The Easiest Political Question Ever

Atheist Revolution asks what I think is one of the easiest questions ever:

If I had to vote for one of two hypothetical candidates, would I be more likely to vote for a liberal Christian or a conservative atheist?

And his answer to that question:

So which would I pick? I’d pick the liberal Christian. It would not be an easy decision, but I think I’d pick the liberal Christian.

I believe that there was a time in my life when I would have somewhat hesitantly picked the conservative atheist. I think this would have been my choice when I was younger, when my atheism was still fairly new, and when I spent far more time being angry at religious believers than I do now. Perhaps that means that atheism was more important to me then than it is now, or perhaps it just means that my approach to atheism has changed a bit.

Speaking for myself, there was never a time when I would have voted for a conservative atheist over a liberal Christian candidate. I think this is an incredibly easy question to answer. I simply don’t see what someone’s religious views have to do with who I vote for, especially since openly atheist politicians are nearly as rare as albino unicorns. I couldn’t possibly care any less whether a politician believes in God or not; I care what they believe about the issues that matter. I just don’t see why this is even a remotely difficult decision.

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  • baal

    “openly atheist politicians are nearly as rare as albino unicorns”

    Well, there is at least 1 openly atheist FedHouse member but the point remains. As the question is stated, I’d go for the liberal theist but it really depends on the total person. I have met 3-4 religious conservatives that I felt understood secularism or at least good governance well enough that I wouldn’t fear how they would use their powers.

  • dingojack

    I’m with you Ed, I base my voting on policies, not the candidate’s religion.

    But how about a conservative (who you discover, buried in an obscure interview, is an atheist) over a liberal who claims to talk with god on a hour-by-hour basis and whose every other sentence contains ‘god’ or ‘Jesus’ (or the equivalent for other religions)?


  • I would hate to be as bad as most religious voters, who apparently would rather vote for anything else than vote for an Atheist. Imagine if the question was of the form: “would you rather hire someone to work for your company who was qualified for the job but a Christian or someone who wasn’t but was an Atheist?” Not a millisecond of thought needed; I’d go with the qualified person. To do otherwise would be both bigoted and a bad idea.

    Not that the choice is clear with liberal vs. conservative (both candidates could be terrible, as is often the case), which leads to another point – false dichotomy! You always have the option of a third party or simply not voting.

  • Michael Heath

    I could see myself picking a conservative atheist over a liberal Christian if:

    a) the conservative was a more traditional Burkean-style conservative as opposed to what passes today in the U.S. for a conservative

    b) the liberal promoted all the past failed liberal policies that led to the degradation of so many of our cities and pension plans.

    On the national scene, I don’t perceive a population of either a or b when considering only political ideology, with a handful of exceptions. Bruce Bartlett on a, Maxine Waters on b where it’s arguable Rep. Waters has no influence on the national scene. Certainly irreligious necons and libertarian plutocrats like the Koch brothers do not remotely relate to Burkean-style conservatism but are instead radicals.

    So in the U.S., I find this question mostly unworkable now, that’s because today’s U.S. conservatives predominately promote not a political ideology, but instead a religious-political ideology. So what kind of atheist could fit such a model? S.E. Cupp comes to mind where we have solid reasons to suspect she isn’t actually an atheist but instead a mere opportunist.

    I do think the question is a realistic one for citizens of the U.K. and perhaps some other northern European countries.

  • Yep, I agree. Asking us how we feel about a person who is a member of our group (or not) being elected to the highest office in the land appeals to our desire to have that person empathize with us. That only works if we know literally nothing else about the person, other than whether or not he/she is a member of our group. A Christian, or an atheist? By all means, the atheist please. But when you add in other elements that not only are more likely to affect his or her policies, especially things that directly describe his or her policies…that changes the question entirely.

    I want someone whose policies most closely align with mine, period. A person who shares other traits with me might be more likely to agree with me on policy, but not necessarily. So if you stipulate straight out that they don’t agree with me on policy, I could hardly care less how similar they are to me in other regards.

  • dingojack

    Michael – “…all the past failed liberal policies that led to the degradation of so many of our cities and pension plans”.

    I think you’ll find the doyens of deregulation are generally conservatives of the ‘let business do what they do best’ ilk. Liberals prefer the ‘social contract’ kind of model and so favour regulation to benefit society as a whole.


