New York Times on the Secular Right Blog

The New York Times recently ran an interesting article on the Secular Right blog, which I commented on here back when it was first established:

As a child, Razib Khan spent several weeks studying in a Bangladeshi madrasa. Heather Mac Donald once studied literary deconstructionism and clerked for a left-wing judge. In neither case did the education take. They are atheist conservatives — Mr. Khan an apostate to his family’s Islamic faith, Ms. Mac Donald to her left-wing education.

They are part of a small faction on the right: conservatives with no use for religion. Since 2008, they have been contributors to the blog Secular Right, where they argue that conservative values like small government, self-reliance and liberty can be defended without recourse to invisible deities or the religions that exalt them….

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review, noted that conservatives throughout history have esteemed “mediating institutions” like schools and churches, sources of authority other than the state. “If that’s the way you’re thinking, concern for the strength of organized religion follows pretty naturally,” Mr. Ponnuru said.

I do have a small bone to pick with the article and possibly with Ramesh Ponnuru. There is a difference between being an atheist and having “no use for religion.” One can deny the existence of God, while simultaneously recognizing that religious institutions sometimes serve useful purposes. Being an atheist doesn’t prevent me from seeing that the Catholic Church runs an excellent system of private schools, for example. It also doesn’t prevent anyone from recognizing the value of “mediating institutions,” including religious ones.

At the same time, it is also the case that organized religion has often contributed to grave injustices, providing support for slavery, gender inequality, and occasionally (in the case of “Liberation Theology”) even communism. Whether a mostly secular society will be better off than a mostly religious one depends on the values advocated by the religious and secular ideologies in question. Atheism doesn’t require anyone to believe that every conceivable secular belief system has better social consequences than every conceivable religious one. One can be an atheist while still believing that Catholicism, Judaism, or Mormonism is less harmful than Marxism, for example.