Are Political Affiliations Useful?

Mar 24, 2013


Discussion by: Coffee Addict 83

For those of us who claim the label of Atheist (or Antitheist) we only have one thing necessarily in common. We reject the existence of a deity as having insufficient evidence (and in the case of the antitheist, that religious belief is positively harmful). Do any political beliefs unite us? A casual glance might suggest certain leanings, but by and large none do, nor should they. It further seems to me that political labels are antithetical to the notion of free/critical thinking, and only serve to box people into straw man arguments.

To some extent labels are useful. In fact, all words are really just labels, symbols for ideas that we wish to express. The human brain needs them to categorize and organize thoughts. That having been said, we need to be careful about the specific labels we use and how we use them. For example, what follows will show an American bias in labels used, though I think my meaning should translate well enough. 

In a way, it surprises me that so many of my fellow Americans do not bother to vote. For presidential elections roughly half the voting age population bothers to cast a vote. It only gets progressively worse from there. I am surprised because we make our politics into something of a soap opera, an exercise in low brow entertainment, which is exactly the kind of thing most of my fellow citizens seem to enjoy. Perhaps that actually goes to why so few bother to vote? In any event, even among the non-voting segment, there is quite a lot of discussion on the matter (“discussion” probably is not the right word for it). Essentially we have two camps, liberals and conservatives. In party terms, this exists as Democrats and Republicans. Now, there are several “third” parties, some of which exist more as a wing of either of the two main parties, and sometimes independents (Bernie Sanders being a prime example), but for the most part people are forced to vote for either Democrats or Republicans in practical terms. What becomes of the Atheist, the Antitheist, the Agnostic, or others in this system? I can personalize it to this extent, it becomes difficult for me to try to associate in any way with any group for an extended period of time. 

By and large, I cannot associate myself with conservatives. Leaving aside all religious issues, I don’t find myself often agreeing with either social policy or economics. I do not see the logic in denying marriage equality, for example, nor do I buy into the long discredited notion of “supply side economics” (it should be noted that not all self identifying conservatives agree with those things either). Being in possession of an MBA, from a private conservative university no less, I would like to think of myself as not uneducated on the latter point. I find that if I try to have a rational discussion I end up subjected to nothing more than unthinking personal insults. These insults all too often come with horribly spelled sentences with atrocious grammar. I do not think I need to go into any specifics here, common experience that that is. I have to imagine that there are those in the broader “A” community (if I may be permitted to call it that) who consider themselves to be conservative, but also wish to disassociate themselves with all the baggage (from the obnoxious members and from their equally obnoxious rhetoric). I am empathetic to that, because I feel that way about the political left.

I have generally considered myself to be on the political left, but I prefer not to see myself quite that way anymore. If I adopt the label “liberal”, or any other that might come from the left, it is almost assumed that I believe in or agree with every bit of dogma that comes from there. I have noticed how often, if we are talking about moderated fora, that I have ended up banned or otherwise silenced if I have even slightly deviated from scripture, no matter how rationally and politely stated. From what I can tell, there is a deification of sorts of the Clintons, much as the right has with Reagan. If I dare criticize the Clintons (always using facts, of course) I must be some kind of neocon lunatic. What happens when I point out the actual histories of Mother Teresa and Mohandas K. Gandhi, and not merely the myths that have been built up around them? Goodness, people on the left get angry. I do not understand that at all. I know those on the left would prefer to have those two lifted up as über liberal ultra pacifist peace and love makers, but who and what they actually were are the very kind of terribleness I would expect those on the left to oppose. The fact that I own a rifle and that I was in the Army offers enough ammunition to some to try to discredit me as a person, rather than try to make counterarguments to what I have actually said. I encounter a lot of postmodernist drivel, a lot of wish thinking, and an apparent desire to exist in nothing but an echo chamber. In short, it all smacks of the religious to me.

So I ask, are political affiliations more useful than harmful or more harmful than useful? For my part, I would like to see politics without party affiliations, where everyone could be defined as an “independent”. I know that is not practical, given human nature, but I do have a desire for it. All I find from such associations is a desire for what Christopher Hitchens called the “false security of consensus”, and a complete rejection of anyone who dare think differently. I further think that the notion of political affiliations does a discredit to those of us who claim any of the “A” labels.

