Arizona's James Woods, who is running for U.S. Congress.

Arizona’s James Woods, who is running for U.S. Congress. Photo courtesy Woods.

If he is successful, Arizona’s James Woods will be the first person elected to United States Congress to openly campaign as an atheist.

The last admitted atheist in Congress, Rep. Pete Stark, D-California, served for decades before publicly sharing his atheism. Similarly Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, opened up about his atheism last year—after he was no longer in office.

Woods, who is running for Congress in Arizona’s Congressional District 5, wants to be the first to successfully campaign as an atheist, as well as the first blind member of Congress in nearly 100 years.

He’s one of several nontheists making waves in Arizona politics, where atheists are increasingly visible—State Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, acknowledged his atheism last year. But associating with atheism continues to be a significant political risk in many places, including Arizona. During her congressional campaign in 2012, a number of news outlets and blogs identified Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, as an atheist—until she released a statement saying that she “believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

With no open nontheists currently serving in Congress and widespread public distrust of atheists, Woods is blazing a bold trail. I spoke with him about his atheism and Humanism, the biggest challenges he has faced, how he plans to address anti-atheist bias, and why he’s running for office.

Chris Stedman: You’re an atheist and a Humanist. What role do your beliefs play in your desire to run for office?

James Woods: I’ve been an atheist most of my life, but witnessing some of the horrible things people have to deal with just to survive has made Humanism really important to me. We’re in a rich country with incredible scientific minds, social entrepreneurs, and business innovators—but people still suffer from things we can solve. Humanism requires that we treat everyone dignity and respect. That we stand up for equality. That we govern compassionately. That we listen to what people need. We need to shift toward progressive Humanist values to address human suffering. Those are the values that inspired me to run for Congress.

CS: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, and how do they impact the way that you think about public service?

JW: About seven years ago, I survived a MRCA infection—a life-threatening staph infection that’s resistant to antibiotics. I almost died. About a month before my 27th birthday, I was in the hospital fighting for my life and my vision started going. I noticed it getting dim on a Monday and I woke up completely blind on Friday. I’ve never seen since.

I had to have part of my collar bone cut out and most of my toes amputated. I spent about two years in hospitals and nursing homes during my recovery. I ended up on dialysis. I am lucky to be alive, and I’m lucky to have an amazing family that supported me. I had a great medical team. And, as of this year, I have a new kidney.

Arizona's James Woods, who is running for U.S. Congress.

Arizona’s James Woods, who is running for U.S. Congress. Photo courtesy Woods.

I wouldn’t be here today without so many people investing in me. Our government invested in keeping me alive through programs like Medicaid, Social Security Disability and Nutrition Assistance. My dad invested in me and became my caregiver. And someone I never met gave me a new chance at a healthy life through organ donation.

After all of that generosity and support, it’s time for me to start giving back. I feel like I have a moral obligation to make sure that other people have access to programs like Nutrition Assistance when they need it. I want to make sure other people don’t end up being neglected in nursing homes with no one to advocate for them. I want to work hard toward ending poverty and ensuring everyone has equality of opportunity.

CS: If elected, you’d be the first member of Congress to successfully campaign as an open atheist. How does that feel?

JW: It’s humbling. I’ve heard Arizona state Rep. Juan Mendez talk about how people all over the country reached out to him to thank him when he came out as an atheist. People told him they finally felt represented.

What Juan Mendez did was courageous and inspiring. But it’s also sad to realize that in a country with 300 million people, a freshman state representative from Arizona is the only elected official making atheists feel represented.

One of the things I hope to do with this campaign is to make sure people who are traditionally cut out of the political process feel heard. That includes atheists, but also people with disabilities. It includes people in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community and especially people in the transgender community. It includes people whose immigration status is undocumented. Our campaign is about listening to everyone.

CS: How are you preparing for any challenges you might face in your campaign because of your atheism?

JW: I’m not all that worried about my atheism. I have a great team around me, I have Rep. Mendez giving advice and support, I have the secular community and my Humanist community. I’m much more worried about making sure I do a good job advocating for people who are vulnerable or marginalized but don’t have the support I do.

