Mothers of Intention — What’s God Got to Do With It?

Fri, March 21, 2008

Mothers of Intention

Welcome to this week’s edition of Mothers of Intention. This week I moved from it’s regular Wednesday spot so I could participate in the Iraq War Anniversary blogswarm.

I’d like to welcome the amazing Julie from mothergoosemouse to Mothers of Intention this week. Julie, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here today!

In the interest of full disclosure up front, I’m a registered Republican and an atheist. Yes, you read that right.

It’s appropriate that this post falls on Good Friday. In 1997, on Good Friday, my supervisor grilled me for forty-five minutes, asking how I could possibly be a moral person since I was an atheist. We were both Air Force officers, and the discussion took place in our work area within earshot of everyone else in our branch.

Inappropriate, yes. Unexpected, no.

According to’s section on Agnosticism and Atheism, a 1999 Gallup poll was taken to assess American’s attitudes toward voting for “a generally well-qualified person for president” on the basis of some characteristic. The percentage of respondents who would NOT vote for a candidate in each classification are below:

Catholic: 4%
Black: 5%
Jewish: 6%
Baptist: 6%
Woman: 8%
Mormon: 17%
Gay: 37%
Muslim: 38%
Atheist: 48%

More people would refuse to vote for an atheist candidate than a Muslim or homosexual candidate.

To appreciate that comparison, consider how Barack Obama has denied rumors that he is a Muslim. Consider the vehement bipartisan objections to same-sex civil unions. Given the political fervor that these two characteristics stir up, apparently atheism is even more incendiary.

The field of presidential contenders has included candidates from four of the above classifications: Black, Baptist, Woman, and Mormon. Although all of the Republican contenders were white males, it’s somewhat surprising that a Mormon hung on to a position in the top three, given the poll figures above. But even in the Democratic party, where the remaining contenders are an African-American man and a white woman, it seems unlikely that an otherwise well-qualified atheist could become the party nominee. And even if that happened, with 48% of people refusing to vote for an atheist, it would be nearly impossible for an atheist to be elected President.

Why do so many Americans object to the idea of atheism? Does religion have a rightful place in political discussion, beyond our right to freedom of religion?

I expect that the substance of most people’s objection to atheism is that much of our country’s founding documents refer to a creator, and that the United States was colonized by people with religious motivations. The majority of our population are believers on one level or another. Even our money – used by atheists too – states “In God We Trust.” Religion, in its best form, brings people together – but in doing so, it can push others away.

Given the personal and private nature of religion, as well as the fact that existence of a deity – any deity and the stories behind it – cannot be verified, I fail to see where it has a place in public policy. Likewise, I fail to see how my personal beliefs could have any bearing on my moral standing. If I’m a law-abiding citizen, what difference does it make whether I’m a believer?

But it’s this idea that religion does have a rightful place in public policy discussions that leads people – believers and non-believers, Democrats and Republicans alike – to object to a candidate on the basis of his or her religion. If we could let go of that premise, leave religious beliefs out of all policy discussions and legislative actions, a candidate’s religion could eventually cease to be an issue at all.

In the meantime, I’ll keep spending my “In God We Trust” dollars and be glad that I don’t aspire to run for political office. Because in America, anyone can grow up to be President – except an atheist.

In addition to writing at mothergoosemouse, you can also find Julie talking about her political ideas at The Parental is Political. And as if that’s not enough (!), she’s also one of the women behind Parent Bloggers Network and Cool Mom Picks!

Stay tuned for next Wednesday’s edition of Mothers of Intention!

And I’m over at BlogHer today, thinking some more about the recession no one wants to call a recession.

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13 Responses to “Mothers of Intention — What’s God Got to Do With It?”

  1. Maria Says:

    Interesting take. In one of my political thought classes we discussed the role of religion in morality and lawfulness, and I never could resolve the stance of some people that those who do not believe in and/or follow God/Allah/etc would be lawless and lack moral restraint.

    Even though I believe, I do not think that those who do not are incapable of morality. To me those are two different things. Who you are as a person shapes your decisions, but who you are does not have to be defined by believing or not believing in God. Good decisions are good decisions– made by a believer or a non-believer.

    Sorry– complicated and I fear I am rambling aimlessly.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  2. Nancy Says:

    It is so shocking, isn’t it? I would love to hear from a non-atheist on this one.

  3. Maria Says:

    Sorry. One more thing.

    While I am a believer, I would vote for an atheist if that person were to articulate policy that aligns with my own views– whether or not their conclusion came about the same way mine did. I only look at a candidates religion (or lack there of) in so much as it shapes his/her policy and decision making.

