In an article published on Salon, author and columnist CJ Werleman argues that American atheists cannot be Republicans. Quoting Christopher Hitchens, Werleman states that since atheists’ “intellectual advantage” is the ability to reject unprovable assertions on face value, there is no room for non-believers in the Republican Party, where belief in such assertions abounds. Werleman suggests that even if one could look past the obvious religious motivations behind many of the Republican policy positions, the Party’s track-record of being wrong “on just about everything” from climate change to the Iraq war should alienate any rational atheist.
Werleman also calls for American atheists to grow up. By this he means that atheism needs to mature into a movement with interests beyond the mere validation of non-belief, and to steer away from image harming “fear-mongering” over Islam. American atheism must stop being an apolitical club of smug white middle class men, he says, and begin to address larger issues, such as the seemingly ever increasing income inequality. Werleman suggests that if the “fastest growing minority” (that’s atheists) were to amass its voting power, and build relationships with other communities interested in real social justice, it could be possible to create a unified Secular Left to take on the mighty Christian Right.
But how likely is it that atheists (and the like-minded) could group together to seize such political power? What Werleman seems to forget is that atheism itself is not a political stance, nor does it come with set ideas about social justice, minority rights, or income distribution. While the Jesus-embracing ethos of some Republicans will definitely put off most non-believers, atheists are not a uniform group and certainly not one that shares identical political opinions. Even in America, atheists are found both on the left and right of the political spectrum: Indeed, as Werleman also mentions, a number of atheists in the US identify with the libertarian wing of the Republicans. However, this may not be an obstacle for the Secular Left, as he seems to think that the innate rationalism of a non-believer will eventually lead to dropping libertarianism and other untested and frequently refuted ideologies.
Can pure evidence then persuade American atheists to mobilise into a unified Secular Left? Atheists indeed share a trust in evidence in the sense that the conclusion of not believing in God often arises from the lack of proof for the existence of any. But this does not mean that non-believers necessarily will come to the same conclusions on other issues. Atheists undoubtedly find the debate over the hundreds of interpretations of what the Bible says about healthcare reforms or same-sex marriage amusing, but “evidence-based” arguments are also available for practically all non-religious opinions. Most political theories can’t be conclusively tested before being put into practice, so providing irrefutable evidence to convince the right-wing atheists to join the Secular Left may prove quite difficult. Atheists certainly like to talk about building a better world, but our shared godlessness does not mean we also agree on how to best go about it.