Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, is a self-identified conservative. So is Jamila Bey, who sits on AAs board, and who last year gave a speech at CPAC, the annual right-wing clown circus attracting virtually every conservative shitweasel dedicated to ruining life on Earth for everyone (except themselves of course).
Samantha Bee sent a crew to cover Dave Silverman and American Atheists’ presence at this year’s colossal shitshow. It’s a hilarious segment. (If you haven’t been watching her new show Full Frontal on TBS, it is the genuine heir to John Stewart’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.)
My favorite part is when AA’s Amanda Knief says this about Silverman (@1:28):
Dave is what we call a firebrand. In any movement, we need people who are dicks. Who are assholes.
Perhaps this is true. But it is also true that there are different kinds of assholes. And movement atheism, which likes to consider itself a “Big Tent,” is already so chock full of them that many, many good people have been driven away and quite understandably want nothing to do with it.
This fact was highlighted in a recent podcast by one of my awesome new colleagues here at FtB, Trav Mamone at Bi Any Means. Trav was interviewing some d00d named Justin Scott, who has recently made a splash trolling all the presidential candidates by asking them their views on religious freedom. Scott had volunteered with American Atheists at CPAC this year, which prompted this question from Trav (@4:18):
Silverman & Co. apparently do not realize it, but they cannot have it both ways.
About AA’s presence at CPAC, Silverman said last year:
The core principles many conservatives value—fiscal responsibility, individual freedoms, small government, low taxes, a free market—have nothing to do with the issues crusaded for by the religious right. Conservative lawmakers push away millions of atheist voters who want a responsible, small government and a free market, but can’t and won’t support religiously motivated laws that make our government bigger and more personally invasive.
Gosh, that sounds reasonable! Fiscally conservative, yet socially liberal!
Except for one little problem: that position is utterly, laughably, fatally incoherent.
Greta Christina did an excellent job deconstructing it in a piece for AlterNet titled 7 Things People Who Say They’re ‘Fiscally Conservative But Socially Liberal’ Don’t Understand, wherein she points out that self-professed fiscal conservative/social liberals (“FC/SLs”) are depressingly common. You should read the whole thing, but in summary, as she says right up front:
You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues.
Now if you are the kind of person who is open to persuasion by evidence and reason, Greta’s piece will be extremely compelling. Notice I said if—and that is a very big IF. Because as I noted previously, conservatives have an unfortunate propensity to cling to their false and illogical views even more tightly when confronted with rational appeals.
Posts like Greta’s are exceedingly worthwhile to the extent they can reach reasonable people who genuinely care about injustice and oppression—but who, for whatever reason, have not thought through FC/SL very carefully. However in my experience, such people are vanishingly rare, and most self-identified FC/SLs are not, in fact, reasonable people who genuinely care about injustice and oppression. As I wrote previously:
I operate under the assumption that the vast majority of those who claim to be FC/SL are not actually socially liberal, except on issues that either happen to suit them personally (e.g. legal weed) or don’t affect them at all (e.g. gay marriage). Instead, they are actually straight-up conservatives, with all of the reality-averse, empathy-deficient privilege denial and sense of entitlement this typically entails.
Which brings us back to Dave Silverman, and the clip from Full Frontal. He says (@6:19):
I like being the good guy. I like being a good guy. I like being the person who wears the white hat. I like leading the team that fights for nothing more than equality for everyone.
Conservatives are opposed to equality in principle, except when an issue directly affects them. You cannot have a “free market” and equality. Indeed, capitalism is predicated on inequality, and cannot exist without it. Are the uber-wealthy building or cleaning their own palaces, growing and preparing their own foods, making their own fabric and clothing, or home schooling their own children? No, they are not. They are instead very busy buying politicians who ensure they pay “low taxes” and that the people who perform all of these jobs for them are paid as little as possible. EQUALITY, everyone.
I cannot believe this needs to be said, but one cannot reasonably expect people of color and women, for example, whose lives and most basic human rights are under constant, violent and escalating assault by conservatives, to occupy the same goddamn Big Tent with racists and Forced Birthers who just so happen to grok that there probably is no god. We should all come together in the cause of what? Atheism? To what end? “Equality for everyone”? Please.
Then Silverman says:
Religion deserves to die. And it should die. And if I’m the one that kills it? I’ll be a very happy guy.
I’d be happy to see religion die too, yet strangely, I don’t give a single fuck whether I am The One Who Kills It. (How ironic is it that the president of American Atheists has a fucking Messiah complex? Hahaha!) But is that really even the ultimate goal? Because if it is, conservative atheists run smack into two rather significant obstacles: the why and the how.
The why, to hear Silverman tell it, is that atheists “can’t and won’t support religiously motivated laws that make our government bigger and more personally invasive.” Presumably this means laws like mandating medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking legal reproductive health care because Jeezus or something, and to that extent I agree with him. But no one who is serious about this can possibly be under the impression that atheism is somehow crucial for eradicating violent misogyny: that is just demonstrably false.
The how is even more problematic for conservative atheists. As I noted in response to commenter oolon the other day, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that a robust welfare state (especially quality universal single-payer health care) decreases religiosity, while economic insecurity (with respect to wages, housing, food, etc.) increases it. See, e.g., Phil Zuckerman’s book “Society Without God.” Fiscal conservatism in the form of Dave Silverman’s “small government, low taxes, a free market” is entirely antithetical to taking the path most likely to get us to the very outcome he seeks: the death of religion.
I wrote in my introductory post here:
[T]he problem in the Middle East isn’t Islam—it’s conservative Islam. ISIS is not made up of liberal Muslims seeking to create a pluralistic society based on democracy, equality and tolerance. Likewise, the problem in the US isn’t Christianity—it’s conservative Christianity. The problem in Myanmar is conservative Buddhists, if you can believe it.
And the problem in the atheist movement is conservative atheists. Their rationale doesn’t even withstand the most cursory scrutiny, and their conservative ideology is precisely what will prevent them from ever reaching their stated goals. More importantly, if history is any guide, conservatives will happily throw allies right under the bus, if it means they get to keep their guns or their regressive tax deductions or whatever selfish and destructive bullshit they truly hold dear.
They will never be welcome in my tent.