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I don’t care, just GIVE ME A CHOICE

A blogger recently posed this question.

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?

My first, immediate response was to just answer the question: yes, of course I’d vote for the liberal Christian. All you have to do is realize that Karl Rove is an atheist to know that the label “atheist” is not an automatic marker for a good person (just as we know “Christian” isn’t either, with more examples than I can count.)

But then I thought about it a moment more, and realized it is a goddamned stupid question.

I have never, in my entire life, been given an opportunity to vote for an openly atheist candidate for any office. Not once. This is a radically hypothetical question postulating an unthinkable world (to an American, at least) in which atheists can run for office without the bigoted Christian majority making it an exercise in futility, where we actually get a choice. In that reality, I think actually I might seriously consider voting for a non-odious conservative atheist (not Karl Rove, not a Randian asshole) just for the novelty of it all and to see someone, anyone representing my irreligious views in office.

Because isn’t that really the issue, that atheists are virtually locked out of most offices?

Then there are some weird assumptions in the question itself. What if a conservative atheist were answering it? There’d be no conflict of values at all. Notice how it simply assumes that nearly all atheist readers would be politically liberal — which I think is mostly true, despite the strong strain of Libertarianism within atheism.

But doesn’t that imply that if we had an atheist candidate representative of most atheists’ political leanings, the question ought to be:

If I had to vote for one of two hypothetical candidates, would I be more likely to vote for a liberal Christian or a liberal atheist?

O Glorious Imaginary Universe of Delightful Choices! Can you imagine going into the voting booth and finding yourself confronted with a decision between two reasonable, intelligent, thoughtful candidates, rather than Dumb Thug vs. the person the other party decided to run against it? Or, as I often find when voting for local offices, Dumb Thug vs. Dumb Thug.

But of course what reality tells us is that the candidate who clothes himself in religious garb and makes their faith an issue in a political campaign is almost always conservative — religion tends to side with stupid, archaic, and authoritarian on social issues. What that means is that if we ever did get an opportunity to make that choice at the ballot box, it would look like this:

If I had to vote for one of two hypothetical candidates, would I be more likely to vote for a conservative Christian or a liberal atheist?

And now it’s no question at all.

Comments

  1. amstrad says

    “Randian”?

    For a second I thought you meant James Randi. Holy shit, can you imagine James Randi For President. HELL YES!

  2. shanekillian says

    I have never, in my entire life, been given an opportunity to vote for an openly atheist candidate for any office. Not once.

    Actually, twice: in 1996 and 2000 you could have voted for Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne.

  3. says

    I’m with Psych-Oh. Locally, we recently had a group of Republicans switch sides, so our choices for some of the local offices are old, crusty “taxes are evil” Republicans vs young, stupid “toll roads are evil” Republicans.

    Bah.

    I have no problem voting for a Christian (or Muslim or Jew or …) if their faith isn’t what drives their politics (and they’re sufficiently to the left). I really don’t see why this is an issue at all– as long as a candidate realizes that government should be secular, I really don’t give two shits if they are an atheist, go to church every Sunday, or dance naked in the forest during a full moon.

  4. says

    I feel like this question is best posed to the Republican base, I’d be very curious to see how far their bigotry went, and if they’d be willing to vote for a true progressive and very liberal candidate just because they were Christian

  5. says

    America can seem like bizarro world sometimes, I’ve voted for Neil Kinnock and may vote for Milliband, two atheists gunning for the highest office. It is not an issue that the Labour leader is an atheist in the UK and given how much Dave Cameron is hated at the moment he could well become Prime Minister without anyone batting an eyelid. In fact Tony Blair was often criticised because he was ‘openly’ Christian – he might have mentioned it a couple of times – his press secretary, Alastair Campbell, spent a lot of time making sure he shut up about it and it was not reported in the press as ‘We don’t do God’…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists_in_politics_and_law#United_Kingdom

  6. says

    Holy shit, can you imagine James Randi For President. HELL YES!

    I keep hearing that the James Randi Educational Foundation is run by libertarians. If that’s even half true, I really don’t see how putting Randi in charge of anything could possibly be a good idea.

