September 24, 2012

Liberal Christian vs. Conservative Atheist

IdentityEach of us has many different aspects to our individual identity, and even those we share may be more or less central to us. Perhaps we both consider ourselves environmentalists, but environmentalism is more central to your identity than it is to mine. Or perhaps we both consider ourselves proponents of reproductive rights, but this particular cause is more central to my identity than it is to yours. You get the idea.

I suspect that this is one of the reasons we might expect to see conflict occurring even within groups that agree on a big issue or two. Conflict can come about, in part, because we do not share the same priorities. I might stress the importance of something you find fairly trivial while devoting insufficient attention to something you consider critical.

I found myself pondering the following question recently:
If I had to vote for one of two hypothetical candidates, would I be more likely to vote for a liberal Christian or a conservative atheist?
The liberal Christian would almost certainly be a better fit with my stance on many political issues than the conservative atheist. But of course, the conservative atheist would not be a victim of the sort of superstition afflicting the liberal Christian. So who would I choose if I had to pick one?

My answer to this question might reveal something about my priorities. Were I to say that I'd pick the conservative atheist, it might mean that atheism was more important to me than most political issues. And picking the liberal Christian might mean that atheism was a lesser priority than these political issues. Then again, I suppose there could be other explanations for these decisions that wouldn't necessarily support these interpretations at all.

So which would I pick? I'd pick the liberal Christian. It would not be an easy decision, but I think I'd pick the liberal Christian.

I believe that there was a time in my life when I would have somewhat hesitantly picked the conservative atheist. I think this would have been my choice when I was younger, when my atheism was still fairly new, and when I spent far more time being angry at religious believers than I do now. Perhaps that means that atheism was more important to me then than it is now, or perhaps it just means that my approach to atheism has changed a bit.

Fortunately, I don't have to pick one or the other. I can work with both liberal Christians and conservative atheists. And I think that's a good thing.

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