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What is a Conservative Atheist?

At present, atheism is overwhelmingly associated with liberal ideologies. This is because most of the leaders of the postmodern atheist movements have been politically liberal people and they tend to use their pre-existing political beliefs as the foundation for their secular morality when they became an atheist. They then preached these beliefs and so many other atheists adopted them as the movement toward secularism has grown.

However, not every atheist is a liberal. I describe myself as a politically centrist atheist, but I admittedly lean toward conservative viewpoints more than I do on liberal ones (I dislike using the word ‘progressive’ to describe liberalism, because I believe it is an unhelpful misnomer to label liberalism as a progressive viewpoint as opposed to conservative being not progressive. In actuality most liberal viewpoints are not novel, wholly untested concepts and liberalism is not necessarily a positively progressive ideology for human communities given the consequences Marxism has had in countries).

As I live in America I must place things into context; I am a conservative leaning atheist who is pro-Second Amendment, pro-traditional family structure, pro-capital punishment, pro-small government and pro-separation of church and state. I believe in the concept of universal human rights being necessary to ensure a fair and therefore stable society. I do not believe in the concept of human races and I am pro-science. I generally support evidence-based nature conservation efforts. I am not absolutely opposed to abortion as a legally permitted practice, but I do think it is morally an anti-humanistic practice when it is done for hedonistic reasons. I am also in favor of certain socialist programs such as public education, social security retirement programs, disability payments, medical care and even welfare, but I desire fiscal responsibility and accountability for these social programs so that they do not undermine the economic stability of the local communities they operate in and to ensure they actually provide the social benefits these programs claim to. I do support American imperialism in the form of mutually beneficially exchanges that export our culture and as a form of intervention to stabilize nations and prevent a third World War from occurring, for as the nation that created the atomic bomb it is now our duty to prevent them from ever being used in future wars. As a veteran, my support for American imperialism is not token; I raised my hand and served my country, which included a tour of duty during OIF.

How Can an Atheist Be Conservative Leaning?

I’m conservative leaning because I want to conserve the best of our traditions, culture and institutions. Yet I am centrist because I do possess many liberal viewpoints. For example, I do not think that abortion should necessarily be outlawed completely, although I do think that objectively the practice is often immoral. Likewise, I do believe in fair justice under the law for all people in a country, and these are liberal ideas.

I am an American and America itself was founded on many liberal ideas; republicanism itself is in fact a liberal idea, because it is the belief that people should have a republicanist form of government. This is something not often understood by many Americans today so let me provide some context; even if the American belongs to the Democratic political party, the reality is that if they participate in the voting of politicians then they are participating in a republicanism form of government and therefore actually are a republicanist person, even if they do not necessarily agree to the principles of the Republican Party as a political organization. Likewise, pretty much everyone in the US is also a supporter of democracy because republicanism is a form of democracy, and so even if you do not belong to the Democratic party, as an American you are democratic.

I have always found the paradoxical nature of the names of American political parties to be a frustrating aspect that often hinders many Americans from fully understanding the political landscape of the country, because political parties tend to name themselves after concepts almost everyone agrees with, but objectively is not for everyone in America. The Democrats and Republicans are an obvious example, as are new movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ which is actually not an organization which believes all African-American lives have value, as its name might otherwise imply. Rather, Black Lives Matter is actually an organization that promotes critical race theory, which is a racist ideology that uses the Marxist critical theory framework developed by the Frankfurt Institute to rationalize the black supremacy beliefs of the Nation of Islam and that has also been married with the third wave feminism intersexuality beliefs of the founders of the non-profit organization. Thus, the name is a paradox because it does not actually advocate for all African-Americans like their name might imply, for any African-American who has conservative political viewpoints is shunned by the organization and labeled as their political enemy. This is actually a substantial number of African-Americans who they label as their enemy; if you are, for example, an African-American who values the “Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”, as BLM propaganda puts it, then you are opposed to their brand of so-called “liberation” (which is, much like their name, also a paradoxical use of words, for as a black supremacist group they are actually about domination, not liberation).

