Closeted Atheists in Congress


Now that Rep. Pete Stark has retired, there is not a single open atheist in the U.S. Congress (Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona probably is one, but she refuses to call herself that). But Maggie Ardiente of the American Humanist Association says they know of a couple dozen atheists in Congress who are in the closet.

Earlier this month, Ardiente conceded at the World Humanist Congress meeting in Oxford: “We’re really behind when it comes to humanism in politics.”

After Stark, a Democrat, lost his House seat in 2012, the number of openly atheist politicians in U.S. Congress slipped back to zero.

But just because they’re not out does not mean there are no atheists in the halls of Congress. “We already know of 24 members of Congress who have told us privately that they don’t believe in God, but they won’t come out, of course, and if we tried to out them they would deny it,” Ardiente said.

Stark came out 35 years after first being elected to Congress. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., followed only after leaving office in 2013. Although commonly referred to as an atheist, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona’s 9th Congressional District does not identify as such, preferring to reject all religious labels.

24 would be about right, statistically. About 5% of the American public identifies as atheist. It’s the fact that they are forced to hide their beliefs in order to maintain their political viability that is troublesome.

Comments

  1. says

    It’s the fact that they are forced to hide their beliefs in order to maintain their political viability that is troublesome.

    To be fair, Athiests are pretty bad. Why, just this morning, one burned my tongue. Or that could’ve been coffee.

  2. petemoulton says

    My rep’s godless, but she doesn’t self-identify as an atheist because it’s, you know, Arizona.

  3. anachronistes says

    “My rep’s godless, but she doesn’t self-identify as an atheist because it’s, you know, Arizona.”
    I think we’re all godless, but only about 5% of us actually recognize it…

  4. Childermass says

    Also bear in mind that the average congressman is far more educated than the average citizen and that atheism tends to go up considerably with education.

    I am actually surprised that 24 of them admitted it even in private. If I intended to have a career in Congress, I would not have admitted it even to them. If 24 admitted in private then there are probably a bunch that did not admit it private or even refused to meet with them. 50 atheist/agnostic congressmen at a minimum plus a few more for other forms of freethought.

  5. Matt G says

    Remember, all those “theists” and actually atheists, except for their belief in a certain god from the middle east.

  6. says

    @dingojack: Ed – I’d say 10 or 11 Atheists is more likely, Atheists make up about 1.6% of the U.S. adult population.

    That’s an old report from 2008. Pew’s 2012 report has the number at 2.4%, which is a 50% rise in four years, and the trend is accelerating:

    http://www.pewforum.org/files/2013/01/nones-exec-6.png

    It’s likely that 3% was hit this year. Of course, since the rise is strongest in the young, Congress would be a lagging indicator anyway.

    It’s easy to be a little downhearted by these numbers, as small as they are, but when you look at the overall rise of the “nones” (unaffiliated) in the youth of America (under 30) it’s pushing 35% and still rising, and as much as evangelical Christians love to claim them as Christians who are disaffected by organized religion, the study really does not support it.

    Unfortunately, it will be a while longer before Congress reflects this trend. The Christian label has long been synonymous with “good person” in this country, even amongst people who might otherwise by disillusioned by the religion. It’s going to take some time to overcome that traditional viewpoint.

  7. Michael Heath says

    heddle writes:

    I sure wish they would come out, because then they would stop embarrassing us and start embarrassing you.

    I’m hard-pressed to imagine what politicians who are closeted atheists have stated that could be even remotely embarrassing compared to the massive amount of indefensible, evil, dishonest, idiotic rhetoric we observe on a daily basis from conservative Christians.

  8. says

    heath wrote

    I’m hard-pressed to imagine what politicians who are closeted atheists have stated that could be even remotely embarrassing compared to the massive amount of indefensible, evil, dishonest, idiotic rhetoric we observe on a daily basis from conservative Christians.

    Lighten up, Francis.

  9. Erp says

    Congress’s religious makeup is somewhat different from that of the general public. The Pew Forum has some info

    Presbyterians, Anglican/Episcopalians, Catholics, Jews are overrepresented. Baptists are underrepresented. The atheists are likely found under the unaffiliated (1), refused/don’t know (10), UU (1), and Jews.

  10. dingojack says

    When one extrapolates the percentages of Christian, Other Faiths*, “Don’t Knows”, Atheist, Agnostic, and “Nothing in Particular” based on their average Year-on-Year growth rates between 2007/8 and 2011/12, then re-normalises them back to a sum of 100%:

    Christian: Less than 50% in 2023.
    Nothing in Particular: Peaks at 17.547% in 2027 then declines.
    Agnostics: reaches peak YoY growth of 56.013% in 2032 YoY growth declines.
    Other: reaches peak YoY growth of 63.594% in 2034 YoY growth declines.
    Atheist: Peaks at 10.726% in 2059 then declines.
    D/K: Peaks at 28.070% in 2061 then declines.
    Other: Greater than 50% in 2156.
    Agnostic: Peaks at 30.0622% in 2157 then declines.

    Using a narrow definition of “unfaith”:
    Agnotics/Atheists outnumber Christian/Other from 2050 to 2098. “Unfaith” peaks at 37.236% in 2096.
    Using a broad definition of “unfaith”:
    Agnostics/Atheists/DK/NiP outnumber Christian/Other from 2028 to 2155. “Unfaith” peaks at 69.678% in 2056.

    Dingo
    ———
    * All non-Christian faiths
    PS: I’ve saved the Spreadsheet, complete with graphs, in Open Office format, if you’re interested in how I worked it all out.

  11. Abdul Alhazred says

    Is it really do wonderful that there are a few secret atheists within this conspiracy against the public good?

Leave a Reply