Liberal Christian or Conservative Atheist: How Would You Vote?

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Image by PixxlTeufel from Pixabay

Each of us has many different aspects to our individual identity, and even those we share with others 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 a more important aspect of my identity than it is to yours. You get the idea.

I suspect that this is one of the reasons we find conflict even within groups that agree on several issues. Conflict can come about when we do not share the same priorities among the issues we agree are important. I might stress the importance of something you regard as fairly trivial while devoting insufficient attention to something you consider critical. This could lead us to accuse each other of being insufficiently committed to various causes, or worse.

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 most political issues than the conservative atheist. That would be a compelling reason to select them. But of course, the conservative atheist would not be a victim of the sort of superstition afflicting the liberal Christian. That would be appealing, especially considering how rare this is. So who would I choose if I had to pick one?

My answer to this question reveals 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 for me than these political issues. I suppose there could be other explanations for these decisions that wouldn't necessarily support either of these interpretations.

So which candidate would I pick? I'd pick the liberal Christian. It might not be an easy decision, especially if this was someone who seemed to be actively promoting Christianity during the campaign. But I think I'd be much more likely to pick the liberal Christian because I'd be a lot more interested in how the person would govern than what they believed about gods.

There was a time in my life when I probably would have 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 maybe it just means that my approach to atheism has changed a bit. Between you and me, I suspect that it also mean my views of atheists have changed a bit after spending some time observing their behavior on social media!

I hope we eventually manage to get religion out of politics. It would be nice to have more high profile candidates, both liberals and conservatives, who opted not to discuss their religious views while campaigning. It would be even nicer to have more elected officials who were willing to govern without promoting religiosity.

An early version of this post first appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2012. It was revised in 2022 to improve clarity.