16 comments on “Are Political Affiliations Useful?

  • Personally I think we have even less in common as I would define atheist to mean

    “holds no beliefs in gods”

    I don’t see any reason why this should imply that we support a particular party or a particular football team or drink a particular coffee or even tea.

    One day I expect we will have a world where nearly everybody is an atheist and it will be no more remarkable than being an a-unicornist. I doubt religion will die out but I imagine it will dwindle to the fringes like believing in big foot or Atlantis or alien abductions. I have more trouble imagining politics as going away as I think it results from the tension between the rights of the individual and the demands of the group fundamental to any social species or at least to any social species with a big enough brain to worry about such things.

    Michael



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  • 2
    Jos Gibbons says:

    what follows will show an American bias in labels used, though I think my meaning should translate well enough.

    It’s important to notice as many biases as possible. One national bias that can easily be missed is which views are considered “centrist”. The US “centrist” is heavily entrenched into the UK’s right-wing territory, but is clearly left-wing by the standards of certain nations in the Middle East; and the UK, too, is far from having the leftmost centre in Europe. And all that’s just in one time period! One might argue, for example, the Middle East of today has a lot more in common with Europe in certain periods of the past than with modern Europe. The reason I bring this up is because it proves the automatic “centrism is good” assumption gives cultural relativism. Another national bias we easily miss is ways one’s own nation’s politics will differ from those of others purely because of, say, different voting systems. Missing such differences leads one to over-assess the universality of some features of democracy; I’ll discuss an example at the end.

    Essentially we have two camps, liberals and conservatives.

    This one always fascinates me because, technically, the opposite of conservatism should be progressivism, while the opposite of liberalism should be illiberalism, say fascism or tyranny. Why is it that you can safely say how liberal someone is based on how old-fashioned they are? This is just one example of the “why is there a left-right 1D reduction of so many questions anyway?” issue RD has raised before (that’s a tough one). But it also raises another question: what determined which label describes each side? (Note these labels are used both for self-identification and for description of “others”, so they’re clearly uncontroversial.) Maybe it’s a historical accident, or maybe there’s much more to it than that.

    What becomes of the Atheist, the Antitheist, the Agnostic, or others in this system?

    It’ll depend on the individual, but I suspect for many it’ll be as it is for countless other voters: you don’t fully like either option, but you pick the one that seems least awful (which may vary by election, and you might even decide at the last minute). In that case, atheists etc. are most likely to vote D (with the possible exception of if they’re rich or bigoted, in which case R may be more likely). But maybe I’m stereotyping.

    are political affiliations more useful than harmful or more harmful than useful? For my part, I would like to see politics without party affiliations, where everyone could be defined as an “independent”. I know that is not practical, given human nature, but I do have a desire for it. All I find from such associations is a desire for what Christopher Hitchens called the “false security of consensus”, and a complete rejection of anyone who dare think differently. I further think that the notion of political affiliations does a discredit to those of us who claim any of the “A” labels.

    Is independence the political equivalent of A? Actually, “independents” are often people unwilling to admit to a label that fairly describes them, which ironically is also often true of people who won’t identify as A. In any case, I think human nature is only the beginning of why political labels are here to stay: how do you run a nation without political parties? How, for example, do you work out who the PM is? You can’t go by “largest party wins”. Ultimately, each seat would need to vote in at least one higher-post election, and effectively that would at least form ephemeral parties of support for such individuals. Indeed, there would be statistical differences between the political preferences of the “parties” in question, since those who voted for candidate A are not as likely to agree with B’s policies as were those who voted for B. As for labels doing a discredit to certain voters, I think that’s only true if many voters are unrepresented by a major party. My understanding of sociology is that that problem largely evaporates when you introduce proportional representation. Until just a few presidential elections ago, there was a third candidate who won a sizable slice of the vote; for instance, Ross Perot gained 18.9 % of the vote in 1992! Imagine if that had translated into 18.9 % of the say on who was the president; his supporters would have chosen whether Bush or Clinton was elected. And if that kind of supports-means-seats phenomenon had occurred in elections at every level, they would have significantly altered the landscape of votes on every bill. In fact, if the United States had a history of over 200 years of proportional representation, there’s no saying how nuanced its politics would be now, and its “labels” might then be much healthier for politics.



