A Fundamental Disconnect

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Why, exactly, are the most prominent organizations within the atheist and skeptical communities so conservative?

Take American Atheists. Last year their application for a booth at CPAC was yanked at the last minute. Not to worry, David Silverman went anyway.

Why not let conservatives be conservatives and just vote for the candidates he likes? “Because I want a choice,” said Silverman. “I don’t get a choice at the voting booth, ever.” He describes himself as a “fiscally conservative” voter who “owns several guns. I’m a strong supporter of the military. I think fiscal responsibility is very important. I see that as pretty conservative. And I have my serious suspicions about Obama. I don’t like that he’s spying on us. I don’t like we’ve got drones killing people…” In the final analysis, “the Democrats are too liberal for me,” he says.

Hobnobbing with racists, homophobes and gun nuts went over so well that AA came back this year, this time scoring an official booth and time at the podium. It was Jamila Bey’s turn to shine.

Today I stand before you not just as a fellow conservative, I stand before you as a member of a growing Republican family that has inherited a new generation of potential leaders with millions of voters that we cannot afford to ignore. The law is: change or die. And to grow with our changing family, we must embrace this future to maintain our value systems, and, as Donald Rumsfeld put it best, we’ve gotta prepare for the unknown.

Meanwhile, the Secular Policy institute made its debut. Never heard? I’m not surprised, it’s gone through a few name changes over the last two years. Their current mission reads as follows:

The Secular Policy Institute (SPI) is a think tank organization of thought leaders, writers, scholars and speakers with a shared mission to influence public opinion and promote a secular society. We believe governmental decisions and public policies should be based on available science and reason, and free of religion or religious preferences.

“Thought leaders?” In the notoriously anti-authoritarian atheist/skeptic community? Oh dear. The leader of these leaders is Edwina Rogers, who has strong ties to the Republican party and certainly qualifies as part of the one percent. Not surprisingly, she’s gathered quite a few conservative-leaning thinkers to act as fellows, including Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. But don’t worry, they make a strong pitch for joining up:

You are a smart, evidence-based person, right? So I have to tell you that you have your facts wrong.

You are the one who is naïve. From the thousands of groups that I have reached out to, and have traded email personally with about 400 of them, yours seems to be the only one shaking with loathing about the academics who have done so much for the secular movement.

Perhaps you’ve fallen victim to groupthink, the idea that your tiny community of friends represents the viewpoint of the world. No one’s going to take you seriously with that attitude.

The fact is, if you are open to facts, that Richard Dawkins personally has more Facebook followers than the whole secular movement put together, and while some people have their concerns, we generally love him. You are the one in the minority.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the atheist/skeptic community leaned to the right. We don’t, though, quite the opposite in fact.

  • 72.3% with a party affiliation are registered as Democrats.
  • 10.2% with a party affiliation are registered as Republicans.
  • 4.2% with a party affiliation are registered as Libertarians.
  • 80.6% normally vote Democratic or lean that way.
  • 9.7% normally vote Libertarian or lean that way.
  • 4.2% normally vote Republican or lean that way.
  • 92% who have made political donations during the current election season supported Democratic candidates and/or political action committees.
  • 7.8% who have made political donations during the current election season supported Republican candidates and/or political action committees.

How secular voters say they will evaluate the 2012 Presidential candidates

  • 87.8% – Separation of religion and government
  • 79.0% – Science policy
  • 76.5% – Civil liberties
  • 76.5% – Healthcare
  • 76.5% – Economy
  • 74.2% – Reproductive rights
  • 73.6% – Education
  • 73.4% – Gay rights
    ….
  • 30.9% – Defense
  • 29.2% – Immigration
  • 15.3% – Homeland security
  • 01.1% – Candidate’s race

Want more evidence? Fine.

  • 00.9% Abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the woman’s life.
  • 00.2% Abortion should be legal only to save the woman’s life.
  • 00.0% Abortion should be illegal.
  • 00.5% Undecided / other
  • 97.3% Gay couples should be able to marry in all states.

Estimated total donated to Democratic groups or candidates in the 2011-12 election cycle:

  • 64.1% $0
  • 33.6% $1-500
  • 01.4% $501-1000[higher $ ranges all under 1%]

Estimated total donated to Republican groups or candidates in the 2011-12 election cycle:

  • 97.8% $0
  • 02.0% $1-500
  • 00.2% $501-1000

Think the Secular Census is a biased source? Not so.

… when we actually compare the values and beliefs of atheists and secular people to those of religious people, the former are markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian (Greeley and Hout 2006; Sider 2005; Altemeyer 2003, 2009; Jackson and Hunsberger 1999; Wulff 1991; Altemeyer and Hunsberger 1992, 1997; Beit-Hallahmi 2007; Beit-Hallahmi and Argyle 1997; Batson et al. 1993; Argyle 2000).
Concerning political orientations, atheist and secular people are much more likely to be registered Independent than the general American population, and they are much less likely to be right-wing, conservative, or to support the Republican party than their religious peers (Kosmin 2008). Keysar (2007, 38) reports that 50 percent of American atheists are Independent, 26 percent are Democrat, and 10 percent are Republican and that 43 percent of American agnostics are Independent, 22 percent are Democrat, and 15 percent are Republican. Greeley and Hout (2006) report that only about 21 percent of people claiming ‘‘no religion’’ voted for Republican candidates in recent elections. In the 2008 presidential election, specifically, 76 percent of atheists and agnostics voted for Obama, and only 23 percent voted for McCain (Barna Research Group Survey 2008). Grupp and Newman (1973) and Nassi (1981) have found that irreligiosity is strongly and consistently correlated and with liberal, progressive, or left-wing political perspectives, and Gay and Ellison (1993) found that – when compared to various religious groups – nonreligious Americans are the most politically tolerant, supporting the extension of civil liberties to dissident groups.
Zuckerman, Phil. “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions.” Sociology Compass 3, no. 6 (December 2009): 949–71. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00247.x. pg. 953

We’re facing a fundamental disconnect in the secular community, between the community itself and the people who represent us. We might want to do something about that, say by supporting organizations more in line with our values.

[HJH 2015/03/02: added two more bits of evidence, and tightened up some of the writing.]

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