Washington Post columnist Max Boot published a column last week that raised a lot of eyebrows: It is time, Boot said, that America puts an atheist in the Oval Office.
Among the 21 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, virtually every ethnic, religious and sexual identity is represented. There’s a gay man, six women, three African Americans, a Chinese American, multiple Catholics and Protestants, even a Hindu. (Hindus are 0.7 percent of the population.) But there is one conspicuous absence: Not a single candidate publicly identifies as an atheist. That’s not to say they are all religious believers. But if they aren’t, they are keeping it to themselves.
Boot has a point. After all, somebody who has thought about things carefully enough to conclude that the traditional Christian storyline is nonsense has definitely got a leg-up on the hearty gladhander who doesn’t know what he thinks until the polls tell him what he thinks. And it would be nice to have a president who isn’t a craven weenie trembling before such as Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, and Jerry Falwell, Jr. A further advantage of an atheist president is the almost-certain bias toward Enlightenment values, such as rational inquiry and democratic governance — you know, things scorned by Evangelical-darling Donald Trump.
I feel confident, too, that there is a far-greater percentage of atheists and agnostics in the general population than suggested by polls tabulating ‘nones’ and what-have-you. After all, the churches have spent 20-centuries orchestrating disdain for those who don’t believe in Our Invisible Friend, with the result that many people who don’t believe the Christian narrative wouldn’t dream of saying so aloud. After all, it would just be too upsetting to mom, dad, grammy, et cetera, et cetera, and it would be too blatantly hypocritical to get the kids out of the house during summer vacation by bundling them off to Vacation Bible School.
Why fight it? Why not just keep quiet?
The reason in plain sight is that the Evangelical Right, and their influence in Washington, D.C., are an existential threat to the country. They adore Donald Trump for the exact same reason they overlook Pastor Bubba’s funny little hobby of raping their children: Trump tells them what to do, what to think, who to hate, and relieves them of the burdens of adulthood.
It’s not for nothing that the pejorative ‘sheeple’ gained currency.
As Boot points out, Great Britain’s immortal wartime leader, Winston Churchill, was a non-believer. Many of America’s Founding Fathers were Deists, who believed in a Creator who created and then disengaged from humanity; they were not — repeat, NOT — Christians. Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence and penned the immortal “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” explicitly self-identified just a few weeks before his death as an Epicuran (a flavor of Deist). Abraham Lincoln seems to have been some flavor of skeptic. There surely were more who took the path of least resistance and kept their thoughts to themselves.
All paid lip-service to the Pious. All of these courageous men, who so affected and shaped the modern world, would not tell the Albert Mohlers of the world that they’re fools and only other fools could take them seriously.
What we really need, then, is somebody willing to say frankly that religion is bunkum — and that Christianity is an especially pernicious and harmful flavor of bunkum because it degrades with the preposterous lie of Original Sin before it gets busy and starts exploiting its victims.
I don’t expect that to happen in my lifetime, but it will undoubtedly happen in my son’s lifetime. The Christian narrative is simply too out-of-step with the incontestable facts of reality, and Christianity’s ethics too cult-like, for any outcome but its continued decline and loss of influence.