It’s pretty well known (at least among heathen circles) that atheist are fairly underrepresented minority in the US Congress. Pete Stark is the only out non-theist, and there are five people who chose not to answer the religious affiliation question – which of course doesn’t mean they’re necessarily unbelievers. There certainly may be closeted atheists in Congress, but one reason we want out atheists is so we know there will be at least some people in our government promoting a secular viewpoint.
A lot of atheists tell us not to despair; that as atheism spreads and becomes more and more accepted, we’ll start seeing more and more atheist politicians. But as of right now, coming out as an atheist is a gamble that you’d be committing political suicide.
So what’s the problem? you ask. Yeah, right now it’s bad, but in the future it’ll be better. Well, the problem is our future politicians are growing up in the present, where they see being religious as a requirement for getting into public office. I was talking to my friend who’s one of those wishy-washy deists (mentioned in my post “Wanting to Believe”) who is starting law school with the hopes of becoming involved in politics. He was raised Christian, lost his faith, but then desperately tried to regain it (settling at deism, I suppose) because you “Have to believe in something to be a politician.” So not only is he lying about his faith with the hopes of being elected 15 or 20 years from now (he still tells people he’s the Christian his parents raised him as), but he basically convinced himself to actually have more religious beliefs. He jokes that if in the future it comes out that he had something going on (said the relationship was complicated) with an atheist activist chick, there would be a scandal. The sad thing is, I can’t tell if he’s really joking or if there’s a hint of worry there.
Now, this is just my own experience with one person out of the many current and future law school students in the United States. But it does make me worry a bit. Is it going to take longer than we thought to see out atheists elected? Should I not care if they’re closeted or not? Maybe it would be best that they sneak in this way – even though young people are becoming less religious and more accepting as atheists, we’ll still have to deal with the old peoples’ vote. I guess my personal code of conduct wouldn’t allow me to lie about such a big part of my life, and we know politicians never lie or manipulate…
So what do you guys think? When are we going to see out atheists elected? Does it even matter if we do?