CS: What do you see as some of the most prominent stereotypes about atheists, and how do you hope to challenge them?

JW: The one I run into all the time is morality. In the U.S., we tend to equate faith with goodness. We make faith a really visible part of public life. People who grew up in religious communities often haven’t been exposed to nontheists, and there can be a lack of understanding of atheist ethics. I’m a Humanist, which means I believe in the dignity and worth of all human beings. I believe in human ingenuity—we can solve problems to improve our lives and the lives of people around us. You don’t need religion for that.

CS: Given the stigma attached to atheism, how do you plan to connect with people of faith?

JW: I just keep emphasizing that people aren’t that different from each other. We all care about the health and safety of our families. We want to live in safe communities. We want meaningful work and a stable economy. We do have philosophical differences, but the differences are small compared to our similarities.

I’ll work with anyone who shares my vision of a progressive America regardless of religious belief or nonbelief—and I’ll advocate for all of my constituents. I also really hope that the way my campaign team and I carry myself during this election will give people a positive impression of my Humanism.

82 Comments

  1. the Bible say’s only a fool says in their own heart there is no God ..

    I cant see this mans heart only God can do that ..

    yet
    why take the chance? This man he just might truly believe there is in no God..
    it would be wiser to vote for some one else ..

    www.whataboutjesus.com..

    • You really wouldn’t vote for someone because he doesn’t believe in god? Does this make him immoral? What exactly about not believing in God makes you not want to vote for him? I’m genuinely curious. There are plenty of people who don’t believe in god that have voted for believers, why can’t it go both ways?

      • romans 1 says god gave divine revelation that he exists to all of mankind

        take any person in the world and research there family and you will find
        in their family history worship of a god.. even to this day heathen worship also proves this.

        the bible says only a fool in their own heart says there is no God.

        I cant see hearts yet I know fools don’t use the marvelous brains God gave them.. so im not going to be a bigger fool and chance a vote for some one who only says they don’t believe in God .

        I cant see there heart I have to go by there confession..

        • The Bible is mythology. I would absolutely prefer to cast my vote for someone who firmly declines to allow his reason and his actions to be swayed by whatever happens to be part of it.

          • research your family history and you will find its you who is full of mythology and romans 1 is correct..

          • We have predominately christian congress now. You see where that gets it. Congress needs the athiest to keep them grounded in reality and to elevate morals. Get religion out of congress and stop promoting division by hate and senseless blood loss that is popular with the superstitious. — Our morality is not derived from religion, but in spite of religion. Even people find their morals by ignoring the ugliness promoted in the bible. They don’t own slaves. They don’t kill sassy children. I can go on.

          • absolutely not his morals is not the? however if I voted for him I would be asking myself is my morals intact a Christian and an atheist are miles apart On most important issues so there’s no way I could trust him in any decision he made that’s a fact and it’s non negotiable.

        • Joseph Langston

          Since you’re quoting and going with the Bible, you should give the entire verse, and not selectively quote to support your prejudice.

          “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”

          From the KJV, of course. Now….has this man done abominable works? Does he “doeth no good”? And if not, what say you then?

    • Edward Kostreba

      Robert Boe; Please tell me why it would be wiser to vote for some one else?

      The United States Constitution, Article VI, paragraph 3, states that:
      The Senators and Representatives …, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

      • only those mentioned in the constitution can not put some one through a religious test,,

        not wanting to vote for a fool…. religious test or not most people would not want to do it.. yet I can stop you if you want to,,

        • Do you understand why we do not put one through a religious test? Because one’s religious beliefs are of no concern to a position in government.

          Using a sectarian agenda to determine who should take public office as you suggest violates such principles.

    • Robert:

      “why take the chance?”

      Only a fool tries Pascal’s Gambit, and I won;t try to evade the fact that I called you one.

      What if the Muslims are right. Or the Jews, or the Hindus, the Skis, the Janists, the Buddhists, Or do you believe them all so as not to “take a chance”.

