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Losing My Religion, Keeping My Conservative Perspective

Brett Davis

Posted on May 29, 2019 04:50

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In many people’s minds, a nonreligious conservative is an oxymoron. Lack of belief in a personal god or in the tenets of organized religion, however, doesn’t preclude supporting limited government, individual responsibility and other precepts of conservatism.

The idea of a conservative who is not religious is a bit strange. After all, religiosity and conservatism are inextricably intertwined in the minds of the general population. Conservatives and/or Republicans are often assumed to be people of faith – that is, Christians. With group identity being what it is, in most cases that is an accurate expectation.

While liberals and/or Democrats tend to dominate the nonreligious demographic – atheists, agnostics, no religious affiliation – it turns out that many well-known commentators on the right side of the political aisle are not particularly religious.

The late, great Charles Krauthammer said of his religious beliefs, or lack thereof: “There was once a philosopher who said, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I fear him greatly.’ That’s about where I am. I’ve had a fairly difficult and complicated notion of the deity.”

George Will wrote, “I approach the question of religion and American life from the vantage point of an expanding minority. I am a member of a cohort that the Pew public-opinion surveys call the ‘nones.”

Will went on to defend nonbelievers, noting that “an individual’s faith is not a requisite for good citizenship; that democratic flourishing does not require a religious citizenry; that natural rights do not require grounding in God.”

Krauthammer and Will are not alone in their eschewing of formal religion, a club that also includes fellow conservative bloggers, pundits and writers like S.E. Cupp, Charles C.W. Cooke and the late and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens. This list is hardly exhaustive. (For the record, this writer considers himself a devout agnostic in the mold of Clarence Darrow: “I am agnostic; I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of.”)

These conservatives of little or no faith, however, are not inimical to the ecumenical – quite the opposite, in fact, owing to their belief in limited government and individual responsibility. This explains, in part, their defense against government’s attempts to trample on religious freedom. After all, if the state can run roughshod over this aspect of the First Amendment, what’s to stop it from doing the same to other aspects and the rest of the Bill of Rights?

Likely these faithless conservatives also recognize the inherent value of believing in something bigger than themselves in terms of national character. As political scientist Francis Fukuyama pointed out: “Religion may serve a purpose in re-establishing norms, even without a sudden return to religious orthodoxy. Religion is frequently not so much the product of dogmatic belief as it is the provider of a common language that allows communities to express moral beliefs they would hold on entirely secular grounds…In countless ways, modern, educated, skeptical people are drawn to religion because it offers them community, ritual and support for values they otherwise hold.”

Brett Davis

Posted on May 29, 2019 04:50

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