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.