    • There is only one fool here and it isn’t Mr. Woods. Atheism is the only intelligent option. Atheists statistically are less likely to be criminals, more likely to have college degrees, and have higher IQs.

    • You are using a religious text to attempt to characterize a non-religious person, which has it’s own logical issues, but you also fail to see how such a text would be biased towards it’s own philosophical viewpoints while denouncing all those that opposed.

    • The question of a candidate’s religious beliefs should not even be asked. Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

  2. James Woods is such an extraordinary candidate for so many reasons:

    Intelligent
    Practical
    Humanitarian
    immune to religious nonsense
    A natural skeptic

    Exactly the sort of person who would make the best possible congressman.
    Don’t drop the ball, Arizona.
    You sort of owe us one after that ridiculous religion bill that almost became law.

      • TheCorrectionist

        Hey captain retard, a few facts for you:

        1 – Hitler was Christian, I’ll let that sink in
        2 – Stalin viewed all religion, not just christianity, as a threat to order. Communism – “religion is the opiate of the masses”
        3 – China, has it’s own established church where people follow exactly what the state tells them to.

        You want to make a post, be damn sure it’s not completely retarded like yours is. Nothing to do with Atheism.

        • Stalin and Mao learned how to control the masses and the power of irrational beliefs through religious schooling. Stalin studied to be a priest. Mao had a religious schooling.

          And no SimpleSimon, those leaders were the very opposite of skeptics. They encouraged blind obedience. Much like fundamentalist religions expect.

          • @ larry. Yes there are judas’s in all ranks including atheist. My point was that 1) There are no such thing as an atheist; all are fallen/ lapsed/ disgruntled believers at some point in their lives. These leaders were viewed as intelligent, practical and humanistic….Communism is all about the Person….Just like atheism.

            Radical atheist always places personal attacks on their opponents when they are losing an argument.

            Is that too SIMPLE for you larry!

        • @The correctionist. Your ad hominum attck reveils your level of iinmaturity where your thoughts are….on the shallow end of your limited intellect..

          When you learn how to make a point or discuss/argue a position…then post it.

          Stop wasting space by your emotional comments!

          • SimpleSimon, you are incorrect on all counts. Atheists are not all lapsed believers. One is not born into belief, it is acquired by culture. Might as well lump all religious believers with Hitler if we are going to be using your argument.

            Those leaders whose names you use for “guilt by association” were NEVER EVER EVER considered Humanist. You are confusing Communists and its attendant anti-clerical beliefs with something very different. You really have no clue what Humanist means.

            Read this and get back to me.
            http://americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_III

            Obviously you don’t know squat about atheists besides what some pastor has told you. Maybe you should bother talking to one, as a human being. Rather than someone whose existence threatens your shaky belief.

            You are ignorant and unworthy of being taken seriously. I rise to the level of maturity of whom I am responding to. You are engaging in ad hominem. Casting aspersion on Woods based on being an atheist, and that alone (with attendant association with people whose beliefs and actions are far different).

            I am just calling you an idiot. It is not ad hominem, its just plain insult. There is a difference.

        • Hitler was an atheist who later picked up some wierd Nordic fatalism about 18 months before he died. He used to make fun of the ss for its rune use becuase they were trying to revive the superstitions. Go read Albert Spear’s Inside the third reich where Hitler laments the turning away of the Muslims at the paranese by Martel becuase, “now that was a religion worthy of the Germanic spirit”-paraphrase from memory. Yea he a christian all right. Learn the facts.

  3. Wayne Amelung

    Luke 24:44-48
    44 Then he (Jesus) said to them (disciples), “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

    Chris, thanks for the interesting article. James, sorry to hear about your misfortunes. I applaud your determination and your fighting spirit to overcome serious set-backs. I just want you to know, Chris and James, that Jesus loves you!

      • The extant manuscripts of the writings of the 1st century Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus include references to Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93–94 AD, includes two references to the biblical Jesus Christ in Books 18 and 20 and a reference to John the Baptist in Book 18.

        Gee that was easy!

          • @Larry…Is that the best you can do ????

