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Minister, lawyer, activist

Barry Lynn

Rev. Barry Lynn is a ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, a lawyer, and Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
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Thomas Jefferson’s faith: a thought experiment

Q. Atheist actor and writer Ricky Gervais is working on a new show, Afterlife, which features “an atheist who dies and goes to heaven.” If Gervais hopes to bring cultural acceptance of non-belief to mainstream America, he faces an uphill battle. Polls show that many Americans distrust atheists and nearly half say they would not vote for one. Should it matter whether or not a politician believes in God? As mainstream acceptance of other minority groups grows, will atheists still lag behind?

A. The knee-jerk prejudice against atheists in America may be widespread, but it doesn’t make any sense. When looking for a candidate to support, people would do better to find out where a political hopeful stands on the issues he or she will confront on the weekdays and worry less about where he or she worships on the weekend. After all, lots of politicians over the years have made a big deal out of their piety while rarely darkening the door of any house of worship.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s say you had a candidate who was skeptical of some portions of the Bible. Let’s say he took the New Testament and removed the stories of Jesus’ miracles and assertions that he was divine. Let’s say this candidate once wrote a letter to a friend saying that he did not believe in the virgin birth, the immaculate conception, the trinity, original sin and the resurrection. Would you vote for this candidate? If you said no, I regret to inform you that you’ve just rejected Thomas Jefferson.

Let this be a lesson to us: Morality, decency and even political genius can be found among religious and non-religious people. Yet we know that old prejudices do run deep. There was even a study a few years ago that asked people if they would mind if their son or daughter married a person of another race or religion. Most people didn’t mind - until it came to atheists. There they drew the line.

Americans need to take one more step into tolerance and ditch this last prejudice. I’m confident that it will happen. Admittedly, it’s taking longer than I would like, but I think we’re slowly headed in the right direction.

Barry Lynn  | Jul 21, 2011 1:23 PM

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