  4. Flutterby Says:

    Personally I have always thought they should have two separate categories when it comes to “those who believe in a god or higher power”.. “Those who truly believe and consistently act upon it in the manner in which their beliefs dictate” and those who claim to believe but are total hypocrites. And for the record, I fall into the atheist category too. I think there are far more of us out there than will admit it.

  5. ChefSara Says:

    I think Maria hit it on the head. As a Christian, I would be much more likely to vote for an athiest, than a Mike Huckabee type. Because I don’t believe Huckabee can separate his religion from his policies and actions in office, and would over step the separation of church and state line that I hold so dear…and like flutterby indicated, I think many of the Athiests I know have 10 times the moral compass of some of the so-called Christians of the world!

  6. Dana J. Tuszke Says:

    I’d vote for an atheist.

    Of course, he or she would have to respect the religions of others and understand that those religions play an important part in how we vote. There’s no way around it. To ask others to ignore their religious beliefs and keep them out of politics would be asking a lot.

    I think I understand where you’re coming from Julie, and I’m curious as to your suggestions on how we do this; eliminate religion from politics?

  7. Amy Says:

    I’ve been an Atheist since I was 13. I came the decision on my own, and I’ve never wavered.

    Sometimes I wish atheism went along with immorality. My conscience works overtime. Last weekend I accidentally cut in line and nearly had anxiety attacks all day. I knew it was an accident, but I still felt AWFUL! All damn day. It sucked. My husband thinks I’m nuts. He’s probably right.

  8. Alex Elliot Says:

    I would vote for an atheist. I believe religion is something that is personal. That being said, I do like it when candidates are upfront about their religion because I like knowing what lens from which they see the world. I think that there are a lot of atheists and agnostics out there who aren’t very public about it because it seems to have a similar reaction to saying a dirty word. I will say that I’m a Unitarian Universalist because I am but I am also an agnostic. We’ve had a couple Unitarian presidents in our country. I’ve always wondered if they were really atheists.

  9. mothergoosemouse Says:

    Dana, good question. I think it’s mainly a matter of social change.

    There were some other stats from that Gallup poll that I didn’t include: how those percentages have evolved over time. For example, in 1958, 63% of respondents would refuse to vote for a black candidate. In 1978, 74% of respondents would refuse to vote for a gay candidate. Those percentages have dropped considerably – mainly due to evolution of society’s views, not legislation.

    So that point, I’d suggest that if more people who didn’t believe were more open about that fact – not necessarily promoting their views over those of believers, simply “coming out of the closet”, to borrow a phrase – society as a whole would grow more accepting of atheism.

    That’s the approach I take on my own blog. I discuss my atheism openly – and hopefully without perceived judgment against believers.

  10. Amy Says:

    I’ve always been open about my atheism. I find that people are often shocked. Why they find it so shocking is beyond me. It’s not like I’m stealing their wallet while I say it.

    I just get tired of being told I’m going to hell. That is almost always the inevitable conclusion of the conversation.

  11. PunditMom Says:

    Flutterby, I am so with you about the ones who claim they talk the talk, but don’t really walk the walk.

  12. SUEB0B Says:

    I would vote for an atheist. I am a believer but my emphasis would be on the “belief” part of that word – it is my belief and I have NO PROOF other than I am living a life that works for me and makes me happy. I have no basis for asking others to share my beliefs. All I can do is toss stuff out for consideration. If I do it with rancor and judgement, am I not just contributing to making an angry world?

    I am so thankful my parents brought me up without religion but WITH ethics. And they way they taught ethics was rock-solid – it was the way they lived, not what they said.

    They left me free to make my own choices, for which I shall be forever grateful.

  13. Jeni Says:

    See now, this idea about atheists being immoral -where does that come from anyway? Truthfully, I think a politician who is an atheist would be able to think a lot clearer about many issues than can people of ANY religious background. No worry about separation of church and state because that’s already been done. Any atheist who is willing to give me “space” to acknowledge my faith is fine by me. I do have to admit I get perplexed about those who have hissy fits about Christmas -don’t dare call it that you know -and yet, I wonder how many of them while not believing in the religious aspect, perhaps do the Santa bit with their kids and perhaps extended family. Not saying -just me wondering there. See, to me, wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” is just well, wishing people well, good tidings, good day, if you will, when I don’t know their religious -or non-religion beliefs. I don’t follow the idea of being radical about any like that. Ok-I’ve gone astray there a tad but I hope you understand what I’m trying to get across. Forget the mouthy stuff that people get embroiled in with respect to religion, politics, society -and use the Golden Rule as a guide -and with that in mind, why not an atheist for president and why then too, can’t all of us -every religious persuasion, every nationality, every race -all just live together peaceably then? Yes, I suppose I am a dreamer huh, but better a nice dream than some of the nightmares put forth all to often in the name of religious beliefs too, don’t ‘cha think?

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