Jan 09 2013

Stedman to Sinema

Credit where it’s due: way to go Chris Stedman. He has a post at CNN’s religion blog – CNN! lots of eyeballs! – saying Kyrsten Sinema shouldn’t treat the word “atheist” as a contaminant.

Seriously, way to go!

Preamble: Synema’s a None, and some have called her a nonbeliever or atheist. But…

Sinema doesn’t actually appear to be a nonbeliever. 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.

Why yes it is and yes it does, but I wouldn’t have expected Stedman to say so. I like having my expectations overturned. (Well, sometimes. Some expectations. Others not so much.)

Prominent individuals like Powell rightfully decry anti-Muslim fear-mongering in politics, but few speak out against those who wield accusations of atheism as a political weapon.

Whether people don’t see it or simply aren’t bothered isn’t clear, but it remains a problem.

I respect Sinema’s right to self-identify as she chooses, and I don’t wish to speculate about her religious beliefs. But while I celebrate that she is comfortable enough to openly identify as bisexual, I find her response to being labeled an atheist troubling.

Why not instead say that she’s not an atheist, but so what if she was?

The 113th Congress is rich with diversity. As an interfaith activist, I am glad to see the religious composition of Congress more closely reflect the diversity of America. As a queer person, I’m glad that LGBT Americans are seeing greater representation in Washington.

But 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.



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  1. 1
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Rock on Stedman. I noticed that and retweeted his tweet about it.

  2. 2
    Anthony K

    I don’t know how heavily that piece was edited, but it was pretty punchy* and on point.

    *In the good way.

  3. 3
    Anthony K

    Rock on Stedman.

    What’s happened to us, Josh?

  4. 4
    Anthony K

    Congratulating Chris Stedman, dogs and cats, living together…

  5. 5

    Chris Stedman was also good on Melissa Harris-Perry a few weeks ago.

  6. 6
    David Wilford

    This is also a decent piece about Stedman’s non-belief that came out a few weeks ago:


  7. 7
    AJ Milne

    Congratulating Chris Stedman, dogs and cats, living together…

    Huh. It’s raining frogs, here.

    I’m not worried. From the Weather Channel radar, it’s clearing in another hour, tops.

    (/Which is good. Kids to pick up. And I just waxed the car.)

  8. 8
    AJ Milne

    … oh, and seriously: likewise, good on Stedman.

  9. 9
    Argle Bargle

    I’m impressed. Stedman made a salient point about atheists and actually stood up for us while doing so. Maybe there is some gravel in his gullet.

  10. 10

    Great that she’s an atheist…

    “(Rep. Sinema) believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

    Not so great that she can spout self contradictory word-salad like a theologian.

    Even worse that she feels the need to.

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    @ 5 – at the Huffington Post, right? I saw a headline somewhere and meant to follow up and give credit where it’s due then, but didn’t get around to it…Typical.

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    Oh, yes, about blaming atheists for Newtown. Not the Huffington Post.


    Way to go, again.

  13. 13

    The first comment I saw on that page was a guy named “AtheistSlasher” saying that the existence of God was proven by the “documented” fact that George Washington was visited by angels.

    I’m frightened.

  14. 14

    Credit where it’s due to Chris Stedman. I’m happy that he’s proving me wrong about him.

  15. 15
    Lou Doench

    Maybe someone close to Stedman finally pointed out how much hippy punching he had been doing and he’s correcting course. Good for him.

  16. 16
    Josh, Official SpokesGay


    Inorite? Next thing you know we’ll be holding hands with everybody and singing spirituals.

    Seriously, though, good on Chris. I’d much rather see someone I dislike (for reasons, but yes, I dislike him intensely based on past behavior) or with whom I disagree doing the right thing for common goals. Contrary to appearances, I don’t think most of us actually enjoy disliking or calling out anyone for the sake of it—I’ve no investment in keeping it alive as a hobby.

  17. 17
    Deepak Shetty

    +1 to Stedman – if only he spent more time taking up these type of issues

  18. 18
    Dave Ricks

    “There it is!” – my face when Chris Stedman extends what Colin Powell said, from supporting American Muslims to supporting American atheists.

  19. 19

    An example of “so what if I was” done right is the way George Clooney talks about being thought to be gay. And sure, Clooney is bright and articulate, but it isn’t that hard to do.

  20. 20
    Deepak Shetty

    Or Johnny Galecki
    “why defend yourself against something that’s not offensive?”


  21. 21

    Yes, it’s a nice piece, but it’s hard to avoid noticing that Stedman has done more than quite possibly any other atheist in the country to create and reinforce a cultural conversation in which nonbelievers like Sinema are terrified of being identified as an “atheist.”

    For someone who professes to think that “atheist” is not a dirty word, Stedman has spent an awful lot of time and energy bashing atheists—giving cover and encouragement to precisely the people Sinema is (correctly, alas) worried will try to hound her out of office, or worse, if she dares to claim that or any closely related label.

    There’s something irritating about seeing a guy who has done so much to increase and intensify anti-atheist sentiment in American discourse lecturing a politician that she ought not bow to… the intense anti-atheist sentiment in American discourse. Since when have you become part of the solution rather than part of the problem, Chris?

  22. 22

    …And I put in my two cents to that end at Stedman’s place.

  23. 23
    Ophelia Benson

    Well you have a point, Rieux. I’m being a bit prodigal son about it, I suppose.

  24. 24

    Ah, but as an honors graduate of Lutheran Sunday School(tm), I have to remind you of the penultimate plot point in that parable:

    When [the younger son] came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

    But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

    The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

    I think we can spot the notable distinction between that story and Stedman’s, no?

  1. 25
    I’ll second that » Pharyngula

    [...] agree with Ophelia: good for Stedman in standing up to defy the casual assertion that “atheist” is a dirty [...]

  2. 26
    Who are the “Nones”?

    [...] *H/T to Butterflies and Wheels [...]

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