What Liberal Atheists Think About Conservative Atheists


Do any of the following names sound familiar to you: Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Louie Gohmert, and Mike Huckabee? What do they all have in common? They are all Christian extremists. What else? All were elected to political office. Right, and all were elected to political office multiple times in spite of (or perhaps because of) their over-the-top Christian extremist rhetoric. All were quoted repeatedly saying many incredibly stupid (and often bigoted) things in the name of their Christian extremism. Voters returned them to office after hearing them say these things.

I think it has to be clear that Christian extremism, even when it includes loud calls for Christian theocracy and expressions of hatred directed at the usual targets, is not only acceptable but appealing to many voters. Some of these voters are undoubtedly Christian extremists themselves, and it should come as no surprise that they would support politicians like these. But I am not sure whether there are enough Christian extremists in these various states to make that much of a difference (except that those of us without any religious affiliation are much less likely to vote). It seems more likely that they are joined by political conservatives who are not Christian extremists but who are willing to overlook Christian extremism in exchange for policies they regard as more favorable.

This, in a nutshell, I think this may be one of the main reasons that so many liberal atheists regard conservative atheists with suspicion, puzzlement, or even contempt. We look at someone like Ted Cruz winning another term and conclude that there probably were not enough Christian extremists (even in Texas) for him to win this election without some help. Conservatives who were not Christian extremists had to vote for him. And in all likelihood, so did many conservative atheists. When we listen to Cruz or those mentioned above, we do not see how any self-respecting atheist could support a champion of Christian extremism.

Conservative atheists are free to decide that Christian extremism is not a deal-breaker for them in much the same way many liberal atheists decide that woo is not a deal-breaker for us. I have certainly voted for candidates who expressed some embarrassingly stupid views. Still, these views were never attacks on something as important as the separation of church and state. And while I have voted for candidates who were not as pro-atheist as I would have liked, I cannot recall voting for one who loudly and repeatedly engaged in anti-atheist bigotry.

As much as I would like to see more conservative atheists (and more liberal atheists) and as important as I think it is for liberal atheists to stop demonizing reasonable conservative atheists, I have little difficulty understanding the confusion with regard to how conservative atheists can support anti-atheist theocrats. If you are an atheist, it seems to me that it is in your self-interest not to vote for candidates who are openly hostile to atheism. We may have different priorities, but this strikes me as a very tough one to ignore or rationalize.