My new piece for CNN:

(CNN)—This year, Congress welcomed the first Buddhist senator and first Hindu elected to either chamber of Congress, and the Pew Forum noted that this “gradual increase in religious diversity … mirrors trends in the country as a whole.”

But Pew also noted one glaring deficiency: Religious “nones” were largely left outside the halls of Congress, despite one in five Americans now saying they don’t affiliate with a religion.

There is, however, one newly elected “none” — but she seems to think “atheist” is a dirty word.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, was sworn in a few days ago without a Bible, and she is the first member of Congress to openly describe her religious affiliation as “none.” Although 10 other members don’t specify a religious affiliation — up from six members in the previous Congress — Sinema is the only to officially declare “none.”

This has gotten Sinema a fair amount of attention from the media. Many identified her as an atheist during her congressional campaign, and after she won, sources touted her as a nontheist. Even this past weekend, Politico declared in a headline: “Non-believers on rise in Congress.”

But there’s a slight issue: Sinema doesn’t actually appears to be a nonbeliever. In response to news stories identifying her as an atheist, her campaign released this statement shortly after her victory: “(Rep. Sinema) believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

As a nontheist, atheist and nonbeliever (take your pick), I find this statement deeply problematic.

Click here to continue reading.

11 Responses to “On CNN: ‘Atheist’ isn’t a dirty word”

  1. Rieux Says:

    Sinema, obviously, is reluctant to identify herself as an atheist (or other associated labels) because she is aware how toxic those identifiers are in American public discourse. There is a severe and broad antipathy in American society for atheists, and (especially as a public official) she needs to do whatever she can to avoid being placed in a category that her constituents widely think ill of.

    As a result, it’s a little rich to see her reluctance criticized by the guy who has very likely done more than any other atheist in the United States to promote and provide cover for the notion that Americans are right to hate atheists. Anti-atheist prejudice is what made you famous, Stedman. It’s why CNN and Arianna Huffington bother to publish your stuff: you reassure the bigoted and overwhelmingly powerful majority that they’re entirely correct to dismiss open nonbelievers (except for a few simpering “good ones” such as yourself) as offensive jerks. Like other Uncle Toms down through history, your eagerness to stab your fellow despised-minority brethren in the back has paid rather handsomely in public attention. Your history, however, puts you in a less-than-advantageous position to lecture Kyrsten Sinema for shrinking from contact with the very bigotry that you have made a career out of egging on. For shame.

    American society would be a less atheophobic place, and people like Kyrsten Sinema would be in a safer situation to come out as who they really are, if Chris Stedman and his atheist bashing had never existed. Your article diagnoses a very real problem—while failing to note that the author himself is a far-bigger-than-average part of that problem.

  2. VladChituc Says:

    Normally I’d just ignore this but I’ll actually give you a chance and take you seriously.

    I can’t help but notice that your comment with some pretty extreme claims doesn’t actually providing anything resembling evidence. So let me give you an opportunity.

    I’m going to have to ask for a whole lot of citations here if you expect anyone to take something like “Chris Stedman has done more than any other atheist in the U.S. to promote the notion that Americans are right to hate atheists” seriously.

    You don’t just get to say that. You don’t get that for free. You don’t just get to take something as absurd and offensive as that as a given. If you’re going to make such an absurd character assassination against someone like that, then you better well back that up with some serious evidence.

    I’d frankly be amazed if you could point me to one single source where Chris says its okay to hate atheists. Let alone one source where he criticizes atheism writ large. Let alone one source where he “reassures the bigoted and overwhelmingly powerful majority that they’re entirely correct to dismiss open nonbelievers.” Let alone one source where he criticizes open nonbelievers. Let alone one source where the controversy he garners isn’t simply over a mild criticism of some part of new atheism or something problematic a new atheist did—criticism much milder and more careful than Chris regularly gets, or than what you’ve given, I might add. And considering new atheism’s love of critcism, they should welcome even something like that.

