Al Gore on an Atheist President November 12, 2008

Al Gore on an Atheist President

This is fairly disappointing non-answer answer from Al Gore to the question “Do you think the U.S. will ever be ready for an atheist president?”

He means to say: “No, we won’t be seeing an openly atheistic person in the White House anytime in the near future.”

Glad I could clear that up.

Why bother with all that nuance and not offer a clear, honest answer…

(Thanks to Javier for the link!)

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  • anonymous

    I think he said it very well

  • QrazyQat

    He could’ve just said “We’re not really ready for another Abe Lincoln”, but I don’t think people would’ve gotten that.

  • johnb300m

    “Some of our greatest presidents were accused of being atheists.”

    That really stuck out to me…I wonder what it means?
    Is there a pattern?

  • Wow. The question was “Can an atheist be president,” not “will presidents continue to be accused of being atheist”

    Everywhere I look, there is a persistent assumption that self-identifying atheists are secretly embarassed about it. If you self-identify as a anything, presumably you’re okay with people knowing.

    And remember what Colin Powell brilliantly brought up regarding the hypothetical scenario of a Muslim president: since when does a label alone – be it Muslim, atheist, gay, poor, whatever – unequivocally connote ill-preparedness?

    Want to know the label I look for in a president?


  • Beijingrrl

    Leave it to a politician to give you the run around, but at least he didn’t treat it like a ridiculous question.

    Unfortunately, I do think it will be a long time until we have an atheist president, but I do think eventually it will happen. Honestly, in most cases I don’t care about the religion of a candidate as long as they keep it private and can separate their personal beliefs from their duty to serve all Americans.

    I think what needs to happen first is for more openly atheist people to hold lower levels of political office. Once people get used to the idea of an atheist council member, mayor, governor, senator, they’ll be ready to consider an atheist president.

    Also, we need a pool of people with experience holding public office for us to have an electable candidate.

    Of course, we’ll have to reach the point where people and the media stop focusing on a candidates religiosity. I have to say this inquiry does give me a bit of information that I use in my own decision-making process. If you don’t believe in evolution, you don’t get my vote. I don’t care about the rest of your qualifications. For me personally, if you can put your blinders on to overwhelming scientific evidence in one instance, it shows a propensity for doing this in other areas as well, and that terrifies me.

  • John

    …believe in evolution…

    I think it would help a lot to start with generally rephrasing that to “accept evolution as true.” Obviously we know what people mean when they say they “believe” in evolution, but it’s not really a matter of belief, it’s a matter of accepting or denying the evidence. Maybe I’m just being picky, but I think as long as we continue to use the word ‘evolution’ in the same sentence as the word ‘believe,’ then it’s just going to remain an ‘either/or’ in the mind of the general public- ‘either you believe in evolution, or you believe in creation- one or the other, but they both require belief’; when in fact, we know that they’re not even comparable.

  • justin jm

    Unfortunately, I do think it will be a long time until we have an atheist president, but I do think eventually it will happen.

    I predict it will happen by 2020. That’s enough for two terms of President Obama and maybe a President Biden (FSM willing).

    It would be easier if a current president would suddenly deconvert. Of course, Bush is right out and Obama’s had enough controversy thrown at him.

  • QrazyQat

    It would be easier if a current president would suddenly deconvert. Of course, Bush is right out and Obama’s had enough controversy thrown at him.

    GW becoming an atheist would be the worst thing we’ve seen for atheists in the last half century at least.

  • I think he said “well, it might seem impossible right now but maybe it isn’t” and went on to say that some of our past Presidents wouldn’t be considered “believers” by modern standards.

    We have elected Unitarians; the last being Taft.

  • We have atheist members of the cabinet in England and David Milliband MP, a public atheist, is tipped to be a future Prime Minister.

    Also the Dutch have no problem with votong for a gay, atheist or female Prime Minister.

    Australia has had an agnostic and an atheist Prime Minister.

    Come on America, keep up.

  • Joseph R.


    Why bother with all that nuance and not offer a clear, honest answer…


    because he is a politician

  • I didn’t think he answered so baldly. Citing Jefferson defacing and scratching out all he considered BS, and Lincoln as another suspected infidel, is actually pretty bold for somebody in his position.

  • Larry Huffman

    Well said John…I believe in evolution the same way I believe the grass is green and the moon is orbiting around the earth. If that is belief, then ok, I believe in evolution. But actually, I know about evolution. Belief is for those things that cannot be considered a fact.