            I’ll print this and we’ll all have a good laugh at my next lecture!

          • Then there is the 2 Talmud (s) and the eyewitness that saw him and went to the gallows for his name sake. But they were probably just making it all up for kick and wouldn’t recant just to screw with their exicutions.

          • I would not vote for someone that defines themselves as an atheist ( I only know because you told me. ) becuase most of the atheist I have known have been pseudo intelectuals that pride themselves on being intellectually superior to people that they clearly are not. 2 they tend to be angry high school drop outs that have a hard time acquiring dates and somehow think of o&a radio as a class room on life lessons. 3 they are ether dogmatic Libitarians or Marxist that are not keen learners of the non theoretical lessons that often controdict their pet theorys. 4 they write dogmatic artical with the pretension of being unbiased on Wikipedia and always find a way to reference “god delusion ” by dick presumably the only book many of them have read.

          • Tacitus was using a 4th hand source and was born a generation after Jesus was allegedly put in the ground. He also had a tendency to exaggerate for political effect. (See Germania)

            Talmuds were written between 2 to 5 centuries after Jesus. Again, using sources which cannot be deemed reliable and made long after the fact.

            What I find is that people who identify themselves publicly as Christians tend to be very much willing to lie and distort in order to serve their religious faith. They have zero regard for notions of religious freedom and are quick to use public power to engage in forms of discrimination. Their record as politicians has proven me correct on this.

            As for atheists, it is obvious you have never actually met one and are going by what some pastor has told you about them. :)

            “they tend to be angry high school drop outs that have a hard time acquiring dates and somehow think of o&a radio as a class room on life lessons”

            Stop talking about yourself that way. The angry ignorant redneck vibe is strong with you.

  4. The Great God Pan

    “Meet James Woods, who could be the first open atheist elected to Congress”

    If the majority of the voters in his super-Republican district drop dead before the election, you mean.

  5. I will continue to put my faith and trust in God and his Kingdom or heavenly government that will soon intervene in man’s affairs (Daniel 2:44) and put an end to all the problems we are experiencing on this planet (Psalm 37:10,11; Isaiah 11:1-9; Revelation 21:1-4) instead of man and his rulers who do not have the love and power to do so. As Psalms 146:3 brings out: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.”

  6. Please note that not a single christian addressed a single policy or reason for not electing this representative and rejected him solely on the grounds of his lack of religious conviction. This is why America is the laughing stock of the world. You are behaving like petty, ignorant and bigoted children.

      • My point is that there is no such thing as an atheist…all have believed in a god at some point in their lives.

        By the way…early Christians were called atheist in their rejection of the false gods.

          • No matter how strenuously some may try to deny it, atheism is a belief system. It requires just as much faith (believing) to embrace that God does not exist, even more belief than a Christian would need to believe he does exist. Atheism has made a secular belief system (religion/philosophy) of having no God and their focus is usually nature. God’s creation has replaced the one who made it. An atheist must assume that personal unique intricate living organisms arose from impersonal disorderly chaos. Something had to come from nothing. They have no explanation for a beginning of when or why. There is no purpose in what we see and call creation. Atheism assumes that the potential gives rise to the actual. Reality shows that something actualized the potential itself. All Potentials have an actualizer. Scrap iron from a junk yard does not form itself into an airplane or a building without some thing that is able to put it to order. All designs have a designer, and the universe has proven to be incredibly designed. Even the minutest organism is more complex than the space shuttle.

          • “Polycarp, wave off the atheists” -roman emporor name——? This is what I mean, these new atheists are dumb as a box of rocks. ” they never call christians atheist” “hitler was a christian ” try readi g a book that dick didn’t write dumdass.

  7. I will always vote for a candidate who is inclusive of all people. And it has been impossible to find one in my district. I am eager to learn more about James Woods. We must remember that “We the People” means everyone!! Arizona has proven to be an arrogant microcosm thus far, and those who have not had a voice are ready for a change. We ARE the PEOPLE!!

