Comedian Bill Maher has no plans to run for public office. In fact, he believes his outspoken atheism would be a major barrier to any potential candidacy. But at the same time, the "Real Time" HBO host also sees changing tides on the horizon when it comes to the treatment of non-believers in America.
In an interview Monday with entertainment news outlet TheWrap, Maher said that atheism will be "the new gay marriage." What does he mean by this?
With the nation becoming more understanding and accepting of same-sex unions, it seems Maher believes that atheists, who have frequently been met with distrust by the general public, may also be gaining some ground. Rather than being derided or ignored, Maher seems to think that this portion of the public -- one that he is unabashedly a part of -- is now poised to have a civil rights moment of its own.
In this photo provided by HBO, Bill Maher hosts the season premiere of "Real Time with Bill Maher" Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP)
Despite this comment, during much of the interview Maher pointed out that atheists are currently wildly underrepresented in government. To be elected, he maintained, one generally must align with the Judeo-Christian roots that are so prevalent among Americans. This, of course, creates a barrier for non-believers.
When TheWrap's Sharon Waxman pushed back, noting that anything is possible and getting in a dig that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was once a candidate for higher office, Maher clarified a few points.
"Nobody elected her to the high office. She was number two," he said, reminding Waxman that Palin was chosen and not selected by the people.
But there's also the fact, he said, that Palin aligns religiously with the majority of the country.
"She's not an atheist. She's in line with the Jesus freaks who are the majority in this country," Maher added.
Atheists, Maher argued, "are the least represented people in the country," going on to use a specific figure -- 15 percent (the proportion of Americans that he said "do not believe in any religion"). While it is true that 16.1 percent of the nation consider themselves "unaffiliated," that does not mean that these people are all atheists or agnostics.
In this photo provided by HBO, Bill Maher, right, hosts the season premiere of "Real Time with Bill Maher" with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP)
In reality, only 6.3 percent of the nation considers itself "secular unaffiliated," according to Pew Research Center data. These would seemingly be the individuals more associated with Maher's theological worldview. The rest of that 16.1 percent figure are simply not affiliated with a particular faith (although they may still believe in a higher power).
"Well then why are there zero atheists in Congress? They are the least represented people in this country," Maher maintained. "Fifteen percent is a bigger minority than blacks, Jews, Latinos, gun nuts -- whatever minority you want to say, 15 percent is higher, but we have zero representation, but that is changing. People are coming out of the closet."
With people becoming more bold and willing to open up about their non-belief, his comment that atheism will be "the new gay marriage" is an interesting one.
Watch this portion of the discussion below:
Some polling firms report that there is a massive and growing population of non-belief in America. While it is true that there are more unaffiliated individuals than in the past, this group, as stated, may represent a more diverse subset of people who shun attachment to specific faiths than it does corroboration that explicit atheism is on the rise.
In 2011, TheBlaze also documented some of the barriers that non-believers face, but we also noted that in a past Gallup poll 49 percent of the nation did say that they would be willing to vote for an atheist president (49 percent said that they would not do so in this same survey).
While some of Maher's views about electoral politics seem to be rooted in truth, the situation is a bit more complex. Whether atheism truly is the new gay marriage -- only time can tell. But the comedian isn't the first person to compare the plight of non-believers in America with that of gays. The view among some atheist activists is that non-believers have been similarly discriminated against.
(H/T: Raw Story)