U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat who represents a district stretching from north of San Francisco to the Oregon border, has released a statement identifying himself as a humanist who doesn’t necessarily believe in God.
The Congressman had declined to state his religious beliefs on questionnaires in the past, saying “there’s too much religion in politics.” Taken aback by “negative” expressions of religion made by members of the Trump administration, he says he made the decision to open up about his own beliefs — and lack thereof — to counter what he fears are efforts by government officials toward maligning some faiths and celebrating others.
Huffman grew up in a religious home and says he isn’t hostile to religion. “I don’t believe my religion is necessarily relevant to the work I do. But I do think it doesn’t quite feel right to just take a pass on the question, because your religious views can speak to your moral and ethical framework on the world,” Huffman said. “And that is something I think the public is entitled to know.”
Q. Could Rep. Huffman’s announcement that he is a humanist and nonbeliever put his political career at risk? How important are politicians’ religious beliefs to you as a voter?
Unfortunately, in this country, demonstrating religiosity, whether sincerely or not, is extremely important to many voters. Most polls show that people would sooner vote for a criminal than an atheist. As a matter of fact, we have many criminals in office now. Although we have some legislators in Washington who are supposedly not of faith, there is not a single openly nontheistic legislator on Capitol Hill. Thankfully, at the state and city levels, there are a few who are out and proud.
I believe the capacity for truly rational thought, even in the face of criticism, is an asset to a politician. If someone is qualified for office and I agree with them politically, the fact that they are an unabashed atheist would incline me even more to vote for them.
Our founders made it very clear that religion should be completely separate from politics. Our constitution even goes so far as to state plainly there should be no religious test for office, a clause which is mostly disregarded in this country. That is truly to our detriment.
We should commend Rep. Jared Huffman’s honesty in saying that he is a humanist. Most people who claim to be of strong religious moral bent, then claim that a belief in God gives them the right to do immoral things to other humans, are neither religious nor moral. Honesty and a good reputation are the most precious commodities one can possess. The founder of the Hasidic movement is known as the Ba’al Shem Tov, which translates as the “master of the good name.’
There is a section in the Jewish Ethical code, which states ‘a man’s deeds should exceed his piety.’ Its meaning is that how a person deals with his fellow human is more important than how he deals with God.
I agree, as we are created in the image of God, by being more pro-us, you are in fact being more pro-God.
How much more religious can you be than to be “Pro-God”?
As to the second question, acting positively towards God’s creations — humans — even without couching it in religious terms, is still the highest form of religiosity. The reason why one does something is not as important as the act of doing it. The Torah says it best, when we stood at Mt. Sinai and God asked us to do his/her commandments we said, “Na’aseh v’Neshma” (we will do and then we will hear of its value). The act of doing is more important than the why is for the action brings results, the why just gives us discussions to talk about it.
Rabbi Mark Sobel
Temple Beth Emet
Though Rep. Huffman made his statement from the comparative safety of left-leaning California, I applaud him for his bravery, as no measurable good can come from a politician avowing anything other than a Judeo-Christian belief set in America. That is sad because the expression of religious belief in politics is often a distraction from the very non-Biblical things a pol is doing on the side. Our Founders, Unitarians and agnostics and deists and different flavors of Protestants alike, advocated a separation of church and state as an acknowledgment that public piety often gets in the way of public good.
I wish more politicians would lay claim to a humanist worldview, as the words of the Bible and Koran and other sacred texts are pretty clear and easy to find. When a politician who claims to be a believer goes against those beliefs in public and private, it is a blow to religion that engenders a breakdown in trust for the politician. Perhaps the world would be a better place if religion didn’t make it so easy for a politician to be proven a hypocrite.
Marty Barrett, Vice President
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
The percentage of voters in the United States who say they would be willing to consider voting for an atheist for president is at an all-time high at over 50%, according to some polls, and I doubt Rep. Huffman’s job in Congress representing a liberal northern California district is in danger either.
I couldn’t agree more with Huffman that there is too much religion in politics nowadays. It doesn’t seem to be going that well for the countries with theocratic governments. Surely you don’t have to be an atheist to recognize that.
This doesn’t mean that I disapprove of those who freely exercise and live their beliefs, as I certainly try to do myself. But imposing religion on the rest of us is not democratic, and is not what freedom of religion is supposed to mean. Furthermore those who talk one moral line and walk another are contemptible to me.
After our deadline but before this week’s “In Theory” is published we will have seen if voters in Alabama, almost 90% of whom identify as Christian, would rather be represented in the U.S. Senate by a child molester than by a Democrat. Rationality is what I most strive for in my voting choices, but I am not hopeful that Alabama voters will do so.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and knowing someone’s religion is a similar shortcut to knowing the greater scheme of their morality and life. If a person professes Christianity, for example, we know at the outset that they have a high view of the specialness of humanity and a dim view of immoralities such as adultery, lying, stealing, cheating, etc. If I am to vote for a leader, and my choice is between a Christian and a non-Christian, the likelihood is that I will choose the Christ follower rather than his crucifier (which is essentially any person who rejects him). The Bible teaches that we should “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10 NIV). In other words, we should especially attend to those who are faithful to God and aid them, as this only aids ourselves and promotes the divine good generally. In the case of a politician, a Christian would naturally lean toward the Christian candidate. The candidate that clearly affirms his rejection of God (therefore is bound to no greater morals than those of his own design) paints a picture of himself that is unsavory and weak.
The caveat to the above is that while many people profess to be Christian, they may only be identifying with the culture, their family of origin, or defaulting to the norm. It’s not awfully hard to spot these, but in the case that a self-avowed Christian is a fraud, the opposition candidate might be the better and more moral governor; the lesser of two evils must be decided. So yes, Rep. Huffman’s announcement could potentially harm his career, but he is sly enough to be a Democrat and live in California and he enjoys some measure of fraternity here that safeguards him. Nevertheless, Christmas is upon us, the time when Americans, including California Democrats, celebrate Christmas. Our prayer should be that Christ be seen for who he truly is this season, and that our representatives fall on their faces before him in genuine worship.
Rev. Bryan A. Griem