A Matter of Politics: Defining “Religion”, Part 11

The Politics of Atheism

The political sphere is one area where the common thought is that religion should play no part. But as we are finding in this study defining “religion” in some precise manner is, at best, a slippery pig to wrestle. Whenever we discuss politics though, we are not discussing that which is value-neutral. Any meaningful discourse in politics  inherently depends upon values held by the parties in question. Religion, given that it is a vehicle for ethics as we have previously discussed, is rich with values. Values help people to prioritize, a prioritization is necessary for politics.

One of the problems with atheism is that it is highly individualistic.(56) Being so nested in the individual, there is inherent resistance to anything that could remotely bring them into a group. Politics, like religion, requires a voice. And not just a singular voice, but often a group of voices to speak, and be heard. So, the question is, do atheists try to speak in such a way? In order to answer this question, we need to look at some numbers. 

According to Pew Research, “traditionally Democratic (USA) groups, including members of historically black Protestant churches, religious ‘nones’ and members of some non-Christian religious traditions, continue to identify with the Democratic Party in large numbers.”(57) How high are these numbers, you might ask. Among self-identified atheists, roughly 69% identify as a Democrat or lean in that direction.(58) The general trajectory and focus of the political views of the Democratic Party are liberal in the view of abortion rights and LGBT issues.(59)

Politically, atheism probably finds its voice in various organizations, such as the American Humanist Association, an organization that promotes, “A secular, open, and pluralistic society where government does not ascribe to one worldview over another…”(60) Similarly, Humanist UK proposes, “…a secular state…”(61) 

Politically, such atheist organizations, “…endorse a strong commitment to a naturalist world- view, and to the virtues of reason, rationality and science as the best means of understanding reality.”(62) This view then would seem to lend itself toward allegedly “liberal” (eg left-leaning) ideals. However, there has been a slight surge in “conservative” or “classically liberal” ideals among those who identify as atheists.(63)

Is this enough to conclude that atheism is a religion since it appears to have a political aspect?

To answer this question, we must ask another question: why politics?

Politics is ultimately an extension of one’s worldview, which necessarily includes the values and meanings inherent in that worldview. Human beings seek to shape the world to their ends and to bring it under control of their beliefs. To that end governments form, and policies extend outward, like a creeping vine in order to bear fruit. Politics is just the means to shape the world into what we want the world to be like, to impose order onto the chaos of life.

This is not to say that atheism is inherently political, but rather—if it is a religion—it has a view of reality that those who adopt it and profess it wish to impose upon the world in which they live.

For earlier posts in this series.

For Part 12

Notes

56. Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith. “Secularist Rituals in the US: Solidarity and Legitimization”. Atheist Identities – Spaces and Social Contexts, Vol.2: Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies. Springer International Publishing. 2015. p.97

57. Pew Research “Religious Landscape Study Results

58. Pew Research “10 Facts About Atheists

59. 2020 Democratic Platform

60. AHA “Religion and Government Separation

61. Humaninst UK “Constitutional Reform

62. Kettell, S 2013 Faithless: The politics of new atheism. Secularism and Nonreligion, 2. 2013. pp. 61-72,

63. Matthew Estes. “The Conservative Atheists”. Harvard Political Review. 2015.

 

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