Other Values Besides Religion Unite These Political Idealists

HEATHER MAC DONALD, an atheist conservative, contributes to the blog Secular Right, where she argues that conservative values, such as small government, self-reliance and liberty, can be defended without recourse to deities or religions.

As a child, Razib Khan spent several weeks studying in a Bangladeshi madrasa. Heather Mac Donald once studied literary deconstructionism and clerked for a left-wing judge. In neither case did the education take. They are atheist conservatives — Khan an apostate to his family's Islamic faith, Mac Donald to her left-wing education.

They are part of a small faction on the right: conservatives with no use for religion. Since 2008, they have been contributors to the blog Secular Right, where they argue that conservative values like small government, self-reliance and liberty can be defended without recourse to invisible deities or the religions that exalt them.

And they serve as public proof that an irreligious conservative can exist.

"A lot of religious conservatives say, ‘You can't be conservative because you don't believe in God,'" said Khan, 34, who was raised in New York and Oregon but whose grandfather was an imam in Bangladesh. "They say I am logically impossible, and I say, ‘Well I am possible because I am.'

"They assert your nonexistence, and you have to assert your existence. "

Neither Khan nor Mac Donald gaingsays the historical connection between conservatism and religiosity. Influential conservatives, like the 18th-century Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke, have been sympathetic toward religion in part because it endures.

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review, noted that conservatives throughout history have esteemed "mediating institutions" like schools and churches, sources of authority other than the state." If that's the way you're thinking, concern for the strength of organized religion follows pretty naturally," Ponnuru said.

After the French Revolution, opposition to clergy became identified with revolutionaries and, as in communist countries, the political left. Veneration of clergy was a marker of the right.

But only in the 1970s did the Republican Party become more identified with religiosity than the Democrats. In recent years, conservative magazines and talk radio have increased their cheerleading for religion, while two magazines with religious roots, First Things and Commentary, have become more conservative in their politics.

In 2008, feeling the absence of irreligious voices on the right, Khan, who also blogs about science for Discover magazine's website, started SecularRight.org. Today, the site usually gets 500 to 1,000 hits a day, Khan said.

For many, the conjunction of conservatism and atheism is embodied by the novelist Ayn Rand, whose thought blended free-market absolutism and human-worshipping atheism. She is influential — her cultic following included the young Alan Greenspan — but she is no patron saint to the bloggers at Secular Right.

The five bloggers are like the dramatis personae of a drawing-room comedy about irascible conservatives — written by Alan Bennett but set at the Heritage Foundation.

There's the urban pragmatist (Mac Donald, who clerked for the liberal federal Judge Stephen Reinhardt but now writes conservative essays about homelessness and policing), the data-driven scientist (Khan), and the libertarian enthusiast for tort reform (Walter Olson, also founder of the blog Overlawyered).

And because conservatives are Anglophiles, there are two Englishmen: John Derbyshire, the popular mathematics writer and opponent of liberal immigration policy, and Andrew Stuttaford.


Of the group, Mac Donald is the one best known for atheism. She has written scathingly of the Christian instinct to give God credit for our good fortune while absolving him of our misfortunes.

"God's mercy was supposedly manifest when children were saved" from the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, Mac Donald wrote in The American Conservative in 2007." But why did the prayers for 5-year-old Samantha Runnion go unheeded when she was taken from her home in 2002 and later sexually assaulted and asphyxiated?

"If you ask a believer, you will be told that the human mind cannot fathom God's ways. It would seem as if God benefits from double standards of a kind that would make even affirmative action look just."

Few liberals would use "affirmative action" as a byword for injustice — but very few conservatives would refer to Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin as members of "the knee-jerk venom squad," as Mac Donald did a week ago on her blog.

Derbyshire retains affection for his Anglican schooling, and Mac Donald respects many religious people she knows.

"We live with a religion that has been tamed, told to mind its manners and told to speak when asked to speak," she said in an interview this week. "I won't dwell on those outmoded religious activities that one is not supposed to remind religious advocates about, such as the burning of heretics and books, pitchforking the wrong type of Christian and opposition to liberal political reform."

For Mac Donald, politicians — those beneficiaries of liberal political reform — can be as bad as the radio talkers.

"I am puzzled," Mac Donald said, "by the logic of a John Ashcroft saying that while the wonderful people of the Justice Department contributed to keeping America safe, that really the ultimate gratitude is due to God.

"If that is true, why did God leave us vulnerable on 9/11?"


