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Can Conservatives Be Atheists?

A video dialogue at PJTV with Bill Whittle.

by
Andrew Klavan

Bio

June 16, 2013 - 11:00 am

This PJTV discussion between me and Bill Whittle seems to have inspired a bit of online debate — plus some hate mail for me! What’s interesting is how many people heard me say that no, a conservative couldn’t be an atheist. As opposed to what I did say, which was yes, he could. Easy to get those two confused. And to those who asked whether I’ve ever read Ayn Rand, the answer is also yes, virtually all her major works and many of her minor ones as well. I find her economic ideas — most of which can be found in Frederic Bastiat — very sound. Her moral and aesthetic ideas are absurd. Even the people who believe in them don’t really believe in them.

Anyway, here’s the vid. Decide for yourself. All hate mail should be addressed to Bill. I mean, just look at him!

YouTube Preview Image

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Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

Andrew Klavan’s newest novel is Nightmare City.

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All Comments   (33)
All Comments   (33)
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Of course you can be an atheist and a conservative. People are not required to be consistent. That's one of the things that make people interesting.

William F. Buckley, Jr. told the story about the time Max Eastman quit the National Review staff. Eastman had renounced communism (as so many of those early National Review writers had done) but never renounced his atheism. On his way out the door, Eastman complained bitterly to Buckley of the pro-Catholic perspective of National Review.

I thought Buckley's response was rather interesting: he pointed out, if his predominantly Catholic staff had had no complaint in working side by side with the atheist Eastman (and they hadn't), why would Eastman complain about working with them?

Interesting. The answer, in Eastman's case, must have been that even more than he couldn't stand progressivism, he couldn't stand Christianity. I think this is Biblical. Jesus warned that He came not to bring peace, but a sword. Paul added that Christians would be attacked both by the "Jews" (the theologians) as heretics and the "Greeks" (the philosophers) as foolish.

Christianity does more than divide men from one another; it divides man from within, putting him at odds what he finds comfortable. For many Christians, it often feels like the Lord appears in the form of Gunny Highway (Clint Eastwood's character in "Heartbreak Ridge": "We're looking for a few good men; unfortunately, you ain't it." But "we're not good" is the foundation of Christian theology, and until that lesson can be ground in, Christians are a burden both to others and to themselves.

As long as conservative atheists and conservative Christians have a common enemy, I don't see why we can't work together. But the day may come when their treaty of convenience will no longer need to be honored.



43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
You can be conservative and atheists. The sticky wicket for me is that I strongly believe that our Constitution makes the delineation that our basic inalienable rights are derived from God (or a higher power/deity). Because of this, I have a very hard time ever seeing myself voting for an avowed atheist no matter how conservative his or her professed beliefs.

The only way I could ever do so is if I could get a reassuring answer to the following question:

Our inalienable rights are held by us of a higher power and therefore not for any agency of humankind to attempt to abridge or otherwise take away or restrain. If you don't believe in a higher power, then how could I be sure that you view my basic rights as inviolate?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
One can turn the question around, however. How can I be sure that a theist official won't have a "Road to Damascus" moment and decide that God's will demands the sacrifice of our rights? Christendom has spawned its fair share of mass murders and tyrants over the years. As has every other grouping of humanity.

To attempt to answer your question. I don't worry about where rights come from, logically there is no difference between "God" and "I don't know." I know I have the ability to make choices. I infer, based on observation, that those around me have a similar ability. Reason tells me that the only way to preserve my ability to choose is to live in a society that respects individual freedom. The price of that society is that I cannot tell others what to do.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
> Christendom has spawned its fair share of mass murders and tyrants over the years.

Out of curiosity, which Christian mass murderers and tyrants are you thinking of?

And, is there any comparison in scope to the mass murders and tyrants who were inspired by atheistic philosophy? I'm fine with shaming Christians for the sins of their fellow travelers, especially when they try to make excuses... but why don't atheists ever take a lesson from the atrocities of Marxism?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Um, you are aware that almost all major leaders in Europe for the past 1700 years has been Christian, right? So, pick an atrocity since the fourth century and odds are it was committed by Christians (unless you want to define Christian so as to exclude them, in which case you're committing the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. If I wanted piss-poor logic enslaved to emotion I would hang out at HuffPo.). But, a partial list off the top of my head. The Crusaders, the conquistadors, both sides of the 30-Years' War, and everyone involved in the lead up to World War I.

