Is Congresswoman-elect Kyrsten Sinema an Evatheist?

Yesterday, Think Progress posted a graphic illustrating the diversity of the soon-to-be 113th Congress:

They list Kyrsten Sinema as the “first non-theist to openly acknowledge her belief prior to getting elected”… though we know her campaign is now doing everything in their power to erase that part of her history.

I’m waiting for her campaign staff to tell Think Progress to issue a correction… so far, that hasn’t happened. (Though they did correct Jezebel.)

John Shook of the Center for Inquiry is equally frustrated about Sinema’s denial of any non-theist label and has created a new word for people like her: Evatheist: Someone who evades non-theistic labels entirely:

The rise of the Agnostics against the Atheists was just the opening salvo. Recent decades have seen the rise of the Nontheist, the Nones, the Faitheist, and the Apatheist. Now we are dealing with a novel yet inevitable phenomenon: discontent with accepting God has now evolved towards discontent with accepting labels. Unlike the Apatheists, who can’t care enough about God or religion to even utter a word of choice either way, Sinema represents a different attitude, of caring just enough to renounce any labeled position on the whole matter.

To conclude with a tone of irony, let’s call these nouveau Nones as the “Evatheists” because they feel the need to evade the whole issue. Don’t you dare call one of them an “evatheist” to their face — although hearing a quick denial only proves that this label fits.

I’m still personally annoyed by this, as you can probably tell. If “bisexual” is a label she embraces, I find it hard to believe that “non-theist” would be so damaging that she can’t accept it.

I have no desire to label her as something she’s not. But if she doesn’t believe in God, she doesn’t get to choose whether or not she’s an atheist. She is, plain and simple, regardless of whether she likes the word. More importantly, it’s 2012, and just admitting the no-god thing up front — whatever she wants to call it — would save us (and her) from a longer discussion about it down the road.

She’s missing a golden opportunity by not embracing the non-theism “label” right now. It would cost her next-to-nothing politically to do so and it would bring together the thousands of us looking for an openly atheistic politician to support.

It’s a sad day when your champions in Congress try to run away from you.

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.

  • Nicole Introvert

    But maybe she really is no longer identifying as an atheist.  Perhaps she’s become a deist or pantheist?  Why the pressure on her to admit something which may not currently be true for her?   I get the visibility in congress…. but I don’t get pressuring someone to label themselves something they clearly aren’t comfortable with. 

  • RobertoTheChi

    She has no problem with the label bisexual, but being labeled atheist bothers her. She either hates labels or not. Choose what you believe and stick with it, Kyrsten.

  • MM

    A whopping 5 Republicans in that graphic, consisting of one Latino and four white women.  I mean, I guess that’s still “diverse” for Republicans, but going into 2014 and 2016, they’re going to have to do better than that.

  • TooManyJens

    I understand the anger at someone who wants to avoid being lumped in with “those people” when you’re one of those people. It’s insulting. But like you, I feel it’s not completely clear that “atheist” does apply to her. Has she ever been really specific about what she does or does not believe? If she doesn’t believe in a personal God but does believe in some kind of life force or deistic creator, there’s a good reason for her not to feel that the “atheist” label is right for her.

  • Ewan

    “Why the pressure on her to admit something which may not currently be true for her?”

    It’s not pressure for her to ‘admit’ something that’s not true, it’s pressure to be honest about what ever the truth is, which doesn’t seem an unreasonable thing to want from an elected representative.

  • Zugswang

    I don’t think we should really be pushing for her to choose a label if she doesn’t want to.  We shouldn’t be so hungry for a godless elected representative that we try to force an identity out of someone who either isn’t comfortable positively identifying with something, or may not even be sure what her own identity is on an issue yet.

    I think a lot of bisexuals will understand that pressure, getting squeezed by some of their LGBTQ peers and some of their heterosexual friends to “choose a side”, when perhaps, they weren’t sure themselves, or simply didn’t identify with purely one or the other.

  • Steven Bloomfield

    Last time I checked she wasn’t required to declare any religious affiliation to serve in Congress. Let’s keep it that way.

