Susan Jacoby has an interesting Op-Ed in the Washington Post. She has apparently recently discovered the existence of “right wing atheists.” There’s even a web-site where they get together and talk about the left wing liberal conspiracy to end society with all of our goody-goody help for the poor and such. I did a little browsing, and it seems like an odd mix of what I would call “reasonable dissent” against some of the neocon nuttery in the media and more traditional conservative ideology.
Jacoby appeared singularly unimpressed with the idea of modern right wing atheists.
I rather admire the bloggers at Secular Right for being willing to voice their views under their own names and take responsibility for what they say (and for their bad grammar).
I’m sure I detect a little condescension in the ranks. In my fifteen minute perusal, I certainly encountered a few squawkers here and there, mostly in the comments. The entries themselves seemed reasonably well put together, and while I disagree with much of the political content, I didn’t see much evidence that the entire right wing atheist community is grammatically challenged.
Susan goes on to chronicle the long and storied history of right wing secularism, from the Roman Stoics to the French Revolution. She is absolutely correct that America is singular — or at least very rare — in the near exclusivity of secularism as a left wing position. But I think she’s missed a broader point which I hope I made clear in my entry yesterday. If secularists are almost entirely opposed to the conservative agenda in today’s America, it’s because today’s American conservative agenda is so far removed from reality, and so entrenched in the pants pockets of the church that it’s damn near impossible to reconcile the two positions.
Make no mistake: Many “leftist” atheists in America today would be centrists or even conservatives in most other first world countries. It’s not that atheists are all pot smoking hippie commie pinkos. It’s that the term “left” encompasses pretty much everything this side of theocracy.
While I’m on the subject of conservativism, I’d like to bring up an issue I’ve never discussed before: Immigration. Many of the entries at The Secular Right dealt with immigration, and I’ll be honest. I can’t disagree with many of them. I also can’t agree with them. You see, immigration is one subject that I’ve dissected as far as I could, and I just can’t come up with an opinion of my own. Both sides seem right, and both sides seem wrong. Maybe it’s a no-win situation, or maybe there’s more to it than either side realizes, but I find both the left and the right to be articulate and unconvincing on the matter.
And that brings me to the crux. Yes, I am a liberal. But I’m not a liberal fanboy. If educated, thinking people have a reasoned argument to make from the right side of the aisle, then I want to hear it. Especially on issues as tough as immigration and foreign policy. (There was a LOT of talk about Egypt the last week or so.)
On the other hand, Jacoby makes a strong point later in her article:
I see little difference between right-wing atheists today and the right-wing social Darwinists of the 19th century (most of whom were also atheists), who distorted Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection in a state of nature and applied natural selection to man in a state of civilization. If the poor are truly fitted by nature only to be poor, then of course there is no point in government intervention, or any social intervention, to provide them with opportunities not conferred on them at birth.
My number one gripe with conservativism as practiced in America is that it almost always blames the poor and uneducated for their plight. And that’s just not good science. Social Darwinism was founded on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of “survival of the fittest,” and it has gained no scientific ground since its birth. We know now that childhood environment is crucial in determining both the success and effective intelligence of adults. There’s just no way around it. If you want to cure poverty, you have to do it actively. You can’t just beat the poor over the head with the morality stick until they fix their lazy ways. (It’s a myth, by the way, that the poor are generally lazy. I dare you to work fifty hours at minimum wage and try to raise two children while being lazy.)
Also, while I’m thinking about it, it’s been well known for years that a lot of atheists are libertarians. If you check your government textbook from high school, you’ll see that in most of the world, libertarian platforms are recognized as being right of center. Barry Goldwater and Karl Hess were both advocates of libertarian philosophy. Don’t let the “liber” part of libertarian fool you into thinking it’s liberal in the traditional sense. It originally referred to the distinction between determinism and free will. It’s a quirk of history that the libertarian platform in America is seen as “liberal.” Libertarians tend to be against things like universal healthcare and strong social welfare. That makes them conservative.
The Post article ends on a good note:
I have a hunch–and it is only a hunch, because opinion polls suggest otherwise–that there are more atheists among social and economic conservatives than Americans realize. The religious right has done such a good job of equating secularism with liberalism that some of its own most vociferous adherents don’t realize how many of their supporters worship no God but the God of the market, where no one is his brother’s keeper.
Yes. The religious right has equated pretty much everything but theocratic capitalism with liberalism, and it has skewed our perspective so much that we don’t even recognize that there are plenty of conservative atheists out there. They’re just being labeled (and accepting it quietly) as liberals because the scale is so far off balance.