    So give me some evidence. I’m talking quotes. Something solid. Or I don’t know how you can honestly expect anyone to take this laughable and offensive accusation that you’ve written seriously.

  3. Rieux Says:

    I’m not sure what leads you to believe that I’m terribly interested in convincing you of anything. Stedman’s lengthy record of stabbing his fellow minorities (queers as well as atheists) in the back in ways that conveniently serve to forward his own career has been documented at length, by me and numerous others, on plenty of fora. I’m here to call a spade a spade, not to prove its spadeness to a faithful buddy who conveniently professes ignorance.

    I’d frankly be amazed if you could point me to one single source where Chris says its okay to hate atheists.

    Right, because that’s the only way to promote bigotry, of course. If Jerry Falwell never actually declared that it was swell to hate queers, he’s indistinguishable from the Mayor of Provincetown. Love the honest inquiry you’re conducting here.

    Look, I’m quite familiar with the standard of discourse on NPS. Demanding in public fora that atheists (and GLBTs) knuckle under to religious power and privilege and sliming anyone who doesn’t do so conveniently becomes “a mild criticism of some part of new atheism or something problematic a new atheist did” in these parts. Such ridiculous dishonesty in the service of religious privilege is old hat on this blog.

    But whatever sweet stories you tell yourselves, Stedman’s advocacy on behalf of religious bigots has consequences beyond promoting his career. One such consequence is that it’s tough as hell for the Kyrsten Sinemas of the world to be honest about who they are. Another consequence is that atheists whose lives are made more difficult thanks to the work of Uncle Toms like Stedman are moved to tell him where he can stick his hypocrisy.

    You’re welcome to play dumb about the management’s long history of favoring religious power over the visibility, autonomy, and identity of two minority communities he belongs to. I couldn’t care less about the pose you choose to take up. Stedman’s longstanding promotion of atheophobia matters somewhat more.

  4. VladChituc Says:

    I made this really simple for you Rieux. If you make a claim, give some evidence.

    At this point you’ve done nothing but make baseless character attacks with no supporting reasons. Say what you want about the “standards of discourse on NPS” (an insinuation you make again with no evidence. I’m noting a pattern) but when we make claims about people, we provide evidence.

    Do the same or don’t post here. Its simple. I’ve already been much more patient than I’ve had to. If you can write a few hundred odd words making character attacks, you can portion off a bit of that to give some evidence .Particularly with Chris’s “lengthy record” that has been “documented at length.”

    If you’re going to make such a strong claim, give some strong evidence. It’s simple.

    We don’t allow baseless character attacks here, so pony up or leave.

  5. Rieux Says:

    You continue to ignore the difference between (1) calling a space a spade and (2) proving its spadeness. I’m stating a fact, not making an argument–not least because I have no confidence whatsoever in your ability to judge such an issue honestly.

    As I said, Stedman’s history as a promoter of religious privilege at the expense of atheist and GLBT human beings is a matter of public record–as are numerous extensive critiques of that history. If you actually care about these issues, you’re well capable of doing the minute or two of Googling required to find them.

    I’m not here to mount a prosecution of your pal. Speaking truth to power does not require, or imply, conducting an evidentiary hearing.

    Chris Stedman should be ashamed of his long history of coddling majority bigotry against despised minorities. All of the “Evidence or it didn’t happen” hollering you can muster won’t change that fact.

  6. VladChituc Says:

    Oh hey I can play this game too:

    You’re full of it.

    Just calling a spade a spade.

    Appreciate how much you sound like a conspiracy theorist right now. For someone with such abundant evidence you sure are averse to sharing it with the world. Last chance, give evidence or we’re done here.

  7. Rieux Says:

    Appreciate how much you sound like a conspiracy theorist right now.

    Uh, yeah. Again, the extensive record (and criticism) of Stedman’s history of advocating religious privilege and power at the expense of despised minorities–a record you conceded the existence of above (“criticism [that] Chris regularly gets”)–exists, no matter how fervently you pretend to ignorance of it. The “conspiracy” is called reality, and it’s all around us regardless of whether you decide to silence mention of it here.