    Grass is green…the moon does orbit the earth…and evolution is the pattern of life.

    Now…if I was being asked to believe it because a bunch of middle-eastern nomads wrote a book that someone dug up…and in it it talked about evolution and no where else was there proof…that would require me to believe in evolution. Maybe make me invent something like religious faith to make it sound more credile.

  • Larry Huffman

    I am OK with his answer. I think Gore is a good man. he is a spiritual man, no question…and he values his religion. But he has also shown himself to be fairly tolerant and willing to work with those who see things differently. And yes, his comments about Jefferson and Lincoln were rather bold for a politician.

    This may not be popular…but I think that we need to cool our jets a little. I love the attention that liberal (or is that a bad word…it is progressive?)issues have gotten…and I do feel that our nation is in the beginning of a social revolution…one that will hopefully push racial predjudice further out of our midst and even reign in religion and their intolerant and unamerican agenda. However…

    I also think that there is a point where we need to allow current victories to set in. We just elected a black president. That is way off the old charts. It is a huge victory for our nation on so many levels. I think that in light of that…and in light of the homosexual rights movement gaining so much ground (even in defeat) that we need to stop expecting too much too soon.

    In light of all that we have witnessed this year, it is natural for us to keep grabbing for more…and in some ways we have to keep the pressure up…but it is still unrealistic to expect a respected and religious southern politician who is always in the spotlight to suddenly jump in and become the champion of an atheist in the white house.

    And…American voters are not ready right now to put an atheist in office. We have been…back in the early days of this country…when even the religious people understood the importance of seperating church and state. Those people still had recent experience with religious intolernace and understood America’s need to prevent that to be truly free. Today’s religious activits do not want a free America…they want a christian america, which is quite a departure from what america is. That is quite different from the past. But that group is even being nudged aside in their own party. McCain getting the nomination showed clearly that even the GOP does not really want to be known as the religious party (though it is)…and Palin made a mockery of religious voters…to a high degree, when McCain tried to bridge that gap by nominating her.

    So…I personally think we need to keep vigilent…complain loud and clear when we need to about issues. We all…as atheists…need to come out of the clsoet. Not with fanfare…just stop denying it. Allow people to know. Let people begint o realize that they do and have known atheists their whole life. And wait for our time.

    Part of the problem is…we do not really have that notable atheist as an example. We will some day. But right now, when that question is posed…it needs to have a follow on that says “…such as so-and-so”. Now…the person answering not only has to speak of atheism but also of that person’s record and credentials. Had Gore been given a name of someone with a good record and that would obviously be able to do the job, he may have answered different. After all, I do not just want any atheist…and I know way to many atheists, myself included, that are not qualified to think that any would do. We have to accept that non-atheists are going to need a good example to convince them otherwise.

    Look at it this way…do YOU think America is ready for an atheist president? If so…who? Does not being ready for that also include having a candidate to be that? If we do not have a viable atheist candidate to propose then how can america even know if it is ready? We are not ready, obviously…as being ready would include having a qualified atheist. But…we can get there pretty quick. It will hapen.

  • Richard Wade

    I think Al Gore’s answer was as affirmative and positive as it was because he’s NOT a politician. If he was still an elected official or running for office, he’d have been much more cagey and evasive. I think he decided to not run for president because he realized that he could accomplish much more good in the world by not having to pander and please and pussy-foot around people’s biases.

  • HollywoodBob

    Honestly I’d settle for a president that wasn’t required to wear their religion on their sleeve.

    It’s like this time around, I was so annoyed with the questions and answers thing with that baptist preacher. It disgusts me that we’ve gone from a country that was so worried about Kennedy’s faith, to one that basically insists that if you don’t go to church every sunday and say your prayers every morning and night that you’re not fit to do the job. Am I correct that I’m not the only one that considers evangelical christianity a disqualification?

    More and more it bothers me that as the US becomes more and more obsessed with religion, and let’s be honest, with evangelical christianity; the rest of the industrialized world is leaving religion behind? In much of Europe atheism/agnosticism/non-theism are becoming the majority. Some countries have census reports showing less than 10% of the populace believe in a deity. Yet in the US it’s still 80-90%.

    And while I begrudge no one their beliefs, I do have a problem when they seem to think that their superstition gives them the right to legislate the lives of my friends and I.

  • “Anybody would be foolish to try to lay down some label or category, and say for all time that people in that particular category are forever prohibited from being elected.”