I don't hold any Christian responsible for the actions of others. Their sins are not yours, just like Lenin and Mao's sins aren't mine. If I wanted rejection of individual responsibility I would hang out with vile progs.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
> unless you want to define Christian so as to exclude them, in which case you're committing the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. If I wanted piss-poor logic enslaved to emotion I would hang out at HuffPo.

And if I wanted to discuss these things with someone who sets up straw men and then triumphantly knocks them over, I could send emails to Paul Krugman.

Let's stipulate that atrocious behavior is a function of being human. Christianity does not hold that human behavior becomes perfect after embracing its principles. But they do argue that prolonged and faithful exposure to the tenets and to the "means of grace" afforded man (such as church and prayer) will change him, make his behavior more godly.

Unlike the leftist "religions" of power and exaltation of man, at the very least, Christianity tries to guide the eschatological instinct and directs it to where it can do the most good: "Reformer, reform thyself." Deal with your own depraved nature, before you go changing the world to your tastes.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I see that you did not take up my challenge, let's re-state it: list specific Christian mass murderers and tyrants and show how Christian atrocities are on the same scale as the great atheist atrocities.

As extra credit, show how the atrocities and tyrannies follow from Christian doctrine.

Because I can do it in reverse; I can show you not only atheist atrocities, but I can also explain how they follow from the assumption that there is no god in heaven, above us only sky.

> The Crusaders

Why weren't the Crusades a response to being invaded by Muslims?

> the conquistadors

...who by the way ended the religious atrocities such as human sacrifice of the pre-Columbian civilizations.

> both sides of the 30-Years' War, and everyone involved in the lead up to World War I.

And name one, any one, that rises to the level, say, of Pol Pot murdering one million of his own citizens. I picked a simple one for you; we could have gone right to Stalin and Mao.

> I don't hold any Christian responsible for the actions of others.

Fine, then why did you bring it up? You said, "Christendom has spawned its fair share of mass murders and tyrants over the years. As has every other grouping of humanity." If that's not damnation by association, then what is it?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Your arguments are fallacious. I would explain exactly why but I have better things to do with my time than teach you basic rhetoric. Such as teaching calculus to ducks.

Nevertheless you have conceded the point I was trying to make, that religion is no proof against evil. Thus voting for or against a politician of the basis of religion is idiocy of the first water.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
> Your arguments are fallacious. I would explain exactly why but I have better things to do with my time than teach you basic rhetoric. Such as teaching calculus to ducks.

Where does ad hominem fit into your lexicon of basic rhetoric?

> Nevertheless you have conceded the point I was trying to make, that religion is no proof against evil.

I'm fine with that, if that was your basic point. My reaction was to the glib "moral equivalence" gambit you were playing. Non-believers sin; Christians sin; therefore they must be pretty much the same.

And in a sense they are. Christians themselves are no better than non-Christians. That's why they needed a savior.

But it's easy to take Christianity's contribution to the betterment of mankind for granted.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm surprised you didn't reference the anti-Christian, possibly anti-Religion atrocities committed during the French Revolution in full detail, as that took place long before Karl Marx himself was even born, never mind the founding of the Soviet Union.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Or Rousseauism (ie, the French Revolution, which brought atheism to the forefront to the populace), for that matter?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a conservative Atheist I have sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from ALL enemies foreign and domestic. What more assurance could one attain than the professed allegiance to an idea which has transcended time. We in the military do not swear allegiance to a man nor the population at large. We swear it to the idea that has served this country, born in blood by my brothers, both Theists and Atheists alike. An oath which has held this country together through civil war and the threat of global decimation.

We may be a minority in the strongest sense of the word, but do not think for a second that we would usurp that which we would lay and have, our lives down for.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, and we can see where the people who have taken that same oath in our government today have taken us in terms of protecting and defending the COTUS and our basic unalienable rights. If you don't believe deeply that you are being held to a higher standard than that of an oath to other men ... then well ... we're back to where we were.