  • Ewan

    And Romney wasn’t ‘required’ to declare any sort of economic plan to run for President, but it doesn’t look good for a politician to refuse to answer questions about what they believe.

    If religion wasn’t an issue in US politics (the way it mostly isn’t in the UK, for example) then it might not come up, but the US is a long way from religion being a non-issue in public life.

  • Hamid Afra

    Who cares if she wants to label herself as an atheist or not? its her work in congress that matters

  • Gus Snarp

    My question about all this, Hemant, is in regards to this post:

    Where you said:

    Whenever I asked representatives from the Secular Coalition for America how they knew she was a non-theist, they referred me to news reports or blog posts… which inevitably linked back to my own post. Oh boy…


    At the time, I described her as a “bisexual nontheist” because, well, that’s what I had heard.


    Well, for one, I’d seen it mentioned on other blogs. Also, Sinema had received an award from the Center for Inquiry for the “Advancement of Science and Reason in Public Policy.” She was also present at the opening of the Secular Coalition for Arizona. Based on all of that, I thought it was safe to assume she was a non-theist (regardless of which specific label she used).

    You seem to almost own up to having potentially made a mistake there, but you don’t quite. It seems to me that you might owe us, and Representative Sinema, a full throated apology and correction. I may be wrong on that, but I think it’s time for you to proceed with some journalistic integrity on this. 

    You say “that’s what I had heard” and “I’d seen it mentioned on other blogs”, but where did you hear it? What blogs did you read it on? Is there a source saying she didn’t believe in god or was an atheist that predated your original blog post on it? 

    Fortunately for us, the advancement of science and reason in public policy and secular government are not issues that only atheist care about. If they were, we’d be doomed by our small numbers. It seems possible that you leaped to conclusions based on inadequate information and essentially created the whole notion that she was an atheist, which has since spun out of control. You need to own that as a mistake or find the sources where you read or heard it and reveal them, and if they’re poor sources then own up to the mistake of relying on them.

    Otherwise, the repeated posts about her feel like defensiveness about your own mistaken assumptions.

    I don’t like when people evade acknowledging their lack of belief, and I’ll consider them atheists, but when used as a label, they get to pick, not us, and that’s their right. I don’t like the language she used that I found personally insulting either, but we’ve covered that. You may be a bit more upset at her because her new position statement contradicts your earlier assumption, but if you were wrong then you need to own that, not keep harping on her for it.

    Sorry for the length, but I think this is an important matter of credibility, and you’re better than this.

  • Gus Snarp

    Posted in the wrong place. Moved my reply.

  • Teh Lady

    The reason why I as a bisexual don’t pick a side is simple: I am bisexual. I am not straight, I am not gay. This is sadly very common attitude, thinking that bisexuals are just confused and can’t decide what we like. It’s not really so. I am attracted to men and women both so how and why would I choose just women, for example? Like you say, bisexuals sometimes take a lot of shit from both homophobic straight people and biphobic gay people. There is still a lot of ignorance when it comes to sexuality.

  • Gus Snarp

    I disagree. If she has made it clear that she is committed to keeping government secular and advancing science, which she has, then it ought to be more than acceptable for her to declare her religious beliefs to be a personal matter and no one else’s business. In fact I think it’s a big step forward from what most politicians in the U.S. do.

  • TheG

    I disagree.  I think that the continued posts about the Representative are part of the apology.  Hemant is updating us on the possibility that he was wrong.

  • Gus Snarp

    But there’s been no further acknowledgment that the notion that she’s an atheist may have begun with him, rather than her, there’s been no actual apology, and the posts have not delved into the details of how he made the mistake. That’s what I would like to see.

  • Mark

    I’m sure no one will be surprised that there are only 5 Republicans on that “diversity” infographic.

  • Ruby Leigh

    I don’t expect here to claim “atheism” per say… but I think something would be nice… like the softer Agnostic or Non-religious.

  • Hemant Mehta

    Multiple sources I know tell me Sinema told them personally she was a nontheist. That’s why we’ve been supporting her over other similarly liberal candidates. When she was referred to as an atheist/non-theist on other websites, there was never any effort by her campaign to correct the record.

    It was only after she was headed to victory that she stopped accepting the label that she had no problem carrying when money was coming in.