  8. I have no vote in Arizona, but I certainly would consider giving it to James Woods. Being particularly averse to fools, I do think I would deny that same vote to anyone who thought like Robert Boe.

  9. This is so ridiculous! I can’t believe that this is really an issue in America! So this guy doesn’t believe in a supernatural creator; so what?!

    Greetings from Finland and thanks for the entertainment! I truly hope that America would join us in 21st century!

    • No thank it looks too Muslim by the 22 century, concern yourself with your own gray dying civilization and stop standing by while foreigners rape your women for sport liberal fool.

  10. This is a propaganda piece. Stedman, an atheist and advocate for the humanist and LGBT communities, asks softball questions intended to make Woods appear as the model of inclusiveness as long as they agree with him, “I’ll work with anyone who shares my vision of a progressive America regardless of religious belief or non-belief.” I’d work with anyone who shares my opinion, too.

    • Its a nice change of pace. Christian Fundamentalist political figures always talk about how they want to exclude everyone but their own from the power of government. How the nation should reflect their sectarian views alone. When people have such agendas, working with them is not only an impossibility, its dangerously self-defeating and destructive.

      • Read the atheist, homosexual, and or any liberal blog, NPR, or the alphabet stations they are all lockstep together on almost every issue and the what cements them all together is anti-christian bigotry. All the worlds freest countrys prodantly came out of the Protestant Reformation, with baptists and other sm churches out reforming the reformers. All the communist atheist states control the Internet as do the Muslim nations and mistreat their own populations and none of the ac bigots have a thing to say about it. But I oppose homosexuality becuase of religious doctrine, actually I thought it pretty vile long before I had Gods opinion on the matter,and now I am a bigot and the oppressor becuase I am unwilling to dance to your tune. So don’t be surprised that you are view by many of us as spoiled little losers that mature well adjusted adults can’t quite help but disregard as irrelevant especially as your demographic fate grows more and more punctuated.

        • What you call “anti-christian bigotry” is usually people telling fundamentalist Christians that they do not own the government. Mostly martyrbaiting, pretending to be victims because someone told a Christian they could not act like obnoxious hateful fools in public.

          When Christian Fundamentalists had access to real political power (such as in Uganda, Russia and Nigeria), they used it to pass laws to imprison or execute those they do not like. Not much different from the commies and Islamicists. Extremist birds of a feather.

          The Protestant Reformation did many things but as the originator of modern democratic freedoms, it wasn’t. The world’s free’est countries came from people fleeing sectarian terror. Getting away from morons who thought that laws had to reflect their views of God’s will.

      • I’d like see an example.
        Any over 18 can get married today in all 50 state. The problem you have is that marriage is already defined as 1 man and 1 woman. You see you are the ones that want to change the established custom in order to obtain by law what (homosexual play marriage) can never obtain de facto, to be seen as being equal to a real marriage.

        • The problem is you can’t cough up a rational or secular reason why we need to keep such a definition. Why it can’t include gay couples other than “tradition”, “god says so” and “gays are an abomination”.

          Relying on custom and tradition for your argument is lazy nonsense unless you can justify their existence. Owning people as chattel property was also established custom but there was no reason to keep it around. :)

  11. Don Engelmeyer

    The anti-Athiest Candidate comments are typical of the current so-called christian conservative republican supporters. Who are the radicals here? Who are the haters. Who are the racists? Who are the homophobes ? Who are against civil rights for all? Who are pro-war? Anti-enviornmental? Who are against womens rights–and believers in forced pregnancy? Who are against social programs that benefit people in need,the disabled,the mentally or physically handicapped. Who are the people against jobs that pay a living wage? Who are against Affordable healthcare? Answer: The hypocrites that are self righteous,the KKK,the white supremists, the real enemies of America disguised and cloaked by their self proclaimed holy religion and protected by other so called main stream religions.
    Here in the US we are allowed freedom of religion,any religion you want…I am for that. But candidates—-park your beliefs at home and pledge to represent all of your constituents or get out of politics.

