Representative Pete Stark, a California democrat, whose district is in the San Francisco Bay-area town of Fremont, confirmed his lack of belief in deities in a statement to The Associated Press. Stark said he was "a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being."
Of course, we welcome and congratulate Rep. Stark for his honesty on this issue, while making no judgment on his political convictions. In a year of stunning breakthroughs for non-believers, including bestselling books and a general climate of interest in non-theism, this is the latest and perhaps most significant event of all.
Yet, as others have pointed out however, Rep. Stark is but one out of over 535 Congresspersons; he comprises less than .5% of the total of Congress yet non-believers represent at least 5% to 15% of the total electorate! Isn’t it a certainty that there are others in Congress who are also non-theists, yet cannot admit it?
The recent search conducted by the American Humanist Society, which discovered Stark’s beliefs, uncovered no other elected openly non-theists aside from three (3) school board members. Imagine that; one member of Congress, three school board members and almost no other elected official were openly non-theistic in the whole of the USA! This certainly makes a liar out of those who blame atheism for, well, almost anything that plagues our society. If we are harming society, the harm certainly isn’t being perpetrated by openly atheistic legislators!
Now we know there are others who are non-theistic but are afraid to admit it or make it evident to the public. After all, only 45 percent of Americans said they would vote for a "generally well-qualified" atheist, according to a February Gallup Poll, ranking them lowest on a list that included Mormons (72 percent), candidates on their third marriage (67 percent) and homosexuals (55 percent).
I will put forward, however, that there are many others who, while presenting a publicly pious façade, have an absolutely incoherent belief system that they themselves cannot decipher or are in total denial of what they actually believe (note: this is not including those who consciously are hiding their self-admitted skepticism to the public.) In addition, not only do the publicly pious persons not explicitly admit their non-theism or lack of theistic beliefs or contradictory beliefs, they then still promote religious fundamentalism. This shilling separates them from the doubters merely in hiding.In light of the recent "outing" of atheist Rep. Pete Stark, I therefore propose a new method of categorization of the religious sensibilities of elected officials (and everyone else I suppose.) The categories would be 1) Theists 2) Non-theists 3) The Hidden Non-theists 4) Denialists.
Who could I be talking about?
For the theist category we have many candidates such as President Bush, Sen. Inhofe, former Sen. Santorum and many others who seem to sincerely believe in what they’re claiming. Here is one key to determining who is in this category: their statements are so ridiculous that only a true believer would make them.
President Bush has told Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine that God told him (Pres. Bush) to attack bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. He also told this to Pat Robertson, as Robertson admitted on the CNN show of Paula Zahn.
Sen. Inhofe, aside from denying man-made climate change, promotes Intelligent Design and has actually said on the floor of the Senate that “God gave Israel to the Jews” and concludes that foreign policy should be based on that belief.
Sen. Rick Santorum, in his religiously induced state of brain-deadness has likened homosexuality to bestiality.
Only true believers would bother to go out that far on an illogical and unreasonable limb for the sake of their beliefs.
Of course, there are other believers that we can be fairly confident are believers even though they appear sane: Jimmy Carter is as pious as any political figure ever and yet has led a sensible, ethical and productive life. Martin Luther King Jr. is an even better example of exemplary public service in the form of a true believer. Please note their lack of fundamentalism however. This is a category for the honest, reasoned or not.
The category of non-theists, for now, consists of Pete Stark. His simple admission is self-explanatory and pretty much completes the category!
The category of Hidden Non-Theists can only be speculated upon but may I suggest the following nominees for this category:
Rudy Giuliani: Considering that he is thrice divorced and as damned to Hell as anyone we know, how sincere could his piety be? In addition to his sins of divorce and adultery, Rudy has been supportive of gay rights, abortion and gun control. This is a sure prescription for Hell; unless one does not really believe, right?
Barack Obama: In an interview Sen. Obama said, "It's not 'faith' if you are absolutely certain," noting that he didn't believe his lack of "faith" would hurt him a national election. He also offered, "Evolution is more grounded in my experience than angels." Considering thatObama’s mother was a humanist and both his father and stepfather gravitated towards atheism, the truth about Obama’s real beliefs may not be known until after his Presidential aspirations or eligibility are at an end.
I am sure that readers could suggest numerous other possible examples for the Hidden non-theist category. Please keep in mind that these are persons who are probably self-aware of their beliefs but out of political necessity, are “in the closet.”
But now for the juiciest category: Denialists.
From a Booklist review about a book on Karl Rove called “The Architect”: “Moore and Slater, authors of the best-selling Bush's Brain(2003)… offer a portrait of a bright, cynical, and manipulative man bent on maintaining Republican political dominance for generations to come. Himself an agnostic, Rove has masterminded a strategy that has helped to broaden the Republican base beyond its pro-business, anti-government heritage to appeal to devout evangelicals.”
