Monday, January 25, 2010

Republican Atheists

Staks asks how a well reasoned Atheist could be a Republican, and proffers reasons this might be impossible.

I can see two reasons for party membership. One is strictly a matter of practicality and unrelated to which party's platform one identifies most with. For example, many Republicans and independents are registered as Democrats in Washington DC, where the Democratic primary determines who wins the general election. It is sometimes easy to justify mere membership in the Republican Party under this principle, but I interpret Staks as asking why an atheist would identify more strongly with the Republican platform than the Democratic one. As an Republican-leaning atheist, I will respond to his points individually.

"While the only thing that all atheists have to have in common by virtue of being an atheist is a lack of belief in deities however most modern atheists tend to also be humanistic atheists who value reason over faith."

I identify as a rational human being more than I do as an atheist. Atheism is an appropriate label for the cause of reason in America because only religious beliefs are privileged as being immune to criticism. I really don't have much in common with an atheist who doesn't believe in any gods for bad reasons.

"The Republican Party has become the political party of faith over the last 30 or 40 years."

This is a meaningless statement. Both parties are officially secular and dominated by theists.

"It isn’t just that the vast majority of the current Republican Party are fundamentalist Christians."

The majority of both parties are irrational/religious. Irrationality is usually dangerous, each dogma in its own way. The moderate faith adhered to by most Republicans and most Democrats causes palpable harm.

"It isn’t even just that the Republican talking heads use religion as a wedge on just about every issue. It isn’t even just that the Republican Party focuses on issues like being against things like gay rights, abortion, and stem cell research. It is all of those things and more."

All three charges are are serious demerits. However, the Republican Party is against abortion, but there will be few political consequences from this as abortion has become a settled issue, and they can no longer overturn Roe. The gay rights and stem cell issues are also troublesome; Gay rights are unpopular (even in Maine!), and for all the Democrats' fulminating, there is little they ever do to advance them. Gay rights are inevitable with the replacement of older generations, but I don't think there is much gain from electing Democrats to advance gay rights faster, because they won't. Stem cell research ought not be discriminated against while competing against other technologies for federal funding, but it is still funded by states desirous to enhance their economies and by private firms who have every incentive to invest in the research that is most likely to produce marketable breakthroughs.

"The Republican Party has waged a war on non-believers."

Hyperbole and hopelessly vague.

"The fact is that during the 2008 Republican Primary, three prominent candidates raised their hands as rejecting the science of evolution. John McCain was not among them, but had to take a moment to clarify his acceptance of evolution with his religious belief that God created the sunrise or something or other."

Isn't McCain's response what Clinton, Biden, and Obama presumably believe? Don't Catholics like Biden profess to believe something equally crazy: that a cracker literally becomes the body of Christ?

"It is also significant that McCain was advised to pick an overly religious vice-presidential candidate to help him empower the extremely fundamentalist religious base of the Party."

It is also significant that it was poor advice. Even as such, it was given after a plurality of Republicans nominated a non-fundamentalist candidate.

"I can’t understand how any non-believer could possibly support a political party or a politician who believes that atheists are un-American and immoral simply because we lack a belief in a deity."

How many Democratic politicians believe this? How many Republicans do not? In both cases, I think the answer is a great many. The Republican Party is not a person and does not have beliefs, though unfortunately its platform is not clear on respecting non-belief outside of what the First Amendment requires. This is a tremendously important issue, but not a deal breaker by itself. Many liberal states' Republican parties back off considerably on this issue. Reform from within is possible. If you don't believe that, it's difficult to justify joining the Democratic Party as well.

"I’m not saying that all atheists have to be Democrats, but just don’t understand how an atheist could support a party that hates them."

In the South, how atheist friendly are the Democrats? In the North East, how anti-atheist are the Republicans?

"It is like being a black member of the KKK or a Jewish Nazi."

Hyperbolic nonsense.

"Those maybe extreme examples, but the point is that they illustrate that the Republican Party actively works against the rights and freedoms of atheists."

They illustrate that it is possible for someone to act against his own interests, a trivial point, and say nothing about the Republican Party.

Beyond the scope of this post are positive reasons to identify with the Republicans, reasons to disassociate from the Democrats, and reasons the Republican Party is the more useful one for an atheist to join in many cases.


  1. I've known a few Republican atheists. They tend to be either fundamentalist Austrians (economics) or gun nuts or both. (I'm pro-2nd Amendment. It's not that I disagree with their arguments, I just find their passion about the subject baffling.) Religion is just one kind of ridiculous belief system.

  2. did my comment not get through?