    I find that dishonest and I don’t think I have anything to apologize for. Other publications and reporters are now having to issue retractions because her campaign wants them to take back what they said about her regarding her religious beliefs.

    If they had done this months ago, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s the fact that they waited until *after* they received donations from our community to say she’s not a non-theist that annoys me.

  • Gus Snarp

    I can understand all that, the issue of not having addressed the issue earlier is troubling, and that’s a bit better information on your sources, but I still think that’s worthy of some deeper commentary.

    I guess this is important to me because it’s really about the nature of skepticism. We really do sometimes fail to apply it to our own issues, particularly in the case of reporting news. I’ve seen some really bad examples from other bloggers I generally have great respect for, where a story was promoted based on a single account without any acknowledgement that the story was unconfirmed. That kind of thing is exactly what we tell people they shouldn’t accept as evidence when it comes to science or religion, but when it’s a news story that fits our own assumptions, we’re sometimes lax about it.

    From this comment that’s obviously not what happened here, but we’re still dealing with anonymous sources, something that’s become a serious issue in journalism in general. There may be good reason not to name your sources, and in this case I would even accept not naming them simply because you didn’t learn this information in the context of interviewing them about this issue or that they’re not really public figures or that it’s not fair in the context of whatever relationship they have with her or you. But I do think it’s fair to ask what makes them credible on this, whether it’s possible that they too were making unsupported assumptions, and whether there’s any other written source on this.

    But if you really don’t want or don’t feel any need to go any deeper on this, I can accept “multiple sources” you know heard it directly from her as the best I’m going to get and an improvement on “that’s what I had heard”. Thanks for at least addressing it.

  • Sven2547

    I frankly don’t care what flavor of atheist / non-theist / evatheist / none-of-the-above label she wants for herself.  Maybe the term “atheist” doesn’t encompass the complexity of her philosophy.  Has anybody thought to ASK her before getting upset?

  • Gus Snarp

    Also, there’s another really interesting angle in this notion that she was getting valuable enough money and support for us to allow the story that she was an atheist to go unchallenged until after she was elected. That would suggest that she though our support was more important than any discrimination she would face as an atheist, which flies in the face of what national level polls tell us and, if true, is a kind of victory in itself. One also has to wonder why she would suddenly abandon us after being elected. Surely if the atheist label wasn’t deemed harmful to her campaign it hardly seems it would be damaging now that she’s in office.

  • Steven Simmons

    I understand and share the desire to have atheism “represented” in Congress, just for the PR benefit to atheists everywhere. On the other hand I would be perfectly happy if I didn’t know any of the politicians religious beliefs. To me, my priorities are in this order: secularism, humanism, atheism.

  • HughInAz

    Kyrsten was my rep in the Arizona legislature and I met her several times, and was very impressed with her. She has a great record of supporting progressive causes and being able to work with extreme repubs to get good results. I am looking forward to seeing her getting things done in Washington.

    I think it’s a pity that she runs away from the A-word, but you can’t force an identity on someone else. However, there is a huge atheism-phobia in the US and it’s important to have as many people as possible come out and say “yep, I’m an atheist” in a very straightforward, matter of fact way, rather than acting like it’s a dark guilty secret. We need to give the US public desensitization therapy to help them to get over their phobia of atheism.

  • Jeff P

    The way I use the term, theist refers to the belief in an engaged, string pulling God (or gods) that is/are actively involved in the world’s affairs. By logical extension, theists tend to want to have influence (or gain favor) with the God (or gods) and thus they worship, pray, and do other religious practices. 

    A non-theist, for me, simply means someone who does not have the theist beliefs I outlined above.  A non-theist could be a Deist, agnostic, atheist, or believer in some basal life-force that can’t be influenced.  Perhaps if Kyrsten Sinema  shares my definition of non-theist, she is uncomfortable with the label because on the run-up to the election she stroked her lucky rabbit foot enough to believe it brought her victory and has now crossed the line into theism.

  • Ewan

    “Other publications and reporters are now having to issue retractions because her campaign wants them to take back what they said about her regarding her religious beliefs.”

