For the second time since 2007 we have a religiously unaffiliated, or none, in Congress. Newly elected Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema claimed her none status for the Pew Forum’s recent survey of faith in the 113th Congress. Sinema’s presents isn’t really that much of a change however, because California Congressman Peter Stark was a public non-theist since 2007. He lost this years election, leaving Sinema as the lone none.
Stephen Prothero, writing a recent article in CNN’s Belief Blog, picked up on this, saying that the small increase of religious diversity in congress is not an adequate mirror of the religious diversity throughout America.
For all the talk of the election of 2012 inaugurating a new era in American politics, Protestants will continue to be over represented on Capitol Hill, where they will account for 56% of our representatives versus only 48% of American adults.
However, what seems to be swept under the rug by Prothero is the concept that members of congress are voted into office by the American population. He is frustrated at the lack of diversity, but like it or not, these are the people voters wanted in office. And is this such a bad thing?
The lack of nones in Congress says something interesting about the change of values in America. If, as the election and recent surveys seem to suggest, citizens are increasingly unaffiliated, why is the majority of congress still Christian? They were voted in by the American population, but so many were, and still are, heralding this election as the turning point in American values.
Greta Christina praised the advancement of the unaffiliated movement in her blog post, published soon after the election.
This election was, to a great extent, a referendum on secular values versus the values of the theocratic religious right — and secular values won. Atheists are not in opposition to American values. Atheists are on the cutting edge of them.
I do believe the election is a picture of where America is going, but we simply can’t ignore the fact that 56 percent of congress is Christian because Americans voted them in that way. It wasn’t because of white supremacists or the lofty 1 percent, or even because of Republicans – it was because that is what the people wanted. But Prothero says the lack of diversity in Congress is unacceptable.
This data shows that the much heralded “new America” is still years away. Yes, the Senate will be 20% female, but women are more than 50% of the population. And the U.S. Congress will still be far more Christian (87%) than U.S. adults as a whole (70%).
It’s getting to the point where people like Prothero wont stop at accusing members of state, religious groups or political conservatives of bigotry. Now he has gone on to accuse the American public of favoring the religious right.
So, for as “advanced” as Americans seemed to be after the election, it turns out that many of them still cling to the old ways. But this attachment to traditionalism is a prime example of the split in American values:
At least 70 percent, if not more, of Americans would say that a Christian/Protestant majority in Congress is a good thing. It means biblical values will be fought for and will win more than secular values, thus keeping American values from changing, at least for now.
At least 20 percent of Americans claim more unaffiliated congressmen is a small step in the right direction, but there is still far to go. The further America gets out from under the thumb of religious principles in politics the better.
Prothero’s comment, “when it comes to religion, the U.S. Congress doesn’t yet look like the voters who are sending them to Washington,” is true. However, what this seems to be saying is that American values are more complex than what is uncovered in a survey or an election. Perhaps voters are focusing on more than just religious conviction. Or perhaps when it came down to it, voters simply liked more of what they saw in the Christian candidate than the other guy. Which would suggest that American values come in line more with Religious/Protestant than with the unaffiliated.
Either way, it is obvious that voters put the people they wanted into congress, and Prothero should simply try and accept that this is the way America is, without turning it into a hostile takeover by the religious politicians.