The Humanist Dilemma: Where Are the Nonreligious Candidates?

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Secular Voter Bloc? 

As a voter, preventing theocracy in all its forms is my #1 issue.

Let’s consider this not unrealistic scenario:

Candidate Mr. R is a hypocritical Bible thumper with a bona fide theocratic VP. Religious issues are at the top of their agenda.

Mrs. D is another candidate with a penchant for the phrase “God given,” and seems to think it’s her God-given right to milk the system. Her preference for and allegiance to religion is very well documented.

Ms. G’s campaign has been sending emails to green party supporters. In these emails there are phrases like “Hallelujah and Amen,” “as a Christian,” and “spiritual journey.” I find these religious phrases very scary and inappropriate in messages coming from a political candidate.

I have decided I will not vote for the open theocracy of R, the open corruption of D, and, although I was really looking forward to supporting the “Green New Deal” of G, this candidate has presented genuinely worrying religious ideas and I am left without anyone to vote for. I will never vote for the lesser evil.

The “Nones” are an estimated twenty percent or more of the population. I would guess if you factor in all the things that can go wrong in these estimates, we are well over fifty percent. We need to stop supporting this religious preference in our government by continuing to vote for candidates who play along with it. The constitutional ban against religious tests is not being enforced. Religion has so infiltrated our government it is treasonous. We are in real danger of becoming an official theocracy, and we have at least partially and unofficially done so already.

We need humanist representation in our government. I believe removing existing religious influence from our government will solve so many issues we have as Americans. Where is the humanist party? Where is the secular party? Where is the science party or any other party based in reality that uses actual facts? Praying to an imaginary god before blowing up the world is not an option, and neither is actively taking rights away from the “Nones” to favor the religious in our laws and loopholes.

So, my dilemma is: Who can we vote for to stop the systematic discrimination, marginalization, and persecution of people free from religion in America?

—Looking for candidates I can vote for, not just against


Dear Looking,

I’m not sure I follow everything in your letter, but I believe the gist is that every candidate you consider has some objectionable religious baggage, and since you don’t want your vote to support religion in any way, you don’t see how you can vote for anyone currently running. You’re looking for candidates who are purely and openly secular, and you’re not finding them. And you’re thinking that with so many “Nones” in the nation, there should be a party with a secular identity.

While I too wish that would happen, and expect (or at least hope) that it will in the not-too-distant future, we’re a long way from that right now. One of the most frustrating things about secular identity is that there is no clear unifying organization or definition. It’s the old “herding cats” thing about how difficult it is to get freethinkers to join forces. But there are organizations like the American Humanist Association that are making progress in giving a face, voice, and structure to secular citizens. And there are candidates who are openly secular, identifying as atheists, agnostic, and freethinking. (The Center for Freethought Equality endorses and maintains a list of these candidates and elected officials here.)

There are surely more candidates who are reticent about what, if any, religious beliefs they profess. I suspect many of them are indeed closet atheists who believe they can’t do the job if they don’t get the job, and—at this time—they can’t get the job if they come out as nonreligious. While that belief isn’t necessarily true—a recent poll found that voters care far more about a candidate’s political positions than their faith or lack thereof—the stigma is still holding on. There are others who acknowledge their faith while pledging not to let it influence their leadership, following in the footsteps of JFK, the Catholic presidential candidate who assured an anxious America that he would not be taking orders from the pope.

At this time, it behooves us to vote for candidates who pledge not to allow any religion to influence their leadership, regardless of whether they personally profess a faith. I also, perhaps naively, believe it’s incumbent upon everyone who has the privilege of voting to do so, with as much information as they can muster about the issues and the candidates’ policies and proclivities. At the same time, it would be excellent if every secular organization stood up to be counted as such, and express where their members tend to stand on the issues. Eventually, even if there is still no secular party per se, politicians of all stripes will take notice of our numbers and preferences, and start courting us. The nonreligious community has the strength, as you mentioned, to shape the political conversation.

I don’t envision humanists or atheists or seculars of any description ever voting as a monolith across a broad spectrum of issues, nor do I think that would be a good thing. But I do think we are pretty clear regarding how we feel about separation of church and state, civil rights and women’s rights, affordable healthcare and education, and measures to raise up the most oppressed and impoverished people in this country and the world. The more we can make our most widely-shared positions heard, the more we will see candidates trying to win our endorsement with policies we endorse.