Atheism and leftism, replying to Allie Stuckey

A little over seven (7) years ago, I wrote an article called “Trading one religion for another” in which I described an observation I had been making. That being teenagers who shed their religion also becoming ultra-liberal. And seemingly overnight.

It seems they must be associating political and economic concepts that have no ties to religion with religion, and so start to take on entirely opposite political and economic points of view without any consideration of the evidence behind those points of view.

Then the following year, when the social justice spores had grown and grabbed hold of many prominent atheists, some of whom I’d actually respected, is when I wrote about Atheism+, saying the fledgling group was “becoming those [they] despise“:

After all atheists are already called so much by Christians and Christian conservatives merely because we don’t subscribe to any religious ideology, and they make many assumptions about our political views or aspirations, including assuming that atheism means believing everything that is the exact opposite of what Christian conservatives believe.

Allie Stuckey over at plays into this in her article called “The Religion of Leftism“. She makes similar observations to me, that leftists have traded one god for another, but with entirely different reasons.

My theory is this: the country hasn’t actually become less religious. Many people have simply replaced traditional religion with leftism. Rather than associating with Christianity, for example, which demands repentance and promises persecution, they have opted for a religion that conveniently offers a sense of righteousness but denies the need to take responsibility for their own actions.

In other words, “you’re only an atheist so you can sin”.

Before going further, let’s clarify something that Ms Stuckey (and a lot of other conservatives) may not already be aware of: leftism =/= political left. Leftism is a subset of the political left, much like how communism is a subset of the greater body of socialist theory, but she is insinuating that leftism and the left are the same.

The word “liberal” used to be used to describe the left. That word is slowly being reclaimed by libertarians and libertarian-leaning individuals — i.e. the “classical liberals”. And the word is once again being given its proper context.

“Leftism”, and by extension “leftist”, is what used to be called the “far left”. But she early on insinuates that leftists and the left are one in the same, in large part because of how she links it to secularism and atheism.

For which I’ll offer another clarification: secularism is not atheism. Yet in her article, Ms Stuckey clearly means “atheism” when she says “secularism”. Atheism merely means not accepting of any theology – meaning, by extension, not accepting the existence of any deities, since theology, by definition, requires deities. By the way, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are philosophies, not theologies.

Secularism merely means separation of church and state, such that the government does not favor any one particular religion, but also doesn’t act to suppress any religion either. While atheists are typically secularists, not all of them are, merely because there are some atheists who do want the government to suppress religion.

And to further clarify – yes, there is a LOT of misconception abound about atheists (more on that later, I’m sure) – someone who is anti-theist is not necessarily someone trying to actively suppress religion, but actively confront it with contrary or correcting statements.

On a personal level, unlike Christianity, leftism doesn’t worry its adherents with sin and life-change. The only sin is to say there’s sin. The only wrong is to say there’s wrong. The highest virtue is one’s own happiness, and the only truth is that which one finds in themselves.

And she’s cloaking old arguments in new language. So how did she come to her “theory”?

At the same time, America has grown more secular. According to Pew, “religious nones” are rapidly growing in number. These “nones” are most concentrated among millennials: 36% of millennials are religiously unaffiliated. Millennials happen to also be America’s most politically progressive generation.

This probably isn’t a coincidence, especially since the same trends have occurred in a similar way in other parts of the world, such as Europe. While correlation doesn’t prove causation, politics and religion are so closely related that it’s hard to believe the simultaneous popularization of extreme leftism and secularism is insignificant.

Yes, America has grown more secular. But it has also become more religiously diverse. The decline of Christianity in the United States correlates with an increase in atheists, agnostics, and deists – the “nones” in the poll. But we also have more Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. A lot of that is due to a lot of immigration from India, but also from the Middle East in the case of Islam. Buddhism has also seen a rise courtesy of immigration from India and the Far East.

It’s a far cry today from when Christianity had an overwhelming majority among the population.

But even at that time, there were secular Christians. Recall again that secularism means separating church and State. And these secular Christians did not want the government declaring when and how someone, especially their children, shall make specific religions expressions. This was the subject of numerous lawsuits against local and State governments once it became clear the Supreme Court would be holding States to the same Bill of Rights as the Federal government by way of incorporation. All of which has been misrepresented by conservative Christians as “taking God out of our public schools”.

“Secularism” — i.e. atheism — and “extreme leftism” didn’t come about at the same time, as she implies, telling me her exposure to this is not all that much. Atheism has existed for a long time. It has seen significant growth in recent years thanks in whole to the Internet, with YouTube accelerating that growth.

Nor did atheism lead to leftism. Many atheists do say their atheism “informed” their politics, such that they’re now leftist (though they won’t use that word directly, as they consider it a pejorative) and say that everyone who is an atheist must also be leftist. Such thinking is what led to the development of Atheism+. Thankfully that “movement” never got far off the ground, despite attempts by prominent atheist speakers and the leaders of prominent organizations.

Atheism isn’t capable of informing politics. No, seriously, it isn’t. Instead when any atheist says that, what they actually mean is they were a former Christian, typically, who has come to despise Christianity, and so has adopted political views that are the polar opposite of mainstream and conservative Christians. Which ignores the fact that even Christians are largely very politically diverse as well. Which a lot of conservative Christians also either ignore or outright dismiss with the “they’re not real Christians” rhetoric.

The far left among atheists are a minority. They’re very vocal, yes, but they don’t speak for all atheists. They absolutely do not speak for me or represent my views. And I’ve let that be known numerous times directly to several of those individuals. Atheists are a very politically diverse group, contrary to what many conservative Christians believe, along with leftist atheists. Most atheists are more toward the center than is often let on, and a not-insignificant number of us are libertarian or anarchist. Skeptical of both god and government.