    Al Gore didn’t endorse anyone in the primaries until it was obvious Obama was going to be the victor, because he wanted to play it safe. The reason for playing it safe was because endorsing the wrong person would make it that much tougher to get what he wants in the area he is concerned about: carbon policy.

  • kharne

    How many Americans are atheists? Given the small percentage of atheists, relative to the non-atheist populace, why should we elect someone who isn’t going to represent the majority of the American populace? All I can imagine for an atheist president is someone who sets up a blog and churns out puerile rants against the hegemony of the post-colonial baby eating Christians. In the end, it doesn’t matter what the president believes in; what matters is the kind of people he surrounds himself with.

  • Max

    You have to look at the big picture here: He can’t say “I hope that soon it will be easy for an atheist to run for office” because he has too much at stake in his environmental work to be labeled as an atheist or in league with atheists. He can’t say what might be the truth that America won’t be ready for an atheist president until all of us are long dead because if you’ll notice he’s getting questions from digg users who are mostly non-religious and he doesn’t want to alienate his audience. So he did something really smart, he didn’t discount the possibility but still made it seem remote while at the same time sympathizing with non believers by offering up the idea leaders are less religious than we realize.

  • Question:
    Why bother with all that nuance and not offer a clear, honest answer…

    Because he’s Algore. Has he ever given a straight answer?

  • Jay Ballou

    How many Americans are atheists? Given the small percentage of atheists, relative to the non-atheist populace, why should we elect someone who isn’t going to represent the majority of the American populace?

    So you think Obama isn’t going to represent the majority of the American populace because few of us are half-white/half-black?

    All I can imagine for an atheist president is someone who sets up a blog and churns out puerile rants against the hegemony of the post-colonial baby eating Christians.

    That says something about the limits of your imagination but nothing about atheists.

  • Drew

    Politicians don’t lead, they respond. They govern by opinion poll. In all other western nations, being non-religious is not going to stop a politician, because in those countries atheists are already a CRITICAL MASS, and the degree of non-religiosity by the so-called religious is much lower than in the US. The US lags behind; but they are shifting the same direction. What Europe has already done Canada and Australia are now doing, and the US will do tomorrow. It’s inevitable – but it will only happen when both atheism and secularism reach the minimum levels to make religious bigotry towards atheism as socially tabboo as bigotry based on gender, race, or ethnicity.

  • Carol

    I didn’t bother listening to Al Gore’s answer about an atheist being President one day because although there should be…separation between church and state, there isn’t and never will be. Freedom of religion is a democratic right while freedom from religion isn’t. At least, not in the White House.

  • Larry Carter Center

    American Atheists have our heroic forebears.
    Thomas Paine, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lincoln, Ingersoll, Edison, Carnegie, Ford, Sanger, Governor Culbert Olsen of California, DR O’Hair & now Congressmember Pete Stark has come out of the closet.
    Politicians do not necessarily equal theocrats. President Grant fought for separating church from state, taxing church property equally with all other businesses.
    Winning politicians convince people of the necessity of their ideas.
    Atheism is such a broad subject, applicable to so many venues. When one is free from theism, one is free to think & work without alleged deities haunting one’s thoughts.
    The Atheist politician of the future will be a strong advocate for science. Be a better Atheist than Alan Greenspan, who managed the previous corrupt economy.
    The Atheist politician of the future will command the evidence of a broken past for a mended future.
    The Atheist politician of the future will represent both faiths and facts with the full love of their best intentions and work.
    The Atheist politician will not need to battle theocrats from the White House, because s/he will have earned the way from the start with competence, Constitutional principles and reforming progress.
    Yes it is possible an Atheist will leave a religious background to become a “stealth” incumbent.
    But a safer & saner path will be the school board candidate fighting for science not creationism. The state house candidate fighting for full funding of sex education and health care for all.
    The Senatorial candidate with ecological and foreign relations experience gained right now inside the State Department.
    The gubenatorial candidate to clean up the mess of a state like Arkansas or South Carolina.
    Our final victory as American Atheists will not be measured by the White House or the removal of In god We Trust from our coins. Our future is in making peace of the world from religious violence, local corruptions and sustainable industries.
    Our victory will be measured in ethics practiced universally, by believers & Atheists alike. And taxes shared equally by all businesses, no favors to any group through exemptions or the dole.

  • x

    There have almost certainly already been atheist presidents, and certainly presidents who were at least not Christian.

    But of course, it was for them as it always has been and still is for members of congress; they could not and cannot be openly atheistic, or they would be committing career suicide.

    Such a lovely country of idiots we have here!

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