Humanism and Politics

Ronald A. Lindsay

In the United States, politics dominates the news as we gear up for the fall elections. Not only will we have to decide on a president, but there are contests for Congress and most state legislatures, as well as state referenda on numerous issues, some of which have important public policy implications. It’s at times like these when I often hear discussed the question of whether being a humanist commits one to certain political positions. For example, given some of the positions of the Republican Party on social issues, is it inconsistent to be both a Republican and a humanist?

First, let me make clear that I am not asking whether it is inconsistent to be an atheist and a Republican or a nontheist and a Republican. Those questions would be easy to answer. There is no inconsistency. Atheism does not entail acceptance of any political position. (Aside: this is one reason I find the existence of the National Atheist Party more than a little curious.) One can even reject the separation of church and state and be an atheist. As one (cynical) atheist once remarked to me, “Just because there is no God doesn’t mean people don’t need religion." I suspect many of the Wall Street financiers who donate generously to presidential campaigns of candidates supported by the religious Right have an attitude similar to this: “Of course, religion is just mumbo-jumbo, but we need it to keep the 99 percent under control."

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