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The Atheist-Progressive Alliance

June 4, 2012, 6:00 AM
Crocuses

I've long argued that there's a natural alliance between atheism and feminism, for the same reason that there's a natural alliance between atheism and GLBT activism: because we all understand what it's like to experience oppression and discrimination rooted in religion, and we ought to grasp that by cooperating to diminish religion's power, we can achieve goals we all hold in common. And in spite of a few recent, high-profile flamewars over questions of sexism and harassment in the atheist community, this political logic still holds very much true, as evidenced by a Gallup poll from May 29:

Americans with no religious attachment (self-identified atheists, agnostics, and those with simply no religious preference) identify as pro-choice by a 49-percentage-point margin over pro-life, 68% to 19%. This represents the strongest propensity toward the pro-choice position of any major U.S. demographic (as distinct from political) subgroup.

This finding is a strong argument for the fundamentally religious and faith-based nature of anti-abortion arguments: as people lose their religious beliefs, their pro-life views drop away as well. If anti-abortion views were based on evidence and reason, then we'd have every right to expect that the atheist community would be more evenly divided, and that there wouldn't be such a chasm between the religious and the nonreligious on the issue of choice. This is the same unobjectionable logic we use to conclude that rejection of evolution is driven mostly by religious belief.

And it's not just choice or evolution where we can see this sharp divide between theists and atheists. One of my first posts on the old Daylight Atheism was about a Pew survey which asked about the permissibility of torturing people suspected of terrorism. Here the gap wasn't as dramatic, but it was still significant: secularists were more likely than Christians to say that torture is never justified, by a 10-percentage-point margin. And of course, same-sex marriage is another issue where the nonreligious overwhelmingly come down on one side: we support marriage equality by a stratospheric 76% margin.

All these data points show that, while there's no necessary connection between atheism and progressive political views, in practice it usually does work out that way. I leave it up to you, readers, to weigh in on why that is. Are these the correct views, and atheists, being the most rational people around, are more likely to hit on them? (That's obviously the most self-serving possibility.) Are we driven by an instinctive rejection of the political views that have most commonly been supported by religion? Absent a belief in heaven, do we put greater emphasis on compassion and fairness in this life? Or is there another explanation I haven't considered?

Whatever the reasons for this correlation, it's clear that the growth of atheism's numbers and political influence is a development that should be welcomed by feminists, science advocates, gay-rights activists, and other people who uphold progressive values. As PZ Myers puts it, atheists could be the progressive air force, altering the political landscape and shaking up debates that are bogged down in deadlock or dominated by right-wing pressure groups marching in lockstep. And there's an obvious corollary for liberals: regardless of whether you're an atheist yourself, everything you do to weaken the power of dogmatic, authoritarian religion will help bring all your other goals closer to fruition!

Image credit: Per Ola Wiberg

 

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