Is Conservatism Hostile To Atheists?

I thought this clip from S.E. Cupp – an atheist and a conservative – talking about atheism in politics was an interesting one. She argues that conservatives are, on the whole, quite welcoming of atheists. Perhaps more so than liberals.

First, I should point out that atheists are pretty unpopular in general, and not just on the right as you might expect.

Consider, for instance, the career decisions of former Congressman Barney Frank. As Allah at Hot Air notes, the Massachusetts liberal, who left office in 2012, came out as gay in 1987, but he didn’t come out as an atheist until after he left office. From that we can conclude that Frank saw his sexuality as less of a political liability than his non-belief, even he campaigned before one of the most left-wing constituencies in America.

We have polling to back this up. A 2011 Pew poll found that 33 percent of Americans would be less likely to vote for a gay candidate, while 61 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for an atheist. Other polling has found that atheists are less popular than rapists.

That’s…pretty bad.

But an atheist candidate is one thing. An atheist as a person is quite another.

I’m an atheist, though I don’t spend a lot of time advertising it. I’m not interested in atheism as a social movement. I’m not out to combat religion and lure the faithful to non-belief. I don’t go fainting into the bushes every time I see a reference to religion on public property (in fact I very much support inclusiveness over exclusion when it comes to religion in public spaces). So maybe, because I’m pretty respectful of the rights of those who do have faith, my experience as an atheist isn’t typical. But by and large, people treat me pretty nicely. Especially conservatives.

If my atheism comes up in conservative circles- and it usually doesn’t it – I sometimes get some polite questions as to why, and maybe I’m told that prayers will be sent my way. But nobody is ever rude to me. At least not in person. I’ve gotten some rudeness over the internet but, hey, that’s the internet.

In fact, the only person who has really been rude to me about my atheism in person is one of my wife’s relatives who was scornful of the fact that we didn’t have a church wedding, and rather pointedly gave us a gigantic family bible as a wedding present. But that woman is so left-wing I’m not sure she’s even so much as used her right pocket before.

Among conservatives, I’ve found that my ideological fellow travelers are much more concerned with my views on the issues than my private religious philosophy (or lack thereof). But that’s pretty much the standard they apply to everyone.  Conservative Catholics seem to get along just fine with conservative Lutherans, and vice versa. And they’ve all been pretty nice to this conservative atheist.

I will say that some atheists – particularly the organized and outspoken atheists – are obnoxious and every bit as hidebound and dogmatic as those of faith whom they criticize. Which is why I don’t normally advertise the fact that I’m an atheist. I’d rather not have my views conflated with the views of high-profile atheists.

While I’m a non-believer, I don’t see anything particularly wrong with organized religion. Coming together to figure out how to live a decent live of kindness and charity? There are far worse things in the world, even if it takes place before a backdrop of what I consider to be a silly sort of superstition.

Which brings me to whether or not conservatives are more accepting of atheism than liberals, which is Cupp’s contention. I…sort of agree, and I think it has to do with the right’s embrace of religions freedom in general.

If you’re the sort of person who thinks that personal conscience matters, that religious liberty is important, you’re probably going to be more likely to accept that there is diversity of opinions when it comes to religion. Including non-belief.

But all I have to offer is an anecdote. I am a conservative and an atheist and all I can say is that my experience, outside of the rantings of a few cranks, has been positive.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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