There’s Nothing Wrong with Being an Atheist, Congresswoman

Everyone needs to begin a slow clap for Chris Stedman for his message to newly-elected, “unaffiliated” Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema:

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)

In response to news stories identifying her as an atheist, her campaign released this statement shortly after her victory: “(Rep. Sinema) believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

As a nontheist, atheist and nonbeliever (take your pick), I find this statement deeply problematic.

It is perfectly fine, of course, if Sinema isn’t a nontheist, and it is understandable that she would want to clarify misinformation about her personal beliefs. But to say that these terms are “not befitting of her life’s work or personal character” is offensive because it implies there is something unbefitting about the lives and characters of atheists or nonbelievers.

… as a proud atheist and humanist, I’m disheartened that the only member of Congress who openly identifies as nonreligious has forcefully distanced herself from atheism in a way that puts down those of us who do not believe in God.

We are Americans of good character, too.

Damn right, we are.

My only complaint so far about Sinema is that she appeared to let on that she was “one of us” during her campaign only to assert her “unaffiliation” after she had won. That statement by Sinema’s campaign that Chris alluded to didn’t come out until just after the election, even though the rumors about her supposed atheism were online for months prior to that and many atheists had donated money to her campaign.

If she doesn’t call herself an “atheist,” that’s fine. But she either believes in God or she doesn’t. If she thinks it’s none of anybody’s business, that’s fine, too. But when the ever-growing number of non-religious Americans have no representation in Congress, she has to understand that we’re looking for someone to stand up on our behalf. That goes beyond just the votes she makes.

Right now, though, Sinema — someone who may very well vote the way many of us hope she does — is distancing herself from atheists as if there’s something wrong with us. There isn’t.

So why throw us under the bus? For political reasons? The strange thing is that Sinema never backed away from the label of “bisexual.” It didn’t seem to hurt her at all, and that’s great news. We saw a number of times this past November that you didn’t have to be straight to win an election. By admitting she doesn’t believe in God, Sinema might just show the country that atheism, too, isn’t a politically toxic label.

By doing that, she’d have a positive impact on our country’s politics that would no doubt outlast her time in office. It’s an opportunity she’s just throwing away right now.

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.