Congresswoman-Elect Kyrsten Sinema Is Asked About Atheism on CNN

I know some of you think I’m obsessing over this question, but I still think it’s an important one: Is newly-elected Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema an atheist? All signs pointed to yes… until it looked like she won her election, at which point her campaign took steps to avoid any link between her and a lack of faith.

Which is why she was asked about her beliefs on CNN this weekend. The conversation went like this:

Reporter: Do you believe in God?

Sinema: [Long pause] You know, I’m not a member of any faith community, and I think faith is a deeply personal issue that individuals should deal with in their private lives.

I’m resigned to the fact that we’re not going to get a straight answer from Sinema anytime soon on the God question. That’s fine, though. Her response is exactly the type of answer I wish every member of Congress would give — that religion is a personal matter. I’m not worried that Sinema is going to vote based on any religious beliefs; she’ll (hopefully) vote based on where the evidence leads and what makes for good policy.

We could use more people in politics who give off an air of “Who cares about religion?”

(Thanks to Jason for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Conspirator

    Yes Hemant, you need to accept the fact that she has hired someone that told her she needs to not admit she’s an atheist or even agnostic if she wishes to continue her career in politics.  It’s just the reality of life in the US.  If she comes out as an atheist now it will be used against her in the next election and it could cost her the election.  Then what good could she do?  

    • JustWondering

      So what we have is just another dishonest politician in office.

      What else is new?

      • 3lemenope

        An accusation of dishonesty in answer implies that the person asking the question could justly demand an honest one. In this case, they could not. It is not dishonest to deflect against a question that had no business being asked.

      • Drew M.

        Life must be so boring in monochrome.

      • Maria

        Dishonest by necessity, and even then she wasn’t dishonest! She said she wasn’t a member of any faith community. And I was just as satisfied as Hemant by her answer, and agree that that’s what I would LOVE to hear from EVERY SINGLE MEMBER OF CONGRESS. But still, an outright claim of atheism is impossible because of the pervading ignorance in this country. Sad but true!

  • Marco Conti

    That’s the answer I would give if I were elected to congress and an atheist. If she came out and said “I am an atheist” her campaign might as well shut down and go home. Sad, but it’s the reality.

    Also I think that an answer along the line of “None of your business” it’s the most appropriate for any elected official. While it is useful to know if someone is an overeligious  nutbag, for most normal people all I need to know is that whatever belief they have they are not going to let them dictate their policies.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    It’s a perfect answer. She doesn’t say, “Well, I believe GAWD ought to be taught to all our young’uns”, but she also doesn’t say “Religion is for idiots and ya’ll are dumb”. She just speaks the truth – Religion is a deeply personal and private matter, and the only way you should know what faith someone is (or isn’t) is if you’re a very close friend and ask them.

    • Silentbob

      But why? Many atheists don’t understand why religion should be any more personal and private than one’s views on economics, politics, evolution, vaccinations, climate change, abortion, whatever. I can understand the argument that religion is irrelevant, but not that it is “deeply personal and private” or, in other words, taboo. It seems like a symptom of the (dangerous) idea that it is somehow offensive to question religion.

      • Trickster Goddess

        Since I left Alberta, I’ve never known what my politicians’ religious
        beliefs are and I don’t care to know. All I care about is what policies
        they support. I don’t even care if they have religious reasons for
        supporting certain policies; if I agree with their policies they will
        get my vote. Conversely, an open atheist would never get my vote if I
        disagreed with their policy proposals.

        • AxeGrrl

          I’m Canadian too, and I can ‘ditto’ your entire remark here.

          I’ve voted for my local MP (member of Parliament) at least twice now ~ over the past 8yrs or so ~ and it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I learned that he’s a devout Christian!

          Why didn’t I know? because he didn’t say a peep about it for years, AND his policies/stances on issues have been utterly and completely secular in nature.

          In other words:  he’s someone who values secularism and the plurality of our community (the people he’s representing and working for) MORE than he values selling his own personal, religious views.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    That’s almost word for word the answer that I give, when somebody knocks on the door and attempts to convert me.  It works very well.  They never come back and try again.

