind of nebulous new age sort.  I was tempted to suggest him as a non-believer too, but it’s more likely he’s a sort of spiritual, new age, liberal, ceremonial Catholic.

  • Anonymous

    Most of the speculations presented here focus on known liberals. However, being an atheist doesn’t require one to be a liberal – just to have no belief in gods. I’ve encountered a few whacked out atheists who are anti-choice, homophobic and support conservative politics. So, it is possible that some of our most conservative Republican legislators are secretly in the atheist camp, even though they’re not exactly happy campers.

    • Bruce

      I am reminded of how the tea bagg–umm–partiers are Ayn Rand fans.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    Median age in the Senate is from the 1940s cohort, while the House is a bit younger. A crude pass via GSS2000-2010 question “GOD” would suggest around a 5% “don’t believe”/”no way to find out” atheist/agnostic fraction.

  • Dan

    I always thought John Olver from mass could be. He has a Phd in chemistry and was a professor at Umass for 8 years before entering politics.

    • http://profiles.google.com/adamrsweet Adam Sweet

      You are correct.  I confirmed it with a discussion in person with the man.

  • Old fogey

    One thing that always annoys me in this sort of report is the phrase “admits to being atheist”. Personally I do not “insist” – I proclaim, assert, etc. Admit means it is something you are embarrased about.

  • Nemo

    My assumption has always been that most people in Congress (not just 28) are atheists, especially the Republicans. Religion for them is just another tool to manipulate the voters. They could hardly be as cynical about it as they appear to be, if they were sincere believers — could they?

    • Nemo

      I should add… the important thing to note here is that, though they may be atheists by conviction, they aren’t on our side, not even secretly. They like having that tool to manipulate the voters. They see religion as something that gives order to society — with them at the top, naturally. Call them faithiests, or call them sociopaths.

    • Gus Snarp

      I like to imagine that when it comes down to brass tacks, the vast majority of Americans don’t really believe. They say they do, they go to church, but tell them there was a miracle, an event that really appears to have no rational explanation, and they’re not buying it. But maybe that’s just me in my bubble.

  • http://profiles.google.com/adamrsweet Adam Sweet

    Rep John Olver (MA)  is not religious


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X