Despite the recent spate of major bestsellers touting the virtues of atheism, polls show consistent, stubborn reluctance on the part of the public to cast their votes for a presidential candidate who denies the existence of God.
A typical result came from the Zogby Poll of January 21, 2008, indicating that 50% of voters rule out supporting “a presidential candidate who doesn’t believe in God”; only 20% said they could definitely vote for such a contender. Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of 78% (86% of women and 67% of men) say they take a “positive view” of candidates citing Scripture when discussing political problems.
It’s no accident that all three remaining Presidential contenders speak passionately and extensively about their faiths and all three (McCain, Obama, Clinton) identify themselves as serious, faithful, regularly praying Christians. Meanwhile, the members of Congress may hardly qualify as saintly or angelic, but of the 535 men and women in the House and Senate, only one (the shameless radical rabble-rouser Fortney “Pete” Stark of Oakland, California) openly describes himself as an atheist.
Of course, some non-believers respond to this state of affairs by decrying the American people as backward and benighted, while dismissing our politicians as hypocritical, falsely religious blowhards. These skeptics and humanists point to the huge popularity of anti-religious books (by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others) as evidence that the public resistance to atheist ideas and candidates may be overstated. Now that we’ve broken barriers with history’s first viable female and African-American candidates, opponents of organized religion hope for a new campaign in which a brave politician makes a credible run for the highest office even while proclaiming his non-belief.
Actually, there’s little chance that atheists will succeed in placing one of their own in the White House at any time in the foreseeable future, and it continues to make powerful sense for voters to shun potential presidents who deny the existence of God. An atheist may be a good person, a good politician, a good family man (or woman), and even a good patriot, but a publicly proclaimed non-believer as president would, for three reasons, be bad for the country.