    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?

    That’s pretty much the choice we have this year: a liberal Christian vs. a bunch of reich-wingers who deny the validity of all gods but their own, and then go on to ignore that god’s teachings as well.

  7. jose says

    The question isn’t stupid because the answer isn’t trivial. Sure most liberals are going to pick the liberal christian because he will keep his faith in check. But it would be interesting to see if the people who say America is a christian nation founded on christian values and that atheists have no values, etc. would pick the liberal. I think it’s a harder questions for conservatives.

    Also, the blogger isn’t claiming this question is relevant in the upcoming election or even in current American politics. You’re unnecessarily harsh.

  8. McC2lhu saw what you did there. says

    To give fair air time to the truly bizarre at-odds rationalizations human beings can fuckstuff into their minds, “I know a guy” who is Christian (or pseudo-Christian if you prefer, as he is Seven Day Adventist) and a creationist…

    …and is an ardent Democrat/Obama supporter (even pre-Bush years) and firmly rebukes the ‘American Dream’ dogma as BS, abhors materialism and consumerism and very anti-war.

    You can get people halfway to ‘there,’ but there’s still that religion trying desperately to poison everything anyway.

  9. says

    Well, in socialist commie Europe people mostly don’t look what religion the candidate has (unless it’s muslim), so, liberal. They can’t be liberal christians if they insist on shoving their religion down my throat and I’d prefer to hve some food to shove down there instead.

  10. eric says

    Notice how it simply assumes that nearly all atheist readers would be politically liberal — which I think is mostly true, despite the strong strain of Libertarianism within atheism.

    I’m guessing a lot of that has to do with the GOP linking its haywagon pretty tightly to the moral majority and their descendent organizations. There’s probably just too much religion in the GOP platform for many atheists to feel comfortable there right now. But take that link away, and I doubt the correlation between ‘atheist’ and ‘liberal’ would be as strong as it is now. There’s nothing, in principle, to stop atheists from supporting the concepts of small government, lower taxes and spending, strong defense, etc… The problem is that the GOP implements those policy concepts in a pro-theist way.

    For example, there is the policy concept ‘states should have more control over education.’ Okay, that’s pretty theologically neutral. But then there’s the GOP implementation of that concept: ‘states should have more control over education so we can teach the bible in science class.’ That isn’t neutral. An atheist might be fine with the former, but they’re going to almost universally reject the latter. As long as the GOP treats the former as an avenue to the latter, they’re going to have a hard time recruiting atheists to the cause.

  11. says

    I have no idea if I’ve voted for atheists in the past. Politicians here don’t usually advertise their religious inclinations, and the media usually doesn’t bother highlighting them unless there’s something unusual going on (like when Stockwell Day’s creationist beliefs were mocked, or when Paul Martin, despite being Catholic, defied the Catholic Church to pass the marriage equality law).

  12. says

    Honestly the question is kind of silly because without a platform or anything attached to them it means nothing. I can think of liberal Christians I would and wouldn’t vote for and conservative atheists I wouldn’t vote for. Imagine Romney crossed with Cupp. Nope I’ll vote for someone I think can actually do a decent job of it.

  13. Sastra says

    If an atheist politician wanted to be both open about their atheism and a viable candidate for national office in the U.S., I think they would probably have to blatantly adopt the stance of the Good Atheist.

    The “Good Atheist” is a faitheist; they really, really want to believe but they can’t. Oh, how they envy the believers, and how they respect how hard it is to have faith! They also recognize and constantly refer to all the good religion does — not just charity work, but the morals and the meaning and the fact that NONE of the ideals or benefits of Democracy would make any sense without God in general, or the Christian God in particular, to guarantee them. And, of course, it goes without saying that the worst thing they can think of is some other atheist trying to “take someone’s faith away.” Bash Dawkins and gain brownie points.

