For most of my young life well through college, I considered myself apathetic to politics because I didn’t know enough about the issues to care (as a good little Christian Youth, I was Republican by association, but it wasn’t something I got heated up about). As I have little to no belief in the ability of politicians to make big changes, I still am rather apathetic towards Politics. But, that’s not to say that I am apathetic.
Most people choose their political leanings based on one or two issues that end up pigeonholing them as Conservative or Liberal. While everyone likes to think of themselves as reasoning automatons, usually if you go Conservative socially, you end up being Conservative fiscally, too, as with Liberal. Are there exceptions? Certainly, probably millions. But if you’re not particularly worked up about some political issue, it’s easiest to go along with the flow of the people you’ve surrounded yourself with. A Pro-Life rally is likely going to consist of people who oppose big government (ironically), while a Pro-Gay Marriage rally is most likely going to share a mailing list with the Pro-Health Care Reform rallies.
Which brings me to my political views. I fully admit that my stances on all the obvious issues – Abortion, Gay Marriage, Immigration, Gun Control, blah blah blah – are predictably liberal and it would be easy to think I’m just a bandwagon jumper. But most of my political views come as a logical progression from a single realization:
There is no God.
One of the first big ‘issues’ that I became impassioned about (and remain so) was the vast and debilitating poverty that overruns Africa (I know, a random concern for a white middle-class kid from Kansas). Along with poverty comes disease and genocide, making Africa a continent truly beleaguered with the greatest crises in the world.
Before some troll erupts in my comments, I am well aware that some parts of Africa are actually well-off; that’s beside the point.
As I looked more into the issues that affect Africa, I studied Fair Trade vs. Free Trade, the Rwandan and Darfur genocides and the AIDS crisis (along with countless other diseases, most of which we in the West no longer fear).
I first developed my interest in Africa in college, around the same time I was losing my faith in God. Some of the first divisive arguments I found myself having with the Christians in my life were about differing approaches to giving aid. The Christian method of aid so often comes with such dangerous preconditions that I refuse to be mollified by, “At least they’re helping.”
In the Good Ol’ Imperial Days of Christian Charity, if you needed help from one of Christ’s disciples, you had to convert. Nowadays, well, things haven’t changed much. There may not be an overt expectation of religious conversion, but there certainly are moralistic expectations aplenty. Take the Catholic Church’s approach to fighting AIDS in Africa as example: Lie about the effectiveness of condoms and expect the continent to practice abstinence. I guess they thought, “The abstinence only approach works so well here in the U.S., let’s play Russian Roulette with an entire continent.. and that’s load all the chambers just to make it more interesting.”
The point I am making is that belief in God can taint even the best intentions.* Worse, it leads to despicable governmental policies. Somehow, the Conservative notion of the Free Market became a tenet of Christianity (even though it was Jesus who said sell all of your things and give your money to the poor… it’s not one of those subtle verses, either). What does belief in the Free Market lead to? Well, apparently, it leads people to believe that the Rich are chosen by God and the poor are just shit out of luck.
What people don’t seem to understand (or willingly ignore) is that there is no such thing as the “Free Market”, not in the totally autonomous sense that is often meant. There are always agents working both in front of and behind the scenes. These are the people making sure the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. They are the ones creating laws that favor the powerful and step all over developing nations (the meek aren’t inheriting much). Free Trade is an ideal, but it doesn’t exist, and that’s why Fair Trade is necessary. Most of the arguments against Fair Trade are that it hinders nations in a Free Trade system, but it ignores the fact that the Free Trade system is a lie. Just look at our own recent recession to see the abuse of power that happens when no one is watching the markets.
(EDIT – I didn’t realize I was going to have to make this explicit: I think the Free Trade Ideal is superb and if it existed, I’d be all for it. I’d be all for an all-loving, all-knowing God who wanted nothing for me to be happy, too, but neither one exists so I adapt my expectations for the world and the universe.)