  • Godlesspanther

    I see it as a stepping stone. She basically stated that the question is a non-issue and does not matter. Next elected officials will be able to honestly say that they do not believe in a grand cosmic whatnot. Then nobody will bother to ask that stupid unimportant question. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-McCready/1819527656 John McCready

    Give her some damned time, and a couple of re-elections under her belt! After all, look at what happened to Pete Stark (an OPEN ATHEIST!), and he lost to a FELLOW DEMOCRAT! All this Congresswoman-elect needs to do is remind people about this pesky clause of the U.S. Constitution called “Article 6″, and then tell inquiring minds (especially the media!) to STFU! 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1385167605 James Mahoney

      Pete Stark didn’t lose because he was an atheist, he lost for a myriad of other reasons, including him being there for 30 years, ignoring the race, and for saying a lot of controversial statements. I don’t live in the district, let alone the state, but that’s what I got from talking to people who do.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZUXYFRMTX547D3RST3DH3RJHFY Mark

    Typical politician’s answer: Evasive, cowardly, but necessary. She’d be blamed for the economic downturn, thirty million aborted fetuses, earthquakes, pornography, and the Plague by the religio-fascists if she simply came out as an atheist

  • Renshia

    “I know some of you think I’m obsessing over this question”

    Well yes, but some of us are actually amazed that you seem perfectly willing to throw her under a bus over a stupid label.

    Seems you would rather have no representation at all, than some from someone, who would just like to keep a low profile and maybe, actually accomplish something.

     What I think your doing is just being a bully, oh and ruining a career. Let’s not quibble details, it’s just a persons life.  Carry on. Who cares about the concequences of our actions.

    • Jason Robertson

      I do not believe there is a bus present. I have not seen any interest in ruining her career. However, there is a tension present that is worth discussing. Being ‘out’ helps the collective, but at the risk of harm to the individual. This tension existed extensively (and must still exist) in lgbt circles as well. We don’t have the right to ‘out’ the Representative, nor do we have the power. But being unwilling to wear the label while being a public personage helps keep those without that platform from which to project in more dire circumstances.

      And she might even not be an atheist. But the tension is worth talking about.

      • Renshia

         Well we all know that being an out atheist is a death sentence for a political career in the US. So pushing her to admit it when she chooses not to isn’t trying to support her career. Just because you deny the intent does not mean that the consequences won’t happen.

        But like I said it is only her career so who gives a fuck right. Let’s just keep bringing it up. Let’s just drum it into everyones mind to just label her one anyways, that way she only need to have one more term in office. Hell she can collect food stamps after that.

        Classic denial of consequences. But hey it’s gonna help the collective whether she wants to be party to it or not, so fuck her and what happens to her, it’s for the collective that counts.

        Nope, no bus here at all.

        • I Redag

          Except I don’t see where you think she is being meaningfully pushed. Make that connection solid and your argument hunts. Don’t and it does not.

          • Renshia

             Well first she is labeled and pedestaled with out being consulted. Then when she chooses to decline labeling herself she is disparaged for it. Now it has become such an issue that it is getting international coverage and you don’t see she is being pushed? Holy shit what does it take? Search for her and atheism in blogs and read some of the things that have been said. All of this due to an act of unprofessional journalism and jumping to conclusions.

            I don’t know what standard you set for being pushed. But I think if this happened to you, you would be feeling a little pressure.

            • Jason Robertson

              Could you let me know more about that ‘international coverage’? Because I haven’t seen it. CNN may be widely viewed, but that doesn’t look like a piece set to run overseas. I’m sure there are careless actors with blogs who believe they can label with authority, and I would hope people would refrain from that.

              I do not believe that the discussions occurring in atheism blogs represent a major threat of overwhelming her own communications on this issue. To threaten her, it has to become an issue before her constituents. So far she looks like she has that under control.