This was something a lot of prominent atheists learned the hard way when the 2016 Reason Rally focused heavily on social justice and identity politics. And saw an attendance that was a small fraction of the 2012 Reason Rally that focused on science and secularism, and also had Adam Savage as a speaker.

So with that out of the way, let’s turn to the idea that leftism is itself a religion.

While leftism may not require personal responsibility, generosity or morality, it does demand everything of its devotees. It aims to conform the mind, the heart and the soul fully to its agenda. There is no room in leftism for disagreement on abortion, gender, sexuality, immigration, race or economics. All reasoning must be guided by intersectionality. All thoughts must be centered on some vague notion of social justice. There is no tolerance for defection.

This isn’t leftism. This is identity politics. What’s the difference? The far left has always existed. Identity politics is a newly-evolved beast. “Identity politics” isn’t about politics, though, so the name is misleading. Or at least it no longer is about politics.

At its core “identity politics” is about pushing for political change based on someone’s identity. In the United States, this started, arguably, with abolition, though there was a war where political change failed. And then came the first wave of feminism, the civil rights movements, and so on.

Those movements, abolition included, all had one thing in common: removing State-imposed limitations on individual liberty. And it saw monumental success through the 20th century. While abolition was followed up with racist policies like segregation, the 20th century saw the end of segregation, a brief flirtation with alcohol prohibition, and the expanded application of the incorporation doctrine and everything that brought with it.

But the tearing down of State-mandated limitations on individual liberty were soon replaced by calls for, and implementation of State-mandated outcomes. And unfortunately that has only grown. Since once you start mandating particular outcomes, you have to erode individual liberties and cast basic principles to the wind. Things only grew from there.

Now instead of identity politics, we have “victim politics”. It is in this we have, as Allie has observed, an abrogation of personal responsibility and the demands for equality of outcome.

When someone is a victim of some detrimental action through no fault of their own, they largely want to be “made right”. Automobile collisions are an unfortunately common example. If the collision is not your fault, you want your car repaired and any additional and medical expenses covered without you having to pay anything out of pocket. And for that, I suggest always filing claims through your own insurance and then letting the insurance companies duke it out via subrogation, but I digress. So this is an easy example we can all agree on. Hopefully…

But what about when the “detrimental action” isn’t so cut and dry, like with… “micro-aggressions”? This is where identity politics comes into play and the assertion that systemic bigotry of some kind is the reason a person’s station in life isn’t all that great. And so they seek State-mandated outcomes to make them right. Things like universal healthcare, affirmative action programs, identity-targeted government welfare programs and tax credits, and the like.

And all of this started coming to a rolling boil in 2008 into 2009 and the election of Barack Obama as the first bi-racial President of the United States. His election didn’t come about because of identity politics, though many would say such. Instead identity politics started taking hold in the US in the wake of his election. The left started using his race to counter any opposition to Obama’s agenda.

Barack Obama being the first bi-racial President, a lot of Democrats conflated any opposition to the President and his agenda with racism. Basically stating that racism, “hating a black man” as Janeane Garofalo would state, is the only reason the “tea party” protests gained any traction, and the only reason to oppose Obama’s agenda.

In short, you either support Obama and everything he wanted to enact, or you’re a racist. Doesn’t take a genius to see how that idea could spread and be applied to more than just Obama’s agenda.

But identity politics out in the open didn’t progress much beyond that during Obama’s first term. Instead it was festering online and in academia. We saw glimpses of that during the various Occupy movements that occurred during the second half of Obama’s first term. But it largely didn’t have much in the way of national attention, though allegedly it was starting to gains some ground.

It wasn’t until Obama became a “lame duck” that identity politics started taking hold. Several key events helped drive this. Two in particular stand out: the George Zimmerman acquittal in 2013, and the Michael Brown shooting in 2014. And later in 2016 was the Philando Castile shooting.

These incidents, among others, galvanized the perception of blacks being continually under threat in the United States at the hands of whites, and that the United States had made little, if any, societal progress since the 1960s. Eventually it was largely promulgated that anyone who is not a white, cisgender, heter-normative, upper-middle or higher class male is oppressed and competing in the “oppression olympics”.

But, none of this had anything to do with atheism. No, seriously, it didn’t. Remember, atheism cannot inform politics, and the political diversity among atheists shows this.

Along with the fact we’ve been pushing back against identity politics within our communities and organizations.

Atheism+ was the prominent manifestation of that when it tried to gain traction in late 2012 following a series of events, more or less starting with what became known as “Elevatorgate”. That event didn’t lead to Atheism+, but started everything rolling down that hill. What pushed it off the cliff at the bottom was the leak of messages from a confidential e-mail feed by one of its members.

I’ll let Peach Braxton’s commentary from back in 2012 provide the timeline.

Identity politics was starting to gain traction, and many of us were having to fight back against it in our own communities. And with a lot of us, it wasn’t just in atheist communities where we were having to push back. A lot of atheists are also gamers, and we’ve had to push back in that sphere as well.

Yes, I’m talking about GamerGate. Contrary to popular belief and its continual misrepresentation as a hate campaign, what sparked off GamerGate – the word being coined by actor Adam Baldwin – was the simultaneous publication on August 28, 2014, of articles by several major gaming publications declaring that “gamers are dead“. And the revelation around that time of the incestuous nature of gaming journalism.

Preceding GamerGate, and leading to the identity politic infiltration of gaming culture, was Anita Sarkeesian (i.e. Feminist Frequency) and her “Tropes vs. Women” series and the pushback to that series on YouTube and elsewhere.

But again, none of this had anything to do with atheism. And the increasing prominence of “leftism” in the United States also has nothing to do with atheism. And there has been a push back against this by atheists as well.