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Why are so many athiests "liberal?"

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I posted this here because it would seeem to qualify as metaphysical/epistemological issue. Based on observation, I think the majority of athiests are political leftists, and also more apt than average to adopt extreme forms of leftism like communism and socialism. I've seen Objectivists discuss the idea that even though many leftists reject the idea of God, they still embrace fundamentally supernatualist metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, and essentially replace the idea of "God" with "society." I see that myself, but still don't grasp the relationship between atheism and leftism. Is the reason athiests choose leftism that despire managing to reject the fallacy of religion, they are sill intellectually dependent on others, i.e. operating on faith? I suppose that ties together with their treatment of "society" as if it were some almighty entity. But if that's the case, why do they choose atheism in the first place, since the rejection of God is an apparent choice to exercise reason? I would love to hear others elaborate on this. I really feel like I'm missing a lot here.

Edited by happiness

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I'm interested in hearing other's replies. At least the way I look at it, there doesn't have to be a solid foundation (philosophically) to reject the notion of God. Nor does the non-belief in something set you up for smart beliefs. I rejected the notion of God, long before I had any sort of good philosophical base.

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Modern folks who decide there is no value in mysticism, have only pragmatism and altruism as substitutes.  While these ideas are not limited to supporting concrete ideas on the left, while the concretes on the right are just different expressions of the same basic ethics, the left is more consistent in the application of these ideas in ethics and law.  If you are looking for a consistent philosophy without studying philosophy, the answer lies in the policies of the left.  The right is a mess of conflicting ideas without a clear fundamental purpose. 

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There are two "problems" with atheism: 1) lack of something profound to admire, and 2) finding moral guidance/standards. Now, assuming you mean liberal progressive types (i.e. radicals that are essentially socialists like Bernie Sanders), the "god is replaced by society" explanation works well. Then again, I've noticed a growing sense of "god is replaced by science" in those same people. Think Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. They may care little about philosophy, or reject philosophy outright in favor of engineering or technology fields. Moral guidance turns into finding what science has to say about cooperation - taking facts that morality tended to develop from cooperation to say that we should all be humanitarians. Science ends up having primacy over all things. It is how 1 and 2 are "solved".

 

In contrast, Objectivism would say to admire existence as such, to love it. Guidance and standards becomes focused on oneself, as existence is admired due to one's initial pursuit of life.

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"Something to admire,"  as a foundation for mysticism.  I don't get the argument, but I do understand the desire in the context of an attempt to share a sense of life trying to find happiness. 

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This phenomena -- the religious parties being more vocal about economic freedom and the secular ones being more left on the economy -- is pretty universal. One see the same thing in India, where the recent winning party is more vocal about opening up the economy, but is also more religious.

 

Ayn Rand's hypothesis (in my own words) is that the mind-body dichotomy is deeply ingrained in philosophy, and that most specific philosophies resolve it in favor of the mind or the body, rather than integrating the two (i.e. by giving one side moral precedence). I think it's an interesting hypothesis that deserves further chewing and expansion.

 

See: the essay "The New Intellectual", in her book by that name.

Edited by softwareNerd

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This phenomena -- the religious parties being more vocal about economic freedom and the secular ones being more left on the economy -- is pretty universal. ...

 

It is my observation that Catholic societies are more left-leaning while protestant societies are more right-leaning. I believe that this stems from the Spanish colonial centralized form of government and legal system in the former. The British common law legal system is predominant in the latter, except in India which became independent in the golden age of socialism.

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Most liberals are atheistic because their ideological root is mostly Marxist in origin. It is part of their cultural bromide-package deal that has floated into their cultural-institutional programs.

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There are a lot of different kinds of atheists, so it would be a mistake to look for a single reason here, as I'm sure you realize.

 

I agree with Eiuol's argument that many atheists replace God with science in order to have something to revere and a source of moral values. I would add that there are also some atheists who approach intellectual issues philosophically, with the aim of forming a coherent and reasoned worldview. The atheists in this group come to atheism because they find out that believing in God is inconsistent with this goal, but some of them also end up as liberals because so many thinkers in the history of philosophy have defended liberal ideals. The atheists in this group are a lot more interesting to talk to than the science worshippers, but they are not nearly as common.

