I like showering. I like it a lot. Firstly, because cleanliness is next to godliness, and I have to compensate somehow. Secondly, I do most of my real thinking in the shower. I spend the majority of my day reacting to stimuli with minimal intermediate processing. But every morning, there’s this brief, magical interlude – though not as brief as my roommates would like – when I outline all my papers in my head, scrub away yesterday’s congealed curl products, and occasionally have a decent idea or two.
During one such steamy meditation a couple of months ago, I was reflecting on the big scary future that I’m told lies beyond graduation. This mythical land was far from my thoughts when I declared my major in that most marketable of fields, the History of Science. For most of my senior year, I’ve been floating from one nebulous career idea to the next. I usually rotate, in 24-to-48-hour cycles, through a variety of jobs which either don’t exist anymore (landed gentry, journalist), probably never existed at all (who are the elusive “usage commentators” constantly alluded to in etymological dictionaries, and how do I become one?), are completely different from my television-inspired ideas about them (FBI profiler, Top Chef), or are entirely beyond my qualifications and experience (epidemiologist, fromagier, trophy wife).
My boyfriend hasn’t quite given up on my law career (“But you love telling people why they’re wrong”), but he does his best to assist in my career musings. “Why not public health policy?” he suggested once. “You could do research and then tell lawmakers what to do. You love telling people what to do.”
It was this idea that seeded my contemplations on the morning in question. I do love telling people what to do, but it’s frustrating when they don’t listen to my brilliant ideas. Since I have all the answers anyway, I might as well be the decider. In my shower fantasy, I would be a down-to-earth, no-nonsense Congressperson. I would fix healthcare. And I would run the Congressional Party Planning Committee.
I know I would hate to actually be involved in politics. Politics is frustrating in all the same ways as a traffic jam. It would be like a nightmare where you’re just commuting all the time. Still, even in the unrealistic fantasy world in which politics is intellectually stimulating instead of maddening, I felt deflated when I realized that I am fundamentally, undeniably, irrevocably unelectable. My whiteness probably makes up for my vagina, but nothing can make up for the fact that I do not believe in God.
This doesn’t inconvenience me too much since I would never attempt a political career in real life anyway. But it struck me, while sudsing up my loofah, just how unfair my situation was. I shouldn’t have to hold specific beliefs about the supernatural – or to lie about them – in order to participate in my country’s elected government. I started wondering how many atheists have run for office, how many have succeeded, and what the role of atheism would be in the 2012 election. And since the atheist blogosphere has taught me that any thought an atheist ever has is blog-worthy, I decided to go public with this idea. (Did you know that blogosphere is accepted by Word as a correctly spelled word? I didn’t.)
Before my hair had even dried, I was furiously Googling and contacting non-religious organizations such as the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America, asking for tips on non-religious politicians. The responses I received mentioned only the two I already knew: Pete Stark, a California Democrat in the House of Representatives and the only open atheist in Congress, and Cecil Bothwell, a member of the City Council of Asheville, North Carolina. All I learned was that the AHA claims to know of over twenty non-religious Congresspeople who keep their heterodoxy in the closet for fear of ending their political careers.
Due in part to this shortage of openly atheist politicians (and my unwillingness to ferret out the closeted ones), and in part to the similar political positions of atheists and other religious minorities, my friend Walker suggested expanding the blog concept to include other “unelectable” candidates. Although I look forward to the day when there are enough atheists in politics to sustain a blog of their own, I yield to Walker’s wisdom.
And so, I present you with The Unelectables, an exploration of the role of religion in United States politics, viewed through the lens of the 2012 election and the candidates whose religious and non-religious beliefs place them in the often unelectable minority.
I am honored that three of my coolest friends have signed on to my random shower idea as co-authors. Walker Bristol, who had the vision to tell a bigger story, is a sophomore at Tufts University, a leader of the Tufts Freethought Society, a panelist for NonProphet Status, and a student intern at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. Chelsey Faloona, who has a fantastic first name even if it is spelled wrong, is a student at George Washington University (she’s smart enough to graduate in three years, so I don’t know whether to call her a sophomore or a junior), and knows more about U.S. political history than I have ever known about anything. Adam Garner is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a leader of Interfaith in Action at UIUC, my fellow Better Together Campaign coach with the Interfaith Youth Core, and a vegetarian who hates vegetables.
Welcome to The Unelectables, where we dream of a world in which nobody has to lie about their beliefs in order to hold office. We hope you enjoy your stay!
Chelsea Link is a senior at Harvard University, studying History and Science with a focus in the history of medicine, and minoring in Mind/Brain/Behavior. She is the Vice President of Outreach of the Harvard Secular Society, and the former President of the Harvard College Interfaith Council. She also writes for the Harvard Brain and volunteers with the Be the Match bone marrow donor registry. She likes to cook while pretending she’s on Top Chef (hasty breakfast? more like Quickfire Challenge!), adores word games of all kinds (and was once the President of the illustrious Harvard College Crossword Society), and tends to kill the mood at parties by unnecessarily reciting Shakespeare. This summer she interned at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. You can ask her what she’s doing after graduation, but she’ll give you a different answer every time.