Faith

Jared Huffman, First Open Humanist in Congress, Claims Colleagues Are 'Closet Humanists, Atheists'

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman during a townhall meeting at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Hall in March 2017. Creative Commons, photo by Frank Schulenburg

Many members of Congress do not believe in God and secretly identify as Humanist, atheist, or agnostic, a California congressman said in announcing his own Humanist worldview.

“For the closet Humanists, atheists and agnostics out there (including many of my colleagues in Congress — yes, we talk about these things!), maybe this will show that it’s OK to just say what you believe and that there’s room in American politics for people with secular, nonreligious views,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) wrote in a Facebook announcement.

Huffman identified himself as “a non-religious Humanist” and insisted, “I’m not pushing my views on anyone and I’m not judging anyone else’s religious choice.”

“I value my working relationships and friendships with people of faith, the interfaith community, spiritual seekers and all sorts of secular, non-religious people,” the lawmaker added. “I think we should all work together to make the world a better place.”

Huffman repeated his claim about members of Congress secretly rejecting faith in God, in an interview with The Washington Post.

“I think in this day and age, it needs to be okay for there to be a member of Congress with my particular religious views, and I will tell you there are many who would agree with me — this place is full of humanists, agnostics and folks with nonreligious views of various types,” the congressman told the Post.

The vast majority of members in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives identify with one religion or another, and most of them explicitly believe in a God.

According to the Pew Research Center, a full 88.3 percent are Christian (90.7 percent including the 2.4 percent who are Mormon), with 55.9 percent Protestant, 31.4 percent Catholic, and 0.9 percent Orthodox.

Other members of Congress identify as Jewish (5.6 percent), Buddhist (3 members), Muslim (2 members), Hindu (3 members), and Unitarian Universalist (1 member).

Only one member of Congress, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), officially identified herself as “unaffiliated.” Ten members (1.9 percent) refused to identify their religious beliefs in Pew surveys.

Huffman told the Post he felt comfortable publicly identifying as Humanist because his constituents would not mind and because he thinks religion has too large an impact in politics.

“I don’t believe in religious tests, and I don’t believe my religion is all that important to the people I represent, and I think there’s too much religion in politics,” the California congressman said. “I’ve seen religion wielded in such negative ways around here, lately. Trump does it all the time, so implausibly.”

Humanism, often paired with the term “secular,” is a philosophy based on the idea that reason is enough to undergird morality, to encourage people to improve society and follow the golden rule. “Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity,” according to the American Humanist Association.

Unlike Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, Humanism does not have a unifying set of moral principles based on a sacred text. Humanists all agree, however, that humans can be “good without a God.”

“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.”

Ron Millar, PAC coordinator at the Center for Freethought Equality, compared publicly identifying as a non-theist to “coming out” as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. “Obviously there is a stigma, so there could be some pushback. But we’re only going to get rid of that stigma when more elected officials openly identify,” Millar told the Post. “It’s similar to the LGBTQ community.”

According to a Pew Research Center survey from last year, 51 percent of Americans said they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate if he or she did not believe in God. Americans have gotten more familiar with the idea of voting for a non-theist, however — 63 percent said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate in 2007. Only 6 percent of Americans said they would be “more likely” to vote for a non-theist candidate.

Interestingly, Americans in that survey saw Trump as the least religious candidate in the 2016 primaries. More than 60 percent of respondents said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were “very” or “somewhat” religious, while 48 percent said so of Hillary Clinton and 40 percent said as much for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Only 30 percent said Donald Trump was “very” or “somewhat” religious, while 60 percent said he was “not too” religious or “not at all” religious.

Belief in God — especially in the all-powerful creator of the universe and giver of the moral law, as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam understand God — may be a powerful motivator for moral living. It stands to reason that many Americans would prefer theist candidates.

After all, President George Washington warned against the notion of preserving morality without belief in God. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports,” he declared in his farewell address. “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

“Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle,” America’s first president warned.

The Northwest Ordinance, one of America’s oldest laws, encouraged schools on the basis that “religion, morality, and knowledge” are “necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.”

That said, any true Christian knows just how far he or she falls short of Jesus’ commandment to “be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Hypocrites of every and no religion have advocated morality and yet fallen short of their own ethical standards.

Perhaps Huffman is right that Americans are more open to supporting less religious candidates. Ironically, Trump himself may be a strong example of this. Even so, it is concerning that many representatives may be lying to their constituents, identifying as Christians or Jews when they do not actually believe in God.

As Huffman said, “the public is entitled to know.”