State Rep. Juan Mendez of Arizona led the opening prayers for the Arizona State House of Representatives, guided by his own personal belief system: atheism. While Mendez' prayer had nothing to do with God, it was plenty spiritual.
State Rep. Juan Mendez of Arizona led the opening prayers for the Arizona State House of Representatives, guided by his own personal belief system: atheism. While Mendez' prayer had nothing to do with God, it was plenty spiritual:
"Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads," Mendez said, according to the Phoenix Sun Times. "I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state."
Mendez is one of the very few public athiests in public office. The national House of Representatives has only one out athiest, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, also from Arizona. Her arrival in 2012 replaced the House's previous lone athiest, Pete Stark (D-Cali). For this country's self-stated religious tolerance, those whose belief system has no God have a hard time gaining a foothold in American politics. The fact that the Arizona House of Representatives starts each legislative session with a prayer shows how religion and politics are still linked, often in very overt ways. Good on Juan Mendez for embracing that practice that could be seen to exclude him.
Rather than quote scripture in his remarks, Mendez quoted an athiest saint (so to speak), Carl Sagan:
"Carl Sagan once wrote, 'For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love,'" said Mendez.
While Mendez words might not be more meaningful than most prayers before the Arizona House of Representatives, they are more unusual, and therefore more likely to catch the ears of those listening.
"I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona's non believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers," he said. Mendez mentioned that there are 1.3 million Arizonans without a religious affiliation.