Another review of this book, found in Raw Story, says, “There is much to digest in The Architect, but new details of Rove's family history, self-proclaimed agnosticism, and the political machine built by friends such as the scandalized lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are certain to raise the hackles of Rove's Republican base.
Citing on the record sources including close friends of the elder Rove, Moore and Slater reveal he (Karl Rove’s adoptive father, Louis Rove) lived openly as a gay man and remained close to his son throughout his life…
Rove spoke of his adoptive father in a tone of fierce admiration, love, and loyalty, for, as he put it, "how selfless his love had been," as shown by his willingness to play, persuasively, the part of a blood parent for two decades…
One might think that such a sensitive family situation might have kept Rove from using it as a political ace-in-the-hole. Instead, Rove made sexual orientation -- specifically, gay marriage -- the centerpiece of a presidential campaign aimed at getting out conservative voters in states like Ohio. (Go to http://www.rawstory.com/news/2006/New_book_alleges_Rove_agnostic_stepfather_0902.html .)
My point could not be made clearer than this: Karl Rove, a.k.a. Bush’s Brain, though he has never said this explicitly, may have no theistic beliefs as claimed by these authors, and/or possesses a totally incoherent belief system that he himself cannot articulate; yet he constantly empowers religious fundamentalists politically and socially.
Rove apparently loved his gay father yet his “Denialism” allowed him to target gay persons for the goal of having re-elected George W. Bush.
Could anything be lower? If this isn't being in denial, what is?
Perhaps another candidate for this category can approach Rove for duplicity: Presidential candidate John McCain.
McCain once famously said, "Unfortunately, Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore. I recognize and celebrate that our country is founded upon Judeo- Christian values, and I have pledged my life to defend America and all her values, the values that have made us the noblest experiment in history. But political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value. The political tactics of division and slander are not our values. They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country. Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.
We are the party of Ronald Reagan, not Pat Robertson. We are the party of Theodore Roosevelt, not the party of special interests. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Bob Jones.” (Go to http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0002/28/se.01.html .)
Nowadays Sen. McCain is singing a different tune.
From a transcript from Tim Russert’s show:
RUSSERT: But, Senator, when you were on here in 2000, I asked you about Jerry Falwell, and this is what you said:
MCCAIN (clip, 3/5/00): Gov. Bush swung far to the right and sought out the base support of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Those aren’t the ideas that I think are good for the Republican Party. (End of clip.)
RUSSERT: Do you think that Jerry Falwell’s ideas are now good for the Republican Party?
MCCAIN: I believe that the “Christian Right” has a major role to play in the Republican Party. One reason is because they’re so active and their followers are. And I believe they have a right to be a part of our party. I don’t have to agree with everything they stand for, nor do I have to agree with everything that’s on the liberal side of the Republican Party. If we have to agree on every issue, we’re not a Republican Party. I believe in open and honest debate. Was I unhappy in the year 2000 that I lost the primary and there were some attacks on me that I thought was unfair? Of course. Should I get over it? Should I serve — can I serve the people of Arizona best by looking back in anger or moving forward?
RUSSERT: Do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?
MCCAIN: No, I don’t. I think that Jerry Falwell can explain how his views on this program when you have him on. (Go to http://thinkprogress.org/2006/04/02/mccain-falwell/ .)
Former Gov. and current presidential candidate and self-professed Mormon Mitt Romney is another fellow one has to wonder about: when he was governing liberal Massachusetts he claimed to be a supporter of gay rights. Now that he is running for president, he is their most bitter enemy! Here is the amazing part: the Religious Right seems to be OK with persons who are two-faced as long as they prove that they are willing to cow-tow to them in the long run. Hypocrisy is not a problem to the Religious Right if it is coupled with a flagrant lack of integrity!
The most duplicitous of this category could be Newt Gingrich, however. While heading the impeachment charge against President Clinton for Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Gingrich was actually carrying on an affair with a young staffer as well, leading to his second divorce and, subsequently his third marriage! That is bad enough, of course, but Gingrich added a huge layer of hypocrisy to his foundational hypocrisy by being a long-time stalwart supporter and proponent of the Religious Right while violating numerous values they supposedly espouse (but which they often fail to internalize.) Now that he’s considering running for president, he recently professed his belief in a forgiving Lord and Savior in a particularly pathetic radio interview with James Dobson. Once again you have to wonder about what Newt Gingrich really believes. However it does confirm that the Religious Right values subservience above all other of its supposed values.
Those who automatically eliminate non-theists for consideration when voting should realize (but won’t) that they continually support monsters of their own making: they’ve created the Karl Roves, John McCains, Mitt Romneys and Newt Gingrich’s of the world who cannot admit even to themselves that they completely disagree with the very constituency that they hope to exploit in order to acquire power. In a sense, when the Religious Right empowers Denialists, specifically, the cynical likes of Karl Rove, or in the future, a John McCain, Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich, they are knowingly accepting persons who do not respect them, probably do not believe in the sames things as them, but are acceptable anyway - because they are willing hypocrites.