On Being a Conservative Atheist

My Sunday print column this week was a rebuttal to certain North Dakota lawmakers who thought an effort to overturn the state’s blue laws was a plot by atheists to promote the downfall of the American family and teach kids about evolution, etc., etc.

It prompted a lot of feedback.

From the right I got some outrage and disbelief. How can someone like me even have morals without faith, they ask. How can someone who is conservative be an atheist, they wonder.

I also got a lot of very nice messages from people who say they’re praying for me. Which I appreciate. I mean, how can you be upset about people wanting the best for you? Even if what they want is something you’ve rejected?

From the left I got a different sort of disbelief. A few people accused me of just playing at being an atheist as a sort of cover to make my conservatively libertarian politics seem more reasonable and appealing.

Who knew that being reasonable was such an awful thing?

But a lot of the feedback was from other atheists. A few from the militants – they also think I’m too reasonable – but mostly from ordinary people who are the quiet sort of atheists.

I believe in the freedom for all people to adhere to a full spectrum of religious belief, from atheism to Zoroastrianism.

There are more of them than you might realize. Some who are “out” about it. Others who are still dutifully going to church with their families or spouses.

Those folks seemed happy to have an atheist speaking publicly who breaks the mold of the angry, anti-religion demagogue.

That, I think, is the fundamental misunderstanding many have about atheists (including the aforementioned lawmakers). A lot of us aren’t anti-religion. I’m certainly not. I see value in a lot of what religion brings to our society. The promotion of community and charity. The fellowship and counseling. Even the moral codes religion promotes are helpful, even though they can sometimes morph into obnoxious public policies such as bans on gay marriages or, you know, blue laws.

There is nothing wrong with people coming together to enjoy one another’s company and inspire in each other a desire to live a better sort of life.

For me, and atheists like me, the stumbling block are some of the supernatural dogmas that go along with religions.

I don’t think Jesus performed miracles. I don’t think Mohammed was the prophet. Reincarnation is bunk.

I know that’s hard for the faithful to accept. Maybe some even find those positions offensive. That’s fine. It’s a free country. I believe in the freedom for all people to adhere to a full spectrum of religious belief, from atheism to Zoroastrianism.

The worst enemies atheism has are the activist atheists. Those who do not believe in religious freedom. Those who see public displays of religious faith as some affront to their sensibilities which must be driven from our society.

It saddens me that so many good people get painted with that brush. Which is why I plan to start acknowledging my atheism more going forward than I have in the past.

I hope other atheists, the reasonable atheists, do as well.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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