TEXAS FAITH 77: Could an atheist be elected president?

Dallas Morning News,

Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

The Public Religion Research Institute has released a survey examining the state of faith and politics. Some stories seized on how only 42% of Americans know Mitt Romney is a Mormon and how most Americans want to see a redistribution of wealth. Americans are divided about a lot of things, but the survey did point to one area of considerable consensus. Americans want their president to believe in God.

Here’s the question: Would you be very comfortable, somewhat comfortable, somewhat uncomfortable, or very uncomfortable with an atheist serving as president? 80% of all Republicans, 70% of Democrats, and 56% of all Independents agree – they want a believer in the White House. Christian, Jew, Muslim. Democrats would be more uncomfortable with an atheist president than a Muslim president, according to the survey.

What does this survey say about us? Do we believe that a religious person would be better handling health care, commanding the military or advocating tax policy? Or are we more comfortable thinking that somebody who believes in a higher power is in the White House? Do you have to believe in God to protect Medicare? Must a president hold values that come from religion?

Could an atheist be elected president? And perhaps more to the point: Is it reasonable to hold that a president who believes in God would do a better job than one who does not?

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 

Believing in the powers of medicine and understanding the powers of medicine are categorically different.  I do not give as much credence to those who believe in God as to one who actually has some understanding of God.  Therefore a president who simply believes that God exists may not be at an advantage.

However, those who have some understanding of God definitely have an advantage.  Those who understand the soul, the self, know how to do benefit for the self.  As the self is different from the body, it also has its own needs and necessities.  Such needs and necessities are more important than the desires of body.  For example, if you were a witness of a car wreck and instead of helping the persons in the wreck, you first begin to help repair the car.  I would have to say that you are a fool. 

Similarly many leading officials foolishly make plans bring about more comforts but do not know what will really bring about a happier state of life.

To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.