Car ride with Lena

Text by Kate Cohen. Illustrations by Samuel Granados

Intrigued by a recent Post op-ed essay by Kate Cohen, an atheist, the Magazine asked her to expand on her thoughts about faith and politics.

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Car rides are supposed to be the perfect opportunity to talk to your child, since he or she is essentially trapped in a small box with you. In the case of me and my chatty fourth-grader, it’s really the other way around. I say, “Uh-huh” a lot.

But she caught my wandering attention recently by saying she doesn’t want Hillary Clinton to win the presidency.

“Why not?”

"I want to be the first lady president."

“And have us wait another 30 years?”
(She is 9.)

“You’ve waited this long.”
(And a comedian.)

“How about you be the first atheist president?”

“What’s an atheist?”

“Someone who doesn’t believe in God.”

“There hasn’t been a president like that?”

“Well, at least none who has admitted it.”

I mentally sift through a barely differentiated parade of Protestants, and find one Catholic and a couple of mavericks. ...

When he was accused of having no faith, Abraham Lincoln published this ad:

“That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular.”

Did I mention he was a lawyer?

Thomas Jefferson believed in God, but in his own way. Literally. Snipped up a Bible to leave out the supernatural stuff and leave in Jesus’s teaching.

Some of those self-proclaimed Christian presidents could have been nonbelievers.

As I told my daughter ...

You can’t say you’re an atheist and get elected.”

“Why?”

Lincoln had a thought about that:

“I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. Leaving the higher matter of eternal consequences, between him and his Maker, I still do not think any man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals, of the community in which he may live.”

Just 0.2 percent of the U.S. Congress is religiously “unaffiliated” (hello, Rep. Sinema!) vs. 22.8 percent in the country.

Do people not want to vote for atheist candidates because they think that they’re being scoffed at or insulted?

Do candidates pretend to be more religious than they are to get elected?

Do voters think religious people make better public servants?

Maybe more “affiliated” people run for office because places of worship are good training grounds for public service.

Years ago, looking to volunteer in a soup kitchen, I ended up cooking at a Catholic church with a group from a Reform synagogue. They had systems in place to do good.

Honestly, sometimes I wish we had joined that synagogue, just for the good works. But I can’t stand to lie — even in Hebrew — about what I believe.

So we have to try to be good people on our own. And take courage from the fact that more and more people are willing to acknowledge they don’t believe.


Maybe, one day, even some brave politicians will. Chances are, those politicians won’t include my daughter.

After announcing she wasn’t going to run after all, she moved on to a detailed discussion of who was most likely to win “The Voice.”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

I snapped to attention several days later:

“Mom?”

“Uh-huh?”

“How do we know there’s no God?”