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When the political becomes ultimate

Of course, atheists are more politically engaged


When the political becomes ultimate
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In a recent article, author and cruncher of religion-related numbers, political scientist Ryan Burge, noted that American atheists are far more politically active than their religious counterparts. Atheists are more likely to donate to political candidates, put up yard signs, and contact public officials than any other religious group. Likewise, atheists are significantly more involved than white evangelicals, often seen as the country’s most politically active religious group.

Burge notes that atheists were twice as likely as white evangelicals to donate money to political candidates or campaigns in 2022. In total, Burge calculates, “the average atheist is about 65 percent more politically engaged than the average American.”

Burge presents this information with an air of surprise. Not long ago, the Religious Right seemed destined to win the political engagement contest forever. But these plucky atheists have overtaken them. Can you believe it? he essentially asks.

The thing is, yes, we can believe it. It’s not surprising that atheists are better at the “who can give more money to politicians” contest than people who often prefer to give money to their churches and ministries instead. In all of this, Burge reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue. It’s not that conservative Christians are now lagging behind atheists in the Effect Political Change race. We have always been running entirely different races aimed at different finish lines. The atheist’s aim is earthly, and that’s it. The Christian’s aim is heavenly, and that changes everything.

Both atheists and Christians can perceive that the world is out of joint, riddled with suffering and disorder. Both atheists and Christians can recognize that the political realm offers some degree of healing to these problems. Our paths diverge, however, in how much paradise we believe men can build on this earth and how much time we think we have to build it.

At least for atheists who view the concept of original sin with disdain, utopia is always on the horizon and within our grasp, maybe just one or two more elections away.

For atheists, there is no King above earthly kings and no kingdom that will be left standing when all earthly kingdoms melt. If we wish to use systems of power to rid the world of injustice and sorrow, we’d best get to it because no one is coming to our rescue, and now is the only time we have. Likewise, at least for atheists who view the concept of original sin with disdain, utopia is always on the horizon and within our grasp, maybe just one or two more elections away. Run fast, work hard, the finish line is near. For the political atheist, the race we’re running is a sprint in terms of efficacy and urgency. 

For Christians, however, our view of the political realm is more nuanced. On the one hand, Jesus tells Pontius Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world,” during His passion, just as He tells us that we are not of this world, even as we are in it. On the other hand, Jesus calls us to participate in the growth of His kingdom by feeding the poor and clothing the naked, acts that aren’t inherently political but frequently have political implications. Christ has already built the Kingdom of God, but He still invites us to put our hands on the political plow until the day we see that Kingdom in all its glory, a kingdom ushered in at his discretion. We love our neighbors with our votes and advocacy, but we are not urgently trying to restore a paradise that won’t otherwise be restored. Christ is the restorer.  

On the one hand, the psalmist tells us to put out trust not in princes who cannot save but in the God of Jacob, who gives us salvation. He’s the one we should trust to execute justice for the oppressed and to feed the hungry, not our earthly leaders. On the other hand, Paul implores us to pray for our earthly leaders and to recognize them as God’s appointed servants for our good.

Therefore, as Christians, we don’t place our fawning trust in political forces but also use our votes to grant political power to those we believe will use it in a more righteous manner. The poor we will always have with us, but we still use the political process when necessary to feed the poor. We don’t render our trust to Caesar. We trust that God will work through him where and when it pleases Him. For Christians, there is no leader we can elect or piece of legislation we can pass that will fully heal the world. The perfect society is always as far (or near) as the Day of Judgment.

For atheists, everything is different. We shouldn’t be surprised when those who believe the political race is all they have run it with far more frenzy than those who are patiently waiting to receive the eternal reward their King has already won for them.

Hans Fiene

Hans Fiene is the pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Crestwood, Mo., and the creator of Lutheran Satire, a multimedia project intended to teach the Christian faith through humor. He is also a frequent contributor to The Federalist. A graduate of Indiana University and Concordia Theological Seminary, Hans and his wife Katie have four sons.

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