I dislike paradoxes used for naming political parties because I think it is a kind of deception; the Democrats are not just about democracy, the Republicans are not just about republicanism and Black Lives Matter is not just about the plight of African-Americans as a collective population group. Each of these organizations is actually only an advocate for a fragment of the groups their names might imply they represent. More accurate names for these groups would be ‘Liberal Democrats, ‘Conservative Republicans’ and ‘Third Wave Feminist Black Supremacists Lives Matter’; but that is an entirely different topic for a future article.

The important thing is that conservative parties tend to be more aligned with my personal political and moral beliefs, and so I lean toward a conservative direction. Consequently, the moral framework that I developed, Chivalric Humanism, can be considered a secular (atheist) conservative-leaning humanist philosophy.

As there are no atheist conservative political parties in my country, this means that the only political parties that may possibly represent most of my viewpoints would be conservative political parties such as the Republican party which largely consist of Christian membership. They do not perfectly represent all of my viewpoints, but at the present moment, I would say better represent them. I am not a registered Republican personally; I am a Democrat even though I have refused to participate in the last election because of my disgust at the direction of both parties at present. Politically, I find myself between a rock and a hard place as neither of these parties that dominate politics in my country represent my interests fully but at present as Marxism has come to dominate the Democratic party, the Republicans are only slightly better representing those viewpoints of mine.

This doesn’t mean I am a Republican; I am only saying at present I get along better with Republicans. This statement is often viewed as sacrilegious to many anti–religion activist atheists though, because they hate Christians and incorrectly view the Republicans as the political party of Christians. This is mistaken of course, because the vast majority of Democrats are in fact Christians, too. The overwhelmingly majority of Democratic politicians are Protestant or Catholic, just like the majority of Republican politicians are. The Democratic party has over the past few decades accumulated more non-Christian oriented voters and politicians compared to the Republicans, but they are still both overwhelmingly Christian parties in membership.

Therefore, the key difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is actually not about Christianity; the difference is actually in what political philosophy is used to interpret humanism. The Democrats are more Socialist and Republicans are more Enlightenment-era liberalism. To put it simply, the Democrats quote Karl Marx and the Republicans quote John Locke. So, when you put things in context, what is regarded as ‘conservative’ in America is actually a version of liberalism, it is just pre-Marxist liberalism. It is only that Marxist liberalism has over the past century assumed the mantle of what ‘liberalism’ means in America and many other democratic societies. In truth, democracy and republicanism are in fact liberal ideologies to start with.

So, it would be more correct to say that so-called ‘conservatives’ in America are actually ‘conservative liberals’ and the so-called ‘liberals’ in America are ‘socialist liberals’. Most of the disagreement lies in debate about economic policies but over the past few decades, the Democrats have leaned closer toward a hedonistic moral relativism approach to the topic of morality, while the Republicans have remained more Stoic (which is often labeled as Traditionalist) in their moral beliefs; Stoicism of course having been intertwined with Christianity alongside other Hellenistic frameworks over the centuries. The abandonment of Stoicism by the present day Democrats is arguably the most significant moral difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, with the Democrats instead advocating for hedonism and moral relativism.

The second largest difference between the parties is with economic philosophy, conservative Republicans tend to primarily support capitalism (which is aligned with liberalism, specifically democracy) compared to socialistic economic philosophies which have more support from the Democrats. This generalization is muddied a’bit, as both Republicans and Democrats do in fact support capitalism and economic socialist policies in the market, the difference is only in the degree of support.

It is worth noting that decades ago, the main difference between Democrats and Republicans was largely centered around the topic of imperialism, but both parties have since the 1980s embraced imperialism given the role of America as the dominant economic superpower in the world, and America’s duty as the chief enforcer of the UN Security Council (which also makes it the only military superpower). While the Democrats will often claim to voters that they are opposed to imperialism, the foreign policy of all Democratic presidential administrations since Bill Clinton have objectively been imperialistic, and this includes the Biden administration at present.

