Separating Atheism from Politics


Conservative Skeptic recently wrote a post that reminded me of a question I've been wanting to pose for some time: Can atheism be separated from politics? I think it can, at least up to a point. Given the eagerness with which the Republican Party has embraced evangelical fundamentalist Christianity since Reagan, it makes sense that more atheists would be found to the left of the political spectrum. Much of the right has been extremely hostile to atheists, while much of the left has merely been indifferent. If faced with a choice between someone who doesn't particularly value you and someone who hates you, most of us would gravitate toward those who are indifferent. And yet, we do find atheists across the political spectrum. There is nothing inherently political about atheism.

While I don't disagree with Conservative Skeptic when he says that "politics should not influence anyone's atheism," I suspect it is not always that simple. Politics does not influence what I think about gods, but I do find politics relevant to how I view the world, others in it, and how I choose to implement my atheism. For example, I don't think I can separate my political views from my commitment to secular activism. One could certainly argue that secular activism is distinct from atheism, and I'd agree with that. Some theists participate in secular activism, and many atheists do not. But for me, the two are related.

I also find that it would be much harder for me to say that my atheism does not (or should not) influence my political views. When I see a political party loudly and consistently pushing Christian theocracy, the fact that I do not believe in the god they want to impose becomes relevant. When elected officials make public statements about how atheists are not real Americans or whatever, my atheism becomes relevant.

It is also worth noting that the moment one ventures from atheism to humanism, everything changes. I don't think it is possible to separate humanism from politics. Both are primarily about morality. Although I would not necessarily rule out the possibility of politically conservative secular humanists, I think they would far fewer in number than politically conservative atheists.

There are plenty of atheists out there who have zero interest in activism of any type. These are the people who are sometimes described as apathetic atheists. I think it is easy to see how their atheism has little to do with their political views and how their political views have next to nothing to do with their atheism. For those of us who are not apathetic but invested in helping to change our world in what we regard as positive directions, I think this might be a bit more challenging. Our political views likely influence some aspects of how we live our atheism, and our atheism probably informs at least some aspects of our political views. For those who are not just atheists but also secular humanists, I suspect that it would neither be possible nor desirable to try to fully separate humanism from politics.