Are There 28 Atheists in Congress?

The Secular Coalition of America, an atheist group based in Washington, D.C., says there are 28 members of Congress who are atheists.

Only one lawmaker on Capitol Hill, Rep. Pete Stark of California, publicly acknowledges that he does not believe in God. But, said SCA President Herb Silverman, in remarks published this week in the Guardian UK newspaper, “Privately, we know there are 27 other members of Congress” that are atheists like Stark.

This explains a lot. Without God as a final arbiter of what is true and right, we are left with ourselves. Politicians who ultimately don’t have to answer to God for their actions are not bound by any political limitations. In the end, to use Hegel’s phrase, “the State is god walking on earth.”

Even the most secular of our founding fathers acknowledged that there was a God. Consider, for example, Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin went through a religious pilgrimage in his long life. There is little doubt that in his early years he was quite the religious skeptic but never an atheist. At the Pennsylvania Convention of 1776, “Franklin, who presided, was apparently unable to stop the Convention from incorporating a constitutional provision stating that every representative was to declare his belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible.” This in itself shows that there was a strong relationship between the Christian religion and civil government and that Franklin’s views were a minority position.

He read the writings of English deists as a young man, but “later experience and reflection caused him to retreat somewhat from the thoroughgoing deism of his early life. . . . Indeed Franklin’s views on providence and prayer were quite inconsistent with the deistic conception of an absentee God who does not and who could not, in consistency with the perfection of his work of creation and his impartial nature, interfere in the affairs of men.”

He states in his Autobiography, “I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and govern’d it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue reward, either here or hereafter.” Franklin became disenchanted with much of what passed for Christianity in his day. He recalls waiting expectedly for comments from a minister who took as his text, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8). He wrote, “And I imagin’d, in a sermon on such a text, we could not miss of having some morality.” Instead of deriving moral application from the text, the minister went on to call for ceremonial and ecclesiastical works. Franklin went on to say, “these might be all good things; but as they were not the kind of good things that I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his preaching no more.” Franklin’s disappointment wasn’t with the text, but an unfoundational application of the text.

It was Franklin who addressed the Constitutional Convention by reminding those in attendance of “a superintending Providence” in their favor that brought them to their unique place that would make history. He cited Psalm 127:1 to establish his point: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it.” He went on to say something very non-deistic: He saw “proofs” that “God rules in the affairs of men,” and without God’s “concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” (Gen. 11:1– 9).

It was Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who called for the phrase “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God” to be placed on the Great Seal of the United States (the phrase is the motto of the state of Virginia). In addition, Franklin wanted the following to adorn the front face of the seal:

Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.

Franklin also declared, “Man will ultimately be governed by God or by tyrants.” I suspect that if some politician used similar religious terminology today, he would be denounced by the press as a “religious fundamentalist,” dismissed as a “theocrat” and dangerous to the Republic by the ACLU, and excoriated by academics for having a “disturbingly distorted version of history.”

There is no doubt that America’s founding had deep religious roots going back to Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620). You can see the rich Christian heritage reflected in the state constitutions.

Even our national constitution continues that heritage by stating that it was “Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.”