    • IfI you don’t let me kill my baby then you are forcing this pregnancy upon me. That makes a lot of sense bro. Didn’t see any comments on race anywhere did you just throw that one on as a stander knee jerk liberal acb reaction or is there a 2 for 1 special?

      • Yep and best of all. No woman has to care what you think of the act since its their bodies and not yours. Being a self-righteous douchenozzle does not give you the right to make decisions for other people.

  12. The Great God Pan

    There certainly are some nasty comments here from the theist crowd.

    Yet Stedman will no doubt ignore them and continue his “interfaith bridge-building” efforts while insisting that any prejudice against atheists is minor and rare because theists are so friendly and neighborly and welcoming.

    This is similar to the way in which Stedman ignored the blatant homophobia of his Twitter pal Suhaib Webb while chastising an American Atheists spokesperson over well-meaning but perhaps tone deaf comments about LGBTs.

    Don’t atheists deserve a better spokesperson than Stedman?

      • Yes. They are different. Very different. There is no equivalency here. You are being silly.

        Not one atheist here has ever said they would never vote for someone based on the candidate being religious believers. Not one of them has made directly insulted the beliefs of religious people by saying, “you are really …”. Not one of them has accused religious believers as being deserving of punishment for their ideas. Not one of them here advocates legalized discrimination against others as YOU have.

  13. I’m a practicing Roman Catholic (well, I practice; whether I’m getting good or not is up for debate), but I have no problem with anyone being an atheist. I certainly would vote for an intelligent atheist over a narrow-minded, bigoted ersatz-Christian.

  14. You’re obviously ignorant and inmature; Early Christians were called atheist because they didn’t believe the Emperor was a deity. In the Roman system any religion that also recognized the emperor as a deity was allowed, the rest were considered dangerous and subversive superstitions. Recognizing the emperor was clearly not an option for monotheistic religions.

    Futher more I do not need to explain to you who or what atheism is; your comments are dangerous because they are ignorant and emotional driven.

    Please do us all a favor and educate yourself before joining a site like this and not knowing facts!

    • 1. That is pure fiction on your part.
      2. The word atheist was coined in the 16th Century
      3. Assuming arguendo, it would be ridiculous because it is not the definition of atheist by anyone’s stretch of the imagination
      4. You obviously need to explain to me what atheism is because you obviously don’t know it.
      5. You are still an idiot and now we can add liar as well. This is not ad hominem. I am just impugning your intelligence and honesty based on what you have already said. Not who you are.

      • In early ancient Greek, the adjective atheos (ἄθεος, from the privative ἀ- + θεός “god”) meant “godless”. It was first used as a term of censure roughly meaning “ungodly” or “impious”. In the 5th century BCE, the word began to indicate more deliberate and active godlessness in the sense of “severing relations with the gods” or “denying the gods”. The term ἀσεβής (asebēs) then came to be applied against those who impiously denied or disrespected the local gods, even if they believed in other gods. Modern translations of classical texts sometimes render atheos as “atheistic”. As an abstract noun, there was also ἀθεότης (atheotēs), “atheism”. Cicero transliterated the Greek word into the Latin atheos. The term found frequent use in the debate between early Christians and Hellenists, with each side attributing it, in the pejorative sense, to the other.[117]SOURCE Wikipedia

        Once again before you shoot off your mouth; do some basic research and get the facts straight…..calling people a liar is a liberal-revisionist tactic….keep it coming….your ignorance is becoming more revieling with each post!

        • The Very next paragraph; seems you are dishonest after all, with your own source no less.

          “The term atheist (from Fr. athée), in the sense of “one who … denies the existence of God or gods”,[118] predates atheism in English, being first found as early as 1566,[119] and again in 1571.[120] Atheist as a label of practical godlessness was used at least as early as 1577.[121] The term atheism was derived from the French athéisme,[122] and appears in English about 1587.[123] An earlier work, from about 1534, used the term atheonism.[124][125] Related words emerged later: deist in 1621,[126] theist in 1662,[127] deism in 1675,[128] and theism in 1678.[129] At that time “deist” and “deism” already carried their modern meaning. The term theism came to be contrasted with deism.”

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