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  • 3
    whiteraven says:

    I would think that belief in or adoption of the idea of a rationally based morality and anti-Darwinian society would almost necessarily lead one to a progressive, democratic political orientation.

    Dualism strikes me as a fundamental disease of western civilization. My view is that dualism arises from monotheism. Also that monotheism, by allocating to god perfection and ultimate goodness, omniscience and omnipotence, thereby cuts mankind off from its best qualities. These best are taken out of its possession and made unattainable while everything from imperfection to the greatest evil is left for humanity to wallow in. Mankind competes for god’s attention and favor, jostling to distance itself from the rest of creation to be nearest to god. But this is all really going on in man’s psyche; man is separated from himself. This results in a schizophrenic society. Dis-integration is dysfunctional.



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  • I think I more or less agree with you Coffee Addict. People’s political affiliations are probably based mainly on what their friends and co-workers and family think rather than actual policies of the government. The average voter does not have access to the real policies and competency of the candidates, since they get their information from media, and most media is a business, and businesses exist to make a profit, not to inform objectively.

    I agree that a voter’s political alliance is a bit like a religion, and the parties promote this behaviour. Speeches are way too emotional and often sound like a preacher. I guess democratic politics is the business of attracting voters, regardless of the means. So emotive speeches (yes we can), the appearance of power (how many presidents were under 6 foot?), appeal based on who you are rather than what you do, and dynasties all come into play. This is probably why people don’t like politicians.



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  • The point is not so much that atheists should feel more sympathy for such or such political party. The point is that some political parties openly promote religions. I don’t quite understand how an outspoken atheist could vote for a president who claim that a god is on his side. Unless, of course, all candidates swear they believe in supernatural creators to guide their moral choices, in which case you have no choice and not voting might be the only possible atheist choice, although not a very efficient one.

    Besides, a political affiliation is useful… if you do politics.



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  • 6
    Alan4discussion says:

    The issue is, that religious groups organise, and politicians play to their dogmas so that the preachers will support them in their policies and hidden agendas.

    Many people are very apathetic about politics, so make very little effort to even find out what their candidates stand for. If you want influence you need to be engaged in politics and involved in candidate selection. This needs to be followed up by interactions in forming the policies they follow.

    These are not activities for which you can expect much in the way of thanks.

    The apathetic “make no effort crowd” will usually complain, that nobody has done ALL OF IT for them.
    The popular media have probably done ALL of their thinking for them anyway!

    It is also known for them to berate the people who actually did it for them, when some disreputable posers have claimed the political credit for the work of others.



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  • 7
    canadian_right says:

    If you live in a country that is atheist by default then your atheism is unlikely to say much more about your biases than if you don’t collect stamps. If you live in a religious country and had to shed religion through a rational process you would be more likely to become a “progressive”.

    In general, I would not assume anything about a person that says they are atheist other than they might be more rational than the average religious person.



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  • 8
    JHJEFFERY says:

    I agree with everything written to the north of this piece. I write to add a different if tangential approach.

    FIrst, the US was not intended to countenance political parties. George Washington spent as much time in his “Farewell Address” warning against political parties as he more famously did against standing armies. Whether correct about the latter, he was spot on about the former. Thomas Jefferson once said, “If I have to be a member of a political party to get into heaven, I will just not go there.”

    The overt factionalism we witness today had its Genesis in the politics of Andrew Jackson in 1828 (gross oversimplifiation). SInce that time, policial parties have conquered the political landscape. Washington would not stand a chance of being elected today.

    This consequence of a democratic republic seems obvious today, but not so much in its original form. Evolution requires “in group” v. “out group” fraternization. And each group echoes the opinions of its members and the sound reverberates and amplifies, until a “core” emerges. Nothing surprising here.

    What is surprising is the tenacious and pervasive reach of the organized political parties. A few small examples:

    1. If you are the elected chairman of the Democratic Party in Orange County, Florida (an organization, btw, without legal status), do you know how you get a list of registered voters? You ask for it form the Supervisor of Elections. Do you know how you get such a list if you are an independent? You don’t.