Source: http://www.theledger.com/article/20110226/NEWS/110229823/1326?p=1&a...


Views: 90

Comment by Arcus on February 27, 2011 at 5:48am

Sure we can.

Politics are not only about religioin, and political parties should be picked as the one you disagree with the least (vs agree with the most). To simplify, if you agree with conservative fiscal and foreign policies, but not religioin, and vice versa for the liberals, you should probably label yourself a conservative.


Comment by Steve M on February 27, 2011 at 4:32pm
By nature atheist are supposed to be skeptical but I find the tendency for most atheist to follow leftist ideologies dogmatically somewhat alarming. Why buy entirely into any preset political mind set. I thought skeptics were just that about anything.  What is wrong with independent thinking?
Comment by April on February 27, 2011 at 7:32pm

I happen to be a fiscal conservative.  I've never understood why that had anything to do with my religious beliefs, but a lot of people seem to think it does.  I am very liberal on all social issues though.  I think that pretty much always goes along with atheism, because we don't really have any reason to discriminate against people or want to take away their rights.


I usually describe myself as a left-leaning libertarian though, not as a conservative.  I don't even really fit completely in with libertarians, but I guess they're the closest to supporting my beliefs.  Now when it comes to voting, I usually vote Democrat, because I feel that they are the lesser of two evils.  I would rather vote for someone who I think could possibly damage the economy than someone who wants to take away human rights, such as abortion, gay rights, etc.  I think a lot of atheists that have some conservative leanings probably do the same thing, and vote against the religious nut-jobs at the expense of their views about the economy, foreign policy, or whatever views they hold that might be considered "conservative." Or, they vote for a third party.  Not many atheists vote republican.


Comment by Gaytor on February 27, 2011 at 8:59pm

An Atheist could be conservative in the sense that they believe that smaller government would be the most effective. They could be a State's rights person. They could defend the Constitution. They could seek to limit the spending of the government. They could be advocates of the the law. Modern Republicans are none of these.

The Constitution only matters to the extent that they agree with the results. ie Abortion. 

They claim fiscal responsibility but... 

They claim to be about rule of law and for the Constitution but rail against Activist Judges even though it's being done exactly as the Constitution prescribes. Your law steps on rights, it's no longer valid. The default is not their fault, it's simply defending the Constitution. 


I would say that I'm Conservative in that the legal structure of the government is fine. Where the Republicans would call me a Pinko Lefty is when it comes to compassion. What they don't realize is that the founding of this country was in and of itself the most liberal act in politics at that time. They defend ideals and institutions over people, and that wasn't why this country was founded. So, yeah, as a near Marxist Leftist, I believe that I'm more conservative than Republicans, whom are currently pretty authoritarian, contrary to the founding of this country. 

Comment by Ed on February 27, 2011 at 11:17pm

Is anyone really comfortable with being labelled? I'm not. I definitely do'nt fit the mold of any present political parties:

Conservative                                                                    Liberal

get a job, get off your lazy ass, no free lunches               universal healthcare

no "crazy" checks; stricter qualifications for disability       pro-choice

guns, oh yeah, can't get enough of them                          pro-medical marijuana

less big government; make states more powerful            pro-euthanasia

strong defense/military but kept at home                          rehabilitation over incarceration

pro-death penalty


So i admit I am kinda like my ole yeller dog: a Heinz 57 of sorts. I make no excuses, I'm too gray haired for that.  :^)




Comment by Atheist Exile on February 28, 2011 at 1:48am
I don't see liberalism or conservatism as either/or.  I don't accept everything either ideology supports.  I, for instance, support abortion but not gun control, tighter immigration control and public health care.

Atheist websites are overwhelmingly liberal in ideology . . . so much so that expressing a conservative opinion is likely to mean fending off angry replies.  But I don't let that stop me :-)

Whether or not you're left, right or center on the political spectrum, you should be able to tolerate opposing points of view.  No matter your ideology, you're still an American.  Freedom of speech is our birthright and no 2 people agree on everything.
Comment by Atheist Exile on February 28, 2011 at 1:50am

Hey Ed,

I read your response after posting mine.  I'm with you, guy.

Comment by Ben on February 28, 2011 at 4:03pm
I am a libertarian because I don't like the government telling me what I can or can't do about anything. I know we need some infrastructure to build roads and such. I don't like either side republican or democrat telling me how money should be spent or what should or shouldn't be accepted as moral.


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