Every now and then someone who’s been impressed with something I’ve said about politics or religion will drop me an email or say to me in person: “You should run for office.”
I always end up laughing at the suggestion and usually I’m asked why I find the idea of running for office so funny and I point out the fact that I’m an atheist. “So what? I’d vote for you.” Is the common reply I tend to get. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it is very flattering, but the truth is that it’s very hard for someone who’s honest about his religious stance as an atheist to get elected beyond most local government positions that most voters don’t pay much attention to anyway. The truth of this can be found in the regular polls conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the latest of which was published back on July 24th.
The results of this most recent poll probably won’t surprise too many people. The public perception of the religion of Islam is shifting more toward the negative with 44 percent of the American public saying they believe Islam is more likely than other religions “to encourage violence among its believers.” A significant increase from the 25 percent who said this back in March of 2002. Despite this shift in attitude about Islam in general, only 24 percent of Americans hold unfavorable views of Muslim-Americans and only 38 percent (roughly four-in-ten) say they wouldn’t vote for a well-qualified Muslim for President.
Meanwhile, atheists are still regarded as evil scum by the majority of Americans with 52 percent saying they would not vote for a well-qualified atheist for President. Compare that to only 17 percent who wouldn’t vote for a well-qualified evangelical Christian. Clearly I’d have to lie or avoid questions on my religious outlook in oder to run for any significant office.
Most Americans (53 percent) still oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally as compared with 38 percent who support the idea, but this is actually good news as this is a significant shift from the 65 percent in 1996 who felt homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry. The only two segments of society where a shift in attitude on gay marriages hasn’t changed since 1996 are with white evangelical Protestants (no big surprise) and African Americans (this did surprise me).
“This finding underscores an important fact of American politics,” said E.J. Dionne Jr., co-chair of the Pew Forum and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “On questions of religion and morality there’s a remarkable overlap in views of white evangelicals and African Americans, yet these groups couldn’t be more different when it comes to questions of partisan politics and President Bush.”
The shift in public opinion on allowing gay marriages is probably what is causing the President and other Republicans to suddenly scramble on getting something done to make it permanently illegal while they still have (narrow) majority support on the issue. The amendment route is popular because it would put it beyond the reach of the Supreme Court to overrule and with the shift in public attitudes that appears to be in the future on this issue it wouldn’t be surprising if the Supreme Court did throw such a law out in the future just as they have with regards to the Texas sodomy law. Of course, they seem to forget that even amendments can be repealed (see: prohibition).
Some other findings:
—Religious beliefs also play a significant role in Americans’ understanding of foreign affairs. More than four-in-ten Americans (44 percent) believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people, while a substantial minority (36 percent) thinks that the modern state of Israel is a “fulfillment of the biblical prophesy about the second coming of Jesus.” [Which just goes to show you how dangerous it is to mix politics and religion. -ed.]
—The public at large is quite comfortable with President Bush’s evocation of faith and what many perceive as his reliance on religious beliefs in making policy decisions. A 62 percent majority thinks Bush strikes the right balance in how much he mentions his religious faith, and nearly as many (58 percent) believe the president’s reliance on religion in policymaking is appropriate.
—Fully 72 percent of Americans agree that the government should provide universal health insurance, even if it means repealing most tax cuts passed since President Bush took office. Democrats overwhelmingly favor this proposal (86 percent – 11 percent) and independents largely agree (78 percent – 19 percent). Even a narrow majority of Republicans (51 percent) favor providing health insurance for all even if it means canceling the tax cuts, while 44 percent disagree. [Probably the only other bit of good news to come out of this poll. -ed.]
The nationwide survey of 2,002 adults was conducted June 24-July 8 by the Pew Forum and the Pew Research Center and has a margin of error plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
So, needless to say, I won’t be running for President anytime soon even if I do seem like I have more than the usual amount of common sense to some of you.