In an interview with Salon, the president of American Atheists reviewed the decision of the American Conservative Union (ACU) to rescind his organization’s invitation to CPAC. David Silverman charges that the ACU is both “pretending” that “atheists aren’t relevant” and that “Christianity still holds water in American society.”
When asked about his reported “pledge” to “attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism,” Silverman responded that while “I did say that I was going to attack the idea that Christianity and conservatism were inseparable,” he was not waging “an attack on people of faith.”
“I wanted to raise the awareness that there were atheists in the ranks, and I wanted to raise the awareness that those atheists – at least some of them – think that Christianity can easily and should easily be divorced from conservatism,” Silverman told Josh Eidelson of Slate.
Practically in the same breath that Silverman said Christianity no longer “holds water in America,” he also stated, “There is nothing in my tone that sounded aggressive toward a person, or trashed Christianity in any way.”
Eidelson reminded Silverman that American Atheists’ public relations director recently wrote:
Setting aside the fact that religions are dangerous and false, separation of religion and government is absolutely necessary because if any religion co-opts legislature, it means that no other religion is free to practice as that legislature pertains to their beliefs. The range of applications is nearly unlimited: Marriage equality, right-to-die, abortion, birth control, sex ed, science education, science funding, religious school funding, liquor sales, business hours, employment discrimination, the list goes on and on and on.
“If your group has different politics on these issues than CPAC – and most of the people at CPAC – why should they have you at their conference?” Eidelson asked.
“The reason I wanted to go is to raise the awareness that CPAC is throwing away conservatives. CPAC is shoving conservatives off to the side,” Silverman replied. “Conservatism is declining, obviously… And the reason that they are suffering is because they are doing the wrong thing, by taking the fastest growing… religious demographic in the country… and shoving it off to the side for the sake of Jesus.”
Ironically, Silverman conceptualizes atheism itself as a “religion” at the same time he also wants Christians, at least, to cast to the side those ideas and people Christian conservatives hold in reverence. Somehow, Silverman comes across as sounding intolerant.
Taking exception to the approach of American Atheists at Ricochet Wednesday, agnostic Andrew Stuttaford referred to a piece he wrote last year at Politix, titled “Yes, Conservatives Can Be Godless Too”:
Godless conservatives however are rarely anti-religious… They often appreciate religion as a force for social cohesion and as a link to a nation’s past. They may push back hard against religious extremism, but unlike today’s “new atheists” they are most unlikely to be found railing against “sky fairies.” Mankind has evolved in a way that makes it strongly disposed towards religious belief, and conservatism is based on recognizing human nature for what it is.
That means facing the fact that gods will, one way or another, always be with us.
Stuttaford acknowledges that religion has been an important part of society. In American society, conservatives hold as essential the Judeo-Christian principles upon which the framers built a nation that would value freedom of religion at the same time that its government would not adopt an established state religion.
Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education, told Breitbart News, “For those who use the terms ‘conservative’ or ‘the right’ for political purposes, it’s sensible to think of a ‘big tent’ coalition that includes fiscally responsible citizens who deny God.”
“But true conservatism – which is rooted in Western civilization and drinks from the wellspring of Christendom – can’t possibly be disentangled from Judeo-Christian beliefs without becoming a hollow social movement that eventually withers away,” Reilly added. “There’s ultimately a disconnect between those who live for ‘conservative politics,’ and those conservatives who engage in politics only to preserve the freedom to live rightly.”
Interestingly, Silverman’s problems with non-atheist religion seem focused primarily on Christianity. He makes no mention of “conservative” Jews, of whom Mark Levin–a constitutional scholar, enthusiastic Tea Party supporter, and highly popular conservative talk show host–is one of the most popular.
Joel Pollak, Breitbart News’ own senior editor, confirmed, “Not only are there many conservative Jews, but there is a really strong Jewish presence at CPAC.”
“I believe conservatism can exist outside of any particular religious tradition, or even religion itself,” Pollak commented. “It is based on the dignity of the individual.” He continued:
However, historically, we must acknowledge that American conservatism, in the sense of respect for the individual, could not have emerged without the specific founding context of a dissident Christianity that encouraged believers to read the Bible for themselves and was hostile to existing hierarchies and authorities.
Pollak also noted the connection between the Christian and Jewish traditions and their joint influence on American government and culture.
“That unique Christian tradition, in turn, drew heavily on Jewish ideas and symbols for inspiration,” Pollak stated. “Later, American institutions were also shaped by taking the best lessons from classical, pagan civilizations that had experimented with different forms of government millennia ago.”
“But the spark of American individualism is a Puritan one, whose utopia was the Jewish idea of a republic of virtue,” Pollak concluded. “And so the Judeo-Christian tradition is fundamental to conservatism, even if it is big and broad enough to accommodate every other religious tradition, including atheism.”
Silverman complained that in rescinding its invitation to CPAC, the ACU is implying “atheists aren’t relevant.” But isn’t that what Silverman and his organization are emphatically saying about Christianity? Silverman’s statement that conservatives are merely pretending “Christianity still holds water in American society” is, in many ways, an attack on why America even exists.
Silverman accused the ACU of “shoving” atheist “conservatives off to the side,” when he himself, and his organization, belittle the significance of the primary philosophical underpinnings of American government and society. There appears to be no “big tent” around his organization.