July 1, 2008

Republican Atheists and Rational Republicanism

Karl RoveIn addition to writing on atheism, I tend to devote some space on this blog to important political topics. While some of my politically-oriented posts address areas where politics overlaps with atheism, many do not. The common thread is that I usually write from a progressive position. This leads some readers to periodically remind me that not all atheists are on the progressive end of the political spectrum. I appreciate these reminders, for the presence of conservatives in the atheist community is worth remembering. Atheism does not preclude a conservative outlook.

Aligning oneself with the Republican Party is not necessarily irrational. Just because I disagree with the bulk of the Republican platform does not make it irrational. In fact, I think that a rational sort of Republicanism is possible.

Republican Atheists

Fiscal conservatism goes as well with atheism as fiscal liberalism does, for atheism is economically neutral. Even if we focus on the broadest possible atheist worldview, the only economic issues we are likely to encounter would involve donating money to religious organizations and the tax-exempt status of churches. These are hardly issues that would define one's political allegiance.

The same can be said for national defense, foreign policy, and even militarism. There is nothing about even a broad atheist worldview that would make it difficult for atheists to agree with the Republican platform on these issues.

It is generally the social aspects of the Republican platform that most atheists find harder to swallow, but even here, we find little reason to argue that atheism is irreconcilable with Republicanism. One can oppose female reproductive freedom or gay marriage for non-religious reasons (e.g., sexism, anti-gay bigotry). Mind you, I'm not claiming these reasons are rational. I'll address this in some detail momentarily. What I am suggesting is that the bulk of the Republican platform is no less consistent with atheism than the bulk of the Democratic platform.

While atheists are likely to object to the close relationship between today's Republican Party and various Christian extremists, the same can be said for many Christian Republicans. Besides, many Republicans resent the hijacking of their party by these agents of intolerance. Religiously-motivated bigotry has become closely associated with modern Republicanism, but it has not always been that way and does not always need to be that way. That is, Christian extremism is probably best viewed as not being a core part of the Republican platform.

Rational Republicanism

Some voters do vote according to self-interest. This is why national statistics show that the wealthiest Americans are more likely to vote Republican and the poorest are more likely to vote Democratic. But many voters do not vote based on their self-interest at all. Both parties have tried to use this to their advantage, and the Republican Party has been particularly successful in this regard.

The easiest version of rational Republicanism to comprehend involves extremely wealthy individuals voting Republican. They want to keep more of their money through lower taxes. Thus, voting Republican makes good sense for the richest Americans, at least it does as long as self-interest is the primary goal.

Another form of rational Republicanism could involve a desire to maintain the status quo. Change can be threatening in many different ways, and it is difficult to blame some people for wanting to avoid it. Of course, there could be both rational and irrational reasons for avoiding change.

To my Republican readers, I may disagree with you on many fronts, but I continue to view you as valuable allies and as part of the atheist movement. I recognize that there are paths to a rational sort of Republicanism and do not want to suggest that all atheists are (or even should be) Democrats. There are Republican atheists, and many are rational in their Republicanism.