    2. If you have a tax-funded primary to determine your party candidate, the name is automatically placed on the ballot. If you are an independent, you must collect thousands of verified signatures and pay a handsome bounty.

    These rules, and so many like them, pervade the political process in the US. They reach, obviously to the USCT where the party hacks masquerading as justices decide that “corporations are people, too.” (No, morons, they are not. Get a dictionary.) Such decisions, made by appointments designed to mollify the base of the party, are not stupid. They are intellectually dishonest.

    It will be a long time before the people of the US realize that they are being duped by the few and the powerful. But there is always hope. Someday it may be a capital offense to belong to one of these organizations.

    JHJ



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  • 9
    phil rimmer says:

    Party politics is dogma and therefore bunk. Political and economic solutions should be formed as required by the needs of the country and the prevailing circumstances. In the UK, though dogma is slowly withering to make parties less distinguishable, there are sufficient dogmatic forces in play to prevent the ruling Conservative’s rather dogmatically informed economic policy of belt tightening to be reversed anytime soon, despite its catastrophic effect on growth. Political dogma, prepackaged solutions from days of yore, atrophies new thinking and nuanced problem solving.

    I would expect those who loath un-evidenced claims by religions having a sway over the minds of the masses to be rather disinclined to follow party political dogma for the same reason. Pragma, evidence and reason is the thing.

    Political proclivities are formed on two axes as far as I can see. The moral axis of Jonathan Haidt for one (Left = concerns for equality and fairness. Right= concerns for authority, loyalty, purity equality and fairness) and the individual vs group axis (Left= collective, Right= individual) These two axes are comparatively independent but we can see how the problem of group cohesion is addressed by left and right leaners differently and on different axes. These axes and our individual positions on them are the result of innumerable instances of early and irrevocable genetic and cultural wiring for the most part and will have no necessary overlap.

    Yet I would suggest that the moral axis right wingers would be more inclined to religion with its solid promise of authority and the collective axis left wingers the more inclined to happy clappy religion or dogmatically collective politics.

    Jumping ship from party politics and dogmatic solutions is the way forward and I count myself an Atheist as part of a bigger ambition of being Adogmatist. My moral and collective axis readings, though are beyond my conscious control. They would both currently identify me as left of (UK) centre.



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  • 10
    Coffee Addict 83 says:

    @Jos Gibbons: I agree that the traditional one-dimensional “left-right” labels are far too simplistic, but that is how things tend to be classified, at least in my part of the world. I am sure in other countries, with a more parliamentary system, it is a bit more nuanced than that. The first part of your comment goes to the relative meanings of those labels. While what may pass for “liberal” in the U.S. may pass for “conservative” in, say, England I think the labels themselves can be (and sometimes are) a bit more objective than that…something can be liberal relative to some other segment of a society and still be conservative (I’m thinking of a society that might say “we won’t execute homosexuals, but we’ll imprison them for being that way”). That’s just semantics though. After all, and you touch on this, “conservative” and “liberal” as labels haven’t had a solid meaning throughout their histories. Theodore Roosevelt was a conservative and a progressive (back when being a Republican also meant something entirely different than it does today). I do feel like my voting choice is forced to go along party lines, for the candidate that I feel is the least shitty, which for me is the Democratic party. I do prefer to consider myself an independent, however. It is not out of a desire to simply shun labels and really be a Democrat, but because I find myself often disagreeing with their agenda, just that I find itself not as bad as the only other choice I’m given (and I resent the implicit notion coming from the Democrats if I complain, of a “what are you going to do, vote Republican?” response). It doesn’t help that when a Republican loses, he (or she) insists they lost because they weren’t conservative enough. If a Democrat loses, he or she also believes it was because he or she wasn’t conservative enough. I don’t find myself disagreeing with all supposedly conservative positions, but that kind of thinking makes me want to rip my hair out. I wouldn’t want a full on parliamentary system, and I wouldn’t want to focus too much on a party percentage kind of thing (and this is ignoring I’d rather see parties not exist at all, and have everything be publicly funded and ostensibly open to any potential worthy candidates), but (as far as the federal government goes) I’d rather see the House of Representatives represent not based on state populations but more along ideological lines. I’d at least like to see something reasonably break the duopoly that seems to naturally form.