Anyway, to summarize things; a conservative atheist can be defined as a person whose political philosophy is aligned with humanistic Enlightenment-era liberalism and has adopted some kind of neo-Hellenistic philosophy that rejects hedonism (normally, something that is Stoic derived). As an American, this would make you more aligned with the Republican party than the Democratic party, and in the UK / Canada more aligned with the Conservative parties. Consequently, a person would be a conservative atheist, or at least conservative atheist leaning.

How Can a Conservative Atheist Co-Exist With Christians?

Many atheists become atheist because they do not like Christianity, Islam or other major religions because they do not like the rules of these religions and consequently they do not like any political parties that advocate Christian aligned morality. They are within their rights to think what they like, however, as I have explained in the aforementioned paragraphs of this essay, I believe this belief often leads these atheists to misunderstand the political landscape of their countries, and I have used the misunderstandings people have about the Democratic and Republican parties as examples. Despite common misperception among the general public, both parties are actually liberal and humanistic; the difference is whether you support Marxist liberalism or a more conservative, Enlightenment-era liberalism, and whether you support hedonistic moral values or Stoic aligned ones.

For an example of what I mean, let us look at the topic of Abortion, which is a central contested issue between both parties and is debated along philosophical grounds. While it is true that Christians will often use supernatural beliefs in souls to support their protest of the practice, the vast majority of their arguments against abortion are actually humanistic and stoic in nature, as the arguments seek to protect individual human life by protesting the killing of unborn children. By contrast, Democrats tend to justify abortion using a hedonistic moral relativism viewpoint that uses a legalist definition for ‘human life’ that claims what is defined as, ‘individual human life’ varies according to the developmental progress of the fetus. The Democrats then justify abortion as a medical practice using feminist ethical frameworks on ‘women’s health’; that is, they suggest until the child has a functioning brain the child is simply part of the woman’s body and she is free to do whatever she likes to her own body so long as it makes her happy.

Objectively, I regard the Democrats viewpoint on abortion as less humanistic than the Republican viewpoint, even if a supernatural belief in souls is tied to the Republican argument against abortion. Looking objectively at the arguments, the Republican viewpoint is undeniably more humanistic, as they are advocating to protect the lives of humans who have not done anything criminally wrong to warrant execution. That is a very humanistic viewpoint when compared to the moral relativism one used by Democrats to justify the abortion of children the mother simply does not want, for whatever reason she likes; the Democrats’ claim is an objectively hedonistic viewpoint to endorse.

So, getting along with Christians is not really so difficult politically, as all Christians are humanistic these days and all major political parties in my country are Christian dominated. It is not only conservative leaning atheists who must get along with Christians; all atheists have to, as atheists are not the majority in my country. This too is why anti-religion activism is not beneficial for atheists to engage in, as it alienates you from almost everybody.

Is Christianity Wholly Incompatible with Secular Humanism? I Do Not Think So

Now, many people become atheists because they dislike Christianity, but I did not become an atheist because I specifically did not like Christianity. In fact, I think there are many worthwhile things in Christianity, The vast majority of humanistic thought has been influenced by Christian writers such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant. For example, the movement to end human slavery, abolitionism, was pushed by leaders who were Christian, notably William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp, Hannah More, Charles Middleton, Peter Claver, Theodore S. Wright, Daniel O’Connell and so many others. It is frequently forgotten by many atheists today that abolitionism was developed and pushed by predominantly Christians to the degree that one of the most significant moments in the abolitionist movement was in 1815 when Pope Pius VII demanded the Council of Vienna to end the slave trade, and every Catholic pope since that time issued further decrees to end slavery and these had significant impact on ending slavery globally. Yes, it is true that the Catholic church participated in the development of the European-African slave trade, but this was not some unique thing; slavery was practiced by nearly every culture on the globe, including in the Americas prior to the European colonization. The African slave trade was not started by European traders, they simply took advantage of the pre-existing slave practices of certain tribes they traded with. This is all tragic, but it was commonplace until these Christians developed the abolitionist philosophy that determined owning a human as property was an immoral thing to do. Without these philosophies it is very likely that slavery would still be enormously popular today, as slavery still very much exists in certain parts of the world such as in the West Africa region and in Latin America. Sex trafficking is a form of human slavery that is still unfortunately commonplace.