    No-one has to retract something just because a politician (or any subject of a story) asks them to. A story only has to be retracted if you can’t stand it up. If you’re confident that she’s a non-theist, then this is the story – she is a non-theist, and now denies it. That’s not the same thing as you not being sure any more.

  • freemage

     That’s nice, but the point is, she may NOT share your definition of non-theist.  I’ve known several folks who have a very spongy belief that there’s an interventionist ‘higher power’ that nevertheless is not particularly well-defined or definable.   In any case, I regard her decision to clearly state that she’s not taking a label, and that she is happy for people to judge her by her actual policy positions, as one of integrity.

  • freemage

     Maybe she just wants an ACCURATE label, and none of those being offered really fit the bill.

  • Michael

    I tend to agree with you. Maybe she has just stopped worrying and is enjoying her life instead.

  • Leo Buzalsky

     Except pre-election this fact was not getting national attention. How much of this idea of her being a non-theist was being passed around outside our atheist circle? It may not have been deemed harmful only because a select group was receiving this information.  Now, however, she is getting national attention.  It’s no longer just a select group that is in the know.

  • David Philip Norris

    It’s unfortunate that we still live in a time when politicians can’t come out and say what they really think or believe. Granted, not everyone is an activist, and not everyone wants to be identified by their beliefs; but until people in prominent positions start to come out as atheists, nothing will ever change.

    Can’t stand that quisling Chris Stedman. Faitheism…

  • Jeff P

    Point taken. I agree that as soon as you establish a label, there will be some that use slightly different interpretations of the label and misunderstand your stance. Perhaps she is a bit of an idealist in this regard and wants to avoid labels. Or perhaps she is simply a pragmatist and realizes that if she wants to be re-elected in 2 years, that she would be better off with no label rather than accept the non-theist label.

  • chicago dyke

    this is pure political cowardice and calculation, imho. 

    read some gay blogs when they blog on the topic of religion, and the comments that go with it. the queer community is amazingly diverse but tends to be not anywhere near as religious as the general population. so many of us have suffered because religion condemns us, and we’re way ahead of the curve in terms of being out and proud in our agnosticism, atheism, and/or rejection of organized religions.

    she probably has no belief, like so many pols. but she equally typical of so many when challenged to be out about it.

  • Bill Haines

    But it -is- an unreasonable thing to want.  “[...] no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”  So if she says she doesn’t identify with any particular label regarding religion, that’s her business, not ours.

  • Bill Haines

    Yes, but even if nontheist, it’s perfectly reasonable for Sinema to think that embracing any particular label will hamper efforts to work with extreme repubs to get good results, and I for one am sick of elected officials having to answer questions of this nature, which are against the intention if not the letter of constitutional law.  Let the woman do the job, and judge her by the results — in 2016.

  • TheExpatriate700

    I agree. Hemant’s continual complaining over this is starting to get embarrassing. It’s like some evangelical whining that politicians aren’t proud enough of their religion.

  • Rory

     Turn it around for a second. Imagine that she openly identified as an atheist, but declined to label her sexual orientation. Would you still be annoyed and feel you had a right to demand she adopt a label for her orientation?

    That, to me, seems unreasonable.

  • Michael

    On a related note, why are online atheists such portmaddicts?

  • Sandy Kokch

    I have a better one for her

    The Charitable Version: Opportunist

    The Plain Speaking Version: COWARD!!!!!!!

  • revatheist

    I think that the biggest issue is this:  if she believes in a God, there’s no need for all of the evasion because she would be readily accepted; if she does not believe in God, then all of the temporizing indicates that being a non-believer is something to be ashamed of and hidden.  So the question is: do we really want someone in power who sets an example of being apologetic and ashamed of our position?

  • The Good Atheist

    It’s the same deal with Neil Degrasse Tyson: non-believers who shy away from the label for political reasons. I think it’s just fucking intellectual cowardice. 

  • kaydenpat

    That’s what I assume Ms. Sinema believes — it’s nobody’s business whether or not she believes in a god. 

  • Lana

    Right. Buddhists don’t believe in god (normally), but do believe in spiritual dimensions. A lot of animists groups fit in that same category.