    @whiteraven: I wouldn’t say that dualism is a disease of the West. To some extent, it is inherent in human nature (especially when oversimplifying things). Such oversimplifications as good versus evil being an example, or good versus bad. Nature has this quality as well, North pole versus South pole, matter versus anti-matter, etc. I imagine we can do a better job of not falling into that trap of oversimplification.

    @Alan4discussion: I am reminded of some people I have known, people who complain like crazy about this or that, but then make a point of refusing to vote as if that makes them somehow superior. If someone wants a politician to really not care what they think, the best way to achieve that is to not vote at all. I can understand disenfranchisement, I really can, but a democratic republic like the United States (as well as other forms of democracy) require responsible citizenship from the people to be both educated on matters of importance and then to participate…but you are right, most people would seemingly rather let others think for them, which brings about a whole host of other problems.

    @JHJEFFERY: It is funny you bring all that up, as only a couple days ago I was watching the John Adams miniseries, and some of that was covered (if not in an entirely accurate manner). Thomas Jefferson also sought to prevent monied interest from taking over the country, as it sometimes seems to have succeeded in doing (perhaps using “seems” is not to my credit, because in many ways I would say it has). I wonder how strong the party system would be if the monied interests were shattered? I have to imagine a lot of the corruption would go away, and there is plenty of it to be had from both major political parties.

    As an additional note, I would say that I often think about becoming a citizen of another nation that has what I deem to be a better system with more educated people (and a social agenda I tend to agree with more). My only hesitance is that I would greatly miss the protections given to me by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. I do wonder if what I discuss seems much less of a problem from countries that aren’t stuck in a duopoly? It certainly seems like other nations do not engage in the kind of soap opera type political theatre that we do here in the states (which, I might add, make the election seasons seem like such a damn burden when we’re over saturated with the most awful, obnoxious ads).



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  • 11
    roger@fedyk.org says:

    Political parties are built on two notions:

    1. That my political party holds the unerring truth
    2. We welcome the fools who believe this

    Sounds more like a religion to me!



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  • 12
    Alan4discussion says:

    @Coffee Addict #83

    I am reminded of some people I have known, people who complain like crazy about this or that, but then make a point of refusing to vote as if that makes them somehow superior. If someone wants a politician to really not care what they think, the best way to achieve that is to not vote at all. I can understand disenfranchisement, I really can, but a democratic republic like the United States (as well as other forms of democracy) require responsible citizenship from the people to be both educated on matters of importance and then to participate…but you are right, most people would seemingly rather let others think for them, which brings about a whole host of other problems.

    With modern IT, and marked registers – in the UK, politicians are getting better at identifying those who do not vote!

    The one thing which is more likely to make a politician, not care about a non-voter, is a non-voter who comes out in public, and attributes the politician’s successful efforts on their behalf, to a political opponent!

    JHJEFFERY – 8

    What is surprising is the tenacious and pervasive reach of the organized political parties. A few small examples:

    1. If you are the elected chairman of the Democratic Party in Orange County, Florida (an organization, btw, without legal status), do you know how you get a list of registered voters? You ask for it form the Supervisor of Elections. Do you know how you get such a list if you are an independent? You don’t.

    2. If you have a tax-funded primary to determine your party candidate, the name is automatically placed on the ballot. If you are an independent, you must collect thousands of verified signatures and pay a handsome bounty.

    These rules, and so many like them, pervade the political process in the US.

    This does seem biased!

    In the UK all parliamentary candidates must put up a deposit when standing for election:

    http://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/electing-mps/candidates/

    People wishing to stand as an MP must be over 18 years of age, be a British citizen or citizen of a Commonwealth country or the Republic of Ireland.

    Candidates must be nominated by ten parliamentary electors of the constituency they wish to stand in.

    Authorisation is required to stand for a specific party, otherwise candidates will be described as independent or have no description.

    In order to encourage only serious candidates to stand, a £500 deposit is required when submitting the nomination papers – returned if the candidate receives over five per cent of the total votes cast.

    There are no “primaries” – Party candidates are selected by parties usually by a ballot of local members. Leaders are selected by party mechanisms or by party MPs.

