June 14, 2017

Atheism is Not Synonymous With Liberalism

popularity is not synonymous with importanceWhen faced with inaccurate criticism or bizarre accusations from strangers online, it can be difficult to know how (or if) one should respond. It can sometimes be hard to tell whether what one is hearing is sincere and warrants a thoughtful response or is little more than trolling (hint: it is often trolling). When I do respond, I generally try to start from the perspective that a simple misunderstanding is the most likely culprit. If I end up being wrong about this, I'll usually discover it quickly because my attempts to clarify or explain will go nowhere fast. In these cases, the person making the accusations will typically double-down and end up revealing himself or herself to be a troll.

The post you are reading was prompted by a recent online interaction in which I was accused of being under the impression that "atheism is synonymous with liberalism" and told that posts like this one convey this to others. I am confident that regular readers of Atheist Revolution know better, but what about first-time visitors or casual readers? I would hate to think that others might think this, so I thought I'd write this post to clarify a few things that I did not realize need clarifying.

Here are three relevant things readers should know about me:
  1. I am an atheist. I make little attempt to conceal this fact, and I think it would be difficult for anybody coming across this blog for the first time to be confused on this point.
  2. I am a liberal. I might not always sound like the sort of liberal you'll hear some conservatives talk about (this is likely due to a combination of the fact that I am a freethinker who rejects blind allegiance to any political ideology and that some of what you hear from some conservatives includes inaccurate stereotypes), but I am a liberal. I make no apologies for this or attempt to hide it from readers.
  3. Not only do I recognize that atheism and liberalism are not synonymous, but I regularly go out of my way to point this out and to remind atheists (the majority of whom are politically liberal) that there are conservative atheists and that they can often be great allies.
I recognize that there is a group of politically liberal atheists who would like to conflate atheism with a form of authoritarian liberalism. I have written extensively about them over the years, and most of what I have written has been fairly critical. I think they are mistaken to suggest that all atheists must share their political views, impose various litmus tests to ensure ideological purity, and so on. I mention them now only to acknowledge that I am aware of their existence and to note that I do not align myself with them on seeking to equate atheism with liberalism.

I write about various political and social issues here, and I often do so from a liberal perspective. Because my political views have shifted over time, it should be fairly easy to find old posts that will make me sound like the sort of authoritarian-leaning liberal from whom I now distance myself. In contrast, more recent posts are likely to make me sound more like a libertarian-leaning liberal and hopefully a bit more open-minded. But unless I went through a particularly ignorant phase I cannot now recall, I think I've always recognized that atheism is not the same as liberalism and that liberalism is not the same as atheism.

I write about many topics here that have nothing to do with atheism. I do this for many reasons, but one of the more important is that I enjoy it when other bloggers I read write off-topic posts. I have many interests besides atheism (e.g, freethought, education, horror films, the news media), and the fact that I write about some of them on this blog should not be interpreted as indicating that I think any of them are synonymous with atheism. The same is true when it comes to politics.

The interesting thing about the post that seems to have prompted this accusation, What This Liberal Thinks About Islam, is that it was written to challenge conservative stereotypes about what liberals believe about Islam. Tired of hearing fear-mongering about how liberals are destroying the world by giving Islam a pass, I figured I'd write something explaining what one liberal thinks of Islam. I wasn't sure how to do that without using "liberal" in the title, and I attempted to spell out what I was doing and why as clearly as I could at the end of the post.
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