It seems a particular point of contention among the New Atheists that the American public isn’t willing to vote for an atheist president. While there is definitely undue judgment directed at atheists in our culture, I’ve never understood this complaint.
It is not enough to glibly compare atheism to having dark skin. The entire concept of democracy rests on the people selecting a leader who shares their values. To suggest that religious conviction is not relevant to that selection is to presume atheism.
I’ve heard many from this group that they would vote for any candidate that is atheist, then immediately chide the religious for taking the same approach (voting exclusively for theists).
Traditionally, atheists seemed to understand this. They knew they were in an ideological minority, and didn’t demand that others vote against their own belief systems, just as I don’t demand that others vote for candidates who support my minority positions.
There is the irony, of course. Atheists are beginning to call themselves an oppressed minority which has been wrongly accused of being evil at precisely the historical moment in which their numbers are exploding and their civility toward theists is plummeting.
I, for one, am more impressed with the moral courage of those atheists who are willing to assert and defend the notion that God does not exist than those who simply claim to “lack belief” (as most New Atheists do). I am more pleased with the kindness of those who treat me with respect than with those who insult my intelligence simply because I disagree with them. I listen more intently to the arguments of those who have taken the time to understand theology than those who see no difference between an eighteenth century deist God and the God of Christianity (and show no interest in learning).
The New Atheists, in fact, have been named by others because they can’t seem to understand these differences. To read their books, one is left with the impression that they see thoughtfulness as the act of rejecting religious belief and respect as the way one treats other atheists. I’ve seen no attempt, not even a feeble one, to understand what it is theists actually believe.
In short, while I’d definitely prefer a candidate who reflects my views, I would seriously consider voting for an atheist. What I will certainly never vote for, however, is a New Atheist.