A significant political effect of atheism and a general decline in religious belief has been to facilitate a major power shift within most democratic, nominally Christian countries.
Because Christian churches have been important social and political power structures, their decline has led to a power vacuum which national and international bureaucracies continue to fill, nook by nook, cranny by cranny.
Taking the UK as our example, we once had significant dependencies on ourselves, family and friends within a largely Christian milieu. Today, the Christian influence has been extensively replaced by law and state-sanctioned social norms, often with the connivance of fake charities set up for that purpose.
This has created powerful, unidirectional political pressures. Unless a political party is committed to the politics of the dependent voter and state-sponsored social norms, it will not have the means to extend or even consolidate its body of voters. This is the reality faced by the Conservative party.
For example, unmarried mothers are semi-dependent voters. It doesn’t mean they always vote in a particular way, but they will have a tendency to vote in their own interests, as we all do. This does not imply anything about the behaviour of specific unmarried mothers, it is merely the logic of a political reality.
So for mainstream political parties in a modern welfare state, it is politically beneficial to undermine the institution of marriage and create as many unmarried mothers as possible. Again, this is merely the logic of a situation facilitated by the decline in Christian social and moral constraints.
Politicians don’t necessarily “believe” in undermining marriage, they are merely responding to political exigencies, step by step, nudge by nudge. It is the logic of a situation.
We see the same logic operating in teaching, policing, drugs policy, anti-smoking policies, the promotion of social norms and even concepts such as motherhood and fatherhood. As religious influence declines in these areas, there are political and bureaucratic opportunities for the extension of official power and influence.
Golden careers have been built on fostering state-sponsored social trends, so for many politicians and senior bureaucrats, atheism has genuine political value. It reduces the power of potential opponents, particularly during the manipulation of social trends.
This is not to say that atheists should go knocking on the doors of the nearest church. We atheists are what we are, but we tend to be naive about malign political trends facilitated by the decline of Christian traditions.
Neither is it a suggestion that we should go back to where we were, say fifty years ago or more – too many straw men lurk there. Yet in losing one set of admittedly imperfect Christian values, we have gained a set of malign political and social trends which promise to be considerably worse, and where opting out is not an option.
As an atheist, it seems to me that traditional Christian values here in the UK cannot be further eroded without a continued leakage of personal freedom, sucked away by an ever more authoritarian state bureaucracy. Of course many authoritarian atheists on the left welcome the consequences. Others seem to live in hope that something will turn up.
Maybe something will turn up. Maybe an existing social power structure will seize the opportunity of opposing the bureaucratic state. Because it is an opportunity – the bungling, dishonesty and moral relativism make it so. Who could make something of it though?
A revitalised Church of England? The Catholic Church? Islam? If it does happen, it certainly won’t be libertarian atheists setting the social agenda will it?