Few would doubt that the American Presidential Elections have a fairly profound effect on all of us, particularly in the UK, because of our very close political relations with the Americans, and the effect that the US Presidency has across the world. But one thing that differentiates British politics from its equivalent across the pond is the role that religion takes, particularly in election campaigns. Whereas here the absense of religion in politics is almost as concrete a convention as the monarchy’s abstention from intervention (although Blair did make it an issue when he went against Alastair Campbell’s advice, “we don’t do God”), the exact opposite seems to be the case in the good ol’ US of A. In fact, according to a 2007 Gallup Poll, 53% of Americans would not vote for an atheist. More people would vote for a 72 year-old.
Next year’s election looks to be particularly controversial, with the Democrat candidate looking to be either a woman or a black man, and the Republican either a Mormon (another group discriminated against by voters), or Mike Huckabee, a Baptist anti-imigration bigot (who, I was very sad to hear, is being supported by Chuck Norris). What’s worse is that the Presidential elections are so personality-based that it doesn’t matter what policies each candidate has, it’s likely that a large proportion of the votes will be allocated purely on appearances and the money spent on the election campaigns. On that logic, Huckabee is quite likely to be the next President of the US, unless voters continue to be disillusioned with the Republican Administration.
Now I can’t be the only one who finds it more than a little strange that, in a country whose sacred constitution expressly forbids the joining of church and state, based on the principles of the French Revolution, which in many respects was a rejection of organised religion, that same religion can be so instrumental and institutional, with phrases like “One nation under God” and “In God we trust” being features of the state vernacular, as well as many politicians describing it as a “Christian country”, which it expressly is not. Interestingly though, poll results show that generally speaking Americans would rather vote in a religious person of any faith than an atheist, rather than just candidates of their own religion. Do they think atheists are bad policymakers?
Sometimes I wonder how atheists in America must feel, governed by a system which is almost inherently religious and biased against them. Tyranny of the majority isn’t even in it. I was in Texas with my scout troop in 2004, and my brother and I were staying at the homes of 2 different families, both of which were very religious. They were very nice people, and I was a Catholic at the time anyway so it didn’t matter, but even then, I could still tell they were taking it to a whole new level. Christianity literally pervaded every part of their lives. My brother was a non-believer and one day he happened to mention that he didn’t believe in heaven. The mother of the family he was staying with didn’t speak to him for 3 days until he took it back. I think that’s quite disturbing.