Learning more about Africa taught me more about politics and the way the world really works. Rarely does anyone look out for the oppressed unless a news camera is in their face and the first priority is always about getting their pockets lined. You think that isn’t true for the Catholic Church (or churches in general)? Well, were they doing anything about the child rapes in their midst until it became a huge scandal? And what does their presence in Africa do if not guarantee more people belonging to their church, pledging more tithes? All the better to get the Pope a Gold-Plated toilet seat.
Am I cynical? You bet your ass I am. I know how the world really works.
How does this all tie in to the non-existence of God? Well, some political views are obvious: If there is no God, why oppose Gay Marriage (the sanctity of marriage argument is bullshit)? If there is no God, abstinence is no morally better than using protection, and only fractionally safer. If there is no God, no person or group has a ‘God-given right’ to anything, whether that be land, wealth or even freedom. (I’m not arguing that freedom is not a human right, only that it is not a gift from some invisible Beard in the sky).
But beyond the obvious, atheism reveals even more: If there is no God, then the atrocities in Africa are not a punishment from God, they are not God’s will or even a method for testing his Faithful (one of the more perverse explanations for evil in this world). No, without God as an excuse, what is happening in Africa becomes much simpler: Human greed, selfishness and fear is at the heart of Africa’s problems.
It can be traced back to the slave traders who raped the continent, but Conservatives are always quick to say, “Don’t blame us for the sins of our fathers” (even though that’s the foundational belief of Christianity, Original Sin). Well, you don’t have to go back 400 years to find people using and abusing Africa for their own profit. It goes on today. Governments and corporations thrive on the backs of cheap labor (not just in Africa, worldwide), lax regulations and trade treaties that protect their interests. And many of the people working behind the scenes to keep these conditions in existence are doing so with the belief that they are doing God’s work.
These are complex issues, far more complex than I could ever claim to understand. I know I have a lot to learn about global economics, but I am willing to learn.
I’m not claiming that everyone who is Conservative or Christian is guilty of these crimes (or even complicit), not at all. But what I will say is that the Conservative view, in my experience, is always narrow. It looks at a problem like immigration and says, “Kick illegals out,” without looking at the larger political spectrum and acknowledging that illegal immigrants are not the problem, they are a symptom of a corrupt global economy (and the governments that support it).
Unfortunately, Liberals can suffer tunnel vision, too. Well meaning Liberals will find a pet cause and protest the hell out of it, and pat themselves on the back for every little victory. But the underlying conditions still exist and a victory in Seattle is just one more defeat in Haiti. We have to think globally.
I am liberal by natural extension of my atheism, but I’m not political. I’m still totally apathetic when it comes to the political system (I had a lot of hopes for Obama; they have been tempered, but I haven’t given up on him completely). I think my political apathy is a good trait, because it keeps me from falling for the lie that all I have to do is vote and that will take care of the world’s problems. Real actions are required (which is not to say that I don’t vote, because I do).
I don’t put my faith in politicians and I don’t put much stock in going to protests. I think bringing attention to problems in the world is necessary, and so I do not look down on anyone who wants to beat the street with their message; I just question how effective it is. When I’m not broke and I have a little extra cash, I’ll throw money to causes I believe in, but I know that money is nothing more than a band aid for a broken bone.
The most common argument against Atheism is that it provides no moral foundation, but that is preposterous. Atheism takes away the excuses for lazy morality. If there is no God, no invisible hand to guide human history, then it becomes clear that the world is only as good as we make it. For me, knowing there is nobody watching over us, no force that is going to punish evildoers, I feel the burden to fight for what is right, to fight for those who cannot fight.
You tell people that Africa is being treated terribly, and usually the Conservative view says, “The world ain’t fair.” On the other hand, if you dare say, “The rich should pay more in taxes,” Conservatives cry, “That ain’t fair!” Well, I agree. The world is not fair.
My goal in life is to make it a little more even. That is why I am a Liberal.
*The argument that faith gives people a reason to do good is suppose to be admirable. I just find it sad. You need to believe in an overbearing Master of the Universe for you to give a shit about the poor and downtrodden? Here’s a cookie.