Ayn Rand, an avid atheist, once told William F. Buckley, a reasonably devout Catholic, that he was far too intelligent to believe in God. Both of the aforementioned names have earned a place of prominence in the modern conservative movement. But if Rand were still with us, espousing atheism alongside Objectivism, would today’s conservatives dare mention her name absent the selective-acceptance afforded by the lens of history?
American Atheists President David Silverman is probably a good person to ask.
Silverman was surprised when he received a call from American Conservative Union Executive Director Dan Schneider late last month informing him that, because of the “tone” of a quote Silverman gave to CNN, the organization’s permit to operate a booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference was officially revoked.
Silverman didn’t say that God will eventually fall out of fashion in the Republican Party and he didn’t suggest that religious conservatives are the scourge of all mankind.
“The Christian right should be threatened by us,” is what Silverman said to CNN.
Whether they should be threatened is a matter of faith that would take far more theological musing than the place provided for this post would provide. That they are threatened is certain, at least in the eyes of the American atheists.
And that’s a fair assertion.
After all, why would CPAC shut down the American Atheist’s booth at the very first hint of a media reaction if the conservative convention didn’t expect retribution from religious conservatives who might boycott due to the presence of an atheist group?
If are were should, as Silverman put it, CPAC would have been happy to watch an unpopular booth languish in the periphery of the convention. Let ideas stand or fall on their merits.
Prior to the CNN report, according to the American Atheists, there was no indication that CPAC feared the Godless presenters causing a scene.
“Our input was well-received and the atmosphere was positive. We suggested several atheist speakers for 2015 and welcomed the opportunity to engage about conservative issues,” Silverman said last month.
Even though they were banned from opening a booth at the convention, the American Atheists’ presence was visible from the first moments in the registration line for many CPAC attendees Thursday.
As they made their presence known throughout the day, the American Atheists representatives said that, aside from some expected sarcasm, they were generally well received by the CPAC crowd.
That may be because Silverman, as he talked to those in attendance, discussed his fiscal conservatism and his disappointment that he couldn’t bring himself to vote for a candidate who could do good in the fiscal realm but is unrelenting in attempts to regulate morality.
“I consider myself a fiscal conservative, I’m not all the way red — But I’m a pretty conservative guy fiscally,” he said. “But I never vote Republican.”
Silverman said that his reason for shunning the GOP is the party’s unspoken mandate that all candidates embrace religious social legislation. And the organization’s leader says he’s not alone, claiming that thousands of Libertarians and uninspired Democrats would join a GOP sans its establishment fixation on social issues.
“Conservatism should be about small government, and gun rights and responsible spending,” Silverman said. “And leave the morality decisions to the people.”
Will mainstream conservatism ever fully embrace atheists? To borrow a phrase sure to give pause to both camps, only God knows.