Based on a poll of the 112th Congress:
A few of the country’s smaller religious groups, including Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Jews, have greater numerical representation in Congress than in the general population. Some others, including Buddhists and Muslims, are represented in Congress in roughly equal proportion to their numbers in the adult U.S. population. And some small religious groups, such as Hindus and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are not represented at all in Congress.
Mentioning the lack of representation for Jehovah’s Witnesses is somewhat redundant, as members of the denomination are strongly discouraged from voting or holding public office.
Perhaps the greatest disparity between the religious makeup of Congress and the people it represents, however, is in the percentage of the unaffiliated – those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” According to information gathered by CQ Roll Call and the Pew Forum, no members of Congress say they are unaffiliated. By contrast, about one-sixth of U.S. adults (16%) are not affiliated with any particular faith.
There’s a mistake here. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), openly announced his atheism in a 2007 poll by the Secular Coalition for America. However, Pew was correct in saying Stark identifies with a religious tradition, Unitarian Univeralism. However, UUism is a highly unusual institution. Though the infrastructure of congregations are descendent from Dissenting Christian sects, UUism is now oriented entirely around progressive ethical commitments rather than metaphysical claims or scriptural dogmas. Questions of divinity and human cosmic destiny are left to the speculation of individual members, and most cultivate a deep skepticism of the supernatural; in a 2001 poll, 51 percent of UUs identified themselves as agnostics or atheists.
Now, the UU church has an estimated 600,000-800,000 members. If we’re going by Pew’s numbers, this is only a fraction of the 16 percent (about 45 million) of Americans who don’t believe in gods. The vast majority are more like the atheists your mom warned you about, which is to say unchurched. Unattatched to a faith community, they are not participating in churchs’ rituals or extracurricular offerings, or recipient of any religiously administered social support services. In this respect, the common atheist and Unitarian atheist live in radically different sociological circumstances. So Congress’ only godless representative is unrepresentative of the mass of American heathens.
It’s kind of sad that America demands even its atheist Congressmen claim a church. After all, it’s not only humanists who are sleeping in on Sundays. But no on the national stage, the Christian right has hijacked not only the discussion about religion, succeeding in identifying religiosity with right-wing politics with no opposition from liberal or centerist congregations, but also all meta-level discussion of ethics. They talk about “values voters” as if to suggest only traditionalists cherish any worthy principles. They claim the Constitution is a divine document, and that the Ten Commandments should be displayed along side it in public schools, and nobody offers a counter-narrative to the geneology of morals or liberal government.
We don’t need secularists as a part of the national discussion on morality; we need to have a national discussion on morality. Right now, we have nothing of the sort. We have one side making flat assertions, and nobody bothers to challange them.