Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Godless Wednesday: Is U.S. Rep. Sinema An Atheist?

U.S. Representative Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual Member of Congress, was sworn in last week on a copy of the Constitution and is the only member who explicitly lists her religious affiliation as "None."

However, despite these facts, Rep. Sinema does not publicly identify as an atheist and atheists around the country are starting to wonder, does Sinema think there's something wrong with being identified as an atheist?

In an article titled "'Atheist' isn't a dirty word, congresswoman" on CNN's Religion blog, Harvard chaplain Chris Steadman says:
As a nontheist, atheist and nonbeliever (take your pick), I find this statement deeply problematic.
It is perfectly fine, of course, if Sinema isn’t a nontheist, and it is understandable that she would want to clarify misinformation about her personal beliefs. But to say that these terms are “not befitting of her life’s work or personal character” is offensive because it implies there is something unbefitting about the lives and characters of atheists or nonbelievers.
Why not instead say that she’s not an atheist, but so what if she was?
The 113th Congress is rich with diversity. As an interfaith activist, I am glad to see the religious composition of Congress more closely reflect the diversity of America. As a queer person, I’m glad that LGBT Americans are seeing greater representation in Washington.
But as a proud atheist and humanist, I’m disheartened that the only member of Congress who openly identifies as nonreligious has forcefully distanced herself from atheism in a way that puts down those of us who do not believe in God.
We are Americans of good character, too.
I agree wholeheartedly with Steadman's remarks and I want to add some thoughts. I see this debate over the label "atheist" similar to the debate over the word "feminist." Being a feminist means that you believe in complete equality between the sexes. Period.  That there are so many women (and men) who do not identify with the term (despite believing in the principle it embodies) is a direct result of the inequity feminism is trying to address (and a concerted effort by people who do not believe in equality to stigmatize the word).

To me, it's important to push back on those forces and re-affirm the principle of equality between the sexes by using the preferred, simplest term. Just like I see it is important to use the simplest term to communicate that I reject religion in all its forms, since the simplest way to do that is to reject the notion of "God"--ergo, the term "atheist."

What do you think?

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