    For someone with such abundant evidence you sure are averse to sharing it with the world.

    No, yet again: “the world” already *has* it. I’m just not interested in spending my time laying it out in front of *you*. *My* record on this blog–which has consisted of repeatedly burying Stedman’s cronies under the all-too-ample evidence of their dishonesty and hypocrisy in the service of atheophobia, at which point they’ve predictably taken their ball and gone home–has taught me that that’s an utter waste of time. (There was also this gem, except that in that case the Stedman-sponsored-hater-du-jour had already been taken apart by other folks by the time I showed up. I presume you’d have banned them, too.)

    What’s the point of trying to convince Shirley Phelps-Roper that her dad’s a nasty bigot? He is–and there is value in simply pointing that out, even though (shockingly) she’s unlikely to accept it.

    For what appears will be the last time: the reality of the local Emperor’s nakedness—i.e., the manner in which he has demonstrably conducted himself in the public square when what has been at issue is the social discourse that has silenced Kyrsten Sinema—is a matter of record in a large number of places in the world that exists outside of this little club.

    It is evidently within your power on this forum to silence those of us who have the temerity to point out that said Emperor is buck naked. That power appears to be rather helpful for your own internal attempts to maintain your pretenses about his wardrobe. Nevertheless, all the muzzles and gags you’ve got do nothing actually to make him any more clothed.

  8. VladChituc Says:

    When have I silenced anyone? When have I banned anyone? And how am I silencing mention of a record you swear exists but refuse to provide?

    Where are you getting these paranoid ideas?

    All I asked for was evidence. Repeating your claims in novel ways is not evidence. Comparing Chris to different kinds of bigots is not evidence. Vague gesture towards two guest posts that are two years old is getting there, but I think maybe a little weak for what you’re going after.

    I require evidence for my claims. How very Big Brother of me.

    So yes, you do sound rather like a conspiracy theorist. It’s been fun.

  9. Rieux Says:

    When have I silenced anyone?

    The icon next to your name on your comments reads “Mod.” You offered that you’ve “been much more patient than [you]‘ve had to,” in the explicit context of your preference that I “don’t post here” if I refuse your entreaties to put up evidence that you find satisfactory. You informed me that “We don’t allow baseless character attacks here, so pony up or leave.” And you declared that I had a “Last chance,” after which “we’re done here” if I fail to meet your standards.

    Do you often wave guns around and then innocently wonder aloud why anyone thought you were going to shoot them?

    It’s been fun.

    Not for those of us who have to live with the consequences of atheist-bashers and those of you who run interference for them, it hasn’t.

  10. VladChituc Says:

    Oh my, paranoid and melodramatic. How fun.

    I’m an author on this site. Every author has “mod” next to their name. Blame disqus if you find that particularly overbearing.

    And yes, I have been much more patient than your inane ramblings deserve, since you’ve yet to provide a shred of evidence for a single thing you’ve said.

    And yes, I do prefer you not post here if all you’ll provide is inane, ungrounded character attacks.

    And yes. Last chance for me to actually take your position seriously. Which I started this conversation by saying I shouldn’t do but will try.

    I’m not seeing the link from any of that to censorship, and if this is the strength of your logic leading to your conclusions about Chris than it’s about as flimsy a case as I was expecting.

    Since I’m such a gun-waver (lol) and Chris is such an Uncle Tom (I love your oblivious racial insensitivity), I think we are actually rather done here.

    Post all you like but don’t expect any response (unless of course you decide you want to start being rational and provide reasons). I’ll keep any moderation on my part to a general comment policy: don’t be bigoted, don’t make threats.

    I know I’m an Orwellian monster, but I think you’ll just have to deal.

  11. user1230 Says:

    You will not get votes unless you say “god bless” every five seconds as a politician. And it BETTER be the CHRISTIAN GOD because all other gods are inferior. One Nation Under God and TO HELL with everyone else! ;-)

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