In an article dated December 11, with a Raleigh, N.C., dateline, the Associated Press reported on a ruckus surrounding a local election: “Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell believes in ending the death penalty, conserving water and reforming government — but he doesn’t believe in God. His political opponents say that’s a sin that makes him unworthy of serving in office, and they’ve got the North Carolina Constitution on their side.”
Opponents are threatening a lawsuit, saying that the North Carolina state constitution requires political office holders to believe in God. Of course, the U.S. Constitution does not permit religious tests of any kind for elected officials. As is so often the case, it seems that there is very little religion in this political battle:– “Bothwell said a legal challenge to his appointment would be ‘fun,’ but believes his opponents’ efforts have more to do with politics than religious beliefs.”
You will not be surprised to learn that Bothwell is a Unitarian Universalist. Bothwell’s home town newspaper, the Asheville [N.C.] Citizen-Times provides more details about Bothwell’s precise theological position than the Associate Press report. As it turns out, Bothwell is not exactly an atheist….
Bothwell didn’t respond Monday to requests for an interview, but he wrote in an e-mail to the Citizen-Times: “I am not ‘an avowed atheist.’”
He has told the Citizen-Times in the past he believes in the Golden Rule, not a deity.
Bothwell labels himself an atheist on his MySpace page, though he wrote in an online post last week on fellow incoming councilman Gordon Smith’s blog, Scrutiny Hooligans, that he prefers the term “post-theist.”
Bothwell added: “I don’t ‘deny the being of Almighty God;’ I simply consider the question of denial or acceptance irrelevant.
“Could make for a very interesting court case, seems to me.”
“It’s local political opponents seeking to change the outcome of an election they lost,” said Bothwell, who’s lived in Asheville nearly three decades and wrote the city’s best-selling guide book.
Bothwell was raised a Presbyterian but began questioning Christian beliefs at a young age and considered himself an atheist by the time he was 20. He’s an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville and he still celebrates Christmas, often hanging ornaments on his Fishhook cactus.
I’d like to think that Bothwell’s political opponents could understand the difference between “atheist” and “post-theist,” but American politics is not about understanding, is it?