Religion and Politics for the Non-Religious

A Daily Dose of Reason reader wrote:

I strongly believe in the separation between church and state. I will always vote for a candidate who’s less religious.

Dr. Hurd’s reply:


Let’s consider an example. Two candidates are running for President. One believes in God and goes to church weekly. He’s a moderate on social issues, and both his words and record show a very strong support for massively reducing taxes and the size of government. The second candidate is an atheist. He believes in expanding the size of government and expanding socialized medicine.

According to your statement, we must vote for the socialist candidate who doesn’t believe in God rather than the superior candidate, because he does believe in God. This is where the foolishness of your statement leads, although I know you’ll deny it.

In forming a conclusion, whether about a political candidate or anything else, it’s necessary to consider the whole context of facts. You can’t isolate out one area—even an important area—and then proceed as if that’s the only relevant fact.

I can understand somebody saying, ‘I don’t want to be friends with someone who doesn’t share all of my philosophical views.’ Or, ‘I don’t want to be married to someone who doesn’t share all of my philosophical views.’

It isn’t necessary to extend that attitude to everything. It isn’t necessary, for example, to refuse to buy an automobile from someone who goes to church, while you’re an atheist. It isn’t necessary to refuse to hire a realtor who voted for a political candidate you dislike. In fact, it isn’t even necessary for you to know these things about your realtors, automobile salesmen, or most other people in your life.

Friendship and marriage are very personal areas. They’re also optional relationships. Any given friendship or marriage is a choice. The facts that you must do business with certain people, or live under the policies of elected officials, are not choices.

It’s true that a candidate for office, especially a candidate for high office such as a President, has more power and influence over yourself (and others) than your realtor or automobile salesman might have. Nevertheless, it isn’t necessary for you to agree with that political candidate on everything.

If you’re an atheist or an agnostic, you’d surely not want to vote for a candidate who seeks to eliminate or reduce the separation between church and state.  But there are candidates who don’t seek to reduce or eliminate the separation between church and state, but who do personally believe in God or are otherwise religious.

In a more rational and enlightened society, you would have the opportunity to vote for the best man or woman for the job. In our presently less enlightened and less rational culture, you generally do not have such a choice. In such a context, you can only choose the candidate whom you have reason to believe will do the least damage.

If two candidates will do about the same amount of damage, then you’re entitled to abstain from choosing. If one candidate will do significantly more damage than the other—based on what you know, and recognizing you cannot foretell the future actions of any politician—then you owe it to yourself to vote for the candidate who will do the less damage.

For example, I would never vote for Rick Santorum. There’s every reason to believe, from everything he says, that if President he would make reduction of the separation of church and state his primary priority. His record as Senator shows he did little or nothing to make greater separation of economics and state a priority, and actually took steps to expand Big Government.

Rick Santorum has said that the “pursuit of happiness” is not the purpose of America, and that honoring God is. This is just as evil, and just as dangerous, as Obama claiming that the purpose of America is not freedom, but (government-enforced) service to others.

I would not vote for Obama over Santorum, because in his own way Obama is just as bad for the cause of freedom and individual rights. Obama is decimating what’s left of the separation of economics and state; Santorum would decimate the separation between church and state.  I would abstain from voting, given a choice between those two. According to your idea, I should vote for Obama over a Rick Santorum, because Obama is purportedly less religious than Santorum.

Thomas Jefferson was reportedly a deist. A deist is someone who believes in a God, although a God who does not intervene very much in human life. I am an atheist, so I don’t agree with Thomas Jefferson’s contention that there’s even a God at all. However, none of this takes away from my admiration—even reverence—for Jefferson’s articulation of individual rights found in the Declaration of Independence. I would rush to vote for Thomas Jefferson, if he were running again for President today, against any agnostic or atheistic socialist Democrat.