    A Good Atheist who wanted to be electable would be wise to be sure to distinguish between bad religions and good ones … with Christianity as the very, very best. Give broad hints that, if you win office, this just might be considered a sign that God exists after all. Dangle imminent conversion and at least some of the stalwart “you need God to govern” types might be entranced enough to come over. Do something against type like argue for prayer in public schools (“freedom of religion, not from it!”) and you’d be considered one of the few Good ones. Know your place and keep to it.

  14. drxym says

    Perhaps religion is overt in the US but many other countries don’t really care hugely what religion a candidate is unless they make an issue of it themselves.

    The UK for example. Tony Blair was devout RC but it wasn’t widely known until he left office and in hindsight his policies were rational and pragmatic. Conversely at present both the leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats are atheists. Julia Gillard PM of Australia is an atheist.

    Secularism means it really shouldn’t matter a damn what religion somebody is as long as they can keep a lid on it and do their elected duty separate from their beliefs.

  15. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    There’s nothing, in principle, to stop atheists from supporting the concepts of small government, lower taxes and spending, strong defense, etc… – eric

    I was going to say “except rationality”, but then I reflected on elevatorgate.

  16. Brownian says

    You know you’d just end up having to have a recall vote when it turns out your hypothetical candidate, being hypothetical, never actually showed up to sit in office.

  17. pensnest says

    If you were a UK voter, you would probably neither know nor care whether your local candidates were religious or atheist. The rare politician who wants to make something of his or her religion is regarded with a wary eye over here.

  18. kreativekaos says

    I think another key question in this thought exploration may be the crucial one: would an atheist–by virtue of a presumably solid grounding in reason, fact, reality, judgement (and honesty?)– be far less inclined to engage in the politikal gamesmanship and motivations that guide and fuel so much of politikal thought and action?

  19. says

    @26: Heard-from-a-friend, so take it FWIW:
    In public, Rove refers to evangelicals as “my base”, and regrets that he doesn’t “have the gift of faith”. In private, he refers to them as “the crazies”.

  20. raven says

    This seems to be a Zen koan type question.

    Who would you vote for?

    A conservative Grey alien, or a liberal Space Reptile?

  21. viggen111 says

    What if a conservative atheist were answering it? There’d be no conflict of values at all. Notice how it simply assumes that nearly all atheist readers would be politically liberal — which I think is mostly true, despite the strong strain of Libertarianism within atheism.

    But doesn’t that imply that if we had an atheist candidate representative of most atheists’ political leanings, the question ought to be:

    If I had to vote for one of two hypothetical candidates, would I be more likely to vote for a liberal Christian or a liberal atheist?

    Oh B.S… this is gerrymandering logic and you know it. The label “atheist” does not and should not automatically imply “liberal.” Some of us are aware that being blindly liberal and motivating everything on an anti-religious stance is not always a good thing. The world has a bit more gray in it and requires a little bit of case-by-case compromise now and then to counter anarchy –I know you hate the word “compromise,” but it does have a place in this world. It makes it possible for people who don’t agree about one thing to actually find common ground on another for the good of everybody. For one thing, “atheist” and “liberal” does not always means “skeptic,” as Bill Maher amply proves. As well, somebody who believes in god may actually be able to write a budget and may be able to prioritize in a way that practical issues are dealt with before ephemery and in a manner that is predominantly agreeable to all sides. Should I care that Francis Collins suffers from a massive case of cognitive dissonance if he gets the job at hand done?

  22. Matt Penfold says

    I have known the religious beliefs (or lack thereof) of anyone I have ever voted for here in the UK. It is considered rather odd for candidates to make their views known on the subject of religion, especially if they are believers. But then of the three main UK parties, two have atheists leading them and the third leader is rather non-committal.

  23. eamick says

    For a second I thought you meant James Randi. Holy shit, can you imagine James Randi For President. HELL YES!

    Unfortunately, he was born in Toronto.

  24. RFW says

    You have stumbled across the Vonnegutean concept of the granfalloon. Wikipedia will tell you more, as usual, but in my books it’s a recognition that if a bunch of people have in common “belongs in Category X”, you can say nothing about any other characteristic.

    Thus there are liberal and conservative atheists, liberal and conservative Xtians, and even liberal and conservative Moslems.