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1. Altruism is the default ethical principle across all sorts of religious and secular people. In fact, "being good" is commonly taken to mean exactly the same thing as "being altruistic". 

 

2. Politics is informed by ethics, and it is common for people to go from "this is good" to "government must ensure that people do good/don't do bad". it is easy to go from "only a real jerk would beat his dog that way" to "the government should do something about it".

 

So, it is not surprising that people are statist, based on their altruism. Instead, a different way to frame this question is: why do religious folk seem less willing to have the government enforce this altruism?

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Instead, a different way to frame this question is: why do religious folk seem less willing to have the government enforce this altruism?

That's interesting, especially with the evangelizing lip service. Care to take a stab as to why? Maybe "be kind to others" makes them back down sooner when confronted? "God will provide"? Heaven will bring justice by default?

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Software, there is a distinct structural differentiation between the left and the right's presentation of collectivism that is like a watermark for the different origins. The religious rights collectivist root is from Christianity which always had individualist and property based compartmentalizations. The general position from each side on free will is central to understanding the individualist compartments in the right. Understanding this will illuminate why Marxist hate Facist while both are collectivist-socialist.

Atheism qua atheism has nothing to do with a particular ethics. The packaging of atheism with collectivism is from the left. The OP asks specifically why atheism is so common on the left. That is a factual generality. I say because it is part of the original package deals the left has imbibed culturally.

The Protestant vs Catholic differences in regard to individualism is a subject with a lot of interesting historical implications.

Edit: I should add that there is a serious reversal happening in the Marxist world via the Hegelian version of "western Marxism" on the issues of free will and determinism with interesting future implications for the anti-individualism packaged with it.

Edited by Plasmatic

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First off, I don't think the divide between the right and the left is as significant as it seems. They are both driven by the same general philosophy, with minor differences.

I think the only significant difference is that one side is more tentative to embrace change (conservative, traditional) the other more bold and careless in pushing whatever seems like a good idea. It's not a philosophical divide, it's a psychological/social one. On the one hand, you have older people, the middle class, people in more grounded professions (engineers, businessmen, scientists, doctors, etc.), who tend to give more weight to tried and tested ideas than to "progress", and on the other side you have young people, artist types, etc., who embrace "progress" quickly.

 

And religion, just like free markets, is part of the past of most western countries. So, traditionalists tend to resist the new, collectivist, multiculturalist, and anti-Christian (not really atheistic, the atheist movement is only a small part of the political left) progressive movement a little more than liberals. But still not particularly well.

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Care to take a stab as to why? Maybe "be kind to others" makes them back down sooner when confronted? "God will provide"? Heaven will bring justice by default?

I'm not sure, but I suspect the streak of individualism that Plasmatic mentions is at least part of the reason. Heavenly justice could be another reason. A religious person has to accept that God (say) cripples some people from no fault of their own, so perhaps inequality is also a part of God's plan... our not to reason why? 

 

Or, perhaps Rand's hypothesis is right: an important aspect of most religions is that some non-material things are considered of value, and material wealth is not the top value. Meanwhile, secular folk might consider material wealth to be more important. So, each side wants to exert political power over areas it considers more important.

 

I'm not sure from where the difference comes, but one must surely integrate the Catholic / Evangelical differences into any explanation.

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I find this a very interesting topic because I am in fact an Atheist and I am also fairly liberal. I can speak from my personal experience as to why I chose both of these paths, but in the end I think that while it is more common that atheists are liberal I do not think by any means all atheists are liberal or all liberals are atheists. Anyways, for me I happen to fall pretty close to the middle as I am socially liberal and fiscally conservative. (Which I think is where many Americans fall these days). Where the atheism part comes in to swaying me towards the left is mainly the gay marriage issue. Since things like gay marriage are said to be sins in the bible many christians do not approve of gay marriage. Since I do not regard the bible as my moral code of laws I do not share the same convictions as christians. Just my two cents on the topic.

