1. Is religion or spirituality important to you in your daily life? If so, how?
Religion is important to me because I think, write, or discuss it almost daily. I became a public atheist in 1990 when I learned that the South Carolina Constitution excluded atheists from public office, even though the U.S. Constitution prohibits religious tests. So I engaged in an eight-year legal battle, beginning with a run for governor of South Carolina, which eventually led to a SC Supreme Court victory in 1997 that nullified the anti-atheist clause in our Constitution. I wrote about these experiences in my autobiography, Candidate Without a Prayer. I was once the “village atheist,” but now atheists and humanists have formed communities, both locally and nationally. Though atheists are typically independent-minded and non-joiners, we all like a sense of community. I enjoy discussing religion with atheists, but even more so with theists.
2. How has your understanding of “God” evolved throughout your life?
Raised as an Orthodox Jew, I studied the Torah (Hebrew Bible) daily. I enjoyed reading Hebrew passages, but had concerns and questions when I translated them to English. I couldn’t believe in a cruel God who drowned innocent babies in a worldwide flood, saving only eight humans in an ark built by a 600-year-old man. I never got a satisfactory answer to my childhood (and adult) question, “Who created God?” I stopped believing in the biblical God, and later heard non-biblical definitions of God, like “God is love” and “God is the potential within.” I believe in love and potential, but I have no need to make up non-traditional God definitions. My understanding of “God” has not changed since becoming an atheist, but my understanding of people often changes when I hear about the kinds of gods they believe in. Generally, I’ve found that the more loving their god, the more loving the person.
3. What do you think about religions other than your own?
Though an atheist, I’m a member of three (nontheistic) religions—American Ethical Union with Ethical Culture Societies, Society for Humanistic Judaism with atheist rabbis, and Unitarian Universalist Humanists. I prefer religions that value behavior over belief, that focus on doing good because it’s the right thing to do and not because they are commanded to do it. I don’t care for religions that view this life primarily as preparation for an imagined afterlife.
4. Can you share a time when your faith helped you understand a significant event in your life?
As an adult, I suppose I’ve become more of a faith voyeur. An acquaintance recently told me he had been a friendless alcoholic until Jesus came into his life and cured his alcoholism. I was happy he had been able to turn his life around, whatever the reason. I can go along with Voltaire that "God does a lot of good in the world, even if He doesn't exist." Of course, nonexistent deities have also done a lot of harm in the world by people whose love of a god trumps their love of fellow human beings.
5. What is your faith in one word/phrase or image?
I have faith in reason.