    Just remember when riding the bus to work in the morning, those other people on the same bus (the granfalloon) vary widely: some are honorable lovers of pistachio ice cream, some vanilla fundamentalists, and some, horror of horror, are heretics who like licorice ice cream.

    Silly example, but maybe, just maybe, it’ll get the point across.

    Or to put this another way, personal preferences, including religion, politics, ice cream flavors, and all else, are not like a table d’hote menu where the entire meal is pre-ordained. The classic example is the “dinner for two” at a Chinese restaurant, but the Tea Party has evolved into a rigid list of beliefs: anti-black racism, stian fundamentalism, anti-gay, and so on.

    Instead, you get to pick and choose to taste – and, perhaps most important, you are allowed to change your mind.

  25. Audley Z. Darkheart (liar and scoundrel) says

    RFW:
    “Granfalloon” is one of my all time favorite words that I have yet to manage to shoe-horn into coversation. :)

    (I did not learn it through Vonnegut, but rather Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I do not deny my nerdiness.)

  26. anteprepro says

    I think the question is a good one. Which takes higher priority: religious belief or political beliefs?

    And it’s sort of a bad question. Because the answer is obviously political beliefs. Duh. Religious beliefs are only really bad insofar as they affect politics. So a non-religious person who still takes up the wretched politics that are promoted by the most god-soaked segments of our society is obviously a worse choice that a person who opposes those policies who happens to be religious. Maybe if the choice was between a religious liberal who also supported theocratic, anti-women nonsense normally put forth by Republicans and an atheist who was Republican but was still pro-choice, pro-separation, etc., it might be a harder choice. But unless the conservative atheist was a true RINO and the liberal Christian was a closeted theocrat, the choice is pretty obvious.

    Between a misogynistic Randroid warhawk and a decent human being who happens to believe in religious nonsense while not pushing it, I’ll take the wishy-washy believer every time.

  27. anteprepro says

    and some, horror of horror, are heretics who like licorice ice cream.

    BURN IT! BURN EVERYTHING! WE CAN’T LET SUCH THINGS SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY!

  28. lokicleo says

    Can you imagine going into the voting booth and finding yourself confronted with a decision between two reasonable, intelligent, thoughtful candidates, rather than Dumb Thug vs. the person the other party decided to run against it? Or, as I often find when voting for local offices, Dumb Thug vs. Dumb Thug.

    That sounds about right. I often think of my options as Stupid vs Evil.

  29. says

    The important questions: Does this candidate promote policies I agree with? Will they be competent at implementing them?

    The candidate’s religious opinions should be irrelevant — if they become relevant, then there is something wrong. The “wrong” could be with the candidate (eg: Stephen Harper’s religion is relevant, even though he downplays it, because it drives his noxious programme) or with the system (eg: Obama’s religion is only relevant because American politics has been goddamn crazy and getting crazier that way for over 30 years. I recall when Jimmy Carter’s religion was viewed with some suspicion — today, his brand of evangelicalism looks like reasonable, middle-of-road, moderation).

  30. stonyground says

    Here in the UK we have atheist politicians because a candidate’s religion, or lack of it, is pretty much irrelevant here. Having said that, our elected representatives seem to think that we prols are far more religious than we actually are. As a consequence, most atheist politicians, instead of fighting our corner, are wibbling about how religious their wives are and how they make sure their children are being suitably brainwashed in some christian madrass. This stuff is of course nothing but window dressing and has little to no effect on policy.

  31. says

    Well, it looks like there is hope. After all Larry Darby almost managed to get the position of Alabama Attorney-General in the 2006 Democratic Party Primary. Darby is the founder of the Atheist Law Center and former state director of American Atheists in his state. And he nevertheless managed to gain wide popularity – in Alabama, no less.

    Darby was also a white supremacist and holocaust denier who suggested bringing the Alabama National Guard back from Iraq because “they’re fighting for Israeli interests and not for Alabama or the United States’ interests,” and deploy them to ferret out illegal immigrants. Indeed, if elected he said he would ask for the governor to declare martial law “so we could act freely and stop the illegal immigrants from crossing our border” and work to “reawake white racial awareness”.

