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Atheists & Political Issues: What Do Atheists Believe About Political Issues?

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Does Atheism Entail any Political Positions?:

It’s popular to imagine that atheists all share common views on various political issues. Since this assumption is frequent with those who think the same thing about all “true” Christians, perhaps this is not a surprise — but it’s still wrong. The only thing all atheists share in common is an absence of belief in the existence of gods. Beyond that, atheists may hold any position on any political issue, and in fact atheists often disagree strongly in political debates.

Atheists & Abortion:

There is nothing about atheism which mandates any particular conclusion about abortion, but atheists are more likely to be pro-choice than to support criminalizing abortion. Few atheists believe that a fetus at any stage has a soul, but some believe that the life of a fetus should be protected. Where such atheists draw the line varies — some would ban abortion at any stage and others would ban abortion after the first clear signs of higher brain activity. Read More...

Atheists & Gay Marriage:

Disbelief in gods has nothing to do with marriage, gay or straight, but atheists are more likely to support legal gay marriage than not. Opposition to gay marriage is based more upon traditional theistic and religious assumptions which atheists don’t share, so there are few arguments against gay marriage which atheists are predisposed to accept. Most atheists recognize that banning gay marriage on the basis of religious definitions of marriage is contrary to their own interests in many ways.

Atheists & Church/State Separation:

One area where you’ll find near-unanimity among atheists is on the idea that church and state should be separated. Atheists disagree, however, on how strict the separation should be and on specific cases. Some atheists think it is important to remove “under God” from money and the Pledge of Allegiance; others think that it’s unimportant, a waste of time, or even counterproductive. The same differences can be found in other specific church/state issues.

Atheists & Teaching Creationism:

Another issue where there is widespread agreement is on whether creationism should be taught in public schools: atheists generally oppose it, including in the form of Intelligent Design. Even here, though, there is not perfect unanimity because it is possible for an atheist to think that Intelligent Design is an alternative which deserves to be presented. Most, though, recognize that it is a religious ideology which at best might be explained in a class on philosophy or politics.

Atheists & War:

Significant diversity can be found among atheists on questions about war: are wars ever justified, have any particular wars been justified, how should wars be conducted, etc. There were heated debates among atheists over the wisdom and legality of America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, for example, and disagreements on this matter continue. There is no specific position on war generally or any war in particular which all atheists will or should agree upon.

Atheists & Health Care:

Atheists also debate the politics of health care: should the state provide universal coverage, should expensive end-of-life treatments be provided, should religious hospitals be forced to provide treatments which they object to on religious grounds, etc. Because atheists have diverse political views, they will necessarily reach diverse conclusions on these issues.

Atheists & Taxation:

Taxes affect everyone and there are always lots of debates over what taxes are justified and, if so, how high they should be. Atheists don’t all agree on such questions: some believe in much lower taxes and more limited government while others prefer higher taxes and a stronger government role in society. It’s unlikely that any two randomly selected atheists will agree on any question regarding taxes — they are as diverse as the general population on this issue.

Atheists & Environmental Regulation:

Environmental concerns loom ever larger in politics today and atheists can be as divided on how these concerns should be addressed as the rest of the public. Some atheists regard global warming as a serious threat that merits drastic action; others see it as a myth that merits no serious attention. Some want the government to take an active role in limiting pollution; others think that the free market will take care of matters if left alone to do its job.

Political Trends and Beliefs Among Atheists:

Once people realize that atheism isn’t an ideology, religion, belief system, philosophy, world view, or anything of the sort, and that atheism is instead simply the absence of belief in gods, then they can begin to understand that there is nothing about atheism which necessarily entails any particular conclusions about anything religious, social, personal, or political. As explained above, for example, you can pick any political issue and find that there is no universal agreement among atheists about what should be done.

This does not mean, however, that there aren’t any trends or tendencies among atheists. Atheism may be nothing more or less than the absence of belief in gods, but there are a number of factors which can cause atheists to arrive at similar conclusions — just not on account of their atheism. First is the existence of a shared political and social culture in the modern West. This necessarily limits the degree of variety in political beliefs.

Second is the fact that so many atheists in the West, and especially in America, grew up as religious theists and only later became atheists. If atheists share a background of skepticism, questioning, and criticism of traditional beliefs that brought them to their atheism, then that background can easily bring them to other shared conclusions. Thus it isn’t that their atheism leads them to any particular political beliefs, but rather that both their atheism and their political beliefs are derived from the same methodology for evaluating truth claims in both politics and religion.

Finally, there is the fact that conservative political parties, especially in America, tend to be hostile towards atheism and godlessness. There are many conservative atheists, but being a conservative atheist isn’t easy — both because of the aforementioned hostility as well as the simple fact that religion is an important source of the traditions which conservatism typically seeks to conserve.

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