But then, I'm not sure there is much that will make me believe in my government ever again or at least for a long, long time. How can I?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe so, but then again, the French, the Russians, and every other country founded by atheists usually swore their oaths to some sort of cause (with the French, it was Roussau, Voltaire and Sade, with the Russians and everyone else, it was Marx). That resulted in unimaginable horrors. I'm still not trusting of Atheists, as history has taught me far too well that Atheism has caused great ruin, whether it be under the premise of spreading Democracy, spreading Communism, spreading Socialism, spreading humanism, and the like.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
You clearly have a chip on your shoulder. Be it due to some personal/social issues in your past or your seeming inability to attribute morality as being learned by something/someone other than your own personal deity. I pity you and I would hope that there are some kindly Theists out there who can pray for your learning of tolerance. You may not trust me, but when the day comes, though you and I will never know each other, I will still place myself between the citizens of this nation and the enemy bent on their death.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I really dislike it when people conflate conservatism and the right as being the same. They're not. The Right doesn't change its values, conservatism does. I should remind you that the terms right and left were taken directly from the bible (ironically by the French Revolutionaries) and were in reference to the Book of Revelations, with the Revolutionaries being on the Left, self-identifying as such, and basically saying they are proud to be the ones who are damned by Christ. They were inspired to do this by Rousseau, which is the main reason why he is labelled as the Founder of Leftism. The fact that despite that nickname, he is the namesake of a "conservative" institute in France only solidifies that conservatism and the right wing were never supposed to be the same, nor is liberalism and the left supposed to be the same thing.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think we're asking this the wrong way: What we should be asking is whether Atheists could be of the Right wing instead of the Left wing. Liberals and Conservatives are squishy and can depend on the culture. For example, the liberals in Great Britain support ending Abortion, yet the Conservatives want to continue with it. Right and Left, unlike Conservative and Liberal, however, are absolute placements, meaning they don't change. The Left as a political term was coined during the French Revolution by the Radicals to describe themselves. It was taken from the Book of Revelations where Jesus damned those on his left side. Since that time nothings truly changed from that unlike liberals and conservatives.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Anybody can defend greed. Only a conservative will believe that unalienable rights are endowed by oiur Creator. Only a fool will think our Creator can mean undirected, natural forces.

43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually, not even a conservative: Only someone who is right wing will believe that, and I identify myself as right wing. Don't forget, the Pro-Life movement in Britain is considered Liberal, not Conservative as it is in our country. The Conservatives in Britain, meanwhile are closer to the pro-Abortion crowd.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Remember, European ideas of right and left wing are very different than American ideas of right and left wing. In Europe, you start running into the battle to define national socialism v. communism which are really only defined by the strong streak of nationalism in one as opposed to the other while both wind up being government controlled tyrannies. In the US, the proper idea of right v left is or should be more anarcho-libertarian v government control state or liberty tyranny.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Conservative and Liberal? Yes. But not left and right. Don't forget that the mere concept of Left and Right originated in Europe during the French Revolution, and were intended to be far different than Liberal and Conservative, defined by the Renaissance. Heck, the terms originated specifically in reference to the Bible, Book of Revelations, more specifically. So no, they are absolute placements regardless of where it is used. Conservative and Liberal are the only political terms/alignments that actually do shift. And actually, anarchism, regardless of its forms, is left-wing. In case you've forgotten, France post-French Revolution was in a state of total anarchy, as commented on by the founding fathers. Ironically, Communism, another left-wing movement, is actually just slightly more to the right of Anarchism.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am conservative.
I am an Atheist.

Clearly I am a conservative Atheist.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sure, perhaps you are conservative. But, are you right wing? The British Parliament members who supported abortion were Conservative, and the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute is reputed as a Conservative institute, yet they are nonetheless of the left, not of the right (heck, Rousseau himself was known as the founder of leftism for a reason).
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am a Conservative. I however am not part of the right or left wing. I am one of those nameless centrists. There is a plethora of issues on the left which make my blood boil. The same can be said of the right.