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The reason is that Atheism is really secondary to the epistemology of the parties involved at best or frankly just an add-on.  Liberals and conservatives are brothers by a different mother and while they argue over who had the better mother there is always the father they have in common.  In this case  they agree on a super a priori that we are derivatives.  Conservatives generally see it is a God while modern Liberals see it as society.  We are either children of God or cells of a collective.  Yes, one is a omniscient consciousness while the other is an incompetent unconsciousness but they do have personalities (Gospel or Multiculturalism) and are the source for ethical questions.  Politically, both are the justification for right and wrong.  

 

Each side rejects the other sides a priori in specifics but agree in abstract principle.  Conservatives claim to hate big government and collectivism but happy enforce their standard of good through increased government and create laws against specific groups (Marriage Laws).  The liberals generally accept separation of State and Religion and detest having someone's ethics imposed on them (don't tell me who I can get married to!) but will turbo protest anyone who says the politically incorrect thing or demand a baker be forced to bake them a cake. Neither side can see they are doing the same thing in principle, just opposite sides in detail.  

 

From there it is easy to see that if a liberal rejects religion and God due to a lack of data the philosophy is still there to support his acceptance of a new "greater good".  After all, God and good are separated only by one vowel and interchangeable to the mystic.  In fact without reason or an understanding of the virtue of independence it is highly likely that a liberal will simply fill the vacuum where their "I" should have been with a new singular entity where he can once again be a unit of a great Go(o)d that tells him what to value.  

 

In the same vain I would see the growing progressive movements in the world take on a religious tint for the same reason.  

 

And this is simply an epistomological look.  I'm sure someone can do the same thing by just reviewing both sides from the altruistic ethic system as well.  

Edited by Spiral Architect

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Conservatives generally see it is a God while modern Liberals see it as society. 

I'm not sure this is true anymore. 30 years ago, probably, but today is different. From what I see, it's less society really, and more about a detached sense of justice for the sake of justice itself. Maybe it's not a huge difference, but if politics is treated as only a matter of enforcing justice as a pure and absolutist goal, then society means something else than the new "god." Of course, not all liberals are identical, so my general answer of why atheism is more common to leftists is that many progressive ideals can easily fill in what religion used to take care of: purpose and morality. In other words, atheism is compatible with rejecting traditions already, and progressive ideals require rejecting traditions in the same way.

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This is why I personally consider people like Sam Harris to represent a monumental philosophical breakthrough.

I think your post is overall pretty insightful, but I disagree with this particular point. Harris thinks that we figure out what is right and wrong by means of leaps of intuition, he is an altruist, and he doesn't think that egoists should be allowed to participate seriously in moral debate. In my view, these points, which are supported by the following link, disqualify Harris from being considered a major moral breakthrough.

 

https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2008-fall/mystical-ethics-new-atheists/

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Harris thinks that we figure out what is right and wrong by means of leaps of intuition, he is an altruist, and he doesn't think that egoists should be allowed to participate seriously in moral debate. In my view, these points, which are supported by the following link, disqualify Harris from being considered a major moral breakthrough.

While Sam Harris may not be the best and most rational person, I think his relative success (given the ideals he's preaching, regardless of whether he practices them) indicates good stuff about the broader culture. Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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1. Altruism is the default ethical principle across all sorts of religious and secular people. In fact, "being good" is commonly taken to mean exactly the same thing as "being altruistic". 

 

2. Politics is informed by ethics, and it is common for people to go from "this is good" to "government must ensure that people do good/don't do bad". it is easy to go from "only a real jerk would beat his dog that way" to "the government should do something about it".

 

So, it is not surprising that people are statist, based on their altruism. Instead, a different way to frame this question is: why do religious folk seem less willing to have the government enforce this altruism?

 

Yes, their commonality of altruism follows and is not surprising, with the secular-leftist leaning more towards altruism-collectivism I think.

