Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Where are the progressive atheists? Right here.

I can't believe I actually have to work at an argument FOR the idea that atheists tend to be liberal, but I had to respond to this ridiculous article from an Australian columnist commenting on the supposed prominence of "right wing war-mongerers" in the atheist movement.

I would post this on the Atheist Experience blog, but we don't officially support a political persuasion in the group, and this is easier to discuss on my personal blog.

This is how I replied:

Hi Jeff, I'm a progressive atheist from Austin, Texas, one of the hosts of a show called "The Atheist Experience."

Your question about where all the progressive atheists have gone is a little odd to me. I can't speak to the situation in your country, but here in the United States, "godless liberal" is a term frequently tossed about as an insult by the far right wing, who are inextricably wrapped up in the religious right. Among people who claimed no religion in exit polls in our last two elections, 67% voted for John Kerry over George Bush in 2004, and 75% voted for Barack Obama in 2008. In both cases, this makes up a significantly higher proportion for the Democratic candidate than the general public. I'm willing to bet you'd find similar majorities in your own elections if you go by statistics rather than anecdotes.

In fact, I hope you don't mind my saying so, but your own penetrating analysis showing that atheists are right wing fascists seems to rely heavily on cherry picking a couple of individuals and assuming that they represent the entire group. There are two other atheists prominently featured at your link, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, both very strong liberal voices. Dawkins can be seen here calling for votes for the Liberal Democrat party in England. Gregory S. Paul recently wrote in the Washington Post, not only in defense of atheism, but also in favor of important progressive ethics such as civil rights, environmentalism, and opposition to US torture policies. Peter Singer, a prominent atheist philosopher from your country, is also generally considered extremely left wing. PZ Myers, one of the most popular atheist bloggers, is regularly attacked by the right wing for his outspoken liberal views.

To the extent that atheists could in any way be described as "anti-Islam," by and large we don't favor blanket military actions against them based on their religion, nor do we want to stop them from freely practicing their religion as they choose. Rather, atheists argue with the doctrines of fundamentalist Islam in exactly the same terms that we oppose the doctrines of fundamentalist Christianity: we don't want to see the curtailing of freedom of speech, or gender equality, and we think that nobody should fear a threat on their life for speaking out against harmful religious practices.

Christopher Hitchens is actually quite liberal in many other areas outside his foreign policy beliefs, describing himself as a "Marxist" as recently as 2006, and joining with the American Civil Liberties Union in the same year to oppose the Bush Administration's warrantless spying on U.S. citizens. His views on the Iraq invasion, while they have been as you describe, are by no means in the mainstream among the majority of atheists.

Where are the progressive atheists? Anywhere you find atheists, there they are.