    The UK system of registration is different:-

    At present, the register is compiled by sending an annual canvass form to every house (a process introduced by Representation of the People Act 1918). A fine of up to £1,000 (level 3 on the Standard scale) can be imposed for giving false information. Up to 2001, the revised register was published on 15 February each year, based on a qualifying date of 10 October, and a draft register published on 28 November the previous year. From 2001 as a result of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the annual ‘revised’ register is published on 1 December, although it is possible to update the register with new names each month between January and September.

    The register has two formats. The full version of the register is available for supervised inspection by anyone, by legal right. It is this register that is used for voting and its supply and use is limited by law. Copies of this register are available to certain groups and individuals, such as credit reference agencies and political parties.

    An ‘edited’ version of the register, which omits those people who have chosen to ‘opt-out’, can be purchased by anyone for any purpose. Some companies provide online searchable access to the edited register for a fee.[2]

    The full register contains the following information:

    • elector number (two letters indicating the polling district, followed by a number)
      elector’s name and address
    • date of birth (if 18th birthday falls within a year of the register is published)
      if the elector has requested a postal vote

    After an election a ‘Marked Register’ can be inspected, which is a copy of the register used for the election with a mark by each elector that has voted.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral-roll



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  • 13
    cynicaloptimistrealist says:

    I believe that political affiliations for the most part are more harmful. Political affiliations tend to trap those affiliated into supporting policies they disagree with for the sake of consensus. I tend to apply the following criteria before I consider voting for a candidate:

    (A) Do I agree with his/her policies? If yes, does this person have a history of shifting from one position to another to reflect the public mood? Beware of populists!

    (B) Does the candidate live within a few kilometres of me? How can I best trust a candidate to make the best decisions for my local community? If those decisions also affect their lives they are more inclined to carefully think them through.

    As I am not drawn exclusively to either left or right, I often find myself searching for what I view as the lesser of evils rather than candidates who reflect my views. There are issues that raise their ugly heads in all western democracies (at least the ones I am familar with), the issues are pressure groups and donations. I feel that too many policies appear due to the fact that the pressure groups which are the loudest and often make the most substantial donations. This worries me because it gives the apparence that a vocal and often elite minority possess disproportionate influence.

    So, here’s my two cents. If we could change the candidacy procedure to a system whereby every candidate, irrespective of party affiliation, has to obtain a certain number of signatures to be nominated. And, if political donations were limited to something relatively small. I believe we would have a more representative and egalitarian system which was more inclined towards the public good.

    Maybe this is just an issue in Ireland, but, has anyone ever noticed that political affiliations tend to run in families in much the same manner as religions do? Like religious affiliation, has anyone found that when challenged on this most people will give stock answers, but reveal very little knowledge of policy? Maybe this is just an issue here where we’re only starting to bury religion and where other sacred cows have been put on the back burner for a little while.



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  • 14
    Stardroid says:

    Yes you should keep rehearsing things like this until your mind ‘drops out’ of the system where you’re expected to play the political-affiliation game, and you lose your addiction to economic enticement by those bad guy politicians. I have to warn you that others will not like this kind of thinking and they will pull you back in, so be prepared for that. Don’t vote – not because ‘there’s nothing to vote for’, because that thought at least legitimises voting, but because you’ve seriously and actually better things to do. Let them die in a corner all shrivelled up like prunes.



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  • 15
    Stardroid says:

    And in terms of what atheists have in common politically, well nominally not a thing, but if you can rigorously define atheism against the religious-political comprehensively, then you’ll get political views that have to be unmistakably atheistic. Nobody really cares about that though, they think religion is a state of mind. Oh well.



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  • 16
    sffmadman66 says:

    Please don’t misunderstand my comment, but ask that you clarify what you mean about Gandhi? I’m afraid I haven’t heard this, but I do have an open mind.

    The other thing is, I wonder how concerned I should be about “anti-theism.” I understand the desire to keep it out of politics, but I have no problem with people having their own, personal beliefs, as I do. I’m not trying to force my belief on anyone and I have no intention of using it to make oppressive laws. Therefore, there is no need to challenge my personal theistic belief on anything other than intellectual grounds. I hope you all realize their are other people like me.



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