              • Ilaria Giovacchini

                As someone who lives in Italy (you know, kind of a slightly catholic country) I can confirm that, at least here, there’s no coverage whatsoever. Not even in the atheist new sites. I had never heard about Sinema before I read about her here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-GK/507761207 Joe GK

    As a fellow social worker, that’s still more of an answer than I would give to my patients.

  • Trickster Goddess

    How times change. She may be evasive about her religious orientation, but ten years ago she would have been the same if asked about her sexual orientation. Instead, she is quite comfortable in everyone knowing she is bisexual.

    The next step is when a candidate’s sexuality doesn’t make headlines. Last year I voted for a federal candidate who had been my city councillor for the past 5 years. It was only after he was elected MP that I learned, through a small blurb on an LGBT website, that he has always been openly gay. It was such non-issue in this town and on the campaign that his Conservative opponent didn’t even think to bring it up or allude to it.

    • John Kusters

      Quite comfortable in some places, perhaps, but when she was a guest on the Michelangelo Signorile show on SiriusXM’s OutQ channel (the GLBT satellite radio channel), when Mike asked her about potentially being the only openly bisexual member of Congress, she ducked and weaved just like she did with the atheism question above. It was frustrating and disheartening to listen to. (Note that she and Mike covered a number of topics, and this one came up near the end of the interview, and she acted as if she didn’t want to talk about it at all, as if she didn’t expect the question. It was very strange. She had to know the question would come up given the audience of the channel.)

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    No one has the right to out someone except themselves.  Please let it go.

  • Rwlawoffice

    The reason why all politicians should be concerned about religion is because they take an oath to support the constitution which includes the First Amendment right if the freedom of religion. Nothing should be done to abridge on this right.

  • Matt from CT

    Reporter: Do you believe in God?
    Sinema: [Long pause] You know, I’m not a member of any faith community, and I think faith is a deeply personal issue that individuals should deal with in their private lives.

    I don’t really care if she’s an atheist or a secular-minded believer, but this comment suggests maybe the latter. “Do you believe in God?” “I’m not a member of any faith community.” I took this to be a typical theist’s misconception that atheism is a “faith” and atheists comprise a “faith community”.

    • Matt from CT

      I have no idea how to edit posts. I’d like to clarify and replace “typical theist’s misconception” to “theists’ common misconception”. I didn’t mean to suggest theists are “typical”, just that particular misconception.

    • Susan Sackett

       I would argue that she doesn’t mean that atheism is a “faith” — she is denying being a member of any faith community, i.e., a church or community of believers.  So we can draw our own conclusions from this.  That said — I know Kyrsten personally, and she is very comfortable addressing the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix and has done so on many occasions.  She agrees with our philosophy.  At this early start in her national career, her beliefs are (and should be) a non-issue.  She definitely is a Humanist — whether or not atheistic — does it really matter?  She is stating she leads a life of non-involvement with any community of faith, which in itself is a brave move, and she acts and lives the Humanist philosophy.  We are so lucky to have her here in Arizona!

      • Matt from CT

        Fair enough. Like I said, I don’t particularly care if she’s an atheist or a secular-minded theist. I just thought she was grouping atheism in with faith communities. Even if that was true, it’s still ok as long as she legislates in accordance with a secular mindset. It just sounds like she’s saying “I’m not a member of any faith community. Mormon, atheist, or otherwise.” And that’s fine, it would just betray a misunderstanding of atheism in general.

  • Bob Carlson

    I’m resigned to the fact that we’re not going to get a straight answer from Sinema anytime soon on the God question. That’s fine, though. Her response is exactly the type of answer I wish every member of Congress would give — that religion is a personal matter.

    In his book, The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life, philosopher Austin Dacey argues that secularists and liberals should be the first to give up the notion that conscience is a “private matter” because this notion confounds their own best efforts to check the cultural influence of conservative religion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Human-Ape/100001623230964 Human Ape

    Her non-answer was OK but I would be more impressed if she actually answered the question. A simple “no” or “yes” would have been good enough. I suggest not being insane (also known as not being a theist) is something atheists should be proud of.


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