In Re Conservative Atheists

Religious conservatives, in my experience, overwhelmingly recognize that conservative atheists (to the extent that religious conservatives are aware that conservative atheists actually exist) are on the same team–that believers and non-believers on the Right share common values that outweigh their differing cosmologies.

(Perhaps the most common sticking point involves Natural Law, and the derivation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from same–but that is a rather arcane, albeit interesting side issue of less importance than how shared values manifest themselves in policy preferences, and in behavior.)

Of course, there are those who argue, sometimes implictly and sometimes explicitly, both from the Left and from the Right, that atheism and conservatism are somehow incompatible–and/or that atheism is a monolithic ideology, as it were, that is hostile to conservatism.

Earlier this year, at National Review Online, Charles C.W. Cooke wrote:

Yesterday, in response to one of the many brouhahas that CPAC seems always to invite, Brent Bozell issued the following statement:

The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?

The particular merits of the American Atheists group to one side, this is a rather astounding thing for Bozell to have said. In just 63 words, he confuses disbelief in God for “hatred” for God — a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there); he condemns an entire conference on the basis of one participant — not a good look for a struggling movement, I’m afraid; and, most alarmingly perhaps, he insinuates that one cannot simultaneously be a conservative and an atheist. I reject this idea — and with force.

If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative. And nor, I am given to understand, are George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anthony Daniels, Walter Olson, Heather Mac Donald, James Taranto, Allahpundit, or S. E. Cupp. There is no getting around this — no splitting the difference: I don’t believe there is a God. It’s not that I’m “not sure” or that I haven’t ever bothered to think about it; it’s that I actively think there isn’t a God — much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves. The degree to which I’m confident in this view works on a scale, certainly: I’m much surer, for example, that the claims of particular religions are untrue and that there is no power intervening in the affairs of man than I am that there was no prime mover of any sort. But, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in any of those propositions. Am I to be excommunicated from the Right?

Nothing is gained, in my opinion, by comparing monotheism to belief in elves or unicorns, but the larger point vis. conservatism is valid.

Whether someone believes that God does not exist (active atheism), or simply lacks the belief that He does exist (passive atheism) is neither here nor there (except to note that, by those definitions, I am a passive atheist). And people are welcome to call me an agnostic if that floats their boat, but that “I don’t know” category is a bit of a cop-out.

And, of course, some on the Left also argue that atheists cannot be conservatives. (Ironically, ham-fisted comments like those of Mr. Bozell, above, only reinforce the cartoonish Leftist argument that conservatism is a teeming heap of intolerant, theocratic Bible-thumpers, and therefore inherently hostile to atheists.)

And speaking of ham-fisted comments, here’s an exchange that occurred yesterday at the end of Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, during a discussion of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision:

CALLER (Brad in Los Angeles): I was wondering, how does this ruling affect the atheist or agnostic that comes to the same moral conclusions as the Hobby Lobby folks?

HEWITT: Well, I hope they go to church. Uh, Lynnette in Denver, how are you Lynnette?

CALLER (Lynnette in Denver): Hey, hi there Hugh. Morning Glory.

HEWITT: Evening Grace.

CALLER (Lynnette in Denver): Thank you so much for taking my call.

HEWITT: I gotta pause for one second. People say aren’t you upset about–aren’t you gonna make the atheists mad? The number of atheists in America do not amount to any sizable amount of radio audience. So I don’t care if I make the atheists mad. Go ahead Lynnette.

The audio of the call is here.

As Charles C.W. Cooke put it:

That I do not share the convictions of the religious by no means implies that I wish for the state to reach into their lives. Nevertheless, religious conservatives will find themselves without many friends if they allow figures such as Mr. Bozell to shoo away the few atheists who are sympathetic to their broader cause.

Mr. Hewitt might want to heed Mr. Cooke’s advice.

And as The Dude said, “Friends like these, huh, Gary?”



One Response to In Re Conservative Atheists

  1. Night Owl says:

    I’m too lazy to look up the guy’s name, but that atheist kind of asked for what he got. His statement about being there was that he was sure there are a lot of closeted atheists in the GOP and he was going there to help them come out of the closet. As if being an atheist is something people are ashamed of and need help with from him. I saw it as insulting and needlessly confrontational. As far as CPAC goes, they don’t seem very conservative anymore, so I don’t know why they pretend to have a problem with gays or atheists, and then invite Chris Christie to speak. Hewitt was rude to blow that caller off, and certainly isn’t helping with that whole big tent thing.

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