Should Atheists Vote for the Republican Party?

Weighing Conflicting Values

Should atheists vote for Republican candidates? There's nothing inherently incompatible with being an atheist who is Republican or who votes Republican, so this question may seem rather strange. However, I think that there are practical issues which should make any atheist think twice before helping any Republicans — even moderates — take public office.

It is true that, on average, atheists tend to be more liberal than conservative — the rejection of traditional religious beliefs is likely to lead one to a rejection of other traditional assumptions and ideologies as well. Nevertheless, this doesn't change the fact that there are plenty of conservative atheists as well; yet does one's general conservative political philosophy justify voting for the Republican Party?

Being a Republican and being a conservative are commonly linked — the Republican Party is, after all, the principle conservative party in the United States, so this is hardly surprising. This does not, however, mean that a conservative has to be a Republican. A person can readily espouse conservative values while rejecting the Republican Party because, for example, it has become too beholden to the Religious Right.

Why is there a problem for atheists who might be inclined to support the Republican Party? Although it was not inevitable, today Republicans at all levels of government across the country are the primary force behind legislation which would:

  • Undermine the teaching of evolution and promote the teaching of creationism
  • Criminalize abortion in as many cases as possible, if not in all cases
  • Provide funding to religious groups that discriminate on the basis of religion
  • Provide funding for religious and theological training, as with ministers or priests
  • Establish prison rehabilitation programs that emphasize fundamentalist Christianity
  • Have the government endorse the Ten Commandments
  • Use government power to give a privileged status to Christianity and Christian beliefs

There are, unfortunately, some Democrats who support the above, but they aren't significant goals for any Democrats and there is very little chance that where the Democratic party comes to power, any of the above would become reality. That constitutes a significant and important difference between the two political parties.

The above is actually just a short list of issues which should disturb atheists, including those who are staunch conservatives. With the exception of perhaps abortion, there shouldn't be any atheists who agree with a single item on the list — and even most atheists who disagree with abortion aren't inclined to criminalize it in all cases. When atheists vote for Republicans, though, they effectively support all of those efforts.

Now, atheists who vote for Republicans may tend to avoid voting for any Republican who is not a moderate, and moderate Republicans are unlikely to support the above. Doesn't that change things? Unfortunately, no. It's a fact of the American legislative system that whichever political party has a majority also gains extra political power, for example by setting the legislative agenda.

What this means is that a vote for a moderate Republican, while a valid vote for Republicans to be more moderate, is also a vote to give Republican politicians generally a legislative majority and, hence, a vote for the Republican Party as it stands now. Giving Republicans a legislative majority means giving Republicans more power to achieve goals like those listed above — and that's not something that any atheist should be comfortable with doing.

What this means is that conservative atheists are faced with what should be a very difficult choice. On the one hand they can support moderate Republicans with whom they generally agree and risk also contributing to the success of the things they vehemently oppose, or on the other hand they can support different candidates with whom they often disagree (like with economic issues) in an effort to thwart some of the goals listed above. Which is most important? Which is the bigger risk?

There's no easy choice here: atheists who sincerely hold conservative views when it comes to a variety of social and economic issues can't have an easy time coming to a decision they are entirely comfortable with. One wonders if flipping a coin would make the most sense. Nevertheless, it is my feeling that atheists who vote for Republicans are very much akin to chickens who are voting to put a fox in charge of the coop.