  • regexp

    How can one answer this question unless we all agree on a definition of “conservative” and “liberal”?

  • Since a conservative atheist (in the US) is likely to be an Ayn Rand follower, I’d go for the liberal Christian.

  • martinc

    Yeah, in America I thought the only choice was between liberal Christians and conservative Christians, due to a Christian blackball on any atheist standing for any political position as high as School Nurse.

    Here in Australia, there is a little rump of far-right-wingers who follow the American lead on “lying for Jesus” etc., but for most politicians, we the public have no idea of their religious beliefs. One I DO know is the Prime Minister, who is an atheist.

  • @baal: “Well, there is at least 1 openly atheist FedHouse member but the point remains.”

    Coincidentally, there was one albino unicorn in the House, but he resigned last July.

  • steve oberski

    If the candidate is against equal treatment under the law for gays, women’s autonomy over their own bodies and sex education in public schools then there is a really good chance that what we have here is a christian.

    I suspect that the candidate’s position on universal health care is also highly correlated with religiosity.

  • scienceavenger

    Two words: Karl Rove.

  • bmiller

    gushinrich nails it. Not only do we have to define “conservative” and “liberal”…we have to define “religious”. A doctrinaire Randite is “religious” in adherence to dogma.

  • wscott

    @ dingo #6 – I think you may have misread Michael Heath; the word he used was degradation not deregulation.

    @ gushinrich #8 – Amen. Best recent example of a liberal Christian President is probably Carter. Not exactly the most successful administration on record to say the least, but I’d still take him over a Randian any day.

  • jamessweet

    I was initially thinking my answer was easy as well (same as you, policy positions matter more than personal beliefs), but after giving it more thought, I think my answer is more complicated: I think if the conservative candidate was extremely unlikely to win, but was nevertheless likely to have a strong showing, I would consider voting for her with the intention of supporting the idea of openly atheist political candidates. I’m not certain I would go through with it, but I would certainly give it some thought.

    The entire dilemma disappears in a poof if we are living in some future/alternate reality where it is not a problem to be an atheist candidate. In that case, my desire to legitimize atheist candidates would be a nonsequitir, and I would vote for the liberal candidate without a second thought.

  • chrisho-stuart

    This was exactly my reaction.

    What we aiming for, surely, is a world in which this is by far the most common reaction of voters across the board. I don’t care if you are atheist/christian/muslim/jewish/sikh. Neither should anyone else.

  • mantistoboggan

    I’d take the nonviolent option and stay home.

    If I was forced to go to the polls in that situation, Homer J. Simpson would receive my vote.

  • mantistoboggan

    “libertarian plutocrats like the Koch brothers do not remotely relate to Burkean-style conservatism but are instead radicals.”

    Right on. Let’s avoid that debate before it gets started by casting libertarians as fringe folk.

  • Sastra

    I suppose the question makes more sense if it’s cleaned up so that the Christian candidate has views you agree with and the atheist candidate promotes policies you really don’t want. Isolate the religious factor. Then of course it’s easy. Doing this avoids the whole problem of trying to figure out what’s liberal, what’s conservative, and how much and where and in what way.

    If both candidates were more or less equal, then yes, the atheist candidate would have an edge with me. I’m well aware of the current cultural stigma against open atheists in the U.S. and would want to help this change. Besides, this candidate is obviously not just going to pander to popular opinion and only tell people what they want to hear: those atheists are all still in the closet making a big show of attending church and loving God.

  • baal

    The unicorn is still there (the one I was thinking about). I had no idea about Thaddeus being an atheist. I think he’s a generally interesting person but not great politically.

  • Sorry, baal. I didn’t mean to imply that McCotter is an atheist. (I assumed you meant Stark.) I meant to imply that McCotter is an albino unicorn.

  • benenglish

    I think the terms conservative and liberal are less useful than ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat’ here since many small government conservatives are absolutely horrified by what passes as ‘conservatism’ today.

    I would vote for whichever candidate would do less to empower/more to reduce the power of the far right plutocratic religious libertarian coalition that makes up the modern GOP.

    In fact, the only time religion alone might be a factor in my decision is if the candidate were from some paramilitary criminal cult like Scientology.

  • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

    the liberal promoted all the past failed liberal policies that led to the degradation of so many of our cities and pension plans.

    Such as?