So, it is important to consider things in context. Atheists who believe religions such as Christianity have absolutely no redeeming qualities are objectively mistaken if you subscribe to a humanist ideology, because Christians contributed to the development of modern humanist philosophies. This is also true for Chivalric Humanism, the secular moral framework that I have developed; it utilizes what I believe are the best parts of the Christian moral framework that has been developed over the centuries, specifically the humanism philosophy it birthed.

So, the reason I became atheist is not because I detest Christianity and Christians, or any religion for that matter. I became an atheist because I do not believe in the supernatural. There is a distinct difference, and it is the reason why I have previously written that I do not support anti-religion activism.

Certainly, I do believe some religions are worse than others. I think Islam when practiced using a fundamentalist approach promotes destructive behaviors in its adherents, the same way that a fundamentalist approach to Christianity does. A fundamentalist approach to practicing a religion such as Theravada Buddhism does not encourage the same negative behaviors as a strict interpretation of Christianity or Islam does, but that does not mean that Theravada Buddhism is a perfect religion as it is objectively not; presently, Cambodia is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country where child sex trafficking is justified using beliefs about reincarnation and karma to rationalize the abuse by claiming the victim must have done something wrong in a previous life and that the child owes their parents a ‘life debt’ that has to be repaid back through prostitution. This results in many parents selling their daughters into sex slavery to foreigners, which the Cambodian government does little to prevent.

There are no religions in the world that cannot be interpreted to justify evil. Every metaphysical belief system has the potential for abuse, the same way that secular belief systems also have potential for abuse. I only believe that because the metaphysical is impossible it leads adherents to believing in impossible things, and when a person can be convinced to believe in one impossible thing it makes them susceptible to believing in other impossible things using the same fallacious reasoning that led the individual to believe in the first impossible thing. This is why a belief in the supernatural is unhelpful. It is not necessarily ‘evil’ or ‘morally wrong’, but it does conflict with objective truthful understanding of reality which is more helpful for navigating morality in my opinion.

Yet, just because something is unhelpful does not mean it is impossible. I would argue that the vast majority of Christians in countries such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are more humanistic than they are necessarily Christian. The overwhelming majority are not fundamentalists, but instead practice a piece-meal form of Christianity where only the humanistic aspects are practiced and the most evil aspects are not. This of course does not mean everyone is this way, but the majority are. This is why I believe it is entirely possible to co-exist with Christians, and other adherents of religions such as Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism and so on which are growing in popularity in these countries. The fundamentalists are often a problem because they are social activists, but the fundamentalists usually do not represent the majority; the majority are more humanistic in nature in my opinion, and because they are more humanistic it means they are closer to Chivalric Humanist beliefs than they may actually be to a fundamentalist interpretation of the religion they claim to belong to. So, as many are more humanistic than they are fundamentalist, I think co-existence is a better path because over time they may become entirely secular humanistic and abandon the supernatural beliefs they once had. I believe this is more likely happen if they have contact and exposure to non-religious humanist people.

I hope this article has educated you about my perspective on how an atheist such as myself can be conservative leaning and hope this article will attract other like minded folks to learning about my secular virtue based moral philosophy, Chivalric Humanism, by purchasing or downloading my book.

Carey Martell

Carey Martell is the founder of the school of Chivalric Humanism, a secular naturalistic philosophy promoting excellence and virtue.