We Atheists take great pride in pointing out that we are not monolithic in our politics. In fact we heatedly insist that Atheism transcends political ideologies and includes people from every political outlook. And yes, we are indeed a very diverse community and in theory, anyone of any political and social viewpoint can be an Atheist as well.
But let’s get real here. As the more fact-based thinkers in society, we should acknowledge that we are nevertheless mostly Liberal. Saying that in print may seem like heresy and I can sense many Atheist heads shaking “no” even as they read this. But in a 2002 Barna survey of Americans, only 4% of Atheists and agnostics identified themselves as mostly conservative on social and political issues. By comparison, 64% of Evangelicals self-identified as mostly conservative.
According to the Barna Group: “Consistent with the public’s image of atheists and agnostics, they were the segment most likely to describe themselves as being politically liberal (32%) and were the group least likely to describe themselves as being conservative (4%) or as having traditional or family-oriented values (71%).”
So clearly, while we may vehemently deny it, we Atheists are far more monolithic in our Liberalism than religious people are in their Conservatism. This inherent merging of the “Liberal Atheist” is widely acknowledged and accepted as self-evident by pretty much everyone– except us.
It should not be surprising that social Liberalism is a far more natural fit with Atheism than is conservatism. Almost all of the quintessential issues that divide the Atheist and Conservative communities are based upon religious arguments. Whether it be abortion, creation, gay rights, or social support programs, it is religious rationales that underpin the Conservative positions.
As Hemant Mehta points out in his video series The Atheist Voice, Conservatives mostly invoke the Bible to justify their various positions:
“And not only are they against it, but when they explain why they are against it, it’s for Religious reasons. You know the Bible says [as one example] it’s gotta be one man and one woman. It’s like, well, if you discard the Bible and you don’t accept the Bible as this book of truth, what other option do you have? You go on the side of equality.”
Looking at this relationship from the opposite perspective, the Religious Right views Liberalism as incompatible with their religious worldview. As Andrew Klavan stated in his video interview with Bill Whittle on the topic “Can a Conservative be an Atheist?”:
“I don’t think you can actually be a Conservative Atheist and have your philosophy make sense. There is something spiritual at the bottom of Conservatism. The essential component of Conservatism is the individual. You cannot be a Conservative, an American Conservative, without believing in the importance, the sacredness of the freedom of the individual.”
Klavan then goes on to argue that Conservative principles are founded on this “deeply spiritual” idea of the rights of the individual. He claims that there can be no society that respects the individual that has not emerged from a Judeo-Christian tradition. Although how these religious Conservatives get from their supposed deep, overriding respect for individual rights to their manifest positions on pretty much every issue is beyond my ability to comprehend. None of their pro-individual positions seem to really celebrate the individual, any more than their pro-life positions truly celebrate life, or their pro-family positions actually celebrate the family.
As Ken Bronstein points out in his “sermon” this month, the individual can accomplish a lot. But in addition, as Hillary Clinton pointed out, “it takes a village” to support us individuals. Conservatives scoff at that notion. They are the “I got mine” part of the population. Regardless of how they rationalize it and justify it with Biblical explanations, they are essentially defenders of cold-blooded social Darwinism who try to influence public policy to protect themselves and their own selfish interests.
The supposed reverence of individuality by Conservatives does not translate into an advocacy for social policies that truly support and raise up the individual to be all that they might become. Rather, they merely invoke “individual liberty” to justify toting guns and “individual responsibility” to rationalize why the impoverished underclasses don’t deserve a bit of help. Deeply rooted in rich humanist values rather than mired in Biblical rationalizations, we Atheists arrive at a set of values that align much more closely with Liberal principles than Conservative dogma. Our respect for the potential of every individual human being is far more genuine and inclusive. We should not allow the Right to own the concept of the individual for their own selfish ends as they have owned life and family and values.
We Atheists, regardless of how we label ourselves, or much how we resist labeling, are largely driven by a set of humanist principles that align, not perfectly but most closely, with Liberal values. We should be less were more affirmative in our support of Liberal positions and Liberal candidates, then our political representatives would be forced to respect our vote as much as they respect that of the Religious Right. We cannot become a political force and expect any political voice if we don’t choose a side. And the best choice of sides for us could not be more obvious.