    Surely his popularity must have been due to the fact that Alabamans wanted an atheist Attorney-General so badly that they were willing to overlook his white supremacy leanings …

  32. Stacy says

    Oh B.S… this is gerrymandering logic and you know it. The label “atheist” does not and should not automatically imply “liberal.”

    PZ didn’t say that atheist “implies” liberal. He said the question assumes most atheists are liberals, and he thinks that’s probably true.

    I’m not aware of any polls. I do know the figures from a 2010 poll of Free Inquiry readers (reported in the current issue): left-leaning (Socialist to progressive, not counting moderates): 75%. Centrist to conservative: 13%. Moderate: 12%.

    The rest of your rant misses the point completely.

  33. anteprepro says

    That sounds about right. I often think of my options as Stupid vs Evil.

    I tend to see it as Lawful Stupid vs. Stupid Evil.

  34. tomh says

    There’s sort of that kind of choice going on in a San Francisco Bay Area congressional race, where the choice is between an atheist Democrat and a Christian Democrat. Pete Stark, the only admitted nonbeliever in Congress, going for his 20th term, will face another Democrat in November, due to California’s new open primary system, where the top two finishers face off in the general election, regardless of party. Stark looks to be in real trouble, in part because of a newly gerrymandered district.

  35. says

    I don’t see the point of the question. Surely religion doesn’t matter as long as the policies sre reasonable?

    I’ve never voted based on religion. I have avoided candidates who brought their religion into their policies, but I’ve always voted on policies.

  36. Koshka says

    Our openly atheist prime minister here in Australia continues to side with the homophobes, harps on about traditional marriage and votes against same sex marriage rights, despite the majority of the population being in favour.

    I agree it is a stupid question. Without any further information I would vote for the liberal candidate before the conservative one, regardless of religious persuasion.

    To be fair however, religion does play less of a role in politics in Australia. Although the previous prime minister would make a show of going to church every Sunday and that would drive me crazy.

  37. Amphiox says

    The only reason to care about anyone’s personal religious delusions is if those delusions inform political positions that then translate into real actions with real effects on the real world.

    Since we already know the political positions that matter for these hypothetical candidates, their religion becomes completely irrelevant.

  38. says

    You know you’d just end up having to have a recall vote when it turns out your hypothetical candidate, being hypothetical, never actually showed up to sit in office.

    That’s a dealbreaker? What a drag.

    … I mean, there’s so many ‘hypotheticals’ I can imagine that vastly improve upon reality. The fact that they can’t occupy office, well, damn…

    Poorly designed, restrictive system, y’ask me. No foreigners, no conjectural constructions. No wonder the place is such a mess; they’re eliminating so many possibilities out of simple prejudice. Honestly: where you were born and whether or not you have physical form and/or are in fact a spurious reification of ideals… What’s the big deal about such trivia, after all?

    (/Now, let’s imagine a spherical president…)

  39. anteprepro says

    A married bachelor?

    More like a bipedal horse. Sure, it’s technically possible and not a contradiction of terms, but if it is sufficiently bipedal, it is sufficiently distinct from “horses” that you wonder why you’d bother calling it a “horse” at all.

  40. Q.E.D says

    But it would be interesting to see if the people who say America is a christian nation founded on christian values and that atheists have no values, etc. would pick the liberal. I think it’s a harder questions for conservatives.

    Conservative christians of the ilk you describe would not recognize the liberal christian as a “Real Christian” TM.

  41. mrjonno says

    I think the link between right wing conservative and Christian is very much an American concept.

    On the whole in the UK I associate religion both christian and Islam with the left. The entire Labour party (which is in theory socialist) came about as much from liberal christianity than it did Karl Marx.

    While there a few bigoted catholics on gay marriage or abortion around in the UK again catholic church membership is stronger on the left than the right.

    Don’t get me wrong there a few right wing christian bigots around but the ‘social justice’ christian is still far more common