Having to make a choice, I however would have no choice but to claim a right leaning.

Liberalism/Progressive movements are the physical manifestation of the mental disease that is slowing destroying this country.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry for saying this, but I have a hard time believing it: Atheism came to the forefront for the first time during the French Revolution, a left-wing revolution. It resulted in constant butchery of Christians, countless rapes, killing pregnant women with bayonets and butchering the fetus in the process, playing "ball" by throwing babies from the roof and then "catching" them with the bayonet, putting people into ovens, the guillotine, etc., etc. It wouldn't even end there, either: Karl Marx then formed Marxism, of which one of its core tenants was the promotion of Atheism and the destruction of all religious beliefs, or as he put it himself "Religion is the opiate of the masses." That led to the horrors of the Soviet Union, Red China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, several Communist African countries, the Eastern Bloc, heck, even Nazi Germany, all promoting the destruction of all religious basis and promoting atheism in its place. Atheism is very much leftism in itself. No matter what country, no matter how it is done, when atheism is implemented, it inevitably is from the left, and it is inevitably results in destruction and chaos. In fact, I'd probably bet that atheism IS the left.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Answer: Yes

Proof: Me
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sure, perhaps you are conservative. But, are you right wing? The British Parliament members who supported abortion were Conservative, and the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute is reputed as a Conservative institute, yet they are nonetheless of the left, not of the right (heck, Rousseau himself was known as the founder of leftism for a reason).
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
You really need to study some political history. If you have studied political history you need to demand your money back.

Yes, Rousseau was left wing for his time. By that definition we are ALL left wing, unless you advocate that political power should be vested in a king and a class of nobles and be inheritable. Really, by traditional definitions today's Democrats are right-wing conservatives and the Tea Party are left-wing liberals. But that would confuse nearly everybody and defeat the purpose of language.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Left-wing" was actually meant to represent the radicals. The term was taken from the Book of Revelations to represent those Jesus Christ damned during Judgment Day (those who stood at his left side). The radicals adopted that term and wore it like a badge of honor, making it quite clear that the left wing was intended to attack and destroy God.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
No, it came from the seating arrangement at the Estates General, where the nobility and clergy, who mostly supported absolute monarchy, sat to the right of the King while the burghers, who mostly supported republicanism or limited monarchy, were seated on the left. It has nothing to do with the Bible except perhaps that the seating arrangement was made by a royalist clerk with a familiarity with Revelations.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
No, actually, it came from the Book of Revelations. I can even cite the source:

http://www.theculturewatch.com/the-french-revolution

"The Origin of the Left Wing
It was in the French Revolution that the terms 'left wing' and 'right wing' were first coined. Those on the left were the Radicals, who proudly adopted the designation as a symbol of their Revolutionary defiance of Christian tradition which always represented those on the right hand of God as saved, and those on the left as damned. (James Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men: Origin of the Revolutionary Faith.)" And if the article itself is not enough, the author kindly cited the source for this claim, so you can find out for yourself. Heck, I'll even go to my nearest bookstore and get that book if that's what it takes, and make sure to jot down the page numbers for you to find.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yeah, see, a website doesn't really count as a "source." Especially when we're talking about the origins of a term in the 17th century.

Etymology is a field with multiple theories on origins. Just because it's in a book, even a book by a well respected scholar, doesn't mean it's true. It could be a bit like a 24th century academic saying that the Tea Party got its name from the members' affinity for putting their scrota in other people's mouths. When only a partial record exists it is difficult to differentiate the origin of the term from the twisting of it by political opponents.

You're the one making the claim (ad nauseum), it is contingent on you to support it. And a tertiary (at best) source with improper citation doesn't cut it.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
What makes you think I'm not trying to support it? I am, and cited a source. I'm willing to find more sources if that's what it takes. And believe me, there are other sources out there besides those two. Like I said, I will find the book at Barnes and Noble, and if not buy the book, then at least photocopy the pages that reference this claim, as well as cite specific footnotes just to make sure I covered the basics.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
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