One Atheist’s Brief Political Career March 3, 2008

One Atheist’s Brief Political Career

Danny Ferguson lives in Missouri.

Last week, he attended a meeting of the Bates County Democratic Party for the first time. He met the chairman of the county party. He was excited about getting involved with the group.

And the party was excited about him.

Today (four days after the caucus) I got a call from the spouse of a party official. She asked me if I would be interested in running for the State House of Representatives. She said that I would be getting calls from some people in the party, including the campaign of Jay Nixon, who is running for governor, and the representative from a neighboring district.

It’s a long shot to win the seat (there’s a Republican incumbent also running for it), but Danny says it was an honor to be nominated.

Nominated for all of a couple seconds, anyway.

I said, “Now you should probably know that I’m an athiest.”

She said, “Oh, is that widely known?”

“I’m very open about it.”

“Why are you an atheist?”

“Because I don’t believe in god.”

Then I mentioned the poll that Gallup released last year, which says that 53% of Americans would not vote for an atheist. It was the only item in the poll with higher than 50% negative. Mormons, homosexuals, blacks, women and 72-year-olds all did better. The person on the phone agreed that it would be hard to run against a conservative Christian incumbent in a conservative Christian district when you go around saying that god doesn’t exist.

She said, “That, as they say, puts a turd in the punch bowl. I’ll stop the calls, then.” Thus ended my very short political career.

Even a non-atheist would have an uphill battle in this race, but Danny mentioning his atheism up front was for the best. It would have been used against him and the campaign would become about his lack of faith.

At least another, more viable, Democratic can now run instead.

Danny hopes someone in his position might be given a similar opportunity one day and will be able to accept the challenge:

I wish that people who didn’t believe in invisible beings were not de facto disqualified from public office. Yet I’m relieved that I won’t be sinking time and money into a campaign that would very likely fail…

I don’t blame the party for not wanting to run me, but I do wish that the people of this district (and the whole country) could understand that non-believers can be morally upstanding, sensible and compassionate public servants.

I’m optimistic an openly atheist candidate (which excludes Pete Stark, a “nontheist”) will get elected to some high-ranking public office in the near future… not this election cycle, but sooner than we think.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • This is just one more example of how atheists are far more ethical than religionists. Ferguson, for the good of the Democratic “cause,” felt compelled to give full disclosure. I’ll bet that some Christian apocalyptic who thinks the world is coming to an end as soon as Jesus gets here in the next two or three years has no such compunction about keeping his “philosophy” a secret.

  • That’s so sad. 🙁

  • Siamang

    He doesn’t have the right temperment to be a politician anyway. Everyone knows if you have political ambitions you should first have a heartfelt and convincing conversion to religion before running.

    I’ll bet half of our elected representatives ain’t as religious as they pretend to be.

  • “Why are you an atheist?”

    “Because I don’t believe in god.”

    Well duh! Absolutely brilliant. Neat, polite, and succinct. Clearly not suitable for politics.

    I’m still waiting for an American politician to tell the electorate that his (or her) religion is a private matter and not part of the job that he’s running for. It’s been a while since anyone did that.

    Why are you a vegetarian?
    Because I don’t eat meat.

  • I wish we weren’t the turd in the punch bowl. But imagine how much farther he might have gotten if he had stayed in the closet.

  • We shouldn’t forget that for all of his other faults, Jesse Ventura was not quiet about his aversion to religion. He was an openly atheist governor of Minneota in the recent past.

    Perhaps if Dennis had responded “I don’t believe in God, but that’s just the beginning.”

  • Arlen

    Bad deal for Dennis, and (probably) the people of Missouri. I’m sure it makes a great dinner-party story, though!

  • Vincent

    This really pisses me off!
    Clearly Dennis wanted a way out because nobody asked him. He just should have said: I’m really honored, but don’t waste your time. I don’t want it.

    All this whining about how atheists can’t get elected. Really? How the hell do you know if all the atheist self-exclude?
    Dennis gave up a big opportunity to promote atheism by showing the bigotry of the political process (if it even exists) but he gave that up out of his own sense if inadequacy.

  • My name is Danny, not Dennis. I’m not sure what I would have done if they hadn’t shied away from me. I assumed that I would lose the party’s support as soon as I disclosed my atheist views and I was right. Vincent, what do you propose that I should have done differently?

  • Vincent

    I appologize for getting the name wrong. I clearly mimicked the reply above instead of confirming with the original post. *slaps wrist*
    I would have been more appreciative if you told them you didn’t want to do it because you lacked confidence in your ability to win.
    Pointing out why you lacked confidence merely allows them to continue to discriminate against you based on your religious position.
    You lost their support when you used evidence to convince them that you didn’t have a chance of winning. Weak evidence I think, but they were convinced.
    If they had backed you publicly first, they would have been in the position of either pulling out and publicly discriminating against you based on religion, or supporting you and claiming the moral high ground of being the party that supports tolerance and religious freedom.
    You simply allowed them to discriminate in private and save face.

  • Vincent, you’re right that it would have been interesting to see how they reacted in public. But I am telling the story now.

  • Hey, Danny, sorry about getting the name wrong. Don’t get too discouraged. If you volunteer a bunch for the local party unit, and show that you are somebody who could win the seat, eventually the party boss will lose her fear. But don’t rely on her. Build your own network.

    I will be running for school board in Minnesota next year. It’s too late to hide my atheism, but the school board is “non-partisan” and the local party structure doesn’t endorse. I’ll get support of local people because they have known me for a while.

  • K

    That was stupid.
    To the rest of the world, no Atheist has even bothered to run for anything. It would have been useful to ALL Atheists if he had just freakin’ run for office and let the chips fall where they may and let the media run with it. Exposure to that nonsense (being dropped due to a lack of mythos) for all Americans would be a good thing. Maybe he could have encouraged someone else to carry the torch. Maybe he could have made others see that Atheists can’t be all that bad if they supported him. If he’s open about it, there’s no need to introduce yourself to everyone that you’re an Atheist. Do we respect christians who walk around telling anyone who will sit still what good christians they are? No, we think they are buffoons. Your personal beliefs should be a non-issue, not an opening sentence in every conversation. Sounds more like he wanted the small victory for himself rather than a large victory for others.
    Selfish and stupid.

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