It’s May, now, which means only 4 years and 7 months until the 2016 presidential election.
Of course, before that, we have to survive this one.
Since Mitt Romney is the Republican Nominee (yes, I know, not technically, but…) and we have a 2-party system in which a 3rd party can never hope to be anything but a minor nuisance to one or both candidates, I will be voting for Barack Obama.
I don’t want that to sound like I’m ‘choosing the lesser of two evils’ or something of that nature. I like Obama. He’s my president. I am by no means enthralled with everything that has happened under his presidency and he has definitely punted on some issues when he should have probably fought harder. But, I’m a pragmatist and a realist and I know how politics works. Which is to say, it doesn’t. You get your guy (or gal) in office and you should be ecstatic if even a tenth of the campaign promises get fulfilled. Part of that is because politicians lie, and part of that is because our government is an intricate (one might even say, convoluted) system that favors the status quo over change (sometimes too our national detriment).
Some of us who voted for Obama in 2008 were probably a little too naively optimistic for the changes his presidency would bring, but better foolishly hopefully than filled with the paranoia and hatred that marks his most vehement opponents.
One of the most exciting moments of Obama’s presidency, for me, came very early on. As in, the day of his Inauguration early. For the first time ever, ‘non-believers’ were expressly mentioned in an inaugural speech. The pertinent excerpt:
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers.”
I remember hearing that and feeling an even greater sense of pride in my president, which was already pretty high. The President of the United States acknowledged that, indeed, there are people in this country that don’t believe in any god, any faith, and they should be included in the conversation and recognized as part of our nation’s heritage.
A Christian has no idea what that moment feels like. Despite talk of ‘attacks on religious freedom’ and ‘the War on Christmas,’ there has never been a question that Christians are always part of the equation. Though the U.S. is secular (no matter what David Barton falsely claims), the truth is that this nation is still predominantly Christian in its make-up and politics.
When you’re a person who doesn’t belong to any particular faith and refuses to pretend to believe in a god, you tend to get left out of the conversation, intentionally or not.
Almost every single man who has been President of the United States has been nominally Christian. We have to go back to William Howard Taft for a President who may have been an atheist, though he denied it (Wikipedia lists him as Unitarian). The further back we go in history, the more we find that the Presidents were willing to eschew official religious affiliation, though most were still some denomination of Christian.
There are still some who claim that Obama is a secret Muslim, which is ridiculous. But, I’m interested to see if those people will vote for a Mormon, since most likely in their view Mormonism is not Christianity, and thus a false religion (I was raised believing Mormonism was a cult; from a theological point of view, I do think Mormonism constitutes a different religion from Christianity, but since I’m not a Christian, I feel the point is moot).
For some people this will be an election between a Mormon and a Christian (who’s really a Muslim). The Evangelical right will likely choose the lesser of two evils as they see it. Or as pastor David Jeffries said recently:
…Given the choice between a Christian like Barack Obama who embraces non-biblical principles like abortion and a Mormon like Mitt Romney who embraces Bible principles, there’s every reason to support Mitt Romney in this election.
It’s all about principles, after all. Like, the principle of standing for what you believe.
While Christians may have to wrestle with their faith this year, we atheists will vote on the issues we care about and the policies we think better lead our country forward. Many of us will vote for Obama. I’m sure a healthy contingent will vote for Romney, and there will even be a good number who throw their vote away on Ron Paul (aren’t I a stinker).
Atheists aren’t a singular voting block. We don’t have a Pope or an Evangelical Conference to tell us which way to throw our vote. Sure, many of us revere the same men (Dawkins, Sagan), but those people don’t tell us who to vote for, and we wouldn’t listen if they did.
We call ourselves Freethinkers. Yeah, it’s a self-aggrandizing title, so sue us.
While you will find online groups for atheists and a growing number of organizations attempting to bring some cohesion to a historically disparate group (it’s like herding cats), our very nature tends to make us resistant to unification. After all, we are the kind of people who critically question everything and many of us at some point intentionally left behind a community of faith. Of course, even as I write that, I have to admit that many atheists probably don’t fit that description.
And that’s the point. Atheists only share one thing in common: We have no belief in a god. We don’t “have faith that there isn’t a god.” We simply don’t accept that there is evidence for a god and thus remain at our default position: No faith.
There isn’t an American atheist alive today who has ever seen their lack of faith reflected in their president. Granted, Muslims and Jews are in their same spot, but as this well-trod survey shows, atheists have a greater hill to climb to the White House.*
I want an Atheist President. I want an Atheist President exactly because his or her views will be that of a freethinker, and thus not inherently locked into one stance. S/He could be a Republican or a Democrat. S/He could be a wartime president or a lockstep pacifist. S/He could hold any stance on any number of issues without beholding to faith. That doesn’t mean s/he would oppose faith or religion, only that their stance towards it would be a dispassionate acceptance of it based on the principles of the Constitution (Establishment Clause/Free-Exercise Clause) and reason.
There will always be a portion of Americans who believe that atheists are evil, the scum of the earth, as useful as a third tit. Atheist President isn’t going to get their vote.
But there is no reason intelligent, moderate Christians should oppose an atheist. I have Christian friends who support gay marriage, oppose the death penalty, believe in a strong safety net for the poor and are supportive of equal rights across the board. In other words, if I was running for president (if I could find time in my busy schedule of child sacrifices and depraved sex), a substantial percentage of the non-Evangelical Christians, the same ones who voted for Obama, could vote for me, an atheist.
Now, I have no personal political ambitions (blech!), but there are plenty of atheists out there who do. As an atheist, I hope that in my lifetime I see an atheist in the White House. Let’s be clear: I don’t want to see it because I think it’ll mean all of my interests will be represented.
I want an Atheist President because it will mean that the unofficial religious test for Presidency which has been in effect for at least 100 years will finally be abolished.
I want an Atheist President because it will mean that a majority of Americans accept that a lack of faith does not equal a lack of character.
I want an Atheist President because it will mean that intelligence, experience and ideas matter more than church affiliation.
I want an Atheist President because it will mean the president will take responsibility for his or her decisions.
I want an Atheist President because it will mean that the promise of Religious Freedom will finally be fulfilled.
You don’t have to be an atheist to want an Atheist President. You can be a believer and accept us non-believers. You can understand that what makes me an atheist doesn’t undermine my integrity. In fact, it strengthens it.
In 2012, the presidential candidates each profess faith in a higher being. I have no problem with that, I only care about their policies. Their faith, in my mind, is no more pertinent to their qualifications for president as whether they are left or right-handed. As long as faith is not a motivation for political policy, you can believe anything at all and be president. Or believe nothing at all.
It’s okay to vote for an atheist. We come in peace.
If you want an Atheist President because you know that one faith doesn’t have a monopoly on morality, ethics and compassion, say it with me: I Want An Atheist President. Tweet it with me: #Iwantanatheistpresident.
You don’t have to be an atheist to be a freethinker.
*The question specific to the presidency was asked in 1999, prior to the 9/11 attacks, so undoubtedly Muslims have taken a hit since then. But as the other surveys reveal, even after the attacks atheists remain the least trusted group across the board.
EDIT: My suspicions were correct, Muslims did take a considerable Public Relations hit after 9/11, but atheists still remain the least trusted group.