Are you agnostic What influenced your choice

Could an atheist become a US president?

Former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced her application to run for the US presidency. Observers expect her to have a good chance of becoming the first woman in this office. But would her chances of success be so bright if she renounced the Christian faith?

Hillary Clinton is a staunch Methodist. Suspicions of atheism, such as the one incumbent Barack Obama experienced, presumably need not fear them. Photo: Mike Mozart / Flickr / CC BY

If Hillary Clinton saw herself as a secular humanist, she would probably not have high hopes for the presidency in the United States. This suggests a survey that the Pew- Public opinion research center based in Washington D.C. performed a year ago. Their results show that applicants for one of the most powerful positions in world politics fall sharply in favor of the electorate if they come out as atheists or agnostics: 53 percent of those surveyed stated that a candidate's lack of belief in God had a negative effect on the likelihood would elect that person to be head of the United States. On the other hand, only 41 percent said they would not be bothered by a candidate's atheistic beliefs. And five percent said atheism would have a positive influence on their voting decision. For comparison: 52 percent judged the lack of any experience as a political office holder to be a negative factor, and 27 percent of those surveyed rated open homosexuality.

According to a recent study, a third of the US population describes themselves as non-religious and six percent even stated that they are staunch atheists. But in a comparison of the ideological groups, the “godless fellows” rank fairly low on the popularity scale in terms of social reputation, as a further survey by the PewResearch Center found out in July 2014. There are also strong reservations about atheist US presidential candidates among the more than 51 million non-denominational candidates in the United States: 24 percent of this group believed that the absence of belief in a god would reduce an applicant's chances of getting their votes. For 64 percent of the non-denominational, atheism would not be a problem. And on the overall average, atheists are now in a slightly better position than they were in 2007, when 61 percent were significantly more negative than in 2014 when asked whether they would make an atheist head of government. A 2012 Gallup poll found that even fewer US voters would vote for an atheist president than for a Muslim one.

So far there have only been two non-denominational US presidents

The development of the United States into one of the most politically and economically influential nations on earth is in the self-image of many citizens of the country and in the representations of their political leaders mostly closely connected with a clear commitment to freedom. "Oh, may it long blow over the land of the free and the home of the brave," says the official national anthem about "the star-studded banner," the US flag. By the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of settlers from the countries of the “old continent” of Europe arrived in the ports of the “new world” in the hope of escaping not only poverty and famine, but also cultural narrowness and religious and political repression. to which they were exposed in their former homeland. These hopes were also reflected in the anchoring of a clear separation between church and state in United States constitutional law.

But so far almost no US president has been completely free of religion. Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson did not belong to any religious community and Jefferson in particular found himself repeatedly accused of being an atheist or "unbeliever" because of his statements. But both of them also referred to a god and religious ideas such as a life in the hereafter in their speeches. Thomas Jefferson was in any case extremely hostile to the then widespread views on the truth of the biblical scriptures, Christian theology and the influence of the clergy. In a letter to the jurist Horatio G. Spafford, a staunch Christian, he wrote in March 1814: "In every country and every age the priest has been an enemy of freedom."

David Silverman of the American Atheists believes it is very likely that the United States of America could one day be ruled by an atheist. The president of the roughly 2,500-member association recently told the local editorial team of the CBS television network in the US capital that this was "inevitable". He reckons that an atheist US president will be elected within the next 50 years and will show the country "how beneficial it is to have a leader who leads with logic." To justify his prognosis, he referred to the fact that atheists the fastest growing ideological group and there is a growing awareness that religion is used to guide people. In addition, the political right with its attacks on homosexuals and the self-determination of women contribute to the fact that religion increasingly loses respect in the eyes of the public. The election of an atheist US president would be "cheered" by the world, he said. "They would celebrate the fact that America is now guided by reason and science rather than dogma and superstition," said Silverman.

The well-known US comedian Penn Jillette is also confident that US voters will one day elect an atheist to be their political leader. “One day there will be an honest woman or man that America will love and want [as US President], and the fact that she or he is an atheist will matter as little as it did with Kennedy, who was Catholic "Said Jillette in a column for them New York Times last March.

Congressional veteran Barney Frank advises politicians to avoid the word atheist

It is clear that with the expected growth in the number of “nones”, the non-denominational in the United States, their relevance as a social group will also grow. The incumbent US President Barack Obama had already explicitly included the non-denominational in his inaugural speech in 2009. At the beginning of his second term in office he was the first president in US history to leave a delegation from the umbrella organization Secular Coalition for Americainvite you to a reception in the White House.

It is not unlikely that the staunch Methodist Hillary Clinton will follow the course of her former superior Obama, who was repeatedly accused of being an atheist, in order to reach the religiously distant part of the electorate that the Republicans exert under the strong influence evangelical and other religious-conservative circles can hardly reach.

In any case, atheists in the United States cannot expect an openly non-religious head of state for the next decade, and not just because many US voters appear to have a preference for political dynasties. Long-time Congressman Barney Frank, who "outed" himself as an atheist after leaving office after 32 years in 2013, even recently advised the online community in a video podcast BigThink younger politician colleagues expressly refrain from identifying themselves as atheists and refrain from using the word. Although he believes religious beliefs are more likely to cause people to shoot at each other rather than help each other, religion in America is seen as a source of good behavior and of great importance. From a politician's point of view, therefore, the question should be asked, "Why should one embark on a fight that does not have to be fought?" For him it was always the better way, without explicitly acknowledging his personal ideological convictions, for the To use rights and against the discrimination of non-believing citizens, said Frank. In 2013 he was awarded the prize for his commitment American Humanist Association been awarded. In an interview he then advised: “Don't make it appear that your campaign is a crusade for non-theism. Deal sincerely with the subject when it comes on the agenda and avoid any negativism about religion in general. "

And many German politicians seem to think similarly to the political veteran Barney Frank, because only three of the 631 MPs in the current German Bundestag have identified themselves as atheists, 23 others as non-denominational - including one from the ranks of the Union parties . The third largest group besides the elected officials who profess the Protestant or Catholic faith also reflects the fact that the Federal Republic has a much more secular society than the United States: 194 completely refrained from providing any information. Which, of course, does not simply suggest non-religious convictions, but perhaps points to a good balance between a publicly celebrated creed and the label "atheist" that terrifies believers, true to the old principle: Belief or non-belief is a private matter.