In atheist circles calling yourself conservative may be more risky than any other claim (look at Hitchens and his hawkish and often misogynistic views). In insisting presence at CPAC Silverman makes the point you don’t have to be liberal to be atheist. Many conservatives are closet atheists. Many atheists are closet conservatives. David Silverman is going to let them all out.
Silverman went to CPAC anyway and handed out fliers
“I thought I would enter a room full of hate, but I did not find hate at all,” Silverman said as he completed his rounds at the March 7 conference. “In fact,” he added, “more than once I met people that finished my sentences.”
Silverman is correct there are many libertarians that want to see conservative issues win but don’t want religion regulated. This was the libertarian platform for many years. Silverman wants these folks to reclaim their part in the party.
But Silverman believes that if Republicans overcome these sentiments they will find plenty of common ground with atheists. Many libertarians, a growing force among conservative Republicans and an increasingly powerful electoral bloc, share atheists’ disdain for government-sponsored religion. “There’s a big chunk of atheists that could be interested in the Republican Party but are not doing so because of the influence of the Christian right,” said Silverman, who described himself as a fiscal conservative who votes Democratic because of the Republican views on church and state.
Until awhile ago many of my atheist friends were conservative or is that conservative friends were atheists? Yup. Liberals were doing the wishy-washy thing of calling themselves spiritual or embraced some syncretized hybrid of watered down beliefs whether New Age, Wiccan, Pagan, of the ever popular god is love, god is one.
I worked as an editor for Eaton-Kenway while I was avoiding the university and I will never forget when I outed myself to a document publications manager as an atheist because she asked. My father had been Jewish and my mother mostly nothing but wishy washy Presbyterian but I was an atheist! She responded.
“So what does atheism have to do with being Jewish?”
She nailed me. I had no response for such a question at that time. I liked her with her incessant smoking, her sharp tongue, and makeup that rivaled LizTaylor’s in Cleopatra. She was friend to my demon boss but I saw that as survival too.
Jews have been the most accepting of my being atheist–religion is cultural, heritable, and for many nationalized–embrace the contradictions. Worse. For Jews literal survival often means hiding religious identity–for millennia. The faith required to believe in a god that allows such horrors is near infinite.
I learned the psychology of this with a group of Jewish school kids I was leading as a naturalist. In an evening, after-meal confab with their teachers I fumbled my way through some odd keenly felt disloyalty (I didn’t usually out myself as an instructor thinking it inappropriate) but they perfectly understood that trauma and other factors might ensure one is an atheist but practicing Jew.
I can’t remember jokes to save my ass but this time I rose to the occasion.
A Jewish man saves money for years so that his
son can make a trip to Israel and discover his
roots. When his son returns, much to the father’s
dismay, he discovers that his son has converted
Looking for guidance, the father goes to the local
temple and speaks with his Rabbi. “Rabbi! Rabbi!”,
he says, “I sent my son to Israel and he has returned
a Christian! What should I do?”
The Rabbi responds, “It’s funny you should say that.
I also sent my son to Israel many years ago. When he
returned, he had converted to Christianity as well!”
The two men decide to seek guidance together, and
they apprach an older Rabbi. After telling their tale, the older Rabbi responds, “It’s funny you should say that. I also sent my son to Israel many years ago. When he returned, he had converted to Christianity as well! So there is only one thing we can do, we must ask God.”
So the three begin to pray. After telling God their story, God answers in a booming voice from the heavens, “It’s funny you should say that…”
Christians and Jews love to tell this story. Christians because they think it proves them right and Jews because they understand how circumstances create compliance. We had started this talk because one of the students had been traumatized by her family being tortured for her being Jewish resulting in her having some issues. Her trauma and her feeling ugly because of the hate caused her to dress in bright, beautiful and frilly dresses all of the time. To feel beautiful, to look beautiful, and to hope she mattered. Not knowing, I had commented that her dress wasn’t appropriate for hiking and wilderness camping–hence the discussion. Sometimes I wish I could keep my mouth shut but I do learn things.
Silverman’s personal formulation of Jewish identity as something purely religious moved him to see the current state of Jewish identity nationally as a potential boon to his political agenda. Silverman believes there are many Jews who are, in fact, atheists but have yet to acknowledge it.
“I want to de-demonize the word ‘atheism,’” he said, “there are so many Jews out there that are in fact atheists and not Jewish.”
Jews are already overrepresented in the atheist movement, and historically many atheist thinkers came from Jewish backgrounds. Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam, who researches religion in America, said in an email to the Forward that studies show Jews are overwhelmingly more likely to question the existence of God. “That figure is much higher among Jews than any other major religious group in America,” he noted.
One could substitute “Methodist,” “Baptist,” “Pentecostal” and have this atheist but compliant be true. You don’t have to have your parents tortured to reject religiously based nonsense, though it helps.
Silverman has abandoned his cultural duplicity.
In recent years, Silverman abandoned his decades of self-definition as a Jewish atheist. While working on a book he is about to publish, he reached the conclusion that this religious cohabitation was impossible. “I wanted to describe why Jewish atheism makes sense, and I failed,” he said. He rejected the notion that being Jewish could be not only about a religion, but also about being part of a culture or a national ethnic group.
If others get this example they too can be atheist and conservative. While I am beyond almost any notion of what liberal means today I would insist people be able to present their entire, whole selves to the public, regardless of content.
By the way David, thanks for wearing a t-shirt. There are a lot of working conservative atheists that will appreciate this and us ultraliberal types appreciate it as well.