I believe "justice"- which was mentioned - is key. (It, and calls for "dignity" and "equality" have been increasing lately with the growth of Progressivism). A central factor amongst altruists is the criticality of being SEEN to be doing "good" (by their concern for others, serving others, humbling oneself, etc.) and so earning their just desserts by the approval of some vague 'collective'. If one considers that the religious folk 'know' that God is watching and judging them, with their ultimate justice in the Hereafter, it could answer your last question. In short, the religious mainly seek justice from God, the secular left demands it now - from Society and the State - while an Objectivist knows he finds and earns it for himself, the justice of reality.

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I've seen a lot of great responses to this thread, as it is a topic of great interest to me. I can admit to knowing only one person who identifies as both atheist and progressive/liberal. Therefore, in spite of my interest, I can't offer anything other than my broad general opinion: Secular Humanism has been receiving wider acceptance in recent years, as religion is in decline. (Noted, I can't say the numbers of the "faithful" are dwindling, but those claiming to believe in God and don't practice a religion, or admit to holding agnostic beliefs, don't qualify as "religious" by my standards.) Secular Humanism can be loosely interpreted as another altruistic creed, promoting the idea of a Brotherhood of Man, and as others have mentioned, holding the "good" as defined by one's degree of self-sacrifice.

 

So, it is not surprising that people are statist, based on their altruism. Instead, a different way to frame this question is: why do religious folk seem less willing to have the government enforce this altruism?

 

Regarding the religious folks resistance toward government enforced altruism, I attribute this to the Protestant element of Christianity. While many religious and non-religious people are disgusted by the social-welfare state policies, because of the obvious abuses they have encouraged, Protestants, specifically the Puritans, believed it was an individual's duty to prove his/her self-worth, hence, the Protestant Work Ethic.
Christians in America are mostly focused on their jobs and families (not necessarily in that order), and tend to continue working with the knowledge that some other family is eating "free lunch" at their expense. This tends to create a kind of cohesion among the working-class faithful, and a sort of mutual contempt toward the welfare-recipients. 

We don't have too many genuine Puritans anymore, but the founding of this nation was, and is, heavily influenced by these cultural origins. For this reason, I often find practicing-Christians more grounded in the "conservative camp" (and often are more prosperous) than those with no specific theology or philosophy.

As for the "atheist-liberals", fortunately, I can say that I have met more rational atheists. I'd rather keep it that way, even at the expense of appearing anti-social.

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Yes, their commonality of altruism follows and is not surprising, with the secular-leftist leaning more towards altruism-collectivism I think.

I believe "justice"- which was mentioned - is key. (It, and calls for "dignity" and "equality" have been increasing lately with the growth of Progressivism).

My idea with justice here is different. I was thinking of justice as an intrinsic morality without any concern of society, or god, or a collective. At least the people I am thinking of don't talk about society per se, but a grand sense of justice separate from groups. They'll believe in moral relativism where what's good for one person can NEVER be determined, except by reference to their upbringing or personal feelings. On a moral level, all that counts is whether people get justice in itself. Veganism is a good example: a vegan may say suffering is bad in itself, so reducing suffering is a moral goal, and suffering is unjust. Not because it's good FOR society, or FOR god, or FOR any person, but whether or not suffering or justice exists. It's a weird idea to contemplate, but it's so easy to find a progressive liberal who doesn't care at all what you do as long as you don't hurt someone else. Veganism is just one brand of this "thin" morality.

 

I only mean to point out that some liberal atheists aren't foaming collectivists. Politically, probably less harmful. Morally, probably worse.

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Eiuol - by "intrinsic morality"  you don't mean innate do you?  You must mean something like not subjective, or maybe, focused on the underlying principle (justice or desire to not cause suffering) rather than the specifics of any concrete example?  Or, what?

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I think your post is overall pretty insightful, but I disagree with this particular point.

Just to clarify, briefly: I'd wanted to see Sam Harris as a basically good guy. However, I've realized (just last night, actually) that it's actually much worse that the claims in the article you provided; he is one sick puppy.

Thank you for pointing that out. It's nice that he got a chance to share the one good idea that he's ever had.

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