Do you think an avowed atheist would ever get elected in the U.S.?
Yes. I do not believe any of the statistical claims that are made about public opinion. I donít see why anybody does.
Has anyone in the Bush administration confided in you about being an atheist?
Well, I donít talk that much to themómaybe people think I do. I know something which is known to few but is not a secret. Karl Rove is not a believer, and he doesnít shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, ďIím not fortunate enough to be a person of faith.Ē
What must Bush make of that?
I think itís false to say that the president acts as if he believes he has Godís instructions. Compared to Jimmy Carter, heís nowhere. Heís a Methodist, having joined his wifeís church in the end. He also claims that Jesus got him off the demon drink. He doesnít believe it. His wife said, ďIf you donít stop, Iím leaving and Iím taking the kids.Ē You can say that you got help from Jesus if you want, but thatís just a polite way of putting it in Texas.
Although some might find this unbelievable, there are reasons to think it plausible that Karl Rove could be an atheist. Rove and other neoconservatives seem to use the political philosophy of Leo Strauss who taught, in part, that religion was necessary to control people. He wasn't religious himself, he simply considered necessary. In the book Toward a New Political Humanism, Katherine Yurica explains what she sees as the basic contradictions between neoconservative, Straussian thought and traditional Christianity:
First: Strauss believed that a leader had to perpetually deceive the citizens he ruled.
Secondly: Those who lead must understand there is no morality, there is only the right of the superior to rule the inferior.
Thirdly: According to Drury, Religion "is the glue that holds society together." It is a handle by which the ruler can manipulate the masses. Any religion will do. Strauss is indifferent to them all.
Fourthly: "Secular societyÖis the worst possible thing," because it leads to individualism, liberalism, and relativism, all of which encourage dissent and rebellion. As Drury sums it up: "You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty."
Fifthly: "Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat; and following Machiavelli, he maintains that if no external threat exists, then one has to be manufactured."
Sixthly: "In Strauss's view, the trouble with liberal society is that it dispenses with noble lies and pious frauds. It tries to found society on secular rational foundations."
Yurica relies heavily on Shadia Drury's book Leo Strauss and the American Right for the above and it does suggest that neoconservatism and Christianity are at odds with one another ó or at least that they should be, if they were completely open and honest about their aims and principles. In some cases, though, like with the fourth and sixth points, it seems like Leo Strauss would sound very appealing to the Christian Right.
On the one hand, I know as well as other atheists that merely being atheists doesn't mean that two people have anything else in common. There are lots of atheists out there whose political, philosophical, and social beliefs are at odds with mine. Why should Karl Rove be any different? On the other hand, though, Rove's behavior and activities are so extreme that it's difficult not to experience a twinge of discomfort and even embarrassment at the possibility that he might be an atheist.
I think it's worth contemplating what such information, if true, would mean for the Christian Right. Some may see it as a further excuse to distance "real" conservatives and "real" Christians from the Bush administration, as if Bush and his followers hadn't been doing so much to benefit conservatism and Christians for so many years. It might cause other conservative Christians to experience more than a little cognitive dissonance. I wonder also if Rove might serve as one of those "atheist boogeymen" that Christians trot out as an example of how being an atheist prevents a person from being moral.
I think that Hitchens is wrong when he suggests that George W. Bush isn't sincere. That is certainly possible, but Hitchens doesn't offer any reason to think it is ó even his reason for calling Rove an atheist, while little more than hearsay, at least qualifies as a reason. Bush has stated more than once that he has been following God's orders. If Hitchens is going to claim that Bush doesn't really believe any of this, he'll have to do better.