by Sarah Berentson
I was reading the “Life Without God” issue of the “The Pacific Northwest Inlander” the other day, and was struck by the section asking Spokanites if they would vote for an atheist president. Only one person said that they would have no problem voting for an atheist, while the other four said they had a problem with it. I started thinking about our country, and its constant struggle with religion, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state. In a country that was founded by people who sought to escape religious oppression, we are still predominately rooted in Christianity.
On all of our currency it clearly states, “In God We Trust.” Our Pledge of Allegiance states, “One nation under God.” It is very clear that our nation was founded under some strand of Christian principle. However, because of the religious oppression that created instability for some time in England, our founding fathers also understood the importance of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.
This has been a debate for a long time in our country. In 1960, JFK was running as the Democratic candidate and many people were concerned with his Catholic faith, unsure if he would be able to make decisions independent from his own religious affiliation. Ironically, the main group concerned was the Protestant population. I find this ironic because had he been affiliated with the Protestant religion, they most certainly would not have wanted the separation of his religion and presidential decisions, which spawns a serious hypocrisy we see in voters.
JFK responded to the masses essentially saying there shouldn’t be a Catholic vote, a Mormon vote, a Protestant vote, etc. According to his 1960 speech on religion, he hoped for a society that religious tolerance would breed a more cohesive America, “where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all,” and I agree. If I were asked if I would vote for an atheist president, I would say of course, if he or she were the best candidate for a variety of other reasons.
Once this cohesive precedent is set, then we can continue to grow philosophically. As it is right now, many people link morality and ethics directly to religion, and not to the inherent nature of humanity. I am not instigating a philosophical debate about the inherent nature of humankind, but I do want to assert that people can be considered moral and ethical by religious standards without religion.
If it is accepted that ethics are not dependent on religion, then the president can easily maintain a separation of church and state. He or she can make decisions regarding the betterment of American society that are not rooted in religious beliefs.
In the same way that ethics are not dependent on religion, religion and morality are also independent of each other. There are countless examples of this, in a variety of religions. A fine example is the Westboro Baptist Church. It consistently misrepresents Christian ideals, spreading hatred instead of love. So though ethics can be correlated to religion, they are clearly not interdependent.
If we are still choosing candidates based on their religious beliefs, then we as a nation have not progressed to a place that truly accepts all religious, cultural and societal differences. This refusal only creates a country, and a world, where we will never be able to get along.
Further, if people really do make their choices based on one aspect, it truly speaks to the surplus of ill-informed voters, which is a problem in this country. Though I can’t possibly touch on all aspects of ignorant voters, I can say that if people begin to look past their religion, but not completely forget it, then we can live in a country that consists of intelligent, well-rounded voters.
Many people base their lives around their religion, and this is not an argument against that lifestyle. However, I do believe that if we cannot vote for an atheist, or anyone else who is not a member of our church, then we as a nation do not truly believe in religious freedom. In this day and age, a vote should not be contingent upon religion.
Berentson is a senior majoring in English and Spanish. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.