Monday, January 01, 2007

Keith Ellison: Tip of the Iceberg

While everyone goes ooh and ah over new Rep. Keith Ellison's choice of magic book to place his hand upon when he says the magic words that will make the man in the sky ensure that he keeps his promise, folks seem to have missed something. Ellison's status as the first Muslim in the House was just the tip of the iceberg with this new Congress. There's an even bigger milestone that I haven't seen much mention of (with one exception).

In Susan Jacoby's essential "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism," she quotes a North Carolina minister's objection to the proposed U.S. Constitution's ban on religious tests for officeholders. He called it, "an invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us."

Meet Hank Johnson and Mazie K. Hirono. They're two other members of the 110th Congress who are doing something no one in Congress has done before. Not even Ellison.

They don't believe in God. Not the Judeo-Christian God. Not the Muslim God. They're Buddhists. The first ever in Congress.

For the first time, as far as I can tell, bouncing around, the U.S. Congress as of Thursday will now include as members representatives who openly do not subscribe to any version of monotheism.

Johnson is from Georgia (4th district), for Christ's sake. And check out Hirono. She's from Hawaii. What does Hawaii's House Caucus look like in the 110th Congress?

Mazie K. Hirono -- Buddhist.
Neil Abercrombie -- "Non-Affiliated."

Hawaii only has two districts in the House. Neither member of the Hawaii Caucus will be an avowed member of Judeo-Christianity.

In fact, five other members of the House are also listed as "Non-Affiliated" by Americans for Religious Liberty. There's Mark Udall (CO-2), whose dad was raised Mormon and eventually decided he had no use for organized religion. His official bio makes no mention of a god or even church.

Then there's John Olver (MA-1), who's not only non-affiliated, he's a chemistry professor from MIT. Any guesses whether he believes in the god of Judeo-Islamo-Christianity? He's a Massachusetts Democrat, in office since 1991. His seat his safe--it's about time someone asked him point blank.

John Tierney (MA-6) is also listed by ARL as non-affiliated, and doesn't seem to have any overt religious references on his site, either. The others are Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), and Tammy Baldwin (WI-2), who, God bless her, listed her religious affiliation as GLBT. Unless that's a new version of the tetragrammaton, I'm guessing she doesn't have much use for magic super-powers-in-the-sky.

Oh, and according to veteran Washington reporter Jack Germond, speaking just last year, the secret atheists in Congress hide their lack of belief in magic by calling themselves Unitarians. As per, Germond is outing Sen. Kent Conrad, and/or Reps. Pete Stark and Nancy Johnson.

Toss in Mr. Ellison, of Minnesota's fifth district, and you're now talking about two non-theists in the House, one non-Judeo-Christian monotheist, six more possible non-theists and two allegedly possibly secret atheists. Add in Conrad in the Senate, and you have possibly as many as 12 members of the 110th Congress who do not subscribe to a Judeo-Christian worldview. By my calculation, that's more than two percent of the new Congress. One in 50. That's still woefully disproportionate to the vast (and growing) percentage of the U.S. population that's tossed off the chains of monotheism. But it's also a staggering leap at a time when the mainstream media is helplessly enamored of the faith-in-politics storyline.

Now, let's see which journalist has the brains and/or nads to start outing the Rational 12.


Eric_Jaffa said...

In early December, I responded to an op-ed on atheism by Nicholas Kristof by writing a letter-to-the-editor.

The New York Times didn't publish my letter, but here it is:

Nicholas Kristof expresses discomfort with "a militant, in-your-face brand of atheism" ("A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion," December 3, 2006.)

However, other minority groups have advanced by speaking up: In the 1960s, James Brown led, "Say it strong, say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud."

In the 1990s, gay activists chanted, "We're queer and we're here."

American atheists have been quiet for centuries, and this has left us as the most despised group in the country. It's time for a change in strategy.

beervolcano said...

Oh, excellent name for them.

The Rational 12.

Good one. Hope it has legs.

But, I'm not so hyped about hyping Congresspeople's faith or lack of faith. It would be nice if the numbers increased quietly. We wouldn't want a backlash. All you need is a Fox News story about the atheist conspiracy to take over Congress, and it's over.

StealthBadger said...

Just as long as the only atheists being outed are the ones who bash the non-religious (or hell, the non-christian), then I'm all for it.

If someone's kept their mouth shut, I see no reason not to return the favor at this point.

Anonymous said...

I'm with stealthbadger. We in the gay community (sorry, I mean the "alleged" gay community) are still divided on the ethics of outing. I've been uncomfortable with it since day one but when the target is publicly anti-gay (often virulently) I keep my objections to myself.

What we're talking about here is not a perfect mirror of the gay outing issue but there are close similarities. In both cases, the targets are being outed as hypocrites, not as gay or atheist.

LanceThruster said...

It's unfortunate that so many see a need for keeping their non-theism under wraps (or low key) but it is understandable, especially in the political realm at this point.

I corresponded with one of the Naval personnel on the USS Liberty that was attacked by Israel and it came up that we both were atheists. I was shocked to learn from him that at an event for the recertification of his status to work with classified material, he had to "reaffirm" his loyalty to (G)od. If he had not, the government...our US government, would not have renewed his security clearance.

I've asked him if he would like to be included in the list of Celebrity Atheists, but he declined. He knows that 'coming out of the closet' can bring him headaches on a number of levels. He is still considering it posthumously.

Naomi said...

Dear PL: I meant to send you the link to my post Atheism and the American Congreess. I can't find any thing that says I did it, so I must apologize for forgetting.

I did reference you and link this post, so it's only right to let you know. See:

Martian.Anthropologist, contributor
God is for Suckers, guest post-er
esfilitu AT g mail DOT com

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post - I've actually thought a lot about the issue of nonbelievers in politics, too, and have done some digging. Look what I came across:

Scroll down to the letter from "John W. Olver" The Massachusetts congressman you talked about also has the middle initial "W". There are probably not too many "John W. Olver"-s out there, and especially the fact that Congressman Olver used to be a chemistry see where I'm going w/ this?

Georgiana Cohen said...

Hi Mr. Larsen,

My name is Georgiana Cohen, and I'm with the office of Web Communications at Tufts. In connection with the upcoming Edward R. Murrow Forum on Issues in Journalism here at Tufts, we're interested in publishing a story on the Tufts website that draws from the expertise of Tufts experts and alums to discuss the media's coverage of war. I am writing to ask if you would like to be interviewed for this piece. If so, please let me know when would be a good time to talk.

Thank you,

Georgiana Cohen
Web Communications
georgiana dot cohen at

Anonymous said...

"Then there's John Olver (MA-1), who's not only non-affiliated, he's a chemistry professor from MIT. Any guesses whether he believes in the god of Judeo-Islamo-Christianity?"

Last I knew, scientists were, on average, more religious than non-scientists in the U.S.

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