Commentary | Off the charts

Why Atheism cannot be placed on the political spectrum

There tends to be a certain historical connection between atheism and liberalism, or, to be more accurate, between religion and conservatism. One needs only to look at Rick Perry’s particularly unpleasant “Strong” commercial mentioning Obama’s supposed war on religion to see the influence that religion has on the far right. The right wing has tended to travel hand-in-hand with religion and the church, while communist theory leans on the abolition of religion as the infamous “opiate of the masses”.

Yet such categorizations are hardly absolute. For example, many of Ayn Rand’s beliefs can be classified as on the far right of the political spectrum. In this case, her strong atheism was not a major factor in deciding these views.

Conversely, Liberation Theology, a segment of Catholicism, became radically left wing in the late 1960s, as a response to poverty and authoritarian rule in Latin America.  Some have gone so far as to accuse it of being Marxist.

With that in mind, though, I’d be lying if I said that atheists didn’t tend to lean politically leftward, an interesting phenomenon in and of itself. As I said earlier, there’s a certain historical connection stemming roughly back to the Enlightenment, although some will disagree with me on the date. What I would argue, though, is not that the source for this tendency is part of some intrinsic part of atheist thinking, but comes from the age-old marriage between religion and the right wing.

When boiled down to its core texts, religion is essentially a grouping of traditions that are intended to be repeated across the ages. Such an approach tends to be very palatable to social conservatism, with its return to the “good old days.” Even more important were the organized churches of earlier times that tended to amass wealth and influence – with more to lose, and backed up by their orthodoxy, they would tend to turn towards the right.

Atheism as a belief challenges the core precepts of religion, which are often used as justification for reactionary thinking. Since it often takes aim at such roots, atheists can easily find themselves pushing the envelope against a more conservative mode of thought, swinging gently to the left without a serious intent to do so. And, while Rick Perry may lead us to believe otherwise, there is no intrinsic connection between one’s faith and one’s politics.

One Less God is a twice-monthly column on atheist communities and philosophy. Harmon Moon is a U2 History student and VP External of the McGill Freethought Association. He can be reached at

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