Barney Frank Has Some Advice for Atheists — and Reveals Why He Stayed Silent on His ‘Nontheism’

It’s been nearly a year since former Rep. Barney Frank insinuated he’s a “pot-smoking atheist” during an appearance on “Real Time With Bill Maher.” While he seemed to be quipping at the time, Frank recently spoke in-depth about his “nontheism” with a prominent blogger.

In this photo taken Dec. 12, 2012, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the nation's most prominent gay politician, speaks about his impending retirement during an interview with The Associated Press on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: AP
Former Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. (AP)

While he has never publicly identified as a “humanist,” Frank told Chris Stedman, the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University, that the label most closely represents what he believes.

Merriam Webster defines humanism as “a system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems can be solved using reason instead of religion.”

Frank became the first openly-gay member of Congress in 1987, but he didn’t reveal his theological views — or the lack thereof — until after he left political office, telling Stedman that speaking about it “was never relevant.”

“I never professed any theology. And it’s complicated by my Jewishness. Obviously, being Jewish is both an ethnicity and a religion,” he said. “I was concerned that if I were to explicitly disavow any religiosity, it could get distorted into an effort to distance myself from being Jewish — and I thought that was wrong, given that there is anti-Jewish prejudice.”

Frank said he went to temple for years, but eventually realized that it didn’t hold any meaning for him.

“So I decided, ‘I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to pretend,'” he continued. “During my service I never pretended to be a theist. It just never became relevant that I wasn’t, and I guess I was not as conscious of the discrimination nontheists felt.”

He added that the only religious services he’s been to in the past 20 years were funerals.

Frank also offered advice for nontheists seeking to be involved politically, telling them not to “appear to be aggressive.” The former congressman encouraged nonbelievers to honor others’ beliefs in the same way that they wish to have their ideals honored.

“Don’t ridicule, don’t attack. Religion does a great deal of good, but when we have conflicts, religious leaders often make it worse rather than better,” Frank added. “But I’ve always acknowledged the good work that is done by religions.”

Read the entire interview here.

(H/T: Chris Stedman)