“I want an avowed atheist in the White House. When time comes to push that button, I want whoever’s making the decision to understand that once it’s pushed, it’s over. Finito. They’re not gonna have lunch with Jesus. Won’t be deflowering 72 virgins on the great shag carpet of eternity, or reincarnated as a cow. I want someone making that decision who believes life on this Earth isn’t just a dress rehearsal for something better — but the only shot we get.”
― Quentin R. Bufogle
One of the most frustrating things for me as an atheist is that, as far as polls go, an atheist president is one of the last people the majority of Americans would elect. Here’s a study that speaks to that very issue:
Don’t get me wrong. Crossing the color barrier is a wonderful achievement. (There is a story that, when members of the Kenyan government were asked for reactions to Obama’s victory, someone quipped that, had Obama been elected in Kenya, he would have been their first white president. It all goes to show how frequently biased our views of skin color and race can be. But this is all beside the point I’m trying to make.) I’d also love to see a female president. I’m not convinced that Hillary Clinton is going to go for it, but there must be plenty of perfectly capable and willing women in politics who have yet to make a nationwide name for themselves. Please, just don’t submit the nation to another Michelle Bachmann. Shivers. I’m at least glad she seems to be going away faster than Palin.
But I don’t want this short (I promise) blog post to be consumed by politics. Because electing Obama (the first time, at least) frequently wasn’t about politics. A hope and change platform is something every potential candidate puts out, after all. There were many people whose voting interest in him was first aroused by the fact he didn’t a previously established Presidential mold. Seriously, the majority of our presidents have been the products of Anglo-Saxon rumpy pumpy. Besides Obama, these guys were:
Martin Van Buren (Dutch): English wasn’t even his first language.
Theodore Roosevelt (Dutch): You mean there’s a streak going? He was, however, half Anglo-Saxon on his mother’s side.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Dutch): No huge surprise there.
Dwight Eisenhower (German): Go Ike! He broke the German barrier!
John F. Kennedy (Irish): I always wanted to hear more of an Irish lilt in that accent of his.
Ronald Reagan (Irish): I think he’ll get more credit as the first movie star president, but whatever. It’s frightening to think that he may only be the first…
Consider that for a moment. The presidency has always been far more limited than we imagine. So could an avowed atheist make it? I’d like to think the pros would be obvious. He or she would likely be more interested in science and there would be some good progressive funding going to research departments. And those candidates for office who proudly display their pocket constitutions along with a pocket Bible? (Okay, I can’t be sure anyone has ever tried such a maneuver, but it’s not beyond likelihood.) Most of their precious founding fathers were far more questioning of religion than they’ve likely ever been. The good example that’s easy to look up is Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, which he “defaced” by using a razor blade to slice out every supernatural act within. There’s some beautiful language and philosophy in the King James Bible after all, and no reasonable atheist would argue with that. Atheists don’t hate god or Jesus. Jesus said wonderful, humane things and the fact that someone said or wrote those parables is a miracle in and of itself considering the time period. Just do research on what the scores of other “prophets” from around that era were saying. Eesh. Not pretty. The fact is that, to me and to plenty of other atheists, the philosophies of Christ are more impressive for the fact that they weren’t divinely inspired. If those words come out of human minds, then there is hope for every one of us.
Some speculate that Obama may be a secret atheist, but really I’m not going to waste my time listening to theories. Any evidence purporting to reveal another man’s belief system is going to be just a lowercase “t” theory–not like the Theory of Evolution or the Theory of Gravity, both of which mean the same thing in scientific circles, yet what sane person is debating gravity in the 21st century? Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox.
Maybe an atheist president would have a better understanding of other world religions, because most of the atheists I know have, like myself, investigated other holy texts. They’ve done quizzes where they’ve asked various believers and atheists/agnostics questions about world religions. Atheists and agnostics frequently top the list:
If I had to make a guess on why this happens to be case, I can rely on self-experience. Many atheists, myself included, were once very religious. Just read some of the poems and stories I wrote in my teenage years. Oh boy. Those things are dripping with JC. I was interested and wanted to deepen my faith. My family as a whole is pretty religious in a Catholic or Methodist way. Believe it or not, my parents were a pretty controversial pairing based solely on that distinction. As I found out, however, the bible is the worst thing to read if you want to maintain your faith. I only read chunks at first. I bought some of the supernatural stuff obviously, especially the miracles and the bloody, righteous, wondrousness of Revelations. I was a moralizing little prick who was shocked to learn my religious parents had never read the bible beyond what they were given in Sunday school or sermons. “Come on, people, Martin Luther went through a lot of grief to make sure people could read this in their own language!” is about the sort of thing I would have said. Not impugning my former self here, I’m just pointing out that I’ve always believed in reading something for myself. As far as my teenage self could see, the parental units might as well be living in an age before the printing press. So I read them sections of the bible just to encourage them. They were even falling asleep to Revelations. At any rate, by the time one has consumed the whole bible it starts to look sketchy and ludicrous. Even the New Testament is full of moral potholes. Most atheists have read large sections of the bible, even if it is just as a defense mechanism–it’s fun and easy to use scripture to back up your own lack of belief.
Speaking of books, I wonder what book an atheist president who place their hand upon whilst being sworn into office? Here’s another way for me to say that I don’t get the prejudice against atheist politicians. To religious people who falsely accuse atheists of not having morals, forget all that–these are politicians we’re talking about. To get that high up in the political stratosphere morals have to be ditched to lighten the load. And how has having the ten commandments actively made people more moral anyway? Plus, for the worthy believer who has made it this far, I sincerely hope that the only thing keeping you from coveting your neighbor’s chattels and slaughtering your annoying foes isn’t an ancient text.
All of that was only sort-of a joke. Remember all the fuss about Mitt Romney being a Mormon? People of different religious leanings said they couldn’t vote for him, some insinuating that to believe some of the tenants of Mormonism he would have to be a wee bit peculiar. With an atheist candidate, I feel like any religious denomination could support him or her without feeling like they’re cheating on their Protestant values, for example, by voting for a Catholic. JFK, a Catholic, has been our only non-Protestant president and, believe it or not, there was a kerfuffle at the time about whether voters would come out in large enough numbers to support a Catholic candidate. So back to the swearing in ceremony. With an atheist, the book doesn’t have to be freakin’ Darwin. Just so long as it doesn’t become some kind of vied for book club promotion pick….oh shit, that could totally happen. I don’t want to see the president become the head of an Oprah-esque book cult, even if it promotes literacy. Maybe just do the oath over a flag or a constitution.
More recent Gallup polls (7/26/2012) indicated that, for the first time since the question was asked in 1958, 54% of Americans would vote to instate a nonbeliever into the presidency. That number is still just a statistic though. The same results show how deeply religious the nation continues to be, even if views are shifting. For more information: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2012-07-26/athiest-poll-president/56516466/1
So there’s hope for more change, more chances for every well-qualified voice to gain the highest offices in the land. There are still old scrawls on the law books that make it illegal for a known atheist to run for public office in America. We need diversity and level-headedness up there, and I for one am tired of politicians hiding behind a religious armor that “proves” their moral standing. An atheist candidate would face opposition and (crosses fingers) live up to that by doing good public service initiatives, outlining clear, realistic policies, and leading us into a political climate where flag pins do not equal